Teaching
8:08 am
Mon July 29, 2013

Classroom Contemplations: What Silicon Valley Tells Us About Evaluating Performance

Originally published on Fri July 26, 2013 12:00 pm

Are search engines really more complicated than children?

That question occurred to me last week when the annual earnings report for Yahoo! came out and it became clear that CEOs are cut a lot more slack than teachers are.

New Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer was hired with much fanfare last year and tasked with turning the company around (or at least bringing it out of the doldrums in relation to its competitors).  She just finished her first year so I expected these revenue numbers were going to tell us whether she was doing a good job or not

It turns out that Yahoo! revenue was down — 7 percent as compared to the same point the year before.  If advertising commissions were taken out of the revenue numbers, it was a 1 percent decline.

And revenue in the private sector is the bottom line, right?  So I guess Marissa Mayer was a failure.

Not according to Yahoo!  Mayer wasn’t fired.  Her salary wasn’t cut.  In fact, it was supplemented.

In addition to her half-million dollar salary, she received $1.1 million in cash, and $4.3 million in stock.  (Even if my students’ test scores go through the roof, it would take me more than a century teaching to earn what she’ll get for her first year’s performance.)

And Yahoo! isn’t alone in their positive views of Mayer.  Most stories I saw about Mayer actually saw her first year as a success.

They seemed to recognize that evaluating her performance was a lot more complicated than one simple revenue number.  Many business analysts celebrated her anniversary and brought up the fact that Yahoo! is showing signs of improvement that may take a few years to take hold.  They pointed to many of the company’s acquisitions and other strategy changes that they believe will pay long-term dividends for Yahoo!

On one hand, I was delighted.  These stories were making the exact same point I’ve been trying to make through this entire Classroom Contemplations series about the value of teachers.

I’ve been trying to show, through the stories of Ms. Williams, Mr. Bernard, Madame Logan, and their peers that the value of teachers is usually a lot more complicated than a simple number and often can’t be measured in a single year.

On the other hand, I was even more frustrated, because all the nuance brought to bear in Mayer’s evaluation is completely ignored in our education policy. If Ms. Mayer was a teacher in Florida and Yahoo!’s revenue was treated like student test scores, her salary would have gone down and she would have been labeled an inadequate teacher.

And that’s why I started to wonder if search engines are just inherently more complex than children.  Could that be?  Or maybe they’re just much more important.  I don’t know what other conclusion to come to.

We’re willing to recognize that, in regards to search engines, things are complicated.  We’re not willing to acknowledge the same with our children.

We all seem to accept that you can’t reduce the value of a CEO to a simple measurement of revenue.

Why, then, would we do something similar to our teachers?

What’s particularly galling for me is that many of those who advocate for “value added” accountability, particularly in our State Legislature, are the very people who say that we need to learn our lessons from the private sector.  While I usually reject such rhetoric as meaningless platitude, in this case, I think they are right.

We should learn the lesson of Marissa Mayer from the private sector.  We should learn that evaluation is not quick and it isn’t simple.  If we’re looking to determine someone’s long-term value, we’ll have to look at a lot more than one number over one year.

Jeremy Glazer is a Miami-Dade teacher writing about classroom issues for StateImpact Florida. Want to sound off on something Glazer has written? Want to suggest a topic for him? Send us an email at Florida@stateimpact.org and put “Classroom Contemplations” in the subject line.

Copyright 2013 StateImpact Florida. To see more, visit http://stateimpact.npr.org/florida/.