Articles are available for reprint as long as the author is acknowledged: Domenick J. Maglio Ph.D.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


By Domenick J. Maglio, Phd. Traditional Realist

There has been a great deal of discussion concerning how to evaluate teachers to improve our educational system. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other educational groups are devising multi dimensional matrixes to measure teacher performance. In each case criticism has arisen by teachers who are evaluated by these instruments and felt they were not valid.

Evaluating teacher effectiveness has always been a complicated task, as each different educational approach requires unique skills and personalities to successfully do the job. This has become more difficult as schools have expanded in size and number of students. Principals getting to observe and know a teacher and her interactions with students, other teachers and administration becomes almost impossible. There are increased administrative responsibilities, school district and state mandated meetings.

Finland has a different educational approach. It has consistently scored high on its PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) ranking of international education. The educational system of this country has made significant reforms by rejecting large schools and teacher evaluation-student performance driven centralized models of most of the advanced nations. In Finland the teacher evaluates the student’s learning through observation and evaluative tests. Mandatory standardized exams are not given until a student is 16 years old. Experienced teachers mentor new staff through sharing their observations and debriefing them about their teaching practices. In Singapore and South Korea they also have teacher mentoring for 15-25 hours weekly. The focus is to help new teachers be more effective. The local principal in Finland is the evaluator of the teaching staff as it should be in America.

These straight-forward and accountable practices are some reasons why the schools are on top of the international school rankings. They decided to continue to use the principal as the evaluator of his staff although the US is moving toward a more complex teacher evaluation process correlated to student performance.  

The use of student progress in the multi-dimensional teacher evaluation model, no matter how integrated, is as effective as the evaluators accurate scoring of the teacher. The easiest method of completing any teacher evaluation is to rate high to minimize the teacher’s resentment.

In the USA with much input from others, less than 1% of all the teachers have received an unsatisfactory grade under its present comprehensive teacher evaluation. This may be partially the result of our politically correct culture although the fear of union retaliation probably is the greatest contributor to this shirking of administrative power and accountability.

A major drawback to US education has been the unmanageable growth in the size of the schools. Large schools are more cost effective per student but not for student performance. “One of the most effective ways to improve student achievement and curb school violence is to reduce the size of the nation’s schools. Hundreds of studies have found that students who attend small schools outperform those in large school on every academic measure from grades to test scores. They are less likely to drop out and more likely to attend college.” “Small Schools Vs. Big Schools,” Institute for Local Self-Reliance, May 19, 2012. Yet our schools continue to bloat.

Quality of educational supervision is negatively impacted by staff size regardless of the number of assistant administrators or staff supervisors. Second hand information filtered by the assistants is less meaningful and accurate to the principal than direct interaction and observation by him in completing a teacher evaluation.

A principal has to build a close-knit team to execute his philosophy of education in order to get quality results. He has to observe his staff with students, colleagues, parents and administration to know their strengths and weaknesses with different elements and settings within the school community. His personal knowledge of his teachers gives him the insights to realize who would complement each other to provide a balanced and enthusiastic school social climate.

This firsthand knowledge of his teacher’s performance with each segment of the community will enable him to differentiate compensation or require removal. Student’s improvement performance is a strong indicator although teacher growth in communicating, planning, organizing, disciplining, motivating and following through are also strong factors in the evaluation equation.

The principal has to take into account the needs of the school as well as the teacher. The teacher may have personal issues that are affecting her overall performance that would have to be weighed against many other school factors.  The scorer has to have a vested interested for the sake of the functioning of the whole school program and be as honest and straightforward as he can be. The head of the school has to consider the cost and benefits to the entire operation of the school.

A principal with relevant knowledge of a teacher’s behavior in a variety of settings can accurately and comprehensively evaluate a person’s ability to do the job the principal has envisioned for the school. This teacher evaluation approach is feasible in manageable smaller schools.

Domenick Maglio, PhD. is a columnist carried by various newspapers, an author of several books and owner/director of Wider Horizons School, a college prep program. You can visit Dr. Maglio at


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