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One year on an annual performance review, I was rated the equivalent of 60 percent on attendance, even though I hadn’t missed a single day of work and came in a half hour early every day. In fact, I didn’t score higher than 60 percent on any metric. In a year I broke a ton of stories and achieved other professional goals, I was rated a failure.

Performance reviews are an annual rite of subjectivity. The Wall Street Journal published a column saying it’s time to “put the performance review out of its misery” because many bosses have no idea how to make them meaningful.

Yet, we want to subject public school teachers to the very system that causes a tremendous amount of angst in the private business world.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced he will insist on a teacher evaluation system. The federal government has threatened to withhold millions of dollars from poor schools if the state doesn’t follow through.

All of this is happening despite no empirical evidence that teacher evaluation and incentive systems actually improve student performance. A recent study of the long term effect of good teachers found the data was gathered before high-stakes testing. Finnish schools – considered the best in the world – don’t evaluate teachers at all!

An essayist in the New York Daily News asked how teachers can be rated excellent if only 65 percent of their students graduate. I’d like to know why urban school teachers bear the brunt of the blame. This is not a coincidence. Urban school children are failing for a variety of reasons that cannot be quantified in teacher evaluations.

Of course, teachers should be evaluated and there’s plenty of room for reform, but there will always be a lot of subjectivity. Making teacher evaluations high-stakes could have dire consequences for the teachers who work with our most challenged students.

I’m glad I wasn’t fired that year. I might have been if I were a teacher.

19 Responses to If I Were a Teacher, I Would Have Been Fired

  1. How about a parent evaluation system?

  2. Thank you Rachel!!

    • January 16, 2012 at 7:59 pm Michael Rogala responds:

      @Steve Weshing…You are VERY misinformed regard teacher firings. Teachers are fired & reprimanded all the time. What our unions protect is DUE PROCESS…something that seems to be forgotten when you work in such a “political environment” such as teaching. Urban schools tend to make the biggest budget cuts & without due process you could get fired for MANY reasons…one of which is being the highest paid. When budget dollars make the front page of the news, leaders will do what it takes to get out of the red…and this INCLUDES firing good teachers who are highest paid.

      Please get for facts straight before posting…

  3. January 16, 2012 at 7:19 pm Steve Wershing responds:


    Fear not. You would not have been fired. Because in many systems it is insanely difficult to fire a teacher.

    I agree that performance evaluations are a lousy tool. but what will we do? Finnish schools work in part because principals can fire teachers, and many in the US cannot. (there is a famous flowchart fro, I believe, US News that illustrates what it takes to fire a teacher in the New York City school system. Suffice it to say that it is, for all practical purposes, impossible. Especially for something as mundane as not doing a good job.) Plus, if I read the article correctly, poor teachers are subject to peer pressure to improve. Thanks to unions, there is not the same kind of philosophy here. It is not “let’s all excel” but “its us against the management.”

    Maybe we start with giving principals the latitude to manage their schools, including staffing. (They do that in Finland). Then, if the principal wants an evaluation system, great. If there is a better way, there is the freedom to experiment with it.

    Somehow we have to get to the point where if you do a good job (however that ends up being evaluated) you can get more resources or get promoted, and if you do a lousy job, you can be let go.

    • The system clearly needs to be reformed. For example, if a teacher is convicted of a felony, it should be easier to fire him. However, I’m leery of giving principals absolute power. I’ve met some terrible, vindictive, incompetent principals. Unions are there for a reason.

      I just don’t get the obsession with evaluations. Where is the data showing this will lead to better results?

    • January 28, 2012 at 3:57 pm LaPucelle responds:

      As much as I feel that teachers’ unions are a barrier to reform, I don’t quite think unions perpetuate that kind of message (“us against the management”). As a young teacher, I am constantly frustrated by the often random criteria my adminstrators use to evaluate us by. Not because I fear a negative evaluation (by all means! Tell me what I need to work on to be better and more effective!), but because their criteria are bogus. Evaluations are not based on anything that suggests good teaching practices. In fact, much of what administrators cite as “best practice” is really just untested theory. In theory it’s a best practice, but in reality…? We honestly have no clue. The amount of quality research regarding educational practices is shameful. However, there are some solid bodies of research that do tell us what is and is not effective. However, these are not the practices that we as teachers are evaluated on. Instead, our degree of “quality” is measured by the whim of present educational fads.

  4. January 17, 2012 at 6:53 am Greece Dad responds:

    What is the alternative?
    Status quo?
    Our schools have been in decline for years. Urban schools in particular. Can we place the blame on the deterioration of the family unit? Sure. Some of it.
    How about our society’s complete lack of self-discipline and individual responsibility?
    When discussing the state of education in our country and state, I have yet to hear any teacher take any responsibility. The only thing I hear from teachers and their union is that they need more money and better pay, or that parents need to be more involved, or that their management are all vindictive individuals who will fire them at will if left to their own devices.
    This educational experiment has been tried for the past 30 years. We pay our teachers very well. They have nearly bulletproof job security. And still our schools are failing.
    I ask again, what is the alternative?

    • I have no idea. But do you throw everything at the wall and see if it sticks? Experiment with the lives of children and teachers to see what happens because we have to do SOMETHING?

      I ask again – where is the evidence teacher bonuses and evaluations work? Where is the evidence high stakes testing leads to better performance?

      No one wants to talk about the only thing studies show do work – economic integration of schools.

  5. January 17, 2012 at 9:12 am Dorothy responds:

    I believe that long-term data will show to those who believe in high-stakes testing that this is not the way to help students learn. There is much research available for those who care to look that shows what encourages learning–working together with other students, non-threatening learning environments, hands-on/problem-/object-based learning, having adequate resources in schools and classrooms to meet learner’s needs…and yes, economic integration of schools. All this is well-documented. However, we refuse to implement what works because we lack the political will to put our children first.

  6. January 17, 2012 at 10:06 am Greece Dad responds:

    I am not sure we should willy nilly try anything under the sun. The fact is we know that what we are doing now doesn’t work.
    Performance evaluations have worked in the private sector, why not try some version with teachers? Why are they so afraid of being evaluated? And while we are at it, what practicle purpose is served by granting tenure to an elementary or secondary school teacher?

    • Great questions.

      My concern is the over-emphasis on evaluations and the scapegoating of teachers. There is clearly room to reform the system, but hinging it on teacher ratings seems extreme.

    • April 14, 2012 at 11:11 pm Urban Teacher responds:

      I am a teacher that’s somewhat new to the profession- I’ve only been teaching for six years. I totally understand the idea that we should be evaluted as is done in the private sector. But when you ask why I’m afraid of being evaluated, I don’t think you’re asking the right question. What is being evaluated? In the private sector, a person can work hard and be responsible for what they produce. As a middle school teacher, my product is a hormonal, immature, irrational teenager. My evaluation should not be tied to how they do on a test.

  7. To those who insist that eliminating tenure is the answer, or that everything would be fixed if it was easier to fire teachers – where is your evidence? How to you explain that in states with weak unions and weak tenure student performance is no better than states with strong tenure and strong unions? As far as what purpose is served by granting tenure – take some time to examine all the cases where local school boards have tried to discipline or fire teachers for doing their job (teaching evolution, choosing literature that offends the easily offended, etc.) There is far more evidence for teachers needing some sort of protection than the idea that “performance evaluations have worked in the private sector”!

  8. January 17, 2012 at 12:34 pm Greece Dad responds:

    “High-Stakes Testing” always seems to me to be a ridiculous term. The object of school is to impart knowledge and information to our children. How are we to know if they have retained the appropriate amount of necessary information with out a test? The so called high stakes tests have worked for hundreds of years, why are they to be condemned now.

    I don’t suggest that teacher evaluations are the end all for reform, but they can certainly be a part of the solution.

    As for the tenure issue. Again, it won’t solve all the problems for every person. When was the last time someone was fired for teaching evolution? Really?
    When was the last time a teacher was fired for choice of reading material? Those things just don’t happen in the 21st century.
    We are all graced to live in a country which provides us the freedom to seek redress through the courts if we feel we are unfairly or illegally terminated. It is a system that works for hundreds of millions of Americans. Why not allow teachers to use the same system?

  9. I happen to agree that teacher evaluations and testing done well are important. After all you can’t manage what you can’t measure. I happen to think that this proposal just isn’t doing it right.

    What do I think is doing it right? Using standardized testing to measure student progress against what is expected with rigorous adjustments for socioeconomic factors and learning disabilities and combining it with a clearly defined subjective review process by both peers and supervisors.

    As far as tenure. “Those things just don’t happen in the 21st century” BECAUSE we have tenure and academic freedom laws. There ARE plenty of attempts to discipline teachers for such things though. For instance in my home town a social studies teacher was the target of complaints from a couple parents for assigning “biased and anti-American” reading. Why? Because to illustrate how perspective and ideology influence history he assigned excerpts on the same topic from historians with widely differing viewpoints including conservatives like Paul Johnson and liberals like Howard Zinn. A couple of parents complained to the school board about the “left-wing garbage” being peddled and there was a brief silly but of controversy. He was told that the superintendent wanted to reassign him and take away his honors class that he had assigned the comparative reading too, but couldn’t since his state test scores were great and he had tenure and seniority. This sort of thing happens all the time.

    I agree that it can be too hard to fire a teacher and the process in NYS is overly bureaucratic and the state has too much control. I think tenure reform is needed, but done in a way that preserves academic freedom. And again you talk about testing – here is a test question. If tenure is a major problem, why is there no correlation between tenure law/union strength and student achievement?

  10. January 17, 2012 at 6:51 pm Greece Dad responds:

    @ Mike.
    I will defer to your assertion that tenure has no correlation to student achievement.
    If that is the case, and a public school system is in place for the benefit and education of our children, why have tenure at all?
    “No correlation” cuts in both direction.

    Should we be artificially protecting teachers’ jobs when there is no correlation to student achievement?
    Our current employment laws should offer significant protection against unfair termination.

  11. A rating of 3 out of 5 isn’t really a 60%.

    If a rating of 5 is distinguished, a 4 proficient, a 3 satisfactory, a 2 basic/needs improvement and a 1 unsatisfactory, the simple turn to percentages just does not hold water.

    Was that the case in your ratings? What is the rating scale that was used that you are converting to a 60%?

    • Purposely not saying because I don’t want to identify the employer. (I’ve had four news jobs so far.)

      The point is that on the only non-subjective measurement, I was still rated poorly, despite the fact I had achieved 100 percent attendance and punctuality.

  12. January 28, 2012 at 4:10 pm Toferdavid responds:


    Nothing for nothing, but that’s your experience in your school. Please don’t over generalize the condition of all teachers based on your own experience which as you said is relatively short lived.

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