Evaluate This!

Happy Accountability Day, reader! But how best to celebrate when nearly every day seems to be Accountability Day these days? In Massachusetts we like to mark the passage of a consequential day with consequences by scouring newly released teacher ratings in order to finally, FINALLY, smoke out those bad teachers. So pull up a chair and uncork the wine box—it’s time for some deep data diving.

R u proficient?  
Accountability Day started with a bang yesterday when the Boston Public Schools bowed to demands from the excellence-loving Boston Globe and released teacher ratings for the city’s schools. Inquiring minds, and the few remaining Globe subscribers, were on the edge of their high-performing seats: would the ratings shine the spotlight of excellence upon the legions of LIFO-lifers and their achievement-gap-widening ways? Alas, this particular spotlight seemed to shine somewhat randomly except for when it fell, laser like, upon older and minority teachers, a *disproportionate* share of whom received low marks. In other words, Boston’s unofficial policy of replacing public schools and their old diverse teachers with charters staffed by fresh young white teachers makes a lot of sense. One other fun fact: the highest ratings went to central office administrators, nearly 40% of whom scored an exemplary rating. In other other words, the unofficial policy of hiring lots and lots of these also makes sense, not to mention cents.

Stomp that divot
But why does Boston get to bogart all of the accountability? In a sign that this was going to be the biggest Accountability Day in the history of Accountability Days, the state announced that it would be releasing aggregate teacher ratings for every city and town in the entire state of Massachusetts. Note: districts that had the good sense not to participate in Race to the Top were exempt from this reporting requirement. Alas, as these include well-heeled and well-shod districts like Wellesley, Dover, Sherborne and Duxbury, my hypothesis that districts in close proximity to polo fields would be replete with highly rated teachers would have to wait for another day… 

Still, I was curious to see how teachers in my adopted home town of Gloucester, MA rated in this rating of the teachers. Gloucester is know for luck (hard), liquor (also hard), storm (perfect), tuna (wicked) and a pact (pregnancy). But what about *exemplarity,* that essential force of college and career readiness? Apparently it lies deep beneath the sea because 0.0% of the teachers in Gloucester earned an exemplary rating, which according to my calculations adds up to none. Fortunately one need not travel far in order to inhale the sweet scent of top-notch-ness. In nearby Manchester-by-the-Sea, where the median house price is more than $700,000, nearly 25% of the teachers earned an exemplary rating, which is as-it-should-be. 

R8 me or h8 me
The great thing about Accountability Day is that we can all agree on what these teacher ratings mean. For example, *needs improvement* merely means that everyone can get better at their job, even if one’s job is of the expectations lowering, achievement gap widening variety. Which is why the city of Somerville rated an estimated 75% of its 500 teachers as *needs improvement* last year. Except that under the state’s new evaluation system, *needs improvement* translates into *needs to start looking for another job.* And even a cursory glance reveals major disparities in teacher ratings from one district to another. On Martha’s Vineyard, for example, 34% of the teachers are in need of improvement, but a 35 minute ferry ride across the sparkling waters of the Vineyard Sound in Falmouth just 4% of teachers need to improve. 

Gr8 teachers, gr8 schools, gr8 idea 
You know what would be gr8 right about now? If an advocacy group spearheaded a gra$$roots campaign that mobilized a citizens army behind the banner of *Great Teachers, Great Schools,* then used the threat of a ballot initiate to pressure lawmakers into adopting far-reaching legislation mandating that districts can only use the state’s new evaluation system in the event of teacher layoffs. You know, for the kids. Cue music please…

Do you need improvement? Send tips and comments to tips@haveyouheardblog.com.


  1. Now I understand why unionized Massachusetts ranks so far behind non-unionized Mississippi on test scores and such . . . .

  2. I wonder what could “account” for the wide variability in this new “accountability” system? I thought it was supposed to be really objective with all those multiple measures. How do so many administrators get to be so exemplary while so many teachers need improvement? If students need improvement, then teachers are held accountable. So if teachers need improvement, shouldn’t administrators be held accountable? It just doesn’t make sense because I thought this was supposed to be a perfect and foolproof system that was bought and paid for by billions in think tank money and bribes from the federal government.

  3. If you look at the school by school ratings, there are some very good districts where no teachers were rated exemplary. Not everyone is willing to play the state’s game.

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