How the Current Teacher-Evaluation System Could Lead to a Mass Exodus of Black Women Teachers

By Phil Kitchel posted 02-06-2023 12:03 PM


By Shanyce L. Campbell

Dr. Campbell is the author of “Shifting Teacher Evaluation Systems to Community Answerability Systems: (Re)Imagining How We Assess Black Women Teachers” in the latest edition of  The Educational Forum.

Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Now, imagine that there are no Black women educators in classrooms teaching our children. Not a single one. What are you feeling? What are you thinking? This imagining is a breath of fresh air for some, who may think that America is finally being made great. Others may feel a numbness rooted in their lack of surprise, thinking, “I knew this was eventually going to happen.” Others are deeply saddened, because they understand what students have lost by the absence of Black women teachers. For example, a study found that having at least one Black teacher in grades K-3 increased Black students’ high school graduation rates and college enrollment. These positive impacts are not only for Black students; we know that they extend to students across racial identities, with outcomes seen in Black women’s ability to improve students’ learning, socio-emotional well-being, attendance, and suspension rates.

But how realistic is it to imagine that all Black women could leave the profession? One answer sits at the intersection of the teacher-evaluation system and racism. Implemented in 2010 through Race to the Top, the teacher-evaluation system’s goal was to improve student outcomes, specifically test performance, by rewarding teachers who increased students’ test scores and firing those who did not. Several folx have critiqued the teacher-evaluation system, from those who played a direct role in the policy implementation, former teachers to researchers, with much of the critique centering around the lack of improvement in student outcomes and implementation failures.

Although the teacher-evaluation system had failures, one area where it has been consistently successful is upholding systemic racism. Studies collectively indicate that, regardless of the evaluation rubric, outside vs. school-level evaluators, or high vs. low stakes evaluations, teachers of color consistently receive lower observation ratings than their white colleagues. We see this in the most recent city-commissioned report of the District of Columbia public schools, where Black teachers received evaluations ratings that were 17 points lower than white teachers. Yet, educational leaders and policymakers continue to support this unjust system. The implications of unjust low ratings among Black women educators are many, ranging from being unnecessarily placed on improvement plans to creating a hostile workplace and, even more devastating, Black women being pushed out of the profession.

What would it take to repair this gross injustice? If we were to continue with neoliberal reforms, educational leaders and policymakers might propose anti-racist training or hold administrators accountable for the unequal ratings. However, as Dr. Bettina Love stated, “The current system is incapable of justice, because reform ain’t justice. We need more than reform, we need to start over, rebuild, and start from justice that gives power, resources, and decision-making to people in their communities.”

In an abolitionist posture of starting over and (re)imagining, I offer three design considerations for developing a community answerability system in place of the teacher evaluation system in a recent publication. A community answerability system asks: to whom are teachers answerable and for what learning and knowledge? I intentionally move away from the language of “evaluation,” because it is rooted in neoliberal logics of productivity and merit through surveillance.

  1. Engage in honest conversations about the history of violence Black women have long endured. An answerability system foundationally must employ a historical lens to remember our way forward. In deeply reflecting on history, educational leaders must grapple individually and collectively with this question: How has the enslavement of Black women and its afterlife impacted the current everyday conditions of Black women in classrooms, schools, and communities?
  2. Make space for Black women’s healing and (re)connecting to their bodymindspirit. How might a healed educator bring more love, joy, and creativity to educating our children? If we are serious about educating children well, then intentionally designing a system where Black women are holistically cared for through meditative retreats, healing circles, or annual returns to their native homeland must be considered.
  3. A community answerability system must be strategically developed by and with Black women teachers, administrators, students, families, and community members. This system, rooted in justice, prioritizes students’ and their families' voices while trusting Black women educators’ ways of knowing.

These are just a few considerations for (re)designing a system that serves the fullness of Black women educators and our children. It might be tempting for educational leaders to apply quick Band-Aid solutions to the racism embedded in the current teacher evaluation system. However, the wounds experienced by Black women deserve an immediate commitment to (re)build. Otherwise, as the great artist and civil rights activist Nina Simone reminds us, “you’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served.” And Black women teachers just might leave that table.

Dr. Campbell is an Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education. She is also a co-director of Justice Scholars Institute, a program that provides Black high school students college-credit courses and justice-oriented educational programming. Dr. Campbell’s research focuses on understanding how policies and practices influence access to humanizing and quality learning opportunities for students of color.