Are Highly-Rated Horn Professors Overrated?


A few days ago I saw a link to an interesting article with the title “Study: highly-rated professors are. . . overrated.” The article was part of the College Inc. series in the Washington Post, and author Daniel de Vise looks at the topic of student evaluations and at a bigger question, that of are good student evaluations indicative of good teaching? His article begins,

How does a university rate the quality of a professor? In K-12 education, you have standardized tests, and those scores have never been more widely used in evaluating the value added by a teacher.

But there’s no equivalent at the college level. College administrators tend to rely on student evaluations. If students say a professor is doing a good job, perhaps that’s enough.

Or maybe not. A new study reaches the opposite conclusion: professors who rate highly among students tend to teach students less. Professors who teach students more tend to get bad ratings from their students — who, presumably, would just as soon get high grades for minimal effort.

As he explains, the results of the study on which this article was based are “counterintuitive” but for the math classes followed show the following:

Professors rated highly by their students tended to yield better results for students in their own classes, but the same students did worse in subsequent classes. The implication: highly rated professors actually taught students less, on average, than less popular profs.

Meanwhile, professors with higher academic rank, teaching experience and educational experience — what you might call “input measures” for performance — showed the reverse trend. Their students tended to do worse in that professor’s course, but better in subsequent courses. Presumably, they were learning more.

The last two sentences of the quotation above are interesting ones. Professors are rewarded for good evaluations in a variety of ways, but for sure when I look back at the big picture of my professors some of them that I would probably not have given a good evalation to when I was their student ultimately I know I learned a lot from.

It is something I see often with incoming students as well. A student will seem to have been very happy with their prior teachers but when you get down to it I sometimes have to wonder what they actually studied and if the teacher was more concerned with them making progress on the horn or with them liking their lessons. Not that being a mean teacher is the solution either, but teaching is not about ego but instead about being effective. There is no perfect teacher but for those out there that teach check out the full Washington Post article, much there to think over.

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