Federal government tells Washington state to rewrite its teacher evaluation law

July 21, 2012

On July 6, 2012, the federal Department of Education wrote Superintendent Randy Dorn granting Washington state a one-year waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements, renewable only if Washington amends the teacher evaluation bill passed last session, SB 5895. They have a lot of nerve.  

The federal government has created a tar pit of regulations through NCLB.  The U.S. Department of Education has now created a list of conditions states must meet to obtain a waiver from NCLB requirements.  One of those conditions is passage of a teacher evaluation bill.

Accordingly, Washington state passed SB 5895 in March, hoping passage would help its waiver application.  Writers of this bill, however, ignored clear signals from the U.S. Department of Education that student learning data be a “significant part,” or 50%, of teachers’ evaluations.   

Instead, SB 5895 provides that only 20%, at best, of a teacher's evaluation will be based upon student learning.  SB 5895 also allows student growth data to be based on tools developed in the classroom or school district, not upon objective, standardized tests.  This data must be a “substantial factor” in only three out of eight measures of teacher performance.  The words "substantial factor" are not defined.  SB 5895 requires that the rest of a teacher’s evaluation be based on subjective observations of classroom practice, like “centering instruction on high expectations,” “demonstrating effective teaching practices,” “exhibiting collaborative and collegial practices focused on improving instructional practice and student learning.”   

The feds, complicit in passage of SB 5895, have now exposed its weakness. This bill needs to be rewritten, for sure, but not in the way the federal government suggests, as early data from Tennessee shows this program is not working.  

In 2010 the state of Tennessee was an early winner in the Race to the Top competition.  It received $500 million to help implement its new teacher and principal evaluation bill.  Evaluators there received extensive training on implementing a very complex evaluation matrix, 50% of which is based on student achievement data, the other half on classroom observations. 

Last week, The Tennesseean reported in “Classroom observations fail to catch problems, state says”:

According to a new state report from the Tennessee Department of Education, Tennessee’s new way of evaluating classrooms “systematically failed” to identify bad teachers and provide them more training.

The state report also says this:

“Less than one half of one percent  of teachers are identified by their evaluators as falling significantly below expectations, though student achievement data identifies 16 percent of such teachers…..Evaluators are telling teachers they exceed expectations in their observation feedback when in fact student outcomes paint a very different picture.”

The federal government’s effort to evaluate the 7+ million teachers in the nation does not stand a chance against schools strongly resistant to weeding out weak principals and teachers.    

Over the past forty years, state legislatures, pushed by education interest groups, have systematically passed laws which make it nearly impossible to hold accountable or dismiss weak principals and teachers.  The most egregious law in Washington is RCW 28A.405.300, et seq.  Until state legislatures repeal these laws and create real incentives for improving schools, we can spend a McCleary fortune on schools, and nothing will improve.  

Washington Policy Center's recommendation is to put school principals in charge and then hold them accountable. 

The Recovery School District in Louisiana holds schools (80% are charter schools) accountable for student learning, but these schools are given the authority, autonomy and flexibility they need to succeed.  If the schools in this district do not make certain learning  goals after 5 years, the Recovery School District replaces their management.   

This reform has dramatically improved schools in New Orleans.  Paul Pastorek’s editorial in the Seattle Times describes how they achieved this reform in Louisiana:  http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2017386389_guest01pastorek.html





Louisiana, really!

Using Louisiana as any kind of good example of quality education is laughable. This is that state that is giving out vouchers for religious schools that don't teach evolution or any kind of scientific theory. This is what you hold up as good educational policy?

You might want to recheck

You might want to recheck those statistics from Louisiana. The Recovery District has had tremendous problems, and the data is not as good as it is elsewhere in Louisiana. The "evaluation" program depending almost solely on student test scores is unfair.