Widget Effect Revisited

TNTP had a blog series last week.  They looked at the 5 years since their report called The Widget Effect.  Tim Daly writes:

The paper identified a striking and nearly universal problem in America’s schools: a near total failure to acknowledge differences in teacher effectiveness. Each place we looked (and we examined a diverse set of 12 school districts spanning four states), we found that schools were treating teachers like interchangeable parts—as though one were the same as any other.

We called this phenomenon “the widget effect,” and it manifested itself in many different ways. Most notably, we found that virtually all teachers were rated “good” or “great” on their formal evaluations, and that almost nobody was rated poorly.

If a report (plus a larger policy effort) is measured by "Did public awareness change?  Are there new laws?"...the answer was yes.  Newspapers hit this issue frequently.  30 states passed new laws or regs.

And yet.  Tim continues:

But there’s a hard truth that must be admitted: the widget effect is nearly as strong today as it was in 2009. It persists in many school systems that have modernized their teacher evaluations—and in the even greater number that have made few or no changes. Across the country, nearly all teachers are still rated “good” or “great.”

Most teachers are still not getting the honest feedback they deserve as professionals. Excellence is still not being recognized—not with raises, promotions, or even a pat on the back. And poor performance is still going unaddressed, to the point where we found in our 2012 report The Irreplaceables that approximately 40 percent of teachers with more than seven years of experience are performing at or below the level of a brand-new teacher.

In short, the culture of indifference toward instructional quality endures. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since a problem that accumulated over generations was never going to disappear in a few years. Still, these early results have understandably sparked a conversation about whether all the focus on teacher evaluations has been worth it, and whether it really has the potential to transform schools for the better over the long run.

We think the answer is “yes,” but the question deserves serious discussion.

Some good additional policy thoughts on the TNTP blog are here.