Education Reform: Comprehensive Replaces Checklist

by astanhaus

Originally submitted for an independent research project comparing North America’s welfare states with Professor Antonia Maioni at McGill University.

Teacher evaluations have begun to catch up with what students expect from their teachers, comprehensive & detailed feedback. Since the 1970s a checklist was a standard teacher evaluation tool; most teachers were graded excellent or superior with no explanation on ways to improve.[1] Teacher effectiveness is important, as education reformers now focus on how teaching abilities affect student achievement and subsequent long-run repercussions in the labor market.[2] Taylor and Tyler studied the effects of a comprehensive teacher evaluation program, concluding teachers, who received evaluations with detailed feedback and invested in their own human capital, produced higher student achievement in both the evaluation year and following years.[3] Such teacher evaluations are not only to root out incompetent teachers, but to encourage good teachers to become great.[4] The Chicago Public Schools system has the opportunity to be a role model for the rest of the country; the success of its contemporary & comprehensive teacher evaluation framework relies on multiple stakeholders, including teachers, principals, and students.

Teacher evaluations are the latest fad in education reform. The U.S.’s federal government has a variety of programs centered around effectiveness evaluation and support systems, but it was specifically the federal funding incentives of the Race to the Top competition that spurred states to take legislative action.[5] Specifically, Illinois legislators passed the Performance Evaluation Reform Act mandating comprehensive teacher evaluation systems; Chicago Public Schools (CPS) responded by creating REACH (Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago).[6] Chicago is not alone in implementing such a mandated program, but as the third largest school district in the country, CPS’s experience will influence the even larger school districts of  New York and Los Angeles, as they implement comprehensive teacher evaluation programs in the near future.[7] The Chicago Public Schools system is one of the first on a grand scale to implement comprehensive teacher evaluations; cities around the country are watching carefully to then design their own teacher evaluation programs.

Beginning Fall of 2012, Chicago Public Schools teachers finally began to be comprehensively evaluated and given feedback on areas of improvement. The REACH evaluation system includes both in-class observations and student test scores.[8] Staples noted the aspects of the observations included: “classroom environment, how well lessons are planned, and whether or not the teacher engages students and conveys information effectively.”[9]  Teachers currently view evaluations as a scheme to eject them from their jobs; if this program is to work, teachers will have to trust the administrators’ intentions.[10] In addition to implementing REACH, the 2012 school year started with a strike by the Chicago Teachers Union, who have traditionally resisted teacher evaluations incorporating student test scores.[11] The scene was set for implementation failure, but in September 2013 Sporte et al. conclude the program has been well received by its own stakeholders.

Sporte et al. published their findings one year after REACH classroom observations began. It is reported that both teachers and administrators find REACH useful and fair, “The observation process supports teacher growth, identifies areas of strength and weakness, and has improved the quality of professional conversations between them.”[12] Negative implications of classroom observation include: teacher apprehension to ask for help, discouraging teachers if their rankings are too low, and the principal, who is both observer and coach, may have a conflict of interest.[13] While observation is useful, it is reported that observations can take two weeks for administrators to complete; this time commitment is not sustainable–principals sacrificing student meetings to complete comprehensive teacher observation reports– and needs to be addressed.[14] Administrators would like additional professional development as to how to provide feedback and subsequent coaching.[15] With the best of intentions, REACH is a great help to teachers’ professional development, but distracts principals from their other duties.

Sporte et al. also noted the implication of the other half of the REACH, student growth measures and test scores.  Inline with the Chicago Teacher Union’s stance, a majority of teachers believe student test scores are too much of a factor in REACH, especially special education teachers deem the weighting of student test scores as inappropriate.[16] Supporters of using student test scores in teacher evaluations believe these are an adequate measure of what teachers are accountable for student learning, meanwhile critics warn that this poor measure of effectiveness will instead alter a teacher’s curriculum to “teach to the test.”[17] Staples reported that the evaluation system needs to be better explained to participating teachers as “some thought they were based entirely on scores, but the weight given to test scores ranges from zero to 25 percent…the rest of the rating is based on a principal’s observations of the classroom.”[18] Students themselves want to have a say in the teacher evaluation process too. Boston Student Advisory Council published a paper in the Harvard Educational Review, stating that “There must be avenues not only for students to provide their teachers with constructive feedback to help them perform better but also for students to recognize the teachers who are delivering challenging and engaging lessons.”[19] To succeed, teachers, principals, and students must agree that comprehensive teacher evaluations bring about improvement and REACH must become an asset, not a liability, for CPS stakeholders.


[1] Sporte et al.,  Teacher Evaluation in Practice: Implementing Chicago’s REACH Students, Chicago: The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago Schools Research, September 2013, http://ow.ly/qTgHk,  1 &3.

[2] Eric S. Taylor and John H. Tyler, The Effect of Evaluation on Performance: Evidence from Longitudinal Student Achievement Data of Mid-career Teachers,  NBER Working Paper No. 16877, March 2011, http://ow.ly/qTgXI, 1-2.

[3] Taylor and Tyler, abstract & 1.

[4] Ibid, 29-30.

[5]“Education: Knowledge and Skills for the Jobs of the Future,” The White House, http://ow.ly/qTheZ, and Sporte et al., 3.

[6] “Education: Knowledge and Skills for the Jobs of the Future,” and Sporte et al., 3-4.

[7] Sporte et al., 3.

[8] Ibid, 4.

[9] Brent Staples, “Principal and Teacher, a Complex Duet,” The New York Times (New York, NY), Sep. 28, 2013, http://ow.ly/qThLk.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Sporte et al.,1.

[12] Ibid, 2.

[13] Ibid, 5.

[14] Staples.

[15] Sporte et al., 2.

[16] Ibid and Greg Hinz, “New CPS teacher rating system off to ‘promising’ start,” Crain’s Chicago Business (Chicago, IL), Sep. 19, 2013, http://ow.ly/qThKw.

[17] Sporte et al., 5.

[18] Staples.

[19] Boston Student Advisory Council, “‘We Are the Ones in the Classrooms-Ask Us!’ Student Voice in Teacher Evaluations,” Harvard Educational Review 82, no. 1, (2 012): 154.

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