You don't have to search far, or wide, to find articles, papers, and studies critical of corporate education reformers push for rigid test based teacher evaluations of the kind currently being deployed in Ohio. Our document archive is full of them. But it is unusual to read a paper published by a right wing think tank with a reputation for being anti-teacher, that raises many of the same points teachers themselves have been raising about the headlong rush to implement corporate education reform principles in the area of teacher evaluations.
But that's exactly what the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) have just done wit ha paper titled "The Hangover: Thinking about the Unintended Consequences of the Nation’s Teacher Evaluation Binge". The paper opens with a warning that the recent pushes might have been too much, too soon, and gone too far
Yet the recent evaluation binge is not without risks.
By nature, education policymaking tends to lurch from inattention to overreach. When a political moment appears, policymakers and advocates rush to take advantage as quickly as they can, knowing that opportunities for real change are fleeting. This is understandable, and arguably necessary, given the nature of America’s political system. But headlong rushes inevitably produce unintended consequences—something akin to a policy hangover as ideas move from conception to implementation.
Welcome to teacher evaluation’s morning after.
the Paper discusses a number of problematic area that will be familiar to JTF readers
Flexibility versus control
: There is a temptation to prescribe and legislate details of evaluations to ensure rigor and prevent evaluations from being watered down in implementation. But overly prescriptive policies may also limit school autonomy and stifle innovation that could lead to the development of better evaluations.
Evaluation in an evolving system: Poorly designed evaluation requirements could pose an obstacle to blended learning and other innovative models in which it is difficult or impossible to attribute student learning gains in a particular subject to a particular teacher.
Purposes of evaluations: New evaluation systems have been sold as a way both to identify and dismiss underperforming teachers and to provide all teachers with useful feedback to help them improve their performance. But there are strong tensions between these purposes that create trade-offs in evaluation system design.
Evaluating teachers as professionals: Advocates argue that holding teachers responsible for their performance will bring teaching more in line with norms in other fields, but most professional fields rely on a combination of data and managerial judgment when making evaluation and personnel decisions, and subsequently hold managers accountable for those decisions, rather than trying to eliminate subjective judgments as some new teacher evaluation systems seek to do.
Take one look at this evaluation framework that has been inspired by the Ohio legislature and one can see how prescriptive Ohio's teacher evaluation has become.
Ohio has also fallen into many of the traps this paper highlights. The failure to consider team worked teaching, a lack of focus and funding for professional development, and a lack of resources for administrators to provide adequate feedback, to name just a handful.
AEI offer some useful recommendations, some of which might be too late to implement in Ohio
Recognizing these tensions and trade-offs, this paper offers several policy recommendations:
- Be clear about the problems new evaluation systems are intended to solve.
- Do not mistake processes and systems as substitutes for cultural change.
- Look at the entire education ecosystem, including broader labor-market impacts, pre- and in-service preparation, standards and assessments, charter schools, and growth of early childhood education and innovative school models.
- Focus on improvement, not just deselection.
- Encourage and respect innovation.
- Think carefully about waivers versus umbrellas.
- Do not expect legislation to do regulation’s job.
- Create innovation zones for pilots—and fund them.
One might find it gratifying to read reasoned words of caution regarding corporate education reforms from some of the very people responsible for pushing them in the first place, and we can only hope we see more of it. But, it is hard not to suspect that this is the slow dawning of realization that is being drawn from the very real evidence of on-going struggles and failures in corporate education reform policies now being seen across the state and the country.
The Hangover: Thinking about the Unintended Consequences of the Nation’s Teacher Evaluation Binge