Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Does MN's Teacher Evaluation Bill Mesh with Secretary Duncan's NCLB Reauthorization Efforts?

April 3rd Item Update:  Gov. Dayton and MDE Commissioner Cassellius share a  desire to go where research findings lead them to improve teacher effectiveness and close the achievement gap.--- Attributed to Rep. Pat Garofalo in Star Tribune's This year, may this state witness the art of compromise by Lori Sturdevant.

Original Entry of March 30:

Memo to MN Education Policy Makers: Before approving the groundbreaking new teacher evaluation bill that cleared its first hurdle in the House of Representatives, please consider U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's ongoing campaign to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act.

"I've said repeatedly our department must continue to support and encourage innovation, not force compliance," Secretary Duncan testified to the House Education and Workforce Committee on March 9.

In the currently available version of Minnesota's HF 945, Article 1, Sec. 1, Subd. 1: teacher effectiveness would be linked to student performance with this language: 

"When determining a school's effect, the data must include both statewide measures of student achievement and, to the extent annual tests are administered, indicators of achievement growth that take into account a student's prior achievement.  Indicators of achievement and prior achievement must be based on highly reliable statewide or districtwide assessments."

Sect. 5, Subd. 1 of HF 945 then constructs a teacher evaluation structure by establishing a  "mechanism for translating the performance data into a five-part teacher effectiveness rating scale."

Big Question #1: Should we take MN's "effectiveness" language to be the innovation that Secretary Duncan encourages or the compliance that he warns against?

We've often heard the phrase "hold harmless" where education policy is concerned.  On the topic of reauthorizing the now 10 year-old NCLB law, Secretary Duncan specifically holds the NCLB Act responsible for the challenges districts and states face:

"Almost everywhere I go, I hear people express concern that the curriculum has narrowed," the Secretary has said. "I think the law is too punitive, too prescriptive, and it's led to a dumbing down of standards, and a narrowing of curriculum," Secretary Duncan stated regarding a "must-make" policy change at the federal level.

Duncan asserts that 80% of the nation's schools will be labeled as failures this year, and by law, all of them will be subject to an identical set of interventions, regardless of a given school's individual student needs.  If that happens, the schools with the widest gaps in achievement are most at risk of continued failure, which worries him deeply since the whole point of the law is to ensure that the schools with students most at risk are served. Duncan also contends the current law "created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed."

In its place, Secretary Duncan does support a system of accountability based on individual student growth, one that "recognizes  success" and "holds all of us accountable for the quality of education we provide to every student in the nation." This shift in policy direction would represent a "sea change" from the current law, which simply allows every state to set an arbitrary bar for proficiency, and measures only whether students are above or below that bar.

Duncan also advocates a common sense law that is "tight on goals and loose on the means of achieving them", instead of the reverse as it is now. Towards that end, many states are are already developing robust student data systems so they can measure student growth, so the academic bar can be truly be raised.

Big Question #2: Will the passage of HF 945 properly leverage the longitudinal data systems being built in Minnesota school systems?

By mandating  and prescribing "one size fits all" solutions, Duncan says: "NCLB took away the ability of local and state educators to tailor solutions to meet the unique needs of their students, and that is fundamentally flawed.  This law is fundamentally broken, we need to fix it, and we need to fix it this year."

Secretary Duncan himself is not averse to the idea of teacher evaluations:

"At the end of the day, the best way to make  a difference is with effective, well-supported teachers.  The best way to achieve that is with stronger teacher recruiting and training programs linked to rigorous teacher & principal evaluation systems.  That work is underway all across America, and if we do our part by fixing the law, we can accelerate that progress."

Calls for meaningful teacher evaluation have been issued by everyone from Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Casellius to the Minnesota Education Association to the American Federation of Teachers to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Big Question #3: Would the teacher evaluation methodology set out in HF 945 accelerate progress toward a rigorous educator evaluation process-- or will it decelerate it?

Given the landmark nature of this teacher evaluation legislation, let's all hope & pray that any such efforts adequately address some important questions before the bill becomes a full-fledged law.
You can listen to Duncan's entire 13-minute set of remarks to the House Education Workforce Committee (the primary source for this analysis) between the 10:40 and 23:40 points of the following C-Span video:

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