He asks us to first imagine browsing through the new product releases found in the tech pages of the latest Sunday newspaper. The drastic change from ten years prior may strike you, never mind that you’re probably reading the news ”paper” on a computer screen.
It’s a fact of life in the digital age, Hansen says, “We know what we buy today will soon be outdated.” Remember the original iPod, born way back in ancient 2001? Since then, Apple has produced six new versions of the iPod classic; today’s version holds 40x as many songs and allows you to watch up to 200 hours of video. If you’re still stuck with the 2001 version, you’re totally missing out. The same could be said for laptop computers or smart phones.
This is all business-as-usual when it comes to consumer electronics, but Hansen notes that education policy is far less accustomed to such frequent upgrades. This is a painful reality; as Rick Hess has noted, “We’ve got a model which was built perfectly reasonably for the world of, say, 1910. It’s not a bad model. It’s just that if you actually had a car that your family had owned since 1910, you might think it needed more than a tune up.”
So, let’s play along with Hansen’s scenario. What if we thought about teacher evaluation as a technology? Products evolve; not only because current versions are imperfect, but also because consumer needs change. The same can be true of teacher evaluation: So-called “value-added” measurements, which attempt to connect student academic growth to their teachers, are all the rage today. While an improvement over previous evaluative tools, these measurements have very real practical limitations.
What’s more, an increasing number of schools are redesigning the traditional classroom with the help of technology, which means altering familiar definitions of the teaching role (see here, here, and here). Within these new models, value-added measurements, which were created with a 30-students-per-teacher, lecture-based system in mind, are far less useful. How, for example, do you ascertain how much “value-added” a teacher provides in a world where students learn through a hybrid model of classroom instruction and online tutoring?
Hansen explains that teacher evaluation systems will have to evolve, just as other technologies do, to accommodate these shifts.
He urges his fellow researchers to act accordingly. Research on evaluation has struggled to keep pace with policy, Hansen notes, and value-added will soon reach its limits within the current system. The current teacher evaluation binge has proven a mad rush to cement imperfect metrics into longstanding statute. It would behoove researchers to better inform this legislative activity by anticipating potential challenges and future changes.
Hansen suggests four areas researchers can actively pursue:
- Small-scale measurement – Create ways to measure a teacher’s productivity in installments shorter than an entire school year
- Implementation –Investigate the sticky points of evaluation implementation more carefully
- Workforce Monitoring –Work to better understand the actual productivity of the teacher workforce across time and space
- Breaking away from research norms – Be prepared to get creative, by collaborating across fields, learning to sort through large pools of data in new ways, and reducing research publishing timelines
Referring to the newest iteration of any policy as “2.0” is nothing new in edu-wonk land. For us, it’s an exercise in shaping the next upgrade of human capital research and policymaking. We need to work out the kinks from the last round; if we don’t, we may well hinder future entrepreneurial efforts that don’t easily fit the current mold. When it comes to teacher quality, we’ve only taken the first steps in what will be a long path forward. As Hansen reminds us, it’s time to forge ahead with our eyes wide open.