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Under education reform, school principals swamped by teacher evaluations

School principals, including some who back more rigorous review of teachers, are balking at education reforms required by Race to the Top. New teacher evaluations are all-consuming, they say.  

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A fourth-grader at Alton Elementary in Memphis, Tenn., gives a thumbs up. Tennessee is implementing a new teacher evaluation system this year.

Mike Brown/The Commercial Appeal/AP

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Sharon McNary believes in having tough teacher evaluations.

But these days, the Memphis principal finds herself rushing to cram in what amounts to 20 times the number of observations previously required for veteran teachers – including those she knows are excellent – sometimes to the detriment of her other duties.

“I don’t think there’s a principal that would say they don’t agree we don’t need a more rigorous evaluation system,” says Ms. McNary, who is president of the Tennessee Principals Association as well as principal at Richland Elementary. “But now it seems that we’ve gone to [the opposite] extreme.”

In New York, which is also beginning to implement a new teacher evaluation system this year, many principals are even less constrained in their opinion.

“There is no evidence that any of this works,” says Carol Burris, a Long Island principal who co-authored an open letter of concern with more than 1,200 other principals in the state. “Our worry is that over time these practices are going to hurt kids and destroy the positive culture of our schools.”

The direction of education reform – and the requirements of the federal government’s Race to the Top competition in particular – means numerous states are now planning to use tough new evaluation systems based at least in part on student growth, tracked by value-added test scores.

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