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August 04, 2009
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Like many states, Ohio is trying to figure out the best way to improve its teacher evaluation system as well as teacher personnel policies linked to them (like how best to remunerate teachers, grant them tenure, connect them with professional development, and ? when district budgets or enrollment levels leave no other choice - determine layoffs). Many states and districts already have dramatically overhauled these policies, while others are in the midst of intense debates over whether tying student growth to teacher evaluations is fair, whether states should mandate policies or leave it up to districts, what should constitute ?multiple measures? in an evaluation, and much more.
In Ohio, Fordham has witnessed this debate firsthand. Just yesterday, Terry testified to the Ohio Senate Finance Committee, imploring them to restore the excellent teacher personnel provisions passed by the House that would have overhauled tenure and pay, ended LIFO and forced placement of teachers rated ineffective, and more. A similar op-ed also ran in today's Columbus Dispatch. If the Senate does not change course, all of those provisions will be removed and Ohio will be mired in antiquated teacher personnel rules and procedures (some of which have been around since 1941).
Even prior to this particular legislative battle, however, Fordham Ohio had been hearing lots of myths and fears expressed by educators and policymakers alike. Opponents of overhauling teacher evaluation systems argue they're inherently unfair, arbitrary, prone to bias, focused too much on test scores, ruin collaboration, create competition, etc. We wondered if any of these realities were true in places where teachers are evaluated in rigorous ways (rather than through the traditional binary rating system ? ?satisfactory? or ?unsatisfactory?). So we reached out to DC Public Schools, where the DC IMPACT evaluation system has been in place for two years. And we decided (with the help of our incredible colleagues in DC and a new media manager with fantastic video skills) to go into the field and ask teachers who are already participating in rigorous evaluation systems what they think about these matters.
We interviewed six teachers in DC Public Schools who are evaluated under the IMPACT system. Overwhelmingly, even despite some concerns expressed by several of the teachers, common themes emerged: a binary rating systems (?satisfactory? or ?unsatisfactory?) is neither informative about which teachers are effective and which are not, nor does it help teachers improve their practice. The teachers we interviewed ? which include science teachers, an elementary math coach, a fourth-grade teacher (of all subjects), a special ed middle school teacher, an art teacher, and a master educator (who conducts the observations on behalf of DCPS) shared what it's like to be evaluated via five observations each year and have part of their performance linked to student test scores.? Even teachers with significant concerns expressed that IMPACT correctly identifies the worst performers and the top-flyers. And several teachers who have not yet earned the distinction of ?highly effective? said that IMPACT motivates them daily to improve their practice.
Their responses were pretty powerful. We're glad we interviewed them and can share this footage with all our viewers, but especially our Ohio audience where in just the last few days the entire future of teacher personnel policies has shifted underfoot. While IMPACT isn't perfect and neither is any evaluation system out there, it's certainly far better than what Ohio has in place and should compel us to institute a more meaningful system, and specifically to reinstate the excellent provisions that were in the House version of Ohio's biennial budget.
As Ohio and other states struggle to reach agreement on how (or if, depending on who you ask) to make teacher policies focused on effectiveness and performance, and more conducive to attracting the best and brightest, these are conversations that absolutely must happen. We hope that lawmakers, policy makers, and teachers alike realize that any efforts to improve teacher effectiveness across the state rest on our ability to evaluate teachers and use this data to make key decisions that are in the best interests of students.
We'll continue this video series through June with videos tackling specific issues related to teacher evaluations. Watch your inbox next week for our second video.