Teacher evaluations and independent school success

While teacher evaluation is undoubtedly important in any school, it can be critical to the success of independent schools. Here are three ways in which that is true.

1. Teaching Excellence. Good teacher evaluation contributes to the quality of the school. Done well, teacher evaluation encourages reflection on and refining of teaching practice. It recognizes and encourages good work, and so strengthens morale. It helps administration make good retention and teacher placement decisions, to allow each teacher to make best use of her skills. If Independent schools are to fulfill their promise of providing an excellent education and parent experience, quality teacher evaluation is essential.

2. Attraction and retention of students. Credible teacher evaluation practice is important both to retain current students and attract new ones. Parents choose to send their children to independent schools for many different reasons. They may be looking for smaller classes, or a more traditional or more progressive pedagogy, or a school that will best meet their child’s special needs, or a school that supports and reinforces their religious or cultural tradition. But regardless of the kind of school sought, a common desire will be for a school that provides a “better” education than is available in the public school. And high-quality teaching is correctly understood to be essential to high quality education. The independent school, to be able to attract and retain parents, must be able to claim that its teachers are superior. When I was an independent school head, I was often asked both by current and prospective parents, “How are your teachers evaluated?”

For many reasons, including to reassure current and prospective parents, I think it is helpful to have a clearly articulated and publicly available teacher evaluation policy and process. The document should not be unnecessarily long or complicated (although good teacher evaluation is complicated), and, if it is to inspire confidence, it should be written in plain English. It should be available on the school website, and as part of the school’s marketing materials.

3. Evidence to support and defend personnel decisions. Public school teachers are employees of the school district, not the individual school. However, independent school teachers are employed by their school. It is the independent school, therefore, that has sole responsibility for teacher employment, deployment, promotion and dismissal. While a public school teacher who feels wronged by his employer will have a union to assist him assert what he sees as his rights, the independent school teacher may have the ability to appeal to the school’s board, but beyond that, only has the protection of the courts. It is therefore much more likely that independent schools will have their personnel decisions litigated. And it is the school itself, not a larger jurisdiction of which it is part, that will bear the costs of litigation, and possible awards against it.

Furthermore, while public school boards can afford to shuffle poor performing teachers into situations where they will do least harm (or create least political damage), independent schools do not have that flexibility. If the school is to retain the confidence of its parents, and attract new ones, its teachers must be, and perceived to be, very good. The independent school cannot afford to retain poorly thought-of teachers, and is much more likely than public schools, to have to dismiss a teacher, and deal with any legal and financial implications. It is thus critical that its decisions bear scrutiny and are backed by proper evidence. Thorough evaluations play a vital role in this.

For reasons, then, of teaching quality, attraction and retention of students, and defensible personnel decisions, good teacher evaluation practice is especially important in independent schools.

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