Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board candidate J.B. Rees Thursday night challenged the district’s evaluation system that now rates 72 percent of teachers “excellent.”

Almost all the rest, he said, receive an “average” rating.

YouTube video player

Rees, speaking at a candidate forum at Rhodes Magnet School, said that at a meeting last month for school board candidates with Superintendent Hardy Murphy he asked the superintendent whether he could identify the top 50 teachers in the system and was told “‘no, the metrics aren’t geared that way.'”

“It’s pretty tough to tell how well our teachers are doing” if you can’t tell which ones are doing the best, Rees said.

He quoted former Microsoft chair Bill Gates as saying that a 5 percent annual turnover rate among teachers would improve the overall quality and morale of teaching staffs.

District 65 has about 1,600 employees, not all of them teachers.

Rees says Murphy told him only “a few” tenured teachers have been let go — apparently less than five a year.

“If we’re unable to move poor performing teachers out of the classroom, we’re not going to meet the standards we’ve set,” Rees said, “We’re handcuffed.”

School Board President Keith Terry argued that the current teacher evaluation system, adopted a couple of years ago, is an improvement over what came before. “Before, 90 percent of teachers were rated excellent,” he said.

“Getting rid of tenured teachers is very difficult,” Terry added, given provisions in the teachers union contract.

Candidate Richard Rykhus said the district should do more to evaluate which teachers leave and which stay — and work to make sure that fewer high-rated teacher than low-rated ones depart.

“If we’re not retaining the teachers we want, we have to dig to understand why not — whether it’s a lack of professional development opportunities, the school environment or leadership. It could be all sorts of issues,” Rykhus said.

Candidate Eileen Buddy said she agreed with Rees that the district should “streamline the process to help lower-performing teachers make a graceful exit.”

And incumbent board member Katie Bailey argued the district’s new system will make it easier to evaluate teachers.

Also Thursday night, in Washington, D.C. the head of the American Federation of Teachers called for an overhaul of how teachers are evaluated and dismissed.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Reforming Teachers ?

    Is there any evidence that bad teachers can be reformed ?  Reformed while on the job or needing to take intensive re-training outside the school ?

    While reforming bad teachers, if possible, would be good, it is the children who suffer through the 'experiment' and with no promise it will work.  It is for the kids that teachers, administrators, janitors, lunch room workers, etc. are all there for.  If any are not living up to that, they need to go NOW—"for the sake of the kids"—no matter how badly you feel for them or their family.

    Frankly I doubt many parents have any idea of how teachers other than the ones that teach their kids, are doing—except if they talk to other parents or look at test scores.  For the residents with no children yet, children out of the system, retired, single, etc., there is almost no idea other than news stories and test scores—the schools refuse to communicate.  The schools will need public support for bond issues, new schools, new programs, new equipment, etc.—if they don't convince ALL the residents, they will have less and less chance of getting the funding—certainly not funding to hire more administration, give them big salaries and multi-year contracts. 

    In the corporate world most firms do have annual or even quarterly reviews.  Most are meaningless. However most people will admit that if someone has been on that job for maybe five years, that there is little chance they will or can change.  They might do wonderfully on another job in the company or facing that they are in the wrong line of work or company.  I suspect very few people can change dramatically after five years on the same job and after 30(?) years of age. If given a [real] mentor or intensive re-training, yes, but not many companies will do that.

  2. District 65 “great teacher” story

    Way back when my children were in District 65, my wife and I were concerned about a particular teacher, who appeared to us to be a time server. We decided that it would be a good idea to simply sit in on a class for an hour or so one day and observe her.

    Since I worked evenings, it was easy for me to go to walk to Dawes during the day to do this. We arranged with the principal for a date and time to observe.

    When the date and time arrived, I went to the classroom.

    The teacher was not there and a substitute was teaching. No note to us, no apology, no reason for the teacher not being there.

    We were put in our place by "The Lighthouse District"

    We have several such stories of District 65. The district succeeded in teaching us as parents to hold our noses until the kids got to high school. It's not that there weren't good things that happened, only that the awful things could not be changed, nor was there any interest or effort to do so.

    The one and only reason I consider it good to have two districts is that one can escape from one to the other. A child's sentence lasts "only" 9 years instead of 12.

    I have voted Democratic in every election. I was a member of a (private sector) union for 23 years. But I oppose public service employee unions because there is no effective body opposing them at the bargaining table – elected officials serve for limited terms and once out of office are not held responsible, inviting push-over negotiations.

    1. How long ago was this?

      I hear many, many people complain about D65..but often the people who are complaining do not currently have children in D65 schools.  I think the district has come a long way, especially in addressing teacher issues (I knew of teachers who were somewhat less than excellent in the upper grades when my son was in kindergarten and first grade…those teachers are no longer with the district.)

      I have to say, we have either been extremely fortunate, or the bar is higher for teachers than it was when I was a student: my son's teachers have been no less than excellent.  They have all gone above and beyond to understand my son, to engage him and to make sure his needs in the classroom are met. 

      I have my issues with D65 administration – for one thing, I find the lack of transparency disconcerting, the lack of working, practical systems annoying, and the somewhat paternalistic tone with which parents are often addressed to be insulting.  

      Fortunately, I haven't seen any of these issues in the school.  We are very, very happy with our elementary school experience.

      1. Most recent District 65 example


        Most recently, about 3 years ago, I thought I would help out at Haven by tutoring. I went over in person and asked about it. I was told to contact a parent who was the person said to be in charge of  tutoring. I was given a form to fill out and I got it in right away. Being retired, I indicated most times of day were fine.

        I called the parent and left a message. I waited. One week, two weeks. No call back. Then finally I did get a call and discussed the tutoring program, what subject areas I could help in, etc. I was expected to hear, "well, why don't you come on it next Thursday!" or something similar. No, I was left hanging. I waited another week or two to be called in – nothing. I went back over to Haven and asked again. This time I got another person to call. Same result. No call back.

        I went back to Haven a third time and asked to speak to the principal. When I did so, I was given a blank form to fill out – exactly the same one I had filled out two months earlier when I made my first attempt. The message was clear – either they didn't care to have me as a volunteer or the system was so confused that they couldn't keep track of my application. I suspect the latter.

        The district is a huge bureaucracy, always has been, and this tutoring attempt only confirmed for me that nothing has changed.

        Many more stories if you'd like to hear them like the time I did student teaching/observing at Nichols and found one of the English teachers was spending her own money to provide classics in literature for her students to read – because the District was insisting on the use of "historical fiction" instead. These novels are lightweight accounts of this or that child struggling along the pioneer trail or escaping on the underground railroad or such. This teacher buying her own books did amazing things – I went into her classroom and was astonished to find the entire class, no exceptions, silently engrossed in Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities, every copy a beat up edition that she had purchased.

        The period I was at Nichols was near the end of the year – teachers were haggard from overwork. The one I worked with in the classroom was completely burned out, ignoring the students and going through the motions like a zombie with a monotonous delivery, waiting for retirement after many years at the grindstone. Some kids would sleep, others would talk to each other in the back. Interest in whatever subject was at hand was nil.

        If there were too many complaints about teachers, they were shuffled to other schools in the district in a kind of musical chairs operation that never got rid of the bad apples.

        In my parent days with 65, PTA meetings consisted of a few dedicated white parents who did just about everything. Everyone wrung their hands wondering how black parents could be induced to come to PTA meetings. We were given lots of excuses for their absence – too weary from multiple jobs, single parents have too much to do, black parents likely had bad experiences in school and were afraid to come to the school. Enthusiastic suggestions to the principal of Chute at the time were wearily endured but it was clear that we were to limit ourselves to fund-raisers and such.

        The biggest eye-opener of all was the visiting I did to other districts when I was studying to teach. I was floored by the difference from District 65. The attitude of teachers and staff, the whole atmosphere in the schools was upbeat and engaged. At the time District 65 was foundering with the introduction of computers – lots of new machines sitting unused by teachers who didn't know what to do with them…while in other districts the computers were fully integrated into the classrooms. There was no comparison.

        I hope you are experiencing a renaissance sweeping the district, the 15 or so years I endured the organization were remarkably uniform but did provide a huge feeling of relief, even elation, when it was over. Of all the things that were hard to endure, the constant trumpeting of excellence by the district in the face of the reality of mediocrity was the hardest to bear.


  3. Regression to lowest denominator for students

    "… because the District was insisting on the use of "historical fiction" instead. These novels are lightweight accounts of this or that child struggling along the pioneer trail…" 


    This comment reminds me of a friend whose daughter loved to read.  At the parent teacher conference the teacher said the girl was trying to read material above her grade level and should go back to the books the other kids were reading.   The girl had a book with her and the teacher asked her to read from the page.  The teacher then asked her what a couple of word meant; the girl said she did not know; the teacher smougly said "see."  The girl then turned the page which started out "Did you know what ____ and ____ meant?" And then explained them.  The Principal backed-up the teacher.  The parents said it was [not just this case] as if the teacher was always saying "… don't listen to your parents, we [teachers] are the ones who know what we are talking about."  The parents [at the girls insistence] home schooled the girl.  She learned French, German and Latin beside her other subjects; sang in the Lyric Opera children's choir; and is now a double physics and math major at MIT.  While not all children are like this and not all home schooling is as good, parents need to question the assumptions of their children's teachers.  It sounds like the schools have the attitude of Japanese baseball—don't win by too many points, if it looks like you will put in the second or third team and make sure no one looks better than the rest—-regression to the mean or the lowest common denominator.

  4. Teach for America—How many in Evanston

    How many Teach for America grads do the Evanston schools have ? had in past years ?

    From test scores and problems/rebates [e.g. Honors classes]  in the schools, it seems like we need some.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.