Everything Old Is New Again (and Again, and Again...)

By Stephen Sawchuk — March 23, 2009 1 min read
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Every Monday morning, our executive editor here at Ed Week puts up a copy of the paper from 25 years ago in the kitchen. Some stories now seem a bit frozen in time—you don’t hear so much about asbestos fines nowadays—but others are eerily prescient.

“Teaching: The Pressure for Change Is Mounting” screams a headline over two stories. One is about a National Education Association committee considering teacher career ladders. The other is about the sorry state of teacher evaluation, circa 1984.

Some of the grafs could be written today. One of them reads: “The success of current efforts to redefine the way teachers are rewarded depends directly on the ability of states and school systems to find fair and reliable ways of selecting the teachers who are to be promoted and paid more.” Translation: Test scores were problematic back then, too.

Both articles were written by Tom Toch, who wrote for Ed Week back then. Just last year, in his post as co-director of the Education Sector, Toch authored a paper on teacher evaluation and found that most districts’ evaluation systems are still terrible.

There seems to be a bit more progress on career ladders/differentiated pay, but as Mike Antonucci pointed out recently, an NEA resolution says that such additional compensation beyond the single salary schedule “must not be based on education employee evaluation, student performance, or attendance.”

A lot’s happened in 25 years, and we’re seeing some elements of the teaching profession change (alternate routes come to mind). But pay and evaluation have largely stayed the same. Some of this seems to come down to money; the story notes that better evaluation systems, and training for teachers/administrators on how to use them, is costly. That’s an issue now, too. On the other hand, the only model from these stories that I recognize as still extant is the Toledo peer-assistance and -review model, which perhaps lends credence to the unions’ assertions that these things are only ever going to work if teachers are involved in creating them.

Twenty-five years from now, will we be continuing to write these same stories? Or will only the dates have changed? Someone send me a copy of this blog item then—and my picture too, since I’ll want to remember what I looked like with hair.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.