Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Secretary Duncan’s Course Correction on Teacher Evaluation

By Guest Blogger — August 22, 2014 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Note: Maddie Fennell, a literacy coach for the Omaha Public Schools and last week’s guest blogger, is returning today to respond to Thursday’s remarks by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan regarding teacher evaluation.

On Thursday, Secretary Duncan took what I believe is an important step in the right direction when he announced that states will be given additional flexibility and more time to get evaluation right. Since I wrote about this topic just last week, Rick generously gave me the opportunity to share my thoughts on the announcement.

First off, I believe in giving credit where it is due. It’s not easy to stand up in front of one person, let alone in front of an entire country, and admit that a “fair chunk” of the responsibility regarding the challenges facing teachers today is due to decisions that you have made. It’s rare to hear someone who lives and works in a political fishbowl genuinely admit that a course correction is needed. That is what Secretary Duncan did yesterday.

Secretary Duncan’s statements reflected conversations that I have heard from fellow teachers across the country. I applaud the teachers who were bold enough to step up and express their thoughts on evaluation and testing from a student-centered perspective; they helped the Secretary and others in the Department understand how their policies were actually impeding, rather than promoting, student success.

Some will argue that Secretary Duncan should have been listening to teachers all along. I don’t disagree, but as a teacher, I accept the end result of learning without judging the pace of it. The Department’s evolution of thought regarding teacher leadership can be seen through the relationships fostered by regular meetings with union leadership, teacher involvement in the International Summits, conversations with teacher advocacy groups (NNSTOY, the Hope Street Group, Teach Plus and many others), and the development of the RESPECT Blueprint and (most recently) the Teach to Lead initiative.

But here’s the big question: Will Duncan’s announcement really bring about change? A year ago, the Department invited states to apply for additional flexibility around the timing of teacher and principal accountability and only two states did. Ugh.

Let me reiterate what I said just last Friday: Holding our own “cease fire” will do nothing if we don’t get ALL stakeholders to calm their fiery rhetoric, come to the table, and begin discussing the RIGHT way to build a system that provides a common road map to student success.

Every stakeholder who is currently operating under a poorly-designed evaluation system must use this as an opportunity to look at things differently. Teachers have to step out of their classrooms and actively lead on this. Take the time to do some research and understand what this could mean for your state. There is power in numbers; meet with your union and other teacher advocacy groups. Develop ideas around how you would use the additional time from a waiver to retool and put a better system in place. Working in coalitions, get a meeting with your state chief. Lay the Secretary’s announcement on the table next to your outline, and ask when your state will be applying for the waiver so that TOGETHER you can get it right.

Like Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, I believe that this announcement is just a first step. Randi Weingarten is spot on when she says that this must be “linked to concrete action and not just words.” As the leaders of millions of teachers across the country, they need to be first ones to sit down with Secretary Duncan and get “into the weeds” of what a great evaluation system really looks like.

It’s easy to talk in the abstract, but concrete examples are long past due. No more talking about “multiple measures” without providing a list of what those really are. What is an acceptable measure of student growth? What does it look like to have an evaluation system that is fair to teachers and accountable to the public? How should teachers be involved in evaluating their peers? We want the flexibility to mold what will work in our own school districts, but we need the models to help us develop a vision and a roadmap.

Secretary Duncan said that “we need to be true to our promise to be tight on outcomes, but loose on how we get there.” That means that ED needs to make applying for waivers easy, not a series of cumbersome hurdles that rebuff state interest. They need to shine a BRIGHT spotlight on those who work with teachers to develop fair and effective evaluation systems. They also need to call out those states that are doing dumb stuff like tying 50% of evaluation to test scores or teacher evaluations to the test scores of students they have never even taught!

You know, teachers are a very hopeful group; our lives are dedicated to shaping the future. But the comments made by my friend Katherine Bassett in this column last April are echoing in my thoughts today: “We do not hope this will happen--we intend that it shall.”

I intend to hold Secretary Duncan to his promise to “be working in concert with other educators and leaders to get this right.” As I’ve heard Charlotte Danielson remark about evaluation, “there is work to be done here, and it is best led by teachers.”

--Maddie Fennell

Disclaimer: Because Maddie works in many roles, she needs to say that her comments are not the official statements of anyone; they are her personal opinions that she may change with the right amount of convincing!

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP