During the 2010 and 2011 legislative sessions, several states passed legislation to improve teacher effectiveness by, among other things:
- Mandating meaningful teacher evaluations based in part on student achievement;
- Eliminating barriers to the dismissal of underperforming teachers;
- Changing state policies that required reductions in force be made solely based on seniority, with no accounting for teacher performance.
Many states have taken legislative or regulatory action on teacher effectiveness in recent years. Among these, a handful of states stand out for the significant steps they have taken to base key personnel decisions on meaningful evaluations of teacher effectiveness, as measured in part by impact on student learning. There is, however, significant variety among state teacher effectiveness laws, and each has different strengths and weaknesses. To help the education reform community better understand the differences in state teacher effectiveness legislation, Bellwether Education Partners analyzed recently passed teacher effectiveness legislation against 13 criteria (see Appendix for full rubric):
- Are teachers evaluated annually?
- Are teacher evaluations based on student achievement?
- Are there multiple, clearly defined levels of teacher effectiveness?
- Are parents and the public provided clear information about teacher effectiveness?
- Can ineffective teachers be dismissed?
- Is teacher tenure awarded based on effectiveness?
- Can ineffective teachers lose tenure?
- Is teacher effectiveness, rather than seniority, the primary consideration in reductions in force and excessing decisions?
- Is teacher effectiveness the primary consideration in excessing decisions, and may districts dismiss excessed teachers who do not find new positions through mutual consent?
- Does the law protect students from being consecutively assigned to ineffective teachers?
- Do principals have the authority to decide who teaches in their schools?
- Are effective teachers rewarded with increased compensation?
- Does the law support school leaders’ autonomy to make human capital decisions that meet their schools’ needs?
Based on these criteria, we created a score card for each state’s teacher effectiveness legislation. Our goal in creating these score cards is not to deem one state’s legislative efforts “better” than another, but to identify strengths and weaknesses of each state’s laws, so that more states can replicate the strong elements of recently passed legislation, or mitigate areas of weakness.
State Law Ratings
When considering the ratings given to different state laws, readers should keep several contextual factors in mind:
- States receive only one rating, even if they have passed multiple pieces of legislation related to teacher effectiveness. Ratings reflect a state’s policies after recent legislation, not the progress made in legislation. A state that had particularly weak or restrictive policies prior to recent legislation may actually have made more progress than a state that receives a higher rating.
- State political context mitigates the extent of reform that is possible. States with lower ratings often have political contexts that are less amenable to bold reforms.
- Timing matters. States that enacted legislation later have taken ideas and lessons from those that did so earlier, so to some extent ratings for laws that were passed earlier are likely to be lower than those for laws passed later.
Finally, it is important to realize that passing legislation is only the first step in improving teacher effectiveness in a state. How a state and its districts implement legislative requirements is just as, if not more, important. An exemplary law at passage can be undone by weak implementation. It is still too early to tell how each of these laws will play out in practice.