Through the din of cheering, back-patting, and high-fiving
from school-choice advocates over their legislative
successes in 2011
, it’s been hard to hear about states’ recent
improvements to teacher policy
. This fifth edition of the National Council
on Teacher Quality’s report on state teacher-quality policies lends a megaphone
to this cause. (And at more than 8,000 pages—150 pages or more per state—it’s quite the
hefty and detailed
megaphone.) It finds that twenty-eight jurisdictions have improved (on NCTQ’s
) over the past two years. Indiana clocked the greatest gains,
followed by Minnesota and Michigan. Of the states that improved, twenty-four
now consider student achievement as part of teacher evals (up from fifteen in
2009). Thirteen states can now dismiss teachers because of classroom
ineffectiveness and twelve states weigh teacher effectiveness—not just
seniority—in rewarding tenure. In 2009, the highest grade issued was a middling
C (to Florida). This report sees NCTQ’s first B-level grades ever issued:
Top-ranking Florida earned a straight B, while Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and
Tennessee each garnered B-minuses. Mostly good news, but there is yet more to
be done. Even...

Michael Podgusrky, Stuart Buck, and Renita Thukral

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, hundreds of public
schools were put out of commission and their staff placed on leave. Many
charters schools expanded to absorb the displaced students, and these charter
schools hired teachers from traditional schools to meet the enrollment demand. A
glitch, fixed by state legislation, was to allow the displaced teachers to
remain in the state teacher pension plan since some of the charter schools did
not participate in the state plan. In
2010 this temporary law expired. Many of these transplanted teachers remain
employed in charter schools and wished to continue to participate in the state
teacher plan. Legislation was passed to allow these transplanted teachers to
remain permanently in the state retirement plan, if—and this is a very big if—the
Treasury Department approved.

Are charter schools sufficiently “governmental” that
they can participate in state and local pension plans?

The Treasury Department held off ruling on the Louisiana case while it
worked on regulations that would provide new guidance on what it meant for a
plan to be a "governmental plan." In November, the Treasury

One of Mike’s failed predictions
for 2011
– that Michelle Rhee would embrace paycheck protection as part of
her ed reform agenda – is still a worthy idea for StudentsFirst and other
education advocacy organizations in 2012. These laws require members of teacher
unions to give their express consent for the union to use their dues to make
political contributions.

Teachers do not speak with one voice on
political issues, even when it comes to K-12 policy. The “new normal” of tough
budgets exposes how the incentives of newer teachers differ from more
experienced ones, and new organizations like Educators 4 Excellence (which just
opened an LA
) fight for a political voice for them that is independent of the
union establishment. Last election, the Ohio Education Association actually attacked
the husband
of one its members in vicious television ads, using the
teacher’s own dues to finance them.

Teacher unions are among the most
powerful political actors in America on a wide range of issues (just ask Terry Moe,
, or Mike...

As the tide of education accountability ebbs from federal
shores and rolls back out to state seas, states are in a position to reboot,
retool, and reimagine their current accountability models. This Education
Sector paper from independent analyst Craig Jerald offers a novel suggestion:
Model new accountability systems after the Brits’s long-running
school-inspection program. The specifics of the program have been tinkered with
since its inception, but its tenets remain the same. School ratings (given on a
five-point scale) are based upon site-visit reports by trained professionals
using a multi-dimensional metric. (Next year, those measures will be: student
achievement, quality of teaching, students’ behavior and health, and leadership
and management of the school.) Schools are told—explicitly—what they’re doing
right and wrong, and are given tangible recommendations for improvement. And
transparency is key—with all school evaluations made public online within
fifteen days of site visit. Jerald is right to call for a more robust, and
accessible, accountability system. And this British model (implemented in a
union-friendly nation) is worth states’ consideration. But there’s still one

The Education Gadfly
  • NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg showed
    some serious moxie
    in last week’s State of the City address, taking on
    the United Federation of Teachers directly by proposing an ambitious
    merit-pay system and drastic personnel changes at failing schools. The UFT’s
    president said Bloomberg was living in a “fantasy education world”; here’s
    hoping dreams can come true.
  • Apple
    managed to get both the education and tech worlds buzzing this week with cryptic hints about a big
    education announcement in NYC today. The suspense
    is over
    : creative new products include iBooks 2, interactive textbook
    for the iPad, and iBooks Author, an app that allows anyone to create their
    own interactive textbooks.
  • After
    weeks of refusing to rescue the broke—and broken?—Chester-Upland School
    District from fiscal mismanagement, Pennsylvania caved this week and will bail out the suburban Philadelphia district with $3.2
    million in state funds. Still and
  • ...

It was a bit like watching tag-team wrestling. The governor of
the nation’s third-largest state public education system and the mayor of the
nation’s largest single school district taking turns body-slamming teacher
unions; governance at its rawest.

First, on January 4 Governor Andrew Cuomo, in a bold State
of the State address
, promised to be the state’s lobbyist for students and “wage
a campaign to put students first and to remind us that the purpose of public
education is to help children grow, not to grow the public education bureaucracy.” 

Then, the next week, Michael Bloomberg delivered an equally
hard-hitting State
of the City address
, his penultimate as mayor of New York City, most of it devoted to
education. He proved, as Crain’s
Business Review
put it, that he was “not resigned to the malaise of a
lame-duck term or the limitations of a constrained budget” and “made clear his
frustrations with the city's teachers' union, which has long resisted reform.”

Indeed, the Bloomberg speech made it clear that Gotham’s three-term mayor was intent on making the
remaking of the city’s...

The first
set of preliminary findings
from the Gates-funded Measures of Effective
Teaching (MET) project generated much conversation—and some
. This latest report, also preliminary, is not much different.
(Remember that this $45 million project seeks to ferret out, or design, an
optimal teacher-evaluation system through the analysis of student test scores,
surveys, and thousands of hours of classroom observations.) While the first
iteration compared student scores with survey responses, this one analyzes the
predictive strength of five frameworks for classroom observations (think D.C.’s
IMPACT program
for an idea of what they look like). The study finds that,
while each method is positively correlated to pupil achievement (on both state
tests and independent tests), the reliability of observations pales in comparison
to value-added measures (VAM): The reliability of VAM is about double that of a
single observation—from any of the tested measurement systems. Predictive
abilities increase significantly when VAM and student-survey data are combined
with classroom observations—leading the authors to recommend use of multiple
measures when evaluating teachers. In response, Jay
has again sounded the battle cry. And...

Teacher pay is back in the news, with a good roundup of
opinion on the New York Times' Room
for Debate page
. We hear the usual comparisons between teachers and other
workers — and some unusual ones (teachers vs. bartenders?).

problem seems to be how we allocate resources, not how much money is available.

All the contributors miss a point that hits principals and superintendents the
hardest, however: If a good teacher walks out the door to work in another
district, or another profession entirely, because his manager doesn't have the
flexibility to pay him more (and potentially pay a less-effective colleague
less in order to balance the staff budget), something is screwed up about
teacher pay. Given how much money we spend on K-12 education in America, and
how quickly budgets have grown compared to modest enrollment growth, the
problem seems to be how we allocate resources, not how much money is available.

Note that this is not about building bigger and better state- or district-wide
formulas as some education reformers prefer. Value-added models are great tools
for principals to evaluate their teachers, but...

clown fish in anemone photo

Like clown fish and anemone, teacher evals
and merit pay need each other.
Photo by Rob

Teacher evaluations are particularly contentious of late, as
educators in New York and Hawaii can testify
, which is why it’s worth
remembering what can happen when they’re done right. Sam Dillon provided a
heartening reminder in his New York Times
feature on merit pay last weekend, highlighting D.C.’s pioneering IMPACTplus
system. Critics of these initiatives point to studies finding that padding star
teachers’ paychecks doesn’t
boost student achievement
; the best educators were working hard to begin
with, and a few extra dollars won’t squeeze more from them. Dillon’s interviews
with DCPS teachers who received bonuses, however—which can be as high as
$25,000—reveal the potential of meaningful performance-based pay to bring about
systemic change. In a profession with brutal turnover, getting talented young
professionals into classrooms may be less important than keeping them there. D.C.

Amidst lots of recent drama about teacher evaluations (e.g. New York’s
Commissioner of Education has withheld
to nearly a dozen school districts (including more than 30
high need schools in New York City
) that didn’t complete their teacher
evaluation agreements with the local teacher unions, TFA founder Wendy Kopp and
NEA president Dennis Van Roekel joining hands in a USA
Today essay

essay that has befuddled Diane
), the Connecticut Education Association releasing a
teacher evaluation reform package
, New York state’s largest teacher union
unveiling a 95-page Teacher
Evaluation and Development Handbook