Big accountability


When I was a kid, I didn't miss too many classes. My parents just wouldn't let me. More than once, I won a perfect attendance award.

Because I was always there, I sometimes would see a principal or other administrator sit in on my algebra, geometry, or English classes. I could never put my finger on it, but something was always off on those days. The teacher always dressed a little better. She would always project an extra air of professionalism during those classes.

In hindsight, of course, this made perfect sense. The administrator was evaluating the teacher on those days, and even teachers in powerful teacher unions want to at least look good. (It's notoriously difficult to fire even bad teachers, but that's an entirely different discussion.)

Now, you don't have to be Nate Silver to know that an annual and pre-announced "sit-in" isn't the optimal way to evaluate our teachers. But what is the best way to do this? Children's standardized test scores? Newfangled metrics? A hybrid approach? None of the above?

As I was reading New York City Teacher Ratings: How Its Value-Added Model Compares To Other Districts, the following text struck me:

New York City schools erupted in controversy [when]the school district released its "value-added" teacher scores to the public after a yearlong battle with the local teachers union. The city cautioned that the scores had large margins of error, and many education leaders around the country believe that publishing teachers' names alongside their ratings is a bad idea.

Still, a growing number of states are now using evaluation systems based on students' standardized test-scores in decisions about teacher tenure, dismissal, and compensation.

All Else Is Never Equal

As the article points out, overall results hinge upon which metrics are used--and how they're actually calculated. For instance, let's say that only standardized test results are used to gauge performance. Perhaps a "bad" teacher does well one year because his students are just better at math than a "good" teacher whose students struggle with basic addition and subtraction. All else being equal, though, these things should even out over time.

But therein lies the problem: all else is never equal in the real world.

There are plenty of analogs to the corporate world. I know from my days in HR a million years ago that performance management is just as much art as science. Many organizations have repeatedly refined and junked their existing employee evaluation systems in search of The Holy Grail--i.e., a way of honestly, accurately, and equitably grading everyone.

Simon Says

I have no simple solution to the thorny issues of employee and teacher performance. Peering into the future, however, there will be more and more means by which everyone and everything can be evaluated. That is, those who for years have claimed that their value cannot be quantified may well not be able to say as much in five years.

The era of Big Data and predictive analytics means that we can – and, quite frankly should – revisit potentially antiquated means of evaluating people, vendors, suppliers, and business processes.


What say you?


About Author

Phil Simon

Author, Speaker, and Professor

Phil Simon is a keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of eight management books, most recently Analytics: The Agile Way. His ninth will be Slack For Dummies (April, 2020, Wiley) He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data, analytics, and technology. His contributions have appeared in The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, The New York Times, and many other sites. He teaches information systems and analytics at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business.

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