ROB JENKINS: Teacher evaluations and the law of unintended consequences

Apparently Democrats don’t have a monopoly on (presumably) well-intentioned measures that actually do long-lasting harm (see: War on Poverty, Obamacare).

Recently, in a move welcomed by Republican legislators, the Republican-dominated State Board of Education instituted a new, “tougher” teacher evaluation linked to “student performance” (read: scores on standardized tests) that they imagine will “create better schools.”

Unfortunately, not only will the new evaluation not improve our state’s educational statistics, it will almost certainly make them worse.

Welcome, Georgia GOP, to the law of unintended consequences.

Set aside, for the moment, the question of how much of this is motivated by the apparent disdain many Republicans feel for teachers, whom they seem to regard as lazy, coddled, and hell-bent on spreading leftist propaganda.

Teacher evaluations are actually something I know a little about, having evaluated teachers for many years as an administrator. True, that was at the college level, but to a certain extent, an evaluation is an evaluation.

I understand, for example, that there are two types of teacher evaluations: summative and formative. The former involves rewards and punishments, while the latter is designed to actually help teachers teach better.

Guess which one is more effective at improving student performance, according to study after study?

Unfortunately, basing teacher pay on an evaluation makes it summative by definition. Perhaps that’s why, after all these years of “merit pay,” Georgia’s schools by most measures have not improved and have arguably gotten worse.

I know. You couldn’t care less about summative versus formative. Sounds like a lot of pin-headed gobbledy-gook. Those teachers can just suck it up. After all, they get summers off!

Here’s something else to consider: Tying teacher evaluations to standardized test scores will, in the long run, hurt — not help — the majority of our schools.

Why is that, you ask? It’s simple human nature. Standardized test scores, as everyone knows (but no one will say) have less to do with teacher performance than with ZIP code. Once teachers figure out they’re going to be punished for staying at weak schools, those who can — that is, the best ones — will inevitably leave for greener pastures. Wouldn’t you?

That means strong schools will continue to improve, or at least maintain, while weak schools get even worse. This has been going on in Georgia for some time — at least since the introduction of No Child Left Behind — but the new evaluation will accelerate the rate at which the best teachers flock to affluent, suburban school systems.

And then there’s the fact that the standardized tests in question will probably, eventually, be linked to Common Core standards, which are kind of like NCLB on steroids.

But that’s a topic I don’t have space for in this column. Perhaps I’ll come back to it another time.

Meanwhile, let’s stop referring to this process as teacher evaluation and call it what it really is: teacher redistribution.

Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and the author of “Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility,” available at Books for Less and on Amazon. E-mail Rob at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.