The National Council on Teacher Quality suggests reforms for Oakland

Last month, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) completed a study looking at my district, Oakland Unified.

The report is causing quite a splash among teachers, administrators, school reform advocates, and community members.

Now, I’m not a big fan of NCTQ. Frankly, I’m surprised that they are still defining “teacher effectiveness” and “highly-qualified teacher” based primarily on the scores the teacher’s students earn on state-mandated, fill-in-the-bubble exams.

If I put aside my personal reservations about NCTQ’s definition of effective teaching and look past the political maelstrom surrounding the report, I am forced to admit that NCTQ has some interesting findings.

NCTQ’s Big Five

  • “The district needs to do a much better job hiring and assigning teachers.”  Oakland is experiencing declining enrollment, and over the past several years, we’ve had to close schools. Traditionally, when a school closes, teachers with the highest seniority are placed in openings in other schools. NCTQ is not a fan of teacher seniority. They believe that a principal should have the right to refuse a senior teacher whom they think is not a good fit for their school.
  • “The district’s evaluation system is confusing and data are not used to drive decisions.”  NCTQ would like to see principals providing teachers with evaluative feedback every year.  Teacher performance should also be better tracked so that teachers who are viewed as ineffective by principals are held accountable.
  • “Teachers need more meaningful feedback on their performance.”  The report recommends that principals see concrete examples of student learning used to evaluate teachers.  While the report mentions other sources of student-learning evidence, high-stakes testing scores play the dominant role in this recommendation.  In addition to the principal, NCTQ thinks that Oakland should hire a team of independent evaluators who are content experts in their field.  These evaluators would validate principal evaluations and serve as coaches for teachers who are struggling.  Finally, student voices should play a role in teacher evaluations.  The report mentions that thirty-five students, each in class for six hours each day conduct 37,800 hours of evaluation over the course of a school year, far outweighing the one or two hours that a principal might spend in a teacher’s classroom.
  • “The district needs to pay top teachers more.”  NCTQ recommends that “high-performing” teachers should earn big raises regardless of how much experience they have.  The district should develop hybrid teacher-leader roles so that qualified teachers can earn increased compensation for increased responsibilities, all the while keeping a foot firmly planted in the classroom.

  • “Teachers need more time in the school day.”  NCTQ notes that Oakland teachers are required to be at school fewer hours than most schools, only about seven hours.  They recommend that the district move to an eight-hour workday for all teachers.

In the next five posts, I’ll go deeper into each of the reports findings.  In the meantime, I’d like to see your initial impressions.

What do you think?  Do these recommendations sound reasonable?

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