Efforts to improve student learning have been on the American agenda in recent years. Funding and curriculum are constant staples in the ongoing debate but teacher grading is beginning to take the forefront. Impact, a program inspired by President Obama’s grant program Race to the Top, has implemented a new evaluation system for teachers, which has resulted in the firing of hundreds of teachers in dozens of school districts.
The program relies on a combination of student test scores and in class observations. Teachers are evaluated by their own school principal and also by hired “master educators”. In Washington D.C. about 165 teachers have already been fired under the new system and 200 to 600 will be cut in upcoming months. Costly nearly $7 million per year to run, Washington’s dedication to weeding out ineffective teachers doesn’t come cheap.
Supporters attest Washington needed a serious turnaround for a dismally performing school district, but the new system comes with protest as well. Teachers and union representatives have expressed a perceived bias in evaluations and the failure of Impact to account for special circumstances. Teachers from affluent and impoverished schools are evaluated equally, which some claim just isn’t fair.
Socioeconomic factors have shown to correlate with teacher grading. Teachers in schools with a high free-reduced lunch rate score lower on average than teachers in schools with more money. To some teachers, this seems like a punishment simply for working in a low-income school.
Additional complaints focus on the quality of the “master educator” who happens to show up. Some teachers’ experiences with their master educators have been productive with educators giving advice and lesson pointers. Other teachers have reported cold and systematic encounters with their evaluators. Some teachers receiving lower scores complained that their evaluator knocked points for menial incidents, such as a student eating in class or sending a text.