How Can We Pursue Justice In Teacher Effectiveness Measures

Schools operate according to a variety of values, goals, and teaching methods. As a result, different types of schools may benefit from different methods of teacher evaluation. This FAQ will not discuss the merits of a single evaluation program for schools in general, but will instead focus specifically on the teacher effectiveness measures recently adopted by Pittsburgh Public Schools.  It will trace the process that led to the program’s development. It will also explain how the program works, and provide a framework for citizens to evaluate it from the standpoint of public justice.

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Pittsburgh’s teacher evaluation program is the way that it started. For decades, Pittsburgh Public Schools operated under a last-in-first-out system of teacher layoffs and a pass/fail teacher evaluation program. Almost everyone agreed that the system did not promote better outcomes for students.  It ultimately benefited neither teachers nor schools. In an unprecedented step, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and the Pittsburgh Public School system came together to seek a solution.

Together, they approached the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They volunteered their district to pilot a new teacher evaluation program based on the Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching study. Citizens, teachers, administrators, researchers, and philanthropists converged around a simple, shared goal. They were committed to better education for students in Pittsburgh’s public schools and across the nation.

The Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) program sought to answer one crucial question: “How can effective teaching be identified and developed?” In order to answer this question, the Gates Foundation connected dozens of research teams with 3,000 teachers in multiple cities across America.  The resulting study worked closely with instructors, students, and other stakeholders. They identified five key areas of teacher performance analysis. The first area was perhaps the most obvious. They looked at student achievement gains on standardized tests and supplemental assessments.

The second focused on classroom observations and teacher reflections about their own practice in order to link the school environment to student outcomes. The third area measured was how much teachers knew about teaching mathematics or English Language Arts. Fourth, the MET program developed a set of student perception surveys in which students answered questions about their teachers and the classroom environment. The student surveys hinged on seven major points of analysis. They were labeled the “7 c’s” and consisted of Care, Control, Challenge, Clarify, Confer, Captivate, and Consolidate. Finally, the program analyzed teachers’ own perceptions of working conditions and instructional support at their schools. Viewed as a whole, these five factors produced a highly accurate picture of teacher effectiveness. This strategy works across grade levels, school districts, and academic subjects.

The findings of the MET study are just beginning to be used to provide support for Pittsburgh’s students and teachers. Pittsburgh Public Schools is developing multiple programs based on the findings. One key program is Educator Effectiveness Reporting. This uses the MET project’s points of analysis to produce individualized end-of-year reports for teachers. Importantly, the program designers heeded teachers’ desire for evaluations to be considered on an individual basis.  Overall building performance is no longer a significant factor in the reports. By inviting teachers’ input, the school system constructed an evaluation framework. If this framework is successful, it will provide credible and valuable feedback. 

The evaluations will also serve as a basis for recommendations for improvement to instructors, parents, and schools.  Teachers received the first round of reports in June 2013 on a no-stakes basis. In the future, Educator Effectiveness Reports will help administrators to determine which teachers should earn additional pay. Administrators can also use these reports to choose which teachers should receive access to professional development programs including virtual coaching. In rare cases, it will help them decide which under-performing teachers should be considered for dismissal.

Better teacher evaluation has great promise. However it is not, in and of itself, able to address all of the challenges faced by Pittsburgh Public Schools or any other school district. Pittsburgh’s schools, parents, administrators, and teachers are responsible for taking just action using their newly found insight.

The preliminary results of programs based on the MET bode well.  Time will tell whether or not accurate evaluations lead to better outcomes for students. In order for the teacher effectiveness measures to be just, there are certain components that need to be included in the process. Teachers must have relevant support, incentives, and professional development programs along with performance information. Teachers must also take advantage of new opportunities to grow and enhance their skills.

Parents and citizens must exercise their responsibility to engage with the government-administered school system. This should be done through awareness, constructive communication with the school board, and voting. Voluntary programs that provide support beyond the purpose for which schools are organized are also important. Government school administrators must embrace their responsibilities to seek feedback from the many sources available to them. This feedback can then be translated into improvement goals.  

Administrators must work to achieve those goals through effective professional development programs. In addition in the implementation of the new teaching evaluation measures, school administrators must uphold a process that ensures respect for the dignity of each teacher.

Pittsburgh’s emerging programs based on the MET project promote justice by treating students and teachers as individuals. These programs acknowledge that everyone brings diverse skills and callings.  They promote the inclusion of a variety of people in the evaluative process. If these programs succeed in connecting teachers with professional development opportunities, they will also promote improvement of teaching practice. This is for the good of all. 

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