Grading the Teachers

Educating children is one of our most important jobs as a society, and teachers play a key role in that. Few would disagree with that statement. Where things get interesting is when we start talking about how to evaluate teachers and measure success.

Some want to evaluate teachers based on students' performance on standardized tests. Others to apply evaluation metrics to the teachers. Teacher evaluation has been at the heart of noisy walkouts, sit-ins and demonstrations throughout the Midwest and the nation. Proposals for evaluating teachers are at the root of several major reform movements.

It's not a simple question: dozens, even hundreds of variables affect student and teacher performance. Considering this — and how complex and confusing the topic is for journalists who cover it — led to the Specialized Reporting Institute “Grading the Teachers.” The SRI took place in Detroit on May 8-10, 2013

These resources are provided as part of the McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute (SRI), “Grading the Teachers." The SRI was organized by The Michigan State University School of Journalism, The Poynter Institute and The Education Trust-Midwest and hosted by Detroit Media Partnership on May 8-10, 2013. The SRI was funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Find an Expert

Emily Richmond, public editor, Education Writers Association and,

Sandi Jacobs, vice president, National Council on Teacher Quality,, 202-393-0020

Suzanne Wilson, chair, Department of Teacher Education, Michigan State University,, 517-353-9150

Amber Arellano, executive director, The Education Trust-Midwest,, 734-619-8008

Jennifer Hammond, principal, Grand Blanc High School; Michigan Council on Educator Effectiveness,, 810-591-6637

Scott Elliott, president, Education Writers Association; education reform reporter at The Indianapolis Star,, 317-444-6494

Twitter Handles to Follow

@EdTrust: The Education Trust works to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement for all students, pre-K through college

@educationweek: Education Week, an education newspaper and website

@EdWriters: Education Writers Association, an organization for journalists who cover education for newspapers, broadcasting outlets and online media

@NCTQ: National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan research and advocacy group committed to ensuring that every child has an effective teacher

@NEAMedia: National Education Association's media team

@TNTP: Formed in 1997 with the aim of giving poor and minority students equal access to effective teachers

Blogs Worth Reading

The Educated Reporter: Written by the Education Writers Association’s public editor, Emily Richmond, who highlights interesting stories, good reporting and story ideas

HechingerEd: A daily look at education issues, news and controversies in and out of the headlines from The Hechinger Report, a website devoted to in-depth coverage of national education issues

Homeroom, the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education, frequently covers education reform

Key Resources

Resources from the SRI

This sketch was done as the opening speaker presented her talk at the SRI.

Amber Arellano of The Education Trust-Midwest presented on Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps.

The Value of Value-Added Data from The Education Trust: Value-added data gives principals, educators and parents a potent tool to assess both student achievement and teacher impact. This report shows how value-added data — which tracks growth in student learning — can improve decisions about course placements, individual interventions and professional development designed to hone teachers’ skills. Read the full report here.

The Widget Effect (The New Teacher Project): A report examining the failure to recognize and respond to variations in the effectiveness of our teachers. This report helped spur a national conversation — and subsequent policy change in a host of states — on teacher evaluation. See the report here.

Key Web Resources

Crucial, complicated and contentious, the education of America’s children is one of the most demanding beats a journalist can cover. Traditional newsrooms, nonprofits, governmental agencies and advocates are all publishing content and commentary about what schools do, how well they do it and how they can do it better.

It takes a lot of work and a spectrum of perspectives to find the truth. These are some of the many resources available.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation conducted a three-year study on the measures of effective teaching. Its final research report is available here.

In their case study of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Strategic Staffing Initiative, Education Resource Strategies (ERS) and the Aspen Institute tell the important story of how one district is harnessing the critical levers of school leadership and teaching excellence to turnaround schools in the context of a larger school system. The system’s top talent is now focused on their toughest challenges, the district leadership is actively supporting their efforts, and initial results are promising. Read the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Strategic Staffing Initiative report.

Education Week, published by the nonprofit Editorial Projects in Education, Education Week tries to be “the single ‘must read’ news source for K-12 leaders and policy experts. Much of Education Week’s content related to teacher effectiveness is in its Industry and Innovation section.

The Education Writers Association is the primary journalism group for education reporters. According to its website, EWA “is dedicated to improving the quality and quantity of education coverage to create a better-informed society." EWA offers lots of help for reporters, including several “Story Starters.” Here is what EWA has on standards and testing.

The Hechinger Report is a nonprofit that produces in-depth education journalism. As fewer reporters, nationally, are covering national education issues full time, The Report fills the gap. Working with in-house and freelance reporters, The Report covers education issues, including investigative reporting and detailed analysis. The Hechinger Report is an independently funded unit of Teachers College, Columbia University. The Hechinger Report has links to several related projects in the teacher effectiveness section of its website.

The National Council on Teacher Quality advocates for reform to increase the number of effective teachers. Its state-by-state reports from 2011 and 2012 appear below:

The New Teacher Project conducted Teacher Evaluation 2.0 and created a guide that proposes six design standards that any rigorous and fair evaluation system should meet. It offers states and school districts a blueprint for better evaluations that can help every teacher thrive in the classroom — and give every student the best chance at success. Read the Teacher Evaluation 2.0 guide.

The New Teacher Project's Irreplaceables report documents the real teacher retention crisis in America’s schools: not only a failure to retain enough teachers, but a failure to retain the right teachers. Spanning four urban school districts encompassing 90,000 teachers, 2,100 schools and 1.4 million students, the study focuses on the experiences of the “Irreplaceables” — teachers so successful at advancing student learning that they are nearly impossible to replace.

The Odyssey Initiative is scouring the nation to examine exceptional schools and document what they are doing to drive student achievement with a particular focus on teaching quality/re-imagined teaching roles.

Opportunity Culture advocates for extending the reach of excellent teachers using job redesign and technology and offering career advancement opportunities to all teachers.

The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education was founded in 2008 to foster research, policy and practice to advance high quality, equitable education systems in the United States and internationally.

The U.S. Dept. of Education offers extensive resources for teachers, parents and journalists. The issues of effective teaching, reform and testing appear in the Education Reform section of its website.


Webinar Replay

Grading the Teachers: Writing about Teacher Evaluation, was presented by Scott Elliott, the editor of Chalkbeat Indiana, a new website covering educational change in Indianapolis.

States across the U.S. are quickly adopting new teacher evaluation systems that are radically different than the way teachers were judged in the past. The number of states requiring annual evaluations more than doubled in the past five years to more than 30 states, for example.

In this Webinar replay, you will learn what this trend means for teaching and learning and how to provide your audience with an insider’s view of this complex issue. Learn about the types of questions to consider in your coverage to be fair to teachers and informative for your audience.

Self-Directed Courses

On the Beat: Covering Education: This course will give you a better understanding of the public education system in the United States. You will explore everything from how to gain access to a classroom to why the power structures are the way they are to where money comes from — and where it goes.