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Soliciting Anonymous Teacher and Student Input for a Superintendent’s Evaluation: Is this a New Best Practice?

March 28th, 2016

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A recent article published in the Fillmore County Journal regarding the Rushford-Peterson School Board, in Minnesota, and the evaluation of their Superintendent of Schools, Chuck Ehler, led me to ponder the following: is soliciting anonymous feedback from teachers and students regarding the performance of the superintendent of schools a new best practice in a superintendent evaluation process?

Under their current superintendent evaluation process, it appears that the Board of Education solicits anonymous feedback from students and teachers regarding the performance of their superintendent.  Although this appears to be part of the current practice, according to the article, some board members, such as Dean Mierau, were questioning the value of this feedback.  Board Director Val Howe further questioned the practice by stating that the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA) does not recommend using the feedback in an evaluation.

Interested in the current practices of other boards of education across the state, Board Member Julie Koop engaged in her own due diligence of soliciting the practices of other school boards that allow that type of input into the evaluation.  Despite the position of MSBA, she found that about half of the boards of education she spoke with incorporated anonymous student and teacher feedback for the superintendent evaluation.  That is astonishing!

Outside of public education, there seems to be continued momentum for the idea of using a multi-source feedback approach for the evaluation of leaders within organizations.  Most often, this is referred to as a “360” since it creates a 360-degree perspective of a leader through a variety of lenses, ranging from supervisors and peers, to support staff within the organization.

While some research has questioned the value of this type of feedback within a superintendent evaluation process, I am not looking to enter this debate on its value in an evaluation but rather reflecting on the application of this practice effectively translating to the public sector in evaluating the leader of a school district.  It didn’t take me long to establish the position that soliciting anonymous feedback from students and teachers in evaluating the superintendent of schools is not necessarily a good practice!

Although one might argue students can prove to be a valuable source to evaluate those teachers they interact with every day, I do not see that their viewpoint extending to the office of a superintendent.  Students are fairly or, more accurately stated, significantly removed from the day-to-day activities of the superintendent.  Unlike their observations in identifying effective teachers, it is very hard to envision how students will be able to identify an effective superintendent versus one that is ineffective in his/her job performance.

Similarly, teachers can also be removed from the day-to-day activities of a superintendent.  This is especially true in a larger school district.  If a district were to incorporate a teacher’s perspective in an evaluation, it might be better valued and positioned to providing feedback on a building-level administrator such as a principal, rather than a superintendent.

This is certainly not an attempt to diminish the value of teacher feedback.  Both student and teacher feedback is necessary, important, and of great value in many aspects of public education.  After all, the students are the consumers of public education while the teachers are “in the trenches” and “on the front lines.”  Nevertheless, it remains difficult to understand how a teacher or student, is in a position to evaluate the effectiveness of a superintendent on important competencies such as his/her relationship with the Board, business and finance, and/or the superintendent meeting the specific goals co-created with the Board at the beginning of the school year.

Parenthetically, I found myself curious if this multi-source feedback for a superintendent evaluation process is derived from board members who might be bringing their experience from the private sector where this practice is more prevalent in the process of evaluating an organizational leader.  Regardless of its origins, I believe anonymous teacher and student feedback have very little, if any place at all, in the evaluation of a superintendent of schools.

What are your thoughts?  Should anonymous teacher and/or student feedback be used in the evaluation of a superintendent of schools?

To read the article referenced above, visit:

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