It is one of the toughest questions in education: "What makes a great teacher great?" There can be many answers to that question, but anyone who claims the answer is simple deserves an "F."
Minnesota does many things well in education. But one thing that can be improved is to provide teachers with consistent feedback about how well they're doing and how they can improve.
Education Minnesota supports annual performance evaluations of teachers. These reviews, by trained evaluators, school administrators and master teachers already in the districts, would take a variety of factors into account, including measurements of student learning.
Fair and accurate performance reviews will help teachers get better and help students learn. Every student deserves an excellent teacher.
When teachers judge a student's progress, they consider many factors. How well the students participate, behave and interact with others, as well as their effort, creativity and imagination are all part of the assessment.
Accurate evaluations of teachers should be similar.
A teacher's ability to reach each student, develop strong lesson plans and foster creative thinking should all be part of the equation.
A thorough evaluation should also include multiple measures of student learning. Test scores could also be a part of evaluating teachers - but only a part.
Albert Einstein said it best when he said "not everything that can be counted counts. And not everything that counts can be counted."
Scores on a standardized test are some of the most irrelevant data teachers use to judge a student's progress.
Test scores are among many mileposts on the journey to a good education, not ends unto themselves. Every parent knows that test scores are not a complete measure of their child's abilities. And they certainly should not be the way to evaluate teachers.
Research is very clear on that point: Obsessing over test scores to evaluate teachers is a dangerous mistake. Researchers warn that over-emphasizing test scores in a teacher's evaluation will lead to inaccurate conclusions that are harmful not only to the teachers but to the students they serve.
And yet the Republican majority in the Minnesota legislature, and the business lobby at the Capitol, are trying to count something that can't be counted.
They are pushing a statewide education policy that would directly link a large percentage of teachers' performance assessment to the standardized test scores of their students.
Even worse, they would then use this invalid "evaluation" to make decisions about laying off teachers, whether to hire or fire them and how much to pay them.
The Minnesota School Boards Association has also expressed serious concerns about the GOP evaluation proposal.
It's critical to keep this issue in perspective. Parents and educators agree that the vast majority of Minnesota teachers do a tremendous job. Our best-in-the-nation ACT scores and top three graduation rates prove it.
We should concentrate our efforts here in Minnesota on making a good thing better, and spreading the excellence found in our public schools to every classroom in the state.
But Minnesota currently does not have a uniform system of assessing teachers, and we need one.
Some districts, such as St. Francis, Osseo and St. Paul, to name a few, have or are developing excellent evaluation programs.
These systems are raising the level of teaching and improving student achievement.
Statewide evaluation is inconsistent. Many teachers go years without a performance assessment and that is simply unacceptable. It's a disservice to the students, their parents and the teachers themselves.
It's imperative that we get this right, or, as the researchers warn, we run the risk of making things worse instead of better.
Just as teachers demand facts in the classroom, Minnesotans should demand facts when it comes to education policy.
The facts surrounding this issue are indisputable: teacher evaluations must consider a great variety of factors. Just as in school, some challenges require complex solutions.
Choosing the simple answer would be wrong for Minnesota students and their teachers.