Teacher evaluations — and surveys of students and colleagues

Dave Orphal, a teacher at Skyline High School in Oakland, is writing a series of blog posts for The Education Report about revamping teacher evaluations — including a pilot program that two middle schools are using this year. Orphal serves as a veteran teacher leader for the Bay Area New Millennium Initiative and works with the California Teachers Association’s Institute for Teaching. You can read more of Dave’s thoughts on teaching and educational reform at TransformED.

David OrphalIn my last post, I offered an overview of a proposed teacher evaluation system that two Oakland schools are piloting. The proposed system would replace the six performance criteria outlined in the California Standards for the Teaching Profession in favor of five new, but remarkably similar, criteria. I also examined one major departure from the current system of teacher evaluation, specifically the use of student performance data.

In this post, we will look at another significant difference from the current and piloted systems: feedback from a teacher’s students and colleagues.

The proposed teacher evaluation system will add a component called 360-Degree Feedback. In essence, this is corporate jargon for using multiple perspectives and sources of information to inform an evaluation. Jargon aside, I applaud the effort to draw in more voices and viewpoints that just one administrator’s in the evaluation of a teacher.

The pilot evaluation system already doubles the number of people observing a teacher, simply by asking an instructional coach to do several observations in concert with the observations that a principal would do. The 360-degree feedback adds to this a set of surveys completed by the teacher’s students and another set completed by her colleagues.

I can already imagine some of the concerns that some teachers will have. Surveys can be influenced heavily by emotions. A student who is angry with me because I would not flex on a deadline might rate me as a poor teacher, while that same student may rate me an excellent teacher because I flexed on the deadline. Emotional responses like these would have only a vague reflection on my actual effectiveness as a teacher. At the same time, my colleagues may be reluctant to give me honest feedback in order to maintain harmony in the copy center and teacher cafeteria.

The solution to both of these concerns is simple. The people who are analyzing the survey data must bring to bear their professional judgment. Rather than mindlessly allowing this data to drive their evaluation of a teacher, professional educators must remain firmly in the driver’s seat and only allow the data to inform our decisions.

The so-called data-driven movement sits at the core of what is wrong with the current educational reform movement. Leaving this unaddressed could bring disaster to the piloted (and any) teacher evaluation model. Professionals on both sides of the teacher-evaluation question are shying away from disagreement. Neither side wants to be the villain in a conflict about whether or not a teacher should be dismissed because of sub-standard performance.

In the question of whether or not to dismiss a teacher, administrations around California and in many states would prefer to defer to test scores. They claim that teachers’ unions are too strong; the union’s successful defense of a teacher is so assured, that principals would rather suffer a poor teacher than attempt to dismiss him. Rather, allow the number to speak for themselves, they tend to argue. If a teacher’s students are not performing well on the state-mandated exam, the scores should be irrefutable proof for the teacher’s dismissal.

On the other side, teachers’ unions are loath to allow teachers to sit in judgment of one another. It will erode solidarity, pitting teachers against one another, making teachers easier targets for arbitrary and capricious actions from management. Rather than evolve into a professional association like the BAR or the Medical Board, where lawyers and doctors hold one another accountable to their profession’s standards, teachers’ unions tend to behave more like teamsters and steamfitters, wanting management to hold teachers accountable.

On both sides, professionals are abdicating their rights and responsibilities as professionals. Teachers abdicate to principals, and principals to testing companies. I say again: the solution is simple. Education professions must reclaim their professional rights and responsibilities.

Here in Oakland, the proposed teacher evaluation may be a good first step. Allowing multiple professionals to observe and evaluate a teacher could allow for richer discussions about what aspects of practice the teacher excels in, and where she can make improvements. Teachers, coaches, and administrators may find themselves disagreeing as they discuss a teacher. I hope they embrace the disagreement, and use these instances to engage in rich dialogue. Public education is too important not to.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • del

    Extremely well said Mr. Orphal. I strongly agree that teachers (and administrators) unions are 100% abdicating responsibility and that our unions should to push our colleagues to meet the standards for our professions. A chain is only as strong as the weakest link and we need to understand that we are letting the weak links (and our knee jerk reaction to defend them) define us in the public’s eye.
    While I am always wary of corporate jargon invading our educational profession, I do like the idea of many eyes on each teacher. It is true that an administrator’s time is extremely limited, thus forcing them to not effectively evaluate and develop ALL teachers at a site. Additionally, many administrators struggle to effectively meet teachers at their zone of proximal development since a classroom may lay outside an administrator’s area of expertise. A coach would be a huge help there (if a school can afford it).
    I also think that feedback from students, while potentially arbitrary as Mr. Orphal points out, can be very eye opening and may be tough for teachers to dismiss. I think students will send a consistent and honest message about whether or not they feel safe and valued in a classroom, and that data cannot be ignored.
    I’m very happy to hear about this pilot, and am looking forward to hearing more about it.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Honestly, a lot of this is rather naive, and citing the Bar or medical boards cinches it for me. To be disbarred or lose your medical license from those bodies, you basically have to be criminally neglectful and be caught multiple times hurting people egregiously. They are NOTORIOUS for having no ability to police their own.

    The other place I find this naive is in treating these evaluation changes in a vacuum. The reality is, Oakland schools no longer even have “instructional coaches” — I have never seen one, anyway, since the recession — or the organizational means to systematically survey students and meaningfully assess the data on a regular basis.

    I am reminded of something I learned on here the other day: That ed code mandates an administration-parent meeting in the case of a student who has more than three unexcused absences. This made me laugh out loud. Most public schools can’t even keep accurate attendance with overwhelmed part-time clerical staff, and our AVERAGE kid has 2-3 times that many unexcused absences each year.

    In other words, we have first-world hospital guidelines for a triage center in a war zone. “Excuse me, Mr. Hawkeye, but why is has this floor not been scrubbed with bleach?” “Because it’s made of dirt?”

    I don’t care what the district says, here is how the eval process will remain: a) Use gossip, percieved “attitude” and 10-minute drive-by visits to decide who sucks (and be right maybe 75% of the time). b) either do nothing, or go hard after the allegedly sucky ones for petty violations that have nothing to do with the core of their suckitude and usually don’t result in dismissal; c) repeat.

    Until you hire enough qualified adults and give them the resources necessary to do this job well, it would be nice if we could stop with the pie-in-the-sky plans that depend on a functioning machine with sufficient resources.

  • J.R.

    Cranky wrote:

    “Until you hire enough qualified adults and give them the resources necessary to do this job well, it would be nice if we could stop with the pie-in-the-sky plans that depend on a functioning machine with sufficient resources”.

    Oakland unified: spent $10,958 per student, API of 719

    All these districts(some of them violent and gang infested would love to have the money that OUSD has been given by taxpayers.

    Antioch unified: spent $7,578, API of 732
    New Haven unified: spent $8,182, API of 777
    Newark unified: spent $8,089, API of 762
    San Lorenzo unified: spent $8,096, API of 739
    Hayward Unified: spent $8,962, API of 707
    Brentwood elementary: spent $6,918 , API of 840
    Castro Valley unified: spent $7,429 , API of 854
    Fremont unified: spent $7,449 , API of 868

    The facts and actual stats don’t stack up with your claims, Cranky.

    Money is not and never has been the issue, more likely it begins with irresponsible adults having offspring that they cannot(will not)support either financially or emotionally. We also have an education system that is unmotivated to to better(although there are teachers who take it upon themselves on a personal level to be and do the best they can). The system by and large is content to be on cruise control, because the tax money rolls in irregardless.

    To answer your claim “first-world hospital guidelines for a triage center in a war zone”.


    The USA spends at or near the top in education, and we get middle of the pack results in return.

  • makeitgoaway

    I actually agree that teachers should not evaluate each other. Teachers are petty, envious and jealous (too often) of the success of others, and quick to talk trash about others. The smaller the school, the less likely it will go well. That is why WASC school accreditation teams come from outside the District. As a PAR coach I am never assigned to a teacher at my own school, but instead at another.

    But the current system sucks too. Administrators are most often poor or mediocre teachers who moved up for pay because they didn’t really like the classroom. And now they judge others?

    Test scores, work samples/portfolio, evaluations, videotape, pupil feedback, and outside observations should all play a part. Put the reflective part back in evaluations, and you will have improvement.

  • J.R.

    Makeitgoaway wrote
    “Test scores, work samples/portfolio, evaluations, videotape, pupil feedback, and outside observations should all play a part. Put the reflective part back in evaluations, and you will have improvement”.

    I can’t fault the honest assessment regarding pettiness and envy(honesty is refreshing). Portfolios work samples ,and grade-book review are all good ideas.

  • Harold

    “Oakland unified: spent $10,958 per student…”

    Did they spend that much “in the classroom”, or does a lot go to pay all of Consultants and Administrators on Second Avenue?

  • J.R.

    The taxpayers just cough up the money, we don’t get to decide where it is spent. Someone(Michael Moore maybe) will have to go inside the inner workings of the bureaucracy of the school district office in order for us to learn what these district office people actually do on a daily basis(every time I go in the DO they are engaging in gossip while I stand there being ignored).

  • Jim Mordecai

    J.R.’s $10,958 per student mentioned is, I assume, derived from dividing the total budget by the number of students.

    Included in the whole budget are state and federal monies for students of poverty. Proverty is defined as students qualifying for free or reduced priced lunch.

    Also, included in that figure is funding targeted for low performing schools.

    And, many of the other Districts mentioned by J.R. did not have a large adult education program that was cut from about $11 million to $1 million. That $10 million can be spent (flexed) on anything the Smith Administration wants. Some day the State will stop sending OUSD money for a program that is a shell of its former self. Then good-bye $10 million to play with that other District’s lack.

    Jim Mordecai

  • J.R.

    Those are not my numbers(coincidentally are applied to each and every district in the same manner), and I have already provided links on the breakdown of where the money goes in previous post’s on multiple threads. If people read the links then they are aware of that. The important point is that it all comes from taxpayer money(federal,state,local). I have also previously posted links on the free reduced lunch scam. This district is given more money than others, and it does much less with it. The numbers don’t lie, and people can see it for themselves.

    In regards to the free reduced lunch program, it is a scam, and how do I know? My kids just barely missed qualifying. I own a home and pay multiple layers of taxes, but I resent paying for things that people are capable of paying for themselves. The schools love as many parents as possible to get freebies because the schools get extra money too.

    Free reduced lunch guidelines

    Household Members
    Yearly Monthly
    1. $20,147 $1,679

    2. $27,214 $2,268

    3. $34,281 $2,857

    4. $41,348 $3,446

    5. $48,415 $4,035

    6. $55,482 $4,624

    7. $62,549 $5,213

    8. $69,616 $5,802


    Here are the breakdowns from ed-data:


  • Observer

    JR has posted his disdain for the free and reduced lunched program many times based on his belief that earning just under $1700 a month in one of the most expensive regions in the world is NOT real poverty. It speaks volumes.

    “I did it thereof you should be able to too.” end of story and discussion.

  • J.R.

    I guess you have never been to inner Mexico, and India or China. We(in the US and California) have layers of programs to help people that can’t(this is understandable and appropriate) or wont(this is a problem) take care of themselves(section 8, AFDC, TANF, medi-cal, and on and on).


    Observer, just so you know I earn less than the average teacher in OUSD. What speaks volumes is the insistence of certain politically connected organizations to keep doing the same things the same way(even though it hasn’t worked very well)and keep kicking the can down the road to oblivion. Einstein would define it as insanity, and I agree.

  • J.R.

    I need to correct your mis-characterization, I have disdain for the program of FRLP because:

    1. The income requirements are set too lax( I know many middle class on the program).
    2. There is only a 3% mandated verification rate.

    3. there are many communities with 70%-80%-90% who qualify for FRLP, and if that were actually true there in no way they could avoid bankruptcy(not enough tax revenue to cover expenses).

    If the program was not abused I would be all for it, but unless and until this “Robin Hood” mentality is thrown out the door we are doomed.

  • Nextset

    My two bits: The “poor” and especially their children need to be kept hungry if they are ever to change.

    The federal government should not be feeding people or housing them because they are “poor”. Not a Federal Power under the Constitution. It’s wrong to use the printing press to print money to breed a race of “poor” – it always has been wrong to do this. Management of dysfunctional people is a state affair and the states cannot print money (which keep things somewhat sane).

    The first thing to do is when a parent cannot support their child(ren), those children should be placed permanently or temporarily well away from the parents so dysfunctional behavior is not transmitted through the generations. If extended family wants the kid fine, otherwise, try wherever. The point is that the unfit parents don’t get to pass their bad values along. As far as the future – sterilization would appear to be a reasonable requirement of aid to grown up failures.

    That’s just my rhetoric. The thread is teacher evaluations. How do you evaluate teachers who are given the dregs of society (if that’s what is going on) to “teach”? Presumably every evaluation would have to first state the demographic upon which the teacher is being scored for servicing. Without that – the “evaluation” is meaningless. You can’t evaluate a farmer without reference to what the land, crops, weather and materials the farmer had to work with.

    Workers of the World, unite!

  • Cranky Teacher

    J.R.: What you leave out J.R., is that California as a whole is ranked #47th in spending.

    Of course I don’t have time or knowledge to break down why Antioch has less money to spend than Oakland, if that is true. Construction? Loans?

    Nor am I in the business of managing OUSD, measuring corruption, analyzing spending. We do know that OUSD has traditionally been in violation of the law that 55% of monies go to the classroom.

    I also refuse to be painted into a corner of believing money is the ONLY problem. Of course not. Families matter. Discipline matters. Motivation matters. Turnover matters.

    However, my point was that in a district where all site adults are stressed, we are rationing paper, don’t have working technology in classrooms, and are NOT given anything but the most token “instructional coaching”, it seems ludicrous to talk about sophisticated 360 Degree evaluations that take more time and manpower.

  • J.R.

    I deviated somewhat because the problems with the education system are multi-faceted. The system is not child centered(it’s primarily in the interest of adults, just look at all the unions),and learning success oriented(just look at the percentages of drop-outs and functional illiterates who need to be remediated post high school.That is an objective measure, and someone just explain how a child can attend twelve years of school and still be ill prepared for life, I’ll give it a shot:

    1.Parents not committed to the cycle of learning.

    2.Students lack the discipline, respect. and diligence
    to learn.

    3.Classwork not sufficiently rigorous(per state curriculum) and interconnected from a young age(and the no retention policy does not help).

  • J.R.

    As I have said time and again, the problems are many and diversified, an agrarian model whose time has passed in it’s current antiquated form. Starting from the top of the education system, we’ve got bureaucrats who are overpaid, and no one is quite sure what they do on a day to day basis, or even if it’s necessary. We have redundancy at the federal,state,county, and local level. Finally we have guaranteed ownership of jobs, come hell or high water(performance or not) , and a system written into law where systematic protection and funneling of money in politically driven unions persists.

  • Nextset

    JR: I wrote something in response to #15 but it was wiped out when I tried to post it.

    In a nutshell, my points again are:

    1> It doesn’t matter how low class the parent is. A good school can take lower class students and make them employable. That’s been done so well in the first half of the 20th century despite the depression, Wars, broken homes, alcoholism and family abandonment, ESL, etc – it’s just not up for debate. What we haven’t seen is this strong of a black underclass before – government bred. However rural blacks moving to Chicago, New York and other such cities were assimilated before as well as the foreign immigrants including those without functioning families. OUSD could manage these kids while disregarding their trash parents – it’s been done across history.

    2> The ONLY problem with disrespect and discipline is that OUSD doesn’t demand it. By that I include breaking those students who have a discipline problem. OUSD is not willing to fight black/brown students to make them come up to white standards. That was never a problem in the black schools my family grew up in and taught in going back to the 19th century. We can fix that real fast. If we want to, which OUSD doesn’t.

    3> The only problem here is that because of the OUSD refusal to IQ sort and track the students you have gross miss-matching of students to educational program. The reason for this is that OUSD intends for its students to fail. Programs that intend for it’s students to succeed do not ignore miss-matching, not the Army, Not the NFL, not any organization that has a lot of HR. You cannot run a one-size-fits-all set of classrooms and not have angry frustrated dulls sitting next to bored brights – least of all in a metropolitan area. Yet OUSD does. Wonder why the kids are ornery.

    In short, OUSD is a failure factory and that failure is planned. Educrats do know better. They (OUSD Educrats) have nothing but scorn for the students who are so low class they are put into OUSD rather than a real school. Beneath it all, there is nothing but scorn for the chillun’, cloaked in PC pats on the back.

    The thing is, the Charters are not running TV ads touting Internet classrooms. Even poor blacks and browns have choices now, and those choices will increase steadily due to technology and political decisions on educational choice.

    So this is all going to end. It remains to be seen what results will emerge from the changes.

    Brave New World.

  • Nextset

    Meant to say in 3rd paragraph from bottom that …the Charters ARE running TV Ads…

  • J.R.


    “J.R.: What you leave out J.R., is that California as a whole is ranked #47th in spending”.

    I have covered this time and time again(you just did not want to read and be informed), those that work and pay taxes are supporting those that do not, and it is getting proportionally worse.


    We are 47th in spending, but we are 1st in wasteful spending away from classroom.




    Take OUSD for example where the percentage of free reduced lunches are 70%(as Katy reported). That means that 30% of taxpayers in Oakland are in effect subsidizing 70%. California has by far the largest proportion(33%) of the US people on public assistance(who not only don’t pay taxes, but I knew several personally who got tax refunds as well, imagine that). California has huge financial obligations to taxpayers mandated in effect(but not paid for)by the federal government, chiefly hospital ER care for indigents and illegals. This may seem off-topic but anything that affects the state budget has an impact. Keep in mind that California has a large number of schoolchildren whose parents are undocumented, and don’t pay taxes for their child’s education, because as you know, teachers need to be paid so they can keep a roof over their head and feed their families too.

  • Cranky Teacher

    J.R., I agree with you on bureaucracy and redundancy. It is often hard to see what the district does which the schools could not do directly.

    As a fan of decentralized decision-making, I could see giving the money straight from the state to individual schools. Parents would largely keep schools accountable, although a beefed-up credentialing system would help.

    But the reality is that even when you cut “the fat,” quality education is an expensive proposition. One of my kids is in private school and they are CONSTANTLY begging us to give more money on top of the crushing tuition costs. Do I think they are a scam? No, but they are a bit top-heavy, and they are providing a very high teacher-student ratio.

    Most school costs are paying teachers and paraprofessionals, plus building and maintaining the physical plants.

    Finally, if you break the public service unions, the economy goes down further and you lower labor costs, you are driving down the local economy, since those jobs are the bedrock of our local middle class, which pumps that money straight back into the economy..

  • J.R.

    I (as well as other taxpayers) realize quality education is an expensive proposition, but with less taxpayers pulling the wagon(and more people jumping into the wagon)something is going to give, because this is an unsustainable situation. We are getting to the point where we will just be able to keep those services that are most critical and necessary to society(Doctors,nurses, Police, some fire, Teachers and so forth. Example of how to cut costs: Most fire calls are accidents,and respiratory distress so it would make more sense to down-size the size and number of fire depts and use ambulance crews with paramedics instead, which will cost less money and be more efficient. Paying six figures to fire personnel for part of the time waxing and washing the trucks is not financially smart. In schools there should be one maintenance janitor on each site(for situations that cannot wait), and contracted outside janitorial services that handle the cleanup and janitorial work. Tax money is not limitless, and that is the weakness of the public sector, they do not create wealth, value per se in an of themselves. Some public sector services are more essential than others, and some really aren’t necessary which is just the way it is. If the NEA,CTA and others really want to do something constructive with their political pull, they can help to dismantle all these big budget commissions, boards and agencies starting with CARB which are just scams.


  • Christopher Scheer

    OK, J.R., but I just don’t see much fat at the school sites. Even the lousy teachers are still babysitting 30 kids every hour.

    Especially when you factor in that, unlike the emergency services, we get ZERO overtime pay.

  • J.R.

    As per the posted links above, most of the fat in this state are the pension obligations,and interest of which the taxpayers are on the hook for. The pensioners are making more than when they worked(because they get raises), and there aren’t enough taxpayers to pay for it.