My last two Waiver Wire posts have focused on the implications for standards and accountability with the waiver package details possibly coming this Friday. However, policies affecting teachers – from how they’re evaluated, to the benefits and compensation they receive, to the way they are educated and trained – have risen to the forefront of education reform since No Child Left Behind was enacted. So it’s not surprising that Secretary Duncan and the Obama administration would include some of these teacher-centered reforms in the waiver package.
So the third component in Duncan’s waiver plan will likely allow states to receive a waiver from the Highly Qualified Teacher provisions of NCLB if they instead enact teacher evaluations based partly on student achievement and learning outcomes. These are the same kind of evaluation systems promoted in the Race to the Top competition. As Kevin Carey noted earlier: “if trading Common Core membership for no 2014 deadline is getting something for nothing, this is getting nothing for something” because the HQT provisions were so ineffectual. “Highly qualified” does not mean high quality, and the HQT provisions essentially meant that districts stopped hiring uncertified teachers but continued hiring ineffective ones.
Responding to RTT and the overall trend towards more rigorous teacher evaluation, state legislatures, Boards of Education, state superintendents, and Governors have taken action to implement teacher evaluations systems based on student achievement and learning in one form or another. But most are still in the planning stages with no system in effect statewide – even in those states that adopted legislation or included value-added teacher evaluation in their RTT proposals.
As the map shows, half of all Race to the Top winners have asked the Department of Education for extensions in implementing their teacher evaluation plans. In the 16 non-Race states (according to NCSL) that passed legislation or received approval for new evaluation systems from their Board of Education, all are in some phase of the design process. The same is true for the 9 states planning or piloting new teacher evaluations under some other authority, like a special task force (according to news reports or their state website). In many states the exact methodology and process for determining teacher evaluation systems have not been set; the legislature or committee has simply laid out broad guidelines.
The key question for Duncan’s waivers then becomes: what level of implementation will be acceptable? While RTT states should be in a good position to receive waivers, since the waiver package aligns closely with RTT priorities, New York and Hawaii have received considerable political pushback from unions on their teacher evaluation proposals. In New York’s case, the union sued and won, delaying the state’s implementation activities and stripping away key provisions related to value-added data. This open warfare between the unions and the state inhibits the collaboration that was central to their RTT victory and should prevent both Hawaii and New York from receiving a waiver from the Department – at least until the situation is resolved.
But what about other states? How far along in the process should they be? I propose taking a cue from another portion of the waiver plan – that states will have adopted college- and career-ready standards and assessments. The assessments most states would use to meet this criterion, the PARCC or Smarter Balanced assessments, will not be ready until the 2014-2015 school year. Thus, in each state’s waiver proposal, they could lay out a similar timeline, structure, budget, and decision-making process for implementing new, statewide teacher evaluation systems by 2014-2015. To ensure states make sufficient progress towards meaningful implementation, states would need to specify which activities would occur in year 1, year 2, etc. To shift activities from one year to another, they would have to receive written approval from the Department. And states would also need to submit an annual report to hold them accountable for their progress; if a state reneged on its plan, the Department could revoke their waiver.
The Department should also issue guidelines with the waiver package for the design and use of the new evaluation systems. The system should include a mix of value-added data for teachers in tested subjects with subjective measures of teacher performance based on observation for all teachers. It should provide for multiple distinctions between teachers to give more meaningful information than a satisfactory/unsatisfactory ranking. States should also describe how the teacher evaluation data would be used in terms of professional development and support for continuous improvement, compensation levels and personnel decisions, and district and state efforts to distribute highly effective teachers equitably among schools.
There are several benefits to this approach. It gives states time to build their data systems and ensure teachers can be linked to student-level data, while studying and testing various models to define a teacher’s value-added score. According to the Data Quality Campaign, many states that have passed teacher evaluation legislation have not yet linked their student database to their teacher database. It also gives states time to develop and pilot more subjective observation rubrics, train principals or other individuals to administer these observations, train support staff to use the new evaluation tool in professional development and mentoring programs, and build support from teachers, unions, parents, and other stakeholders.
And it leaves states with flexibility in how the data is used. While states must build their systems to foster continuous teacher improvement, improve HR policy, and address inequitable distributions of the best teachers, they could use a variety of approaches to meet these goals based on the state’s priorities and unique characteristics.
In terms of where states are today, the teacher evaluation component is the most difficult in the waiver package to meet – for both practical and political reasons. However, it seems silly to maintain the ineffective highly qualified teacher provisions when so many states are already designing evaluation systems based on teachers’ effectiveness in the classroom. But it doesn’t have to be something for nothing. Leading states can instead be rewarded for their efforts to improve the quality of teaching, and importantly, be given funding flexibility to help implement these complex new systems of evaluating teachers. More on that to come…