The Right Coast

June 21, 2004
Student Evaluations of Their Teachers
By Mike Rappaport

Eric Rasmussen has an interesting post on the role of student evaluations. Here is an excerpt:

Why, then do we rely so heavily on student evaluations? It is hard to believe that professors and administrators do not realize how weakly they measure the amount a teacher has taught his students. Even if they did not, if good teaching was the objective, surely we would pay some attention to the syllabi and what kind of tests were given and use objective evaluators-- students or faculty observing single class sessions-- which we do not do in any serious way. Rather, I think that "good teaching" means "contented students" for the people who rely on student evaluations. Student evaluations are indeed a good way to measure this. And it is a reasonable objective. Administrators are trying to sell a product, and if you view the student as a customer rather than as someone to whom you have a moral obligation, you want to design a product that he wants.
Interestingly, at one law school I know, the student evaluations ask the students many questions. Not a single one of them, though, asks how much the student believes he learned overall in the course. They ask all kinds of things, like how well the professor integrated current events, but not how much was learned. Hard teachers, who give a lot of work, would benefit from this question being asked. And so would the students.