School & District Management Opinion

Teacher Investment Makes or Breaks Education Policy

By Cristina Duncan Evans — October 21, 2014 2 min read
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Imagine yourself in a faculty meeting after school. The principal has just unrolled the district’s new evaluation system for the year, and the reactions around the room are diverse.

The test-prep focused teacher is breathing anxiously, her mind immediately racing to the four “bubble kids” she knows are now critical to her evaluation. The veteran teacher who’s been here for decades slides his crossword puzzle into his well-worn Hamlet and sighs with a “this too shall pass” world weariness. The expert disciplinarian blanches. She knows that her students aren’t mature enough to realize that her strictness is actually helping them, and they’re likely to rate her poorly on student surveys. You sit back and assess the mood of the room, because you know that the way teachers are reacting is one of the most important factors that will determine whether the new initiative will succeed or fail.

Policymakers and administrators are catching onto this important idea: Teacher investment can be make or break for the success of a new policy. Ryan Balch and Corey Koedel have recently published a paper providing guidance to district leaders on how to message value-added to teachers who are wary of the measure. The work comes in part from their work in Baltimore City’s rollout of its new multiple-measure evaluation last year. The paper is helpful in its descriptions of Baltimore’s VAM model and its explanations of why it’s preferable to other evaluation models the district considered. For instance, I found it incredibly enlightening that the district’s VAM model takes student poverty into account.

Public Agenda and the American Institutes for Research are also taking a look at this issue, and have created a set of resources that help districts build evaluations with teacher input. The two groups have appropriately titled their work Everyone at the Table, and it provides a series of examples and templates for moderators and leaders that help them get effective buy-in from their teachers. The work concentrates on getting meaningful input on teachers in the decisionmaking process, rather than getting teacher input that’s just a rubber stamp on decisions previously made by administrators.

These promising resources leave me hopeful that teacher voice is beginning to be recognized and valued, but they also leave me a little confused. While Balch, Koedel, AIR and Public Agenda emphasize the importance of teacher buy-in and investment in evaluation policies, the fact remains that many evaluation policies have largely already been determined by state legislators without the input of teachers. (Although, to be clear, teacher union leadership signed on in support of many states’ RTTT applications which included new evaluation policies.)

Are we at the point where we’re shutting the barn door after the horse has escaped? Every teacher surely isn’t going to buy in after feeling left out of the decisionmaking process thus far. We may not be able to go back in time and get more teachers at the policymaking table, but if district administrators and state legislators are paying attention to this new body of work, we can avoid this misstep next time by valuing teacher voice from the beginning of future policymaking processes.

The opinions expressed in Connecting the Dots: Ideas and Practice in Teaching 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.