May 12, 2014

Genuine Progress, Greater Challenges: A Decade of Teacher Effectiveness Reforms

By Andrew J. Rotherham | Ashley LiBetti Mitchel

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The past decade saw unprecedented progress on teacher quality. Policymakers came to embrace two key research-based ideas: teachers are the single most important in-school factor for student achievement, and traditional methods of measuring teacher quality have little to no bearing on actual student learning. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of states that required annual evaluations for all teachers increased from 15 to 28. The number of states that required teacher evaluations to include objective measures of student achievement nearly tripled, from 15 to 41. And the number of states that required student growth to be the preponderant criteria in teacher evaluations increased fivefold, from 4 to 20. School districts across the country, in places like New York, Washington, D.C., Denver, and Chicago, instituted new policies designed to reward teachers for their performance. Federal programs like Race to the Top and the ESEA waiver process further solidified the importance of teacher effectiveness.

In Genuine Progress, Greater Challenges: A Decade of Teacher Effectiveness Reforms, Andrew J. Rotherham and Ashley LiBetti Mitchel analyze what spurred the past decade of progress in teacher quality policy, today’s status quo, and what corrections and next steps policymakers and philanthropists should take.

To build on the momentum of the past ten years, policymakers should consider five key issues:

  • You can’t people-proof systems in education. Current evaluation systems are a substantial improvement over previous policies. But it’s unclear if these are the tools that will create a genuinely professional ethos for teachers. Evaluation systems should complement metric-driven systems with true managerial discretion. Districts should train and support managers and hold them accountable for their professional decisions.
  • Professionalize professional development. Teachers must be supported in their work, but the existing body of literature on professional development is extremely limited. Policymakers should identify and promote professional development that improves educator practice and student achievement. Evaluations should align with professional development for the purposes of growth and improvement, not just performance management.
  • Open and expand teacher preparation. Teacher preparation is a difficult sector to reform, but doing so is key to improving teacher quality overall. Policymakers should increase rigor and quality in teacher preparation but also end protectionism of traditional preparation programs and open preparation to greater competition.
  • Address productivity. Current education policy is often additive rather than productivity focused. Policymakers should find ways to promote productivity by better deploying the existing pool of teacher talent or improving how technology is used in schools and classrooms.
  • Address the politics. Education is inherently political and the American debate about public education is special interest dominated. School improvement requires a robust political strategy to support its educational strategy.


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