New Teachers Need Encouragement, not Just Evaluation

A new Florida bill would institute a merit-based system that ties teacher performance to student improvement, requiring half of a performance appraisal to come from improved test scores in the classroom. The other half of the evaluation would come from the school principal. Older teachers with tenure are exempt from the system. If three years go by without improvement, teachers can be subject to dismissal.

Gov. Rick Scott of Florida says that teachers are the only profession that don't have some form of merit-based evaluation, a point that is fair and worthy of consideration. However, that may partly be because teaching is not like raising profits. The product, a child, is precocious, bratty, brilliant, or troubled and requires a management and skill that makes it incredibly difficult to capture just by measuring test results.

The other issue raised by the bill is that it affects the newest teachers, who are often in need of the most support. Teaching has a high dropout rate, just check the numbers for programs like Teach for American or New York City Teaching Fellows. On average, half of new teachers drop out in five years. Those who stay in the profession say it takes at least five years to become comfortable in the job. Which is why Florida may be taking a fair step in evaluating teachers but needs to readjust its law to consider the impact of new teacher performance. We need good teachers, and they need time to develop. Having a gradient system that works up to 50 percent in say five years may be a fairer and more accurate measure of teacher performance, and it would serve to encourage those just entering the ranks and getting their sea legs.

On a final note, I wonder if the day will ever come when we legislate or evaluate parenting as part of the performance of children. It may be an unfair intrusion of the state into the home, but it's rare to see improvement and advancement in children if it doesn't come from encouraging or demanding parents. This is the "x" in the education equation, and until we find a way to solve for it, no answer will ever truly be accurate.

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