Research & Commentary: Teacher Evaluations

Published July 28, 2011

Taxpayers and state governments are increasingly acting on the principle that teachers should receive evaluations of their work, to measure their effectiveness and ensure better education for students. Suggested uses for these performance evaluations are in figuring eligibility for promotions and raises and deciding retention when budget cuts or simple turnover require cutting staff.

Teacher unions, long opposed to data-based teacher evaluations or use of performance as a guide to promotion and firing, have begun to enter negotiations on these very issues rather than risk having no seat at the table. Unions often attach layers of evaluation and requirements for their use to soften the effects of these measures, and they have succeeded in eliminating some nascent evaluation and performance pay measures altogether. They frequently charge applying evaluation results to staffing decisions does not improve teaching and unfairly targets older, more experienced, and thus expensive teachers.

Local and state administrators nonetheless continue to experiment with such measures, interested in giving principals more power over their staff and improving teachers, given that teacher quality has proven the most important factor in student learning.

The following documents offer more about union and administrator negotiations over and experiments with teacher evaluations and related measures such as merit pay.

School Officials and Union Agree on Pilot Program for Teacher Evaluations
New York City school administrators and the city teachers union agreed to a pilot teacher evaluation program to begin next year in 33 failing schools, rating all teachers as highly effective, effective, developing, or ineffective. Evaluations were required for the city to receive up to $65 million in federal grants over the next three years, reports The New York Times. The most contentious issues for the union are how students’ standardized test scores will reflect on the teacher in the evaluations, and whether the union will approve new standardized tests the city is considering.

Michigan House Passes Teacher Tenure Reform Bills
Michigan’s House of Representatives passed a set of bills extending the time necessary for a K-12 teacher to obtain tenure, limiting education aspects subject to collective bargaining, and making it easier for principals to fire ineffective teachers, reports Kyle Feldscher. The bills also ban seniority protections in favor of using teacher effectiveness as a retention measure. Teachers would have to receive three years of “highly effective” ratings to receive tenure.

Oklahoma City Teacher Union Pushing for Reforms
As other unions around the nation protest education reforms such as teacher evaluations and merit pay, the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers released a “blueprint for reform” asking its local school district to review “first in, last out” seniority-based firing policies and to include student test results with other measures in teacher evaluations. Ed Allen, the union’s president, said the blueprint was a “package deal” offered to keep the union ahead of reform ideas spreading across the country.

The Unnoticed NEA Policy Shift
The nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, made a significant and nearly unnoticed policy shift at its last convention, Mike Antonnuci writes: It removed language opposing merit pay for teachers and instead inserted language approving a “single salary schedule.” This, Antonnuci says, is a policy essentially opposing merit pay but in words meant to reduce the union’s loss of public credibility for its opposition to an increasingly popular idea.

NEA Passes Teacher-Evaluation Policy, With a Catch-22 on Test Scores
The National Education Association’s policy statement supporting the use of student testing data as one measure in teacher evaluations includes a caveat holding that no current tests are valid enough to fit the NEA’s new criteria, writes Education Week. The NEA statement also includes numerous additional caveats and requirements for NEA-approved teacher evaluations.

Principled Principals
A study of Chicago principals demonstrates that, when given the flexibility to fire probationary teachers, principals fired the least effective ones, study author Brian Jacob writes in Education Next. This counters teachers union claims that principals will fire arbitrarily or unwisely. Teachers whose performance evaluations dropped from a “superior” ranking to “satisfactory” were 22 percent more likely to be fired. Teachers who were absent more than 21 times in a year saw a 13 percent increase in dismissal.

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the School Reform News Web site at, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland education policy research fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].