How NOT To Get High Quality Teachers

Many of you have probably already heard about this piece of legislation highlighted in a recent EdWeek article:

Reps. Polis, Davis Introduce Educator-Evaluation Bill – Teacher Beat – Education Week.

This is a bill to watch. Though it probably won’t advance on it own, it is a marker for language that could get wrapped into an ESEA rewrite—or added as an amendment to that larger vehicle. Remember, both Polis and Davis are on the House Education Committee that will take the lead in shaping that chamber’s revision of the ESEA.

Why are these two politicans (with the blessing of the Administration apparently) pushing out this portion of the Blueprint/RttT ahead of everything else; even ahead of full reauthorization? Why attempt to legally bind the funding of our neediest schools to teacher evaluation systems that don’t even exist yet in many places (some are only now in the process of being developed; and the promise was that they would be developed jointly with teachers)? Why preempt that work by requiring over 50% of the weight be assigned to test results and/or still statistically unstable, and pedagogically unsound VAM calculations?

The wording of the EdWeek report suggests that the bill’s authors believe the most important skill of teachers at high needs schools should be the ability to raise test scores (since teachers who can’t do that would be barred from those schools, but presumably free to teach at others). If I’m misreading the intent of the bill, please correct me. Perhaps, they have not been listening to those who do, in practice, work in high needs schools and have consistently produced academic excellence among their students. If they had, they would surely have learned this is probably the least effective way to get that done or to get more quality teachers at those schools.

Those of us at TLN and Center for Teaching Quality, along with many others, have looked closely at the issue of high quality teachers in high needs schools [News Flash: There are already some great, high quality teachers who have committed ourselves to working in these schools]. To be a truly effective teacher for students in these most under-resourced, highly challenging schools requires a unique set of skills. Our federal and state reform efforts might be more successful if they were aimed at supporting the conditions which allow those skill sets to develop and flourish. Consider examples such as Mitchell Elementary School in Arizona where 20 of the 34 teachers went through National Board Certification process together. Other schools have tried this approach as well. Creating environments in which teachers can grow in competence and expertise, and where they are not only allowed but encouraged to use that expertise in ways that really help students has to occur simultaneously (or maybe even prior to) developing of truly effective evaluations. Otherwise, we simply continue putting good (potentially great) teachers into dysfunctional settings. Linda, a commenter on my last blog post put it well:

How do we attract better quality applicants? I was a top student and what attracted me to the profession was autonomy, the chance to be creative in a lot of different areas, and a schedule that would help me parent my kids. I took a break from teaching while my kids were young and when I came back I did not even look at being a public school teacher- creativity and autonomy are gone there. I work at a charter school now where they treat me like a professional who can make sound decisions about educating my students. Why would a smart, highly educated person want to be told what to do and when to do it every day, whether or not it makes sense in the context of the situation? You couldn’t pay me enough to do that.

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