Denver school board considers ‘Widget Effect’


Posted Tue, Mar 16, 2010

Denver- A representative from The New Teacher Project presented a report titled “The Widget Effect” to the Denver Public School Board last Thursday, detailing the poor condition of the DPS teacher evaluation process.

Denver Public Schools were part of a national study done by TNTP throughout the 2008-2009 school year. This study, released in June of 2009, concluded that the teacher evaluation process in DPS as it currently stands, is drastically lacking behind its peers.

“DPS lacks clearly communicated teacher performance standards and an accurate way to measure teacher performance against those standards.”

The report also found that Denver’s teachers are not receiving effective feedback or support needed to improve and poor performance is going largely un-addressed.

Only 38 percent of Denver teachers believe the evaluation process allows accurate assessment of teacher performance. Furthermore 99 percent of the evaluated teachers were deemed “satisfactory” with only 40 percent of teachers being in need of “developmental improvement.”  This leads to poor performance going un-addressed.

Some key findings in the survey were:

  • More than six in 10 teachers believe that dismissing poorly performing non-probationary teachers is important for building a high-quality workforce.
  • Seven in 10 administrators believe there are non-probationary teachers in their buildings who should be dismissed for poor performance.
  • Virtually no non-probationary teachers in Denver or Pueblo have received an unsatisfactory performance rating since 2005.

If there is no objective evaluation process for teacher performance, than this can lead to uneven and unfair learning potential for students. The nation-wide study concluded that poor teacher evaluations lead to teachers becoming nothing more than uniform and replicable parts, or “Widgets,”  in a broken educational system.

“The research is clear,” says DPS Chief Human Resources Officer Shayne Spalten “…the most important factor to providing improved outcomes for students is an effective teacher in each classroom. As the evidence in this report makes clear, however, we are not adequately distinguishing between those teachers who have been successful in driving improved outcomes for children and those who have not.”

TNTP released a brief on Wednesday laying out a blueprint on how the federal government can take steps towards reversing the “Widget Effect”. This expanded on the results of the initial 2009 report and pointed out an opportunity to reform the evaluation process on a national level through the use of the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). There is an annual allocation of $3 billion, spent on initiatives that TNTP claims have little to no impact on teacher performance.

“We can’t afford to miss this opportunity to fix funding streams that, however well intentioned, are simply not giving poor and minority students more equitable access to great teachers,” said Timothy Daly, president of TNTP. “If we are serious about putting more students on track for success in college and beyond, effective teachers need to be at the center of every educational decision we make—including our spending decisions. The reauthorization of ESEA gives us an important, overdue opportunity to ensure our funding choices match our policy priorities.”

According to Kristy Armstrong, Deputy Communications Officer for Denver Public Schools, the district is currently working with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and the Gates Foundation to develop a new teacher-evaluation system.

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