Into the Shark Tank…

Dangerously wading into the teacher evaluation controversy.

Earlier today on Diane Ravitch’s blog, she posted an alert that the State of Utah was going to base teacher pay on teaching evaluations, and that this would be a terrible idea.

Diane Ravitch is nationally known; she was initially in the Bush Administration, but later turned against the No Child Left Behind Act and has written extensively on its problems.  She also opposes the expansion of charter schools because they drain money away from public schools often in an unaccountable, possibly corrupt, fashion.  I agree with some, but not all, of her positions.

I may get my head handed to me on silver platter, but I submitted the following comment to the post.  The comment was in the moderation queue for a while but went live around 3 PM PDT.


I enter this comment warily given the immediate emotional reactions above.

I have worked both as a teacher, first in the Peace Corps, later in public schools, and now in retirement as a math/science tutor. In the interim I spent many years in the software and biotech industries. You can see my background on my blog at where I am currently trying to raise local support to give our public school teachers a raise, so that they can afford the high cost of living in the Silicon Valley area.

Reactions like the above really complicate my efforts.

I worry that every time teachers react negatively to attempts to evaluate them, they destroy their credibility with the public at large. People are evaluated in every other profession, and, yes, those evaluation methods are subjective, and, yes, they are open to possible injustice and criticism, but for the most part life goes on successfully!!

I completely understand why test scores are problematic, but in virtually every other profession that I can think of, people are evaluated by some combination of feedback from their bosses and peers. Of course, there are “bad bosses” and people get screwed at times, but when the public sees that teachers can’t possibly agree to subject themselves to the same trials and tribulations that the rest of the public endures, the public does not get “fired up” to pay additional tax money to provide them with higher salaries! Why should they vote to give a raise to someone who is not evaluated like most other workers and, especially, when their child comes home and tells them that the teacher “didn’t do anything” that day?

When I returned to public school teaching, I was elated to find that, despite the bad press, most of my teaching colleagues were dedicated and hard-working.

Nonetheless, we all know that there is “dead wood” protected by the tenure system, and the common perception is that this “dead wood” is also protected by the teachers’ unions.

Instead of perpetuating the divisive, non-compromising attitudes that are destroying our country and that this current election is exacerbating to an unprecedented degree, when will teachers and their unions reach out constructively and try to resolve these issues?

Some kind of visible action towards compromise would go a long way towards stopping the drain of public funds to charter schools…

Teachers definitely need unions to fight for them in salary negotiations and to prevent their health benefits from being destroyed as is happening everywhere else these days (while some insurance companies report record profits). However, in my opinion unions need a “new offensive” to convince the public that they really are looking out for the good of school children instead of only protecting adults.

Making some progress on reasonable evaluations sure would help!

David Kristofferson

Author: David Kristofferson

Retired Ph.D. scientist, teacher (after retiring from industry, taught in private and public high schools and then worked a decade in my own private tutoring business), bioinformatician (managed both the NIH-funded GenBank National Nucleic Acid Sequence Databank and the BIONET National Computer Resource for Molecular Biology), IT director at Eos and Raven Biotechnologies, software product manager, AAAS Fellow, avid cyclist, and backpacker!

3 thoughts on “Into the Shark Tank…”

  1. Just posted my reply to Diane’s blog. Follow the link above to see the discussion. On her webpage you may first see a comments form. Scroll down past the form to read the discussion. If you would like to discuss this topic locally, please leave a reply in this forum.


  2. After exchanging comments yesterday on her blog, this morning I requested a response about teacher evaluations directly from Diane Ravitch herself, former Bush administration Assistant Secretary of Education. She was kind enough to reply a short time ago. This response is on her blog at

    I am also reproducing the response below for your information. There has already been an interesting teacher reaction on her blog.


    I wrote in “Reign of Error” about the difficulty of establishing a good teacher evaluation system. Most states are putting too much weight on test scores, which is a very bad method.

    The best, most reasonable program I discovered was the peer review program in Montgomery County, Maryland.

    It assures that every new teacher gets a mentor to guide them, as do teachers whose principal think they need help. After a year of mentoring, the mentor makes a recommendation to a committee of teachers and administrators: the teacher is good, the teacher needs more help, the teacher should be terminated.

    The union supports the program. It offers help before judgment. It removes lazy or incompetent teachers.

    I haven’t heard anything better.”


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