Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Accountable Education Reform Hits a Snag


I've written a letter to the members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee about a recent change to the proposed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reform that would ensure that all teachers are routinely evaluated. The changes would scrap these requirements and are in response to intense lobbying by Teachers Unions to (mostly Republican) Senators.

I encourage you to write these Senators. The StudentsFirst Campaign will make the process easy, and even have a form letter you can send if you are short on time. Check it out here.

Here's my letter:

Dear Senators,

I'm one of the lucky ones. I went to a great school and had great teachers because I lived in the right zip code. I have completed a degree in economics and am now working on my masters degree. In my recent coursework on the economics of education I carefully considered research from all sides of the educational spectrum in an effort to understand how we can make education better. Based on that research I have firm beliefs that measuring student and teacher performance is absolutely critical to getting better outcomes.

Like many policymakers, including the majority of you, I agree that we need to reform No Child Left Behind. But cutting teacher evaluations is not the right step forward. All students deserve the chance to be taught by evaluated, effective teachers.

As members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee I encourage you to restore the provisions on teacher evaluation originally placed in the bill by Senator Harkin.

Please do it for my siblings, my future children, and all the kids who aren't quite as lucky as I was to hit the zip code lottery.


K. Michael Monroe


Adam G. Ricks said...

I liked your letter. I especially liked you phrase saying that you hit the zip code lottery. Honestly, I wish that we would scrap the whole idea, and make the teaching market a competitive one. I realize that this poses some problems. However, I think it fixes the one addressed by the issues in this Act. By making the market a competitive one (by paying more), you inherently get a better crop of teachers. Which would you rather--a teacher who really knows how to teach and knows the material, or a teacher who just really loves kids? While I think the second is a great reason to become a teacher, I don't think that this should inherently qualify someone to become such.

theunwittiestblog said...

A good point. I'm interested to know what you feel is the best evaluation mechanism. The zip code lottery factor poses a problem there as well... the most qualified teachers tend to aggregate in those zip codes. It would be unreasonable to assess teacher performance on test scores alone, but determining an effective combination of objective and subjective criteria seems like an elusive goal.

Michael Monroe said...

I agree that there are serious methodological concerns and hurdles to creating an effective way to measure teacher performance. Measurements based on straight-up scores gives teachers in wealthy districts an advantage. Measurements based on total improvement or relative improvement give teachers in low-performing schools an advantage. Ideally you'd be able to calibrate improvement taking into account previous levels of achievement--I really don't think it would be unreasonably difficult.

But even if we don't have measures that allow us to distinguish perfectly between the 60th and 90th percentile of teachers in terms of effectiveness and ability, it isn't them that I'm worried about. I think that even a rudimentary measure would help us filter out the bottom 10-15% of teachers that might be making scores worse or registering fantastically low levels of improvement for students.

I also agree that tying compensation to performance measures will impact outcomes for the better. There are already some districts and charters experimenting with bonus pay and "hardship" pay for teachers willing to move to low-performing schools. I think that is the right approach and a good step forward.

Making schools compete with each other and opening up charter schools doesn't fix anything, hence allegations of cream skimming and biased sample measurements, but I think this part of the new NCLB bill would be an important step in improving things we do know matter--teacher quality.

Michael Monroe said...

Typo alert:

Making schools compete with each other and opening up charter schools doesn't fix **everything**