UPDATED: No Clear Teacher Narrative in Race to Top Phase Two Winners

By Stephen Sawchuk — August 24, 2010 2 min read
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The Phase 2 Race to the Top picks are here, and they’re an interesting and eclectic bunch.

The effective teachers and leaders section of the competition represented the largest percentage of overall points in the competition, but based on a cursory review of the winners, there does not appear to be a clear thread among the teacher proposals that explains why some states won and others didn’t.

A big theme has been incorporating student achievement into teacher evaluations. But despite the rumors, the idea of making student growth count for up to 50 percent of an evaluation does not seem to have been a major factor in determining the winners, after all. New York State officials, with union support, agreed to use 40 percent, of which only a portion will be based on standardized test scores and the remainder on local measures. But a bunch of the winning states—Massachusetts, Ohio, North Carolina—didn’t specify a percentage in their teacher evaluations. Instead, they promise that student achievement will make up a “significant” percentage of the evaluation protocol. As I’ve noted time and time again, that term is in the eye of the beholder.

Two states that passed aggressive teacher laws, Colorado and Louisiana, came up empty-handed. In Colorado, that change cost the state the significant support of the Colorado Education Association. Just 5 percent of eligible unions signed on.

A few of the winning states had strong legal backing for their plans. Maryland’s teacher plans, including a longer time-to-tenure bar and evaluation procedure are essentially codified in a bill and regulations; Rhode Island has based its changes in a series of regulations approved by its Board of Regents; and New York City set new details in legislation, including the provision that a teacher deemed ineffective for two years could be subject to an expedited dismissal hearing. In D.C., meanwhile, the district maintains the sole legal control over teacher evaluations.

But several of the winning states do not have as foolproof of a legal framework to back up their ambitious teacher plans. Florida is well known for its model Memorandum of Understanding, which codifies its 50-percent evaluation figure. But, some districts and unions appear ready to circumvent that, as Ron Matus, of the St. Petersburg Times, has ably reported.

Hawaii’s teacher plans are contingent on a statewide letter of agreement with its teachers’ union. In that letter, the parties agree to conduct evaluations annually and to incorporate student growth, but most of the details on how that will inform tenure and compensation haven’t yet been worked out.

So what’s the story behind these diverse results? Some folks, like the American Federation of Teachers’ Randi Weingarten, are pointing to the stakeholder buy-in factor. Even then, that doesn’t appear to have been foolproof: Only two union affiliates signed off in Maryland, for a total of 8 percent union buy-in.

Correction, 8/25/2010, 9:47a.m.: An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly stated that no National Education Association affiliate signed onto the state’s Race to the Top bid. The Prince George’s County Education Association, an NEA affiliate, did so.

In any case, lack of union support is a legitimate reason why peer reviewers may have downgraded these applications. But if that turns out to be the case, it would contradict U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s promise earlier this year that bold plans would trump buy-in.

More for you soon when we have the final score sheets and reviewers’ comments.

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