Teaching Profession

Standards, Evaluations Hot Topics at ECS Forum

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 17, 2012 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The impact of the Common Core State Standards and the future of teacher-evaluation systems were big topics for officials and advocates gathered at the Education Commission of the States’ 2012 National Policy Forum in Atlanta last week.

Both were major features of the keynote speech delivered on July 11 by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has supported the development of teacher-evaluation systems around the United States. (The foundation also provides grant support for Education Week‘s coverage of business and innovation.)

Mr. Gates stressed the role of student surveys, classroom observations, and test scores as the three key measures of any good evaluation system. The most surprising finding of the foundation’s work in teacher evaluations, he said, was that student surveys could produce very informative answers about teacher practice.

“Asking students the right question is very, very diagnostic,” he said.

Mr. Gates also said that, even in difficult fiscal times, the development of teacher evaluations could be done at a cost of only 1.5 percent to 2 percent of overall education budgets.

But Sarah Brown Wessling, the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, said in a panel discussion with Mr. Gates that even as broad systems are being tested, individual teachers still do their own strong research on best practices.

“It’s been on their own; it’s been isolated research,” she said.

Both she and Mr. Gates called for teachers to be heavily involved in creating evaluation systems.

Mr. Gates also called for policymakers to go “full speed ahead” on common standards in English/language arts and math, saying of the common core: “It is a substantial step forward in what should be taught.”

Far-Ranging Agenda

The July 9-11 forum also included discussions about such topics as workforce readiness and America’s “competitive edge” and its relation to education—along with plenty of sentiment that education policy work at the state level remains a hard slog.

State Rep. James Roebuck, a Pennsylvania Democrat and ranking minority member of the house education committee in that state, lamented what he sees as the rush to implement new policies and said they are implemented “erratically.” He was critical, for example, of a Pennsylvania law exempting charter school teachers from new evaluations that take student performance into account.

“Once you get something in place, it’s very difficult to remove,” said Rep. Roebuck.

In a July 10 discussion about the connection between education and the perceived loss of the country’s edge in economic competition, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, said that 3 billion people in the world are tussling for 1.2 billion jobs, and that teaching technical and practical skills is crucial for states in persuading companies to choose the United States over other nations for their operations.

“We are, in fact, in a global war for jobs, which really means that we are in a global war for talent,” Gov. Markell told the audience.

But a dissenting note was sounded by E.D. Hirsch Jr., the founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation, a nonprofit group that stresses the incremental growth of student knowledge across content areas. Mr. Hirsch argued that broad skills and knowledge are important for students, “so that you can have the flexibility to do a number of things.”

Civics Education

One area where most U.S. students fall short is an understanding of American government, argued former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

In a July 11 speech, she cited data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2010 that most high schools seniors, 76 percent, were not proficient in knowledge of civics, despite research showing an overlap between the skills students needed in a global economy and ones they needed to maintain democracy in the United States.

Justice O’Connor, who leads the advisory council to the Silver Spring, Md.-based Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, praised Florida’s recent decision to eventually require students to pass a civics test in middle school.

“Our system of government is not just automatic,” she said.

Comparisons to other countries also arose in a discussion by David Coleman and Jason Zimba, lead authors of the common-core standards in both English and math.

Stressing his opinion that the depth of the standards is the key to their success, Mr. Coleman—the incoming president of the College Board—said that the math standards in the common core would more closely match what students are required to know in high-performing regions like Hong Kong. He noted that the standards eliminate some topics and focus more on supposedly basic areas like fractions, a foundation for understanding algebra.

“It’s actually the most demanding math,” he said of mathematical topics like fractions.

A version of this article appeared in the July 18, 2012 edition of Education Week as ECS Sessions Tackle Menu of Policies

Events

Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.
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
Curriculum Webinar
STEM Fusion: Empowering K-12 Education through Interdisciplinary Integration
Join our webinar to learn how integrating STEM with other subjects can revolutionize K-12 education & prepare students for the future.
Content provided by Project Lead The Way
School & District Management Webinar How Pensions Work: Why It Matters for K-12 Education
Panelists explain the fundamentals of teacher pension finances — how they are paid for, what drives their costs, and their impact on K-12 education.

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

Teaching Profession In Their Own Words Cellphones Turned My Teaching Career From 'Awesome' to Exhausting
A former high school teacher shares how his students' increasing reliance on cellphones drove him out of the classroom.
5 min read
Mitchell Rutherford, who taught biology at Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Ariz., left the profession due, in part, to students' cell phone usage. Here, pictured at Finger Rock Trailhead in Tucson on June 8, 2024.
Mitchell Rutherford, who taught biology at Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Ariz., left the profession due, in part, to students' cell phone usage. Here, pictured at Finger Rock Trailhead in Tucson on June 8, 2024.
Cassidy Araiza for Education Week
Teaching Profession Teachers’ Unions Are Gaining Ground in a State That Once Forbade Them
With unions now representing educators in its largest district, Virginia is seeing a labor resurgence.
7 min read
Image of a folder and a signed agreement.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Q&A 'Fundamentally Changing the Conditions' for Teaching
A specialized STEM program builds in more planning time for teachers.
5 min read
Tess Carlson, Biology & Community Health Teacher for SFUSD Mission Bay Hub, demonstrates how to meter a pipet for Ruier Fang and Aldriana Ramos, both 12th graders at Thurgood Marshall, on April 29, 2024, in San Francisco.
Tess Carlson, the founding science teacher for Mission Bay Hub, demonstrates how to meter a pipet for students on April 29, 2024, in San Francisco.
Peter Prato for Education Week