“Without a common understanding of  what constitutes teaching quality and how teachers should be evaluated, any further conversation about improving teaching will be inconsequential,” say the authors of what we believe may be a first-of-its-kind report on state-level teaching policy — written by a virtual community of expert California teachers who have used the Web and social networking tools to organize an independent statewide advocacy organization.

A Quality Teacher in Every Classroom: An Evaluation System that Works for California is the first in a promised series of policy papers written by members of Accomplished California Teachers (ACT), a group organized in 2008 with funding from the Stuart and Hewlitt Foundations and support from the Stanford U. School of Education.

The report calls on state decision makers to redesign California’s approach to teacher evaluation by incorporating the best elements already in place into a new system framed around the best research on  good teaching. Co-author David B. Cohen, an English teacher and academic advisor at Palo Alto High School, summarized the report’s key principles in a recent post at the organization’s blog InterACT.

They include:

  1. Teacher evaluation should be based on professional standards.
  2. Teacher evaluation should include performance assessments to guide a path of professional learning throughout a teacher’s career.
  3. The design of a new evaluation system should build on successful, innovative practices in current use.
  4. Evaluations should consider teacher practice and performance, as well as an array of student outcomes for teams of teachers as well as individual teachers.
  5. Evaluation should be frequent and conducted by expert evaluators, including teachers who have demonstrated expertise in working with their peers.
  6. Evaluation leading to permanent status (“tenure”) must be more intensive and must include more extensive evidence of quality teaching.
  7. Evaluation should be accompanied by useful feedback, connected to professional development opportunities, and reviewed by evaluation teams or an oversight body to ensure fairness, consistency, and reliability.

We predict that as teacher leaders continue to use social media tools to organize themselves in state-level virtual communities, more policymakers will have the opportunity to benefit from the insights of accomplished teachers on the front lines of school reform.

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