November 20, 2015

On Hillary Clinton’s Remarks, Teacher Organizations’ Silence Is Deafening

By Bellwether

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Hillary Clinton’s recent statements about teacher effectiveness were off base. Aside from a few wonky fact checks, there has been little outrage from the wider education community. This is in stark contrast to a few weeks ago when a frenzy ensued after Clinton denounced charter schools for cherry-picking kids. Teacher effectiveness matters for kids. A lot. So why the (relative) silence? And how might this silence impact Clinton’s teacher policy stances?
There is no shortage of teacher-focused policy and advocacy organizations. In fact 40 of them recently signed onto a campaign to “modernize and elevate the teaching profession”. The American Federation of Teachers, the group Clinton made her comments in front of, is a part of this coalition. But there’s nothing “modern” or “elevated” about denying the value great teachers have on the lives of students or refusing to act on that information.
Should there be more and better research around teacher effectiveness? Yes, absolutely. But these sorts of proof points take time and many districts are just in the beginning stages of this work. Districts that are a little further along like DC Public Schools are proving it’s possible to use teacher evaluation to attract, retain, and reward great teacher talent.
We’re in the midst of campaign season, so it’s worth questioning just how far Clinton will take this stance. Will she refuse to support innovation in teacher evaluation and compensation through programs like the Teacher Incentive Fund? Will Clinton use her bully pulpit in an effort to dissuade states against continuing their own work improving evaluation systems and linking the results to personnel decisions? It’s too soon to tell because Clinton has yet to unveil the full details of her platform, but as I’ve written, her comments thus far don’t seem to bode well for recent teacher reforms.
In the end, maybe none of this will matter. Many teacher evaluation policies are written into state law after all. And as an ESEA reauthorization seems more and more likely, the law will forbid federal involvement in state and district evaluation policies. But in education policy, momentum and political support matter. And without support from the President or advocacy organizations, will evidence-based teacher evaluation policies survive? For the sake of students, I sure hope so.

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