The Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness, 2nd Edition

Publication Date: January 2009

Publisher: The New Teacher Project

Author(s): Daniel Weisberg; Susan Sexton; Jennifer Mulhern; David Keeling

Research Area: Education

Keywords: evaluation system; education policy

Type: Report

Coverage: United States


This second edition report describes a pervasive and longstanding failure to recognize and respond to variations in the effectiveness of our teachers. At the heart of the matter are teacher evaluation systems, which in theory should serve as the primary mechanism for assessing such variations, but in practice tell us little about how one teacher differs from any other, except teachers whose performance is so egregiously poor as to warrant dismissal.
The failure of evaluation systems to provide accurate and credible information about individual teachers’ instructional performance sustains and reinforces a phenomenon that the report calls the Widget Effect. The Widget Effect describes the tendency of school districts to assume classroom effectiveness is the same from teacher to teacher. The report finds that this decades-old fallacy fosters an environment in which teachers cease to be understood as individual professionals, but rather as interchangeable parts. In its denial of individual strengths and weaknesses, it is deeply disrespectful to teachers; in its indifference to instructional effectiveness, it gambles with the lives of students.