Are Principals Valid and Reliable Evaluators of Teacher Quality? Can We Build a Teacher Assessment/Evaluation System That Includes Principals and Teachers and Creates More Effective Schools and Teachers?

Teacher evaluation had always been a small part of a principal’s job. Maybe one lesson observation a year per teacher, or none, almost always satisfactory. Teacher shortages were endemic, teaching was a difficult job that was poorly paid. In hard-to-staff schools vacancies for an entire year was not unusual.
Principals were essentially managers and convincing teachers not to quit was far more important than mechanical observations.
The Widget Effect Study tells us,
 Less than 1 percent of teachers receive unsatisfactory ratings, even in schools where students fail to meet basic academic standards, year after year.
The Great Recession, millions unemployed, higher salaries and the newfound popularity of teaching has for the first time since the 1930’s resulted in many applicants for each teaching position.
Teacher quality is a central concern. If a teacher is denied tenure there is a long line waiting to replace them.
The number of unsatisfactory annual teacher ratings in New York City has increased markedly over the last few years.
While the media and the public have focused on rating and remunerating teachers in relation to student standardized test scores the law in New York State has changed dramatically, and, essential sections must be negotiated with the collective bargaining agent. (see detailed description here)

The most widely publicized aspect of the new legislation is Section 3012 c of the Education Law (“3012-c”), which contains the new comprehensive Annual Professional Performance Review (“APPR”) system for teachers and principals.

From a labor relations perspective, one of the more controversial aspects of 3012-c is the requirement of a locally developed (negotiated) appeals process under which the teacher … has the right to challenge the substance of the evaluation, adherence to standards and procedures for reviews, and implementation of a TIP/PIP. In fact, evaluations conducted pursuant to 3012-c cannot even be introduced during a disciplinary proceeding under Section 3020-a of the Education Law prior the expiration of the appeals process.

When a tenured teacher is charged with a “pattern of ineffective teaching or performance” the District must establish that it has negotiated and agreed to a TIP/PIP applicable to that individual.

All collective bargaining agreements covering teachers and building principals entered into after July 1, 2010 must be consistent with 3012-c. Those provisions of collective bargaining agreements that were entered into prior to July 1, 2010 and conflict with 3012-c remain in effect until a successor agreement is entered into, at which time the parties must negotiate over the issues implicated by 3012-c.

Unions and school districts must negotiate the elements of teacher evaluation systems.

Do principals have the skills required to both observe and evaluate teachers? Do they have the skills to assist in the design of a Teacher Intervention (TIP) and/or Peer Intervention Plans (PIP)? (See sample TIP here)

The history in New York City is not encouraging.

The current appeal of an unsatisfactory rating is pro forma, the teacher never wins, that’s right, never.  Examples of egregious conduct on the part of principals is all to common. A Gotham Schools Community blog  is chilling in recounting immoral and illegal actions by principals.

For teachers the evaluation/observation is viewed as punitive. Experienced teachers argue, “I’m an experienced teacher, I knew how to teach.” A supervisor responds, “Are the kids learning? It’s teaching and learning not teaching or learning.”

Principals and teachers shy away the core of the profession: teaching and learning.

Building a teacher evaluation system requires skilled supervisors and engaged teachers. In my view teachers should be part of the system, evaluation is not solely the role of the principal, peer review must be a part of any system.

How many principals currently teach a class? How many can run lunch duty?  The ability to peruse data, interim and predictive assessments is not a leadership skill. The view of the principal as the sole decision-maker has evolved to a concept of distributive leadership.

In their landmark study of visionary companies, James Collins and Jerry Porras (1997) define leaders as individuals who “displayed high levels of persistence, overcame significant obstacles, attracted dedicated people, influenced groups of people toward the achievement of goals, and played key roles in guiding their companies through crucial episodes in their history.”

There is now much greater emphasis placed on the complex idea of “distributed leadership” shared by multiple individuals at different levels of the organization (Riordan, 2003). Similarly, Spillane, Halverson, and Diamond (2001) argue that school leadership must be viewed as the cumulative activities of a broad set of leaders, both formal and informal, within a school, rather than as the work of one actor, such as the principal. The buck may stop with the principal in a school, but it serves everyone’s interests to develop broad leadership capacity in their schools. This “distributive” leadership serves many purposes, including expanding expertise across staff members, thereby deepening efforts for instructional improvement (Supovitz and Poglinco, 2001).

We must seek new leaders with new skills, both principals and teachers, to lead schools into the future. We have a long way to go.


2 responses to “Are Principals Valid and Reliable Evaluators of Teacher Quality? Can We Build a Teacher Assessment/Evaluation System That Includes Principals and Teachers and Creates More Effective Schools and Teachers?

  1. The current organization of schools is terrible. Principals are NOT necessarily great teachers AND good administrators. I’ve seen lousy teachers make good administrators, and vice versa. Distributive leadership perhaps? The profession needs to examine the medical model to see if the idea of hospital administrators overseen by professionals makes sense for education. The improvement of teaching requires both subject scholarship and effective teaching performance. That is a rare combination in a person. Effective help on both sides of this dilemma is required, and providing that is yet another skill. All the teacher preparation courses I have seen do little for either. Perhaps the teaching prep should mirror the internship model for doctors as well. If the USA is serious about improving education, both of these agendas need attention.
    The current fad of assuming all senior teachers are bad and all new ones are good is scapegoating, AND FANCIFUL. Why are over half leaving after less than five years if the economy is as bad as it is and teaching is such a well rewarded (and rewarding) job?
    The responsibility of a Government to prepare and assist its new, and current, teachers needs attention and improvement. Those who think teaching is something anyone can do should step up. If society wants a revolving teaching force, then the current pay schedule which encompasses a very long and very gradual pay schedule, and huge investment in post graduate education, must be reexamined. Stop comparing a classroom lesson with an educational TV show that costs between $300,000, and $600,000 or more per episode to make. Allow educators a better exemption from copyright laws so that commercial media produced for broadcast entertainment can be used, and reused, in a not for profit classroom.

    The people I know who have joined the profession after working at another job say that teaching is the most difficult job they have ever had, and it doesn’t end at 3 o’clock or June 30. In the early 1990’s about 200 IBM employees joined the staffs of Bronx High Schools. Five years later there were less than a handful remaining. Come on down!!


  2. Dave
    The Urban Teacher Residency programs ( have an 85% retention rate. While the program is initially expensive the savings are significant over time. There are small programs in NYC.

    On the supervisory side the Leadership Academy and New Leaders for New Schools are residency programs, the aspiring principal works directly with an experienced principal. While some good teachers may make bad supervisors and visa versa I view the most effective principal as the principal teacher, not as an adminstrator. The principal can delegate adminstrative tasks to secretaries or others and immerse themselves in the instructional sphere. The current system attempts to teach leadership, in my experience leadership is earned by the respect of collegues, not by the designation by a chancellor.


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