Teaching Profession

States’ ESEA Waiver Bids Murky on Teacher Evaluations

By Stephen Sawchuk — November 23, 2011 3 min read
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Only five of the 11 states that have applied for ESEA waivers have a firm mechanism in place for implementing teacher-evaluation systems statewide, according to a review of the plans.

Those guidelines, and systems for helping districts adopt them in a timely fashion, are the core teacher-quality requirement in the U.S. Department of Education’s application.

This isn’t a dealbreaker for getting a waiver. At least in theory, states only need to have plans in place regarding evaluations. But plans and requirements are, obviously, two very different things—just ask Hawaii, which won a Race to the Top bid, but hasn’t come to agreement with its teachers’ union on evaluations.

It’s something that the peer reviewers could take into account as they review the applications, though the review guidance isn’t particularly explicit on this point.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s Teacher Beat’s rundown.

Colorado, Tennessee, Indiana, Florida, Oklahoma: All five of these states have laws on the books requiring new evaluation systems. Colorado’s guidelines have been developed and are now being piloted in select districts. Tennessee’s new statewide evaluation system is operational, but has hit bumps in the road of late. Florida’s law was extremely controversial and opposed by the state teachers’ union. Nevertheless, it is very specific about what the evaluation process will look like. Indiana’s law was passed this year, and while piloting is just starting, it has developed a statewide system. Oklahoma’s state board is scheduled to adopt a statewide model in December.

Massachusetts: This state has adopted regulations for teacher evaluations that require all districts to create systems based on principles outlined by the state. The success of that all happening seems very dependent on the collective bargaining process, and it’s not entirely clear based on my preliminary read how those two factors interact. (Please weigh in if you know more.)

Georgia: This state has statewide guidelines, and it won a Race to the Top grant. But only 26 districts out of about 180 are participating, so the evaluation plans only go that far at the moment. The application states that it will “offer” other districts the chance to adopt the new evaluations next school year (good luck with that one, Georgia!). It says that with the support of the legislature and board of education, all districts will eventually adopt the system. That probably means that the state will need either legislative or regulatory action to make it happen.

New Jersey: This state points to its evaluation task force, which has been drafting principles for evaluation, but there’s no mention at all of the state teachers’ union, with whom Gov. Chris Christie has constantly feuded. It’s hard to see how these evaluations are going to happen absent local bargaining or a state requirement.

Minnesota: The state passed a piece of legislation this year requiring new teacher evaluations statewide, but it is only beginning the process of convening work groups to flesh out the law, which is fairly skeletal. An interesting feature of this state’s law is that it allows for a portfolio-assessment process similar to National Board certification to substitute for the regular observation and student-growth process.

New Mexico: State officials have outlined the contours of an evaluation system, but need the state legislature to pass a law to overhaul its current tiered-licensing system in favor of annual evaluations.

This is an unusual case. According to the application, the state plans to introduce regulations that would allow it to pursue statewide adoption of a model, rather than leaving this up to local districts. An interesting feature of this plan is that, unlike the other applications, it’s also quite specific with regard to what activities the state will spend its federal teacher-quality cash on. It explicitly says it wants to move Title II (teacher quality) dollars away from getting teachers to achieve “highly qualified” status and class-size reductions—the primary focus of the funding in most states—into helping teachers become more effective on new evaluation systems.

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