ES: What are your thoughts about evaluating teachers by their students’ standardized test scores? What’s missing from the public debate?
LD-H: Teacher-bashing infuriates me. The commitment of individuals who go into teaching in this country is extraordinary. And many teachers are highly able. We do have a wide range of access to knowledge for teachers, just like we have a wide range of access to knowledge for students. That means that teachers are left with one hand tied behind their backs if they aren’t given the knowledge and the skills they need.
Evaluation has to begin at the very beginning of the career. Finland’s rise to the top of the international rankings is typically attributed by the Finns to the deep training of teachers in a highly professionalized master’s degree program. [In Finland education] students have strong content background, and they study teaching methods while they spend a year in a model school, pursuing a clinically supported internship. In addition, there is a lot of attention to learning how to teach special education students and to personalize teaching for all students. The idea is if you can teach kids who struggle to learn, then you can teach anyone. It really pays off. Finally, teachers learn how to use and conduct research, and [each writes] a thesis in which he or she researches an educational issue as part of the master’s degree.
In Finland there is very little formal evaluation that happens after teachers get into the profession because the bar is so high at the beginning, and there are so many supports to get better. There are some analysts who have claimed, “Oh, if you fire the bottom 10 percent of teachers every year, you’ll get educational outcomes like those in Finland.” In fact, that is not how Finland gets high educational outcomes. You can’t fire your way to Finland. You actually have to build the capacity of teachers.
We ought to be having a conversation about performance assessments for entering the field. [American Federation of Teachers President] Randi Weingarten has called for a “bar exam” for teachers. I’ve been involved in building teacher performance assessments in which beginning teachers demonstrate that they can plan a curriculum, teach it, produce and evaluate student learning. We find that these assessments improve teaching and improve the quality of teacher education.
Related: Wisconsin adopts its first teacher content knowledge licensing requirement – for elementary English candidates, from Massachusetts (MTEL).