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Schools of education need to improve the way they evaluate faculty members -- whether on or off the tenure track -- according to two reports released Friday by the American Educational Research Association.

One report, on evaluating faculty members for tenure and promotion, finds that significant changes are needed in how teaching and research are evaluated. The other report says that faculty members off the tenure track deserve "appropriate conditions of professional employment and support."

Tenure-Line Faculty

The report on tenure-track faculty members suggested significant shifts in all parts of the evaluation process.

On evaluating teaching, the report says that the "method we most often turn to — student ratings, sometimes supplemented by measures of teaching productivity such as the number of advisees" -- isn't effective. "Student ratings are easy to use, can be compared across disciplines, and can identify the very worst teachers," the report says. "But they do not promote student-centered learning, and they do not identify and reward the most effective teaching practices."

Departments should be using "evidence-based criteria" that focus on student learning. These might include teaching portfolios, classroom observation based on protocols, and surveys of students and graduates focusing on what they learned.

On research, the report says that, to date, faculty members have been evaluated primarily based on articles and monographs by individuals. A much broader approach is needed, the report says. Specifically, it calls for departments to end a bias against work performed by groups instead of individuals -- while working to develop better ways to value the individual contributions to group projects.

"[T]oday’s educational research often requires multiple disciplinary perspectives and methodologies. Individual scholars cannot possess all of these perspectives and skills, so research and publishing are commonly group endeavors," the report says. "Groups are also often better equipped to gain major funding. When we encourage our colleagues to seek large grants and to work with scholars from other disciplines, we must find ways to assess the value of their contributions to co-authored works. Valuing multiple-authored work, particularly when the roles of participating faculty members vary considerably, is not easily resolved by developing a common set of metrics. Instead, this valuing is best addressed locally by making members of promotion and tenure committees aware of the dilemma and helping them find ways to deal with the records of individuals they are required to assess. Committees might consider questions such as, Who contributed and what was the nature of the contribution? What criteria define legitimate and valuable scholarly topics and questions and epistemological frameworks?"

Further, the report says it's time to move beyond the paper or monograph. "Scholarly products beyond journal articles and monographs, including books, new research methods and measures, software for scientific analysis, and data sets, should also be considered," the report says.

Non-Tenure-Track Faculty

The report on adjuncts includes a summary of research showing that higher education is relying increasingly on those off the tenure track -- and that there is considerable evidence that these faculty members do not receive reasonable levels of support. To deal with these issues, the report recommends that:

  • Colleges and departments of education "be judicious in their decisions concerning the employment and expansion of the use of non-tenure-track faculty."
  • Colleges employing non-tenure-track faculty members "provide appropriate conditions of employment and professional support."
  • The AERA "convene a group to develop a statement of principles about the appropriate employment and support" of non-tenure-track faculty members. Such a statement, the report says, "could be useful to schools, colleges and departments of education to guide local discussions and decisions concerning faculty employment."
  • The AERA promote research studies on non-tenure-track faculty members who are working in education programs.
  • The AERA consider urging the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics to develop a new postsecondary faculty survey, with a greater focus on non-tenure-track faculty members.
  • The AERA study whether its own policies on issues such as membership dues and conference opportunities provide appropriate opportunities to adjuncts.

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