Tag Archives: ESEA

We Have to Say More About Teacher Evaluation Reforms Than Just “They Didn’t Work”

In a piece for Education Next released last month, I looked at the Obama-era push for better teacher evaluation systems. As states and cities turn the page on that particular set of reforms, I wanted to pause and reflect on what we can learn from the last eight years. In the piece, I nodded toward some of the successes of that effort but spent more time reflecting on what could have gone better. I focused on four major policy mistakes:

  1. A universal approach of trying to get all states and cities to pursue teacher evaluation reform efforts;
  2. A narrow definition that focused too much on the specific elements of evaluation systems without leaving room to accomplish the same goals in different ways;
  3. An emphasis on process over purpose, which paid too much attention to the evaluation systems themselves and not enough on the actual use of those systems;
  4. A collision in timing with the rollout of Common Core that proved politically and logistically challenging.

These failures do not invalidate the entire theory of action that teachers matter and that improving the policies around how school districts hire, evaluate, compensate, and train teachers could lead to better outcomes for students. Encouraging school districts to evaluate teachers and principals at least in part on student growth, and to make consequential decisions based on those determinations, was never going to be an easy shift. It required new policies, new systems, and better tools, not to mention changing a culture that treated teachers as interchangeable widgets. For all these reasons and more, we haven’t seen the widespread changes President Obama or his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, might have hoped for when they made teacher evaluation one of their signature policies.

Still, failing to change everything doesn’t mean we’ve learned nothing. There’s a growing body of evidence that evaluation reform can be a viable school improvement strategy for places that want to pursue it. In my piece I cited a randomized controlled trial of the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), which provided competitive grants for districts to revamp their evaluation and compensation systems. The study found that TIF led to gains equivalent to 10 percent of a year’s worth of learning in math and 11 percent in reading. There are other positive examples as well. Studies on evaluation reform efforts in Cincinnati, Chicago, Denver, New York City, and Washington, D.C. have found that comprehensive evaluation systems can help identify teachers who need to improve their practice, nudge low-performing teachers out of the profession, and, ultimately, boost student achievement. To be sure, these cities all pursued different sets of reforms, but they had the common thread that they were all trying to identify and act on differences in teacher performance.

In total, these positive examples provide evidence in support of the underlying theory of action on teacher evaluation reforms. Rather than discarding this era and moving on, as states and advocates seem wont to do, we should learn from this massive effort: what worked and what didn’t work and why.

Could Potential Trump Education Plan Make Inequality Greater Again?

When it comes to education policy, Donald Trump’s positions are largely a mystery. But here is what we know so far: he hates the Common Core, and he regularly flirts with the idea of eliminating the U.S. Department of Education. There. That’s the whole of Trump’s plan to make American Education Great Again. Unfortunately for The Donald, improving America’s schools will be far more complicated than eliminating high-quality standards state-by-state and downsizing a federal bureaucracy.

Yet, what Donald Trump lacks in experience or expertise, he more than compensates, he claims, by hiring the very best people. Enter New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, one of the favorites to be Trump’s running mate, and whose education policies would be a terrible national model for a Trump Administration to pick up.

The mere thought of Governor Christie driving national education policy is enough to make almost any teacher shudder. Remember when he said that teachers’ unions deserved a “punch in the face?

As troubling as that comment is, Governor Christie’s latest idea — so called school “Funding Fairness — is particularly odious. At first glance, the proposal could be attractive: ensuring all students receive the same baseline level of state funding. In practice, however, this new funding model would amount to taking millions of dollars from school districts with highly concentrated student poverty, and redistributing those funds across more affluent districts. As a result, many urban, high-poverty districts could lose millions.

In other words, Governor Christie’s big idea to make public education great in New Jersey is to take millions of dollars from students in need,  and give them to students who are better off. That idea is completely backward and unfair.

But should Trump and Christie make it to the White House, this profoundly inequitable approach to school funding could become national policy. Continue reading

Teacher Evaluation After ESSA: A Conversation With NCTQ’s Sandi Jacobs

Did states and districts move on teacher evaluation policy because of readiness or was movement a response to federal pressure? What will come of teacher evaluation now that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is law and federal pressure is gone? Specifically, which components of teacher evaluation may be up for debate? What should state policymakers be thinking about this legislative session when it comes to teacher evaluation? 

As part of our forthcoming work on teacher evaluation, Bellwether convened policy influencers, state and district leaders, and researchers to discuss these and other current issues, questions, and opportunities with teacher evaluation policies. Sandi Jacobs, Senior Vice President of State and District Policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), attended our convening. The below transcript is an e-mail exchange between Jacobs and Bellwether’s Kaitlin Pennington that transpired after the meeting between late January and mid-February. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Staff pictures for Bellwether Education, in Washington, DC, 10-27-2015. Photo by Toby Jorrin.

Staff pictures for Bellwether Education, in Washington, DC. Photo by Toby Jorrin.

Kaitlin Pennington: At the end of last year, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was reauthorized. The new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) strips all federal requirements on teacher quality issues. When it comes to teacher policy, it’s hard to say how states may react to new flexibility or how quickly for that matter. However, shortly before ESSA passed, I predicted that under the new law, new teacher evaluation policy in states and districts would be especially vulnerable to attack. Then, barely one week after reauthorization, leaders in New York and Oklahoma altered the teacher evaluation systems in their respective states.

It’s no coincidence that both New York and Oklahoma quickly pulled back on using student achievement in teacher evaluation. If I was a betting person, I’d place money on the fact that there are likely several states lining up behind New York and Oklahoma to do the same thing. It’s not that I think teacher evaluation as we’ve known it for the last five to eight years will be a thing of the past, but I doubt student achievement will be a component—and definitely not a significant component—in the majority of states and districts due to the lack of federal oversight in ESSA.

NCTQ is known for all things teacher policy, and your most recent State of the States provides a comprehensive look at how states are evaluating teachers. So what do you think? What’s going to happen to teacher evaluation policy post-ESSA?

Sjacobs_HeadshotSandi Jacobs: I’m just not sure that the reauthorization of ESSA is going to have much impact on states’ teacher evaluation policies. There is a perception that ESSA has done away with requirements for teacher evaluation that were in No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and that is just not the case.  No version of ESEA has included a set of mandates around teacher evaluation.

Of course it is true that there was were some serious federal carrots and sticks around teacher evaluation, coming first with Race to the Top (RTT) and then with the ESEA waivers. And especially through the waivers, the feds certainly “encouraged” some states to move farther and faster on teacher evaluation than they really wanted or were ready to do. But it just isn’t my sense that that is the case for most states.

In our most recent scan in late 2015, we found just five states (California, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska and Vermont) that had no formal state policy requiring that teacher evaluations take objective measures of student achievement into account in evaluating teacher effectiveness. And only three states – Alabama, New Hampshire and Texas – had evaluation policies that existed only in their waiver requests. It was far from a secret that there were states doing nothing on teacher evaluation; Texas was far from quiet about it. Yet most states kept moving.

It is a certainty that states are going to continue to fine-tune their teacher evaluation requirements.  (Appendix B of our State of the States report attempts to capture the considerable amount of changes states have made just to the weight of student growth measures over the last five years; within all those changes we only found three states that no longer appeared to require it as a significant factor.) What remains to be seen is whether there will be wholesale backpedaling.

I’m cautiously optimistic. There will certainly be political pressure to roll back requirements in some states. The simultaneous implementation of new college- and career-readiness assessments and new teacher evaluation systems has been a significant challenge, one that has unfortunately amplified the pushback to each issue individually. But while much work remains on implementation, the policy landscape around teacher evaluation is completely transformed in this country, and that’s not going to be easy to undo.

And one more note – a teacher evaluation bill is currently moving in the Alabama legislature, one of the eight states that currently does not require student achievement to be part of teacher evaluations.

Kaitlin Pennington: I hear what you’re saying, but I’d like to push on a couple of things. Continue reading

The Peril of Teacher Evaluation Policy under ESSA

It’s official. Teacher evaluation policy in most states and districts is in trouble. Big trouble. After overwhelmingly passing the House this week, a similar outcome predicted in the Senate, and support from the White House, it looks very likely that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will be reauthorized very, very soon. The new bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, strips all federal requirements on teacher quality issues.

The main theme of ESSA is state flexibility. This hasn’t always worked so well with school accountability. History suggests that states back away from accountability when they’re not forced into it by the feds. And there’s no reason to think it will be any different for teacher quality policy. Especially teacher evaluation.

Sure, as of today 43 states require that student growth and achievement be considered in teacher evaluations and 40 of those states have it written into state law (three states have teacher evaluation policy existing only in ESEA waivers, which will be eliminated). But many of these states have yet to produce a year’s worth of results on the new evaluation systems, let alone connecting those results to other personnel decisions. Only seven states tie evaluation ratings to compensation. Less than half of states have policies in place where teachers are eligible for dismissal based on evaluation ratings. Just nine states use evaluation to determine licensure.

Besides, while state law matters, it’s also vulnerable to the sway of powerful special interest groups. Continue reading

For Most Students, the ESEA Reauthorization Bill Is A Big Ole Nothing Burger

It’s hard to tell what the theory of action behind the latest ESEA bill is. As far as I can tell, the only accountability–such as it is–is targeted at the bottom 5 percent of schools. Even in those schools the interventions are weak, but the bill has no real ambitions to improve outcomes for students in the remaining 95 percent of schools. Continue reading