Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On Teacher Appraisal

I was talking last week with some friends well placed to be influential with regard to upcoming innovations in teacher tenure and appraisal. In short, I expect that moves to replace LIFO (the last in, first out rule that governs who gets laid off in what order when districts face budget shortfalls, which seem never-ending in California) will come to this state as they already have in several others. I support replacing LIFO, and last year appeared in a StudentsFirst video explaining why I do (schools should be free to hire and retain the staff they think will serve students best: this is particularly necessary if we're going to start holding principals more accountable, as we should). But two of my friends, well informed on these matters and reasonable educators with relevant experience, raised two objections: (1) how are you going to ask teachers to give up LIFO in this economy without knowing what's going to replace it, and more specifically how they will be appraised, and (2) even if you have a great appraisal system, who is going to implement it fairly when you have so many untrained, underqualified principals filling the middle management ranks of our school systems?

I recognize that point 2 is a valid concern, but only propose to treat of point 1 today; I'll only point out here that if we get this appraisal issue right, our general talent level in education will rise over time. We may well need transitional arrangements in the meantime.

 I've been studying appraisal systems in my usual comparative way for some time now, primarily because the school (One World Secondary) I am planning to open will eventually need one, and secondarily because this is a hot topic in education policy debates these days. Possibly the best system in current operation is that of Singapore, its Enhanced Performance Management System (EPMS). This system has been operational since 2005, and has succeeded in attracting and retaining a large cohort of talented, qualified teachers in one of the world's best run school systems. Under EPMS, all Singaporean teachers, like all other civil servants in that Chinese-dominated, multi-ethnic society, are appraised annually. Teachers who perform well receive bonuses of 10-30% (smaller than the performance components we are proposing at One World) and are eligible for promotions along one of three career tracks, not all of which require them to leave the classroom, a defect common in our education personnel systems. So performing well leads to increased pay and attractive promotions along with high status (teaching is the second most respected career among college students in Singapore, behind medicine but ahead of law, business, and the many other careers outcompeting education in the United States), while performing poorly leads to counselling and targeted professional development and can lead to the removal of teachers from classrooms into other careers to which they will be presumably better suited in an economy whose unemployment rate remains near two percent.

We have a lot to learn from EPMS, which has continued to be revised annually, which is fundamental to One World's teacher appraisal system, and which should be studied in districts throughout the United States.