Van Schoales is executive director of Education Reform Now, a national advocacy group based in Denver.
Last week the State Council for Educator Effectiveness released the long awaited report on implementing the “Great Teachers and Leaders” law otherwise known as SB 10-191. This report and the implementation of 191 could not only have significant implications for Colorado classrooms, but also for rest of the nation as multiple states follow Colorado’s lead in tying teacher evaluation and employment to teacher effectiveness.
Despite all of the time and resources spent by the council in drafting this report (not to mention the 177 pages of text), the council came up short in providing necessary and specific recommendations about how both teachers and principals should be evaluated. The report does a nice job of giving a broad overview of the work that needs to be done to implement an effective teacher and principal evaluation system, but gives very few specifics about what that evaluation system should entail.
The timing for this could not be worse with so much pressure now being placed on the Colorado State Board of Education and Colorado Department of Education (CDE) to make sure SB 10-191 works. The permanent commissioner is still unknown and will likely not be able to start until later this summer. If ever Colorado needed a bold, politically adept and reform-minded state commissioner, now is the time.
All of these complications are exacerbated by the fact that key CDE leader Rich Wenning is no longer able to shepherd such important and complicated projects through the bureaucracy. Much will depend upon the state board and CDE staff stepping up to ensure that SB 10-191 is implemented well.
I had hoped that the council’s report would have been able to distill much of what is possible, providing a detailed roadmap for teacher and principal evaluation. Ideally it would have been helpful to have some snapshots of a system like the DC’s IMPACT teacher evaluation system so that CDE could have clearer guidance for making the detailed rules.
Instead there were very broad recommendations that included a long list of standards, 27 for teachers and 26 for principals, many of which are not easily observed; nor can they easily be measured.
Here’s one example:
“Teacher Standard 1.4: Teachers make instruction and content relevant to students. Teachers incorporate postsecondary and workforce readiness and 21st century skills* into their teaching deliberately, strategically and broadly. These skills include creativity and innovation, collaboration, strong work ethic, critical thinking and problem-solving, civic responsibility, communication, personal responsibility, global and cultural awareness, IT skills, and the ability to discern, evaluate and use information.”
How does one evaluate based upon such vague and all-encompassing standards? And, more importantly, how does one ascertain whether or not a teacher meets these standards based upon his students’ performance or work product? The standards set forth in the report must be more clearly defined and measureable on a quantitative basis.
Furthermore, the number of standards in the report needs to be reduced and simplified. The report currently outlines 27 different standards to which each teacher must be held. Could you imagine being evaluated on 27 different standards?
An effective system design would have fewer standards with a set of detailed indicators that could be fairly evaluated. The council’s work is a start, to be sure, but it is far from finished.
The report did make an important recommendation to add a fourth non-probationary performance category. This fourth category “Partially Efficient” will allow districts more flexibility in retaining effective teachers and letting non-performers go. The range of teacher performance needs to be as robust as any good student evaluation system.
While some will be concerned about the one-time cost estimate of $53 per student for implementation of the law, critics should note that these costs are already built into what effective schools are doing every day in terms of evaluating educators. Good schools are regularly updating and improving educator evaluation systems, it’s at the core of what they do.
And for those schools that are not spending time evaluating educators, these costs are similar to what districts currently spend on student assessments. These costs represent less than 1 percent of what the state is currently spending on education. Given the immense value of a great teacher, it seems wise to allocate less than one percent of the current spending towards implementation of an evaluation system that will reward effective teachers and replace teachers with consistently low performance rates.
One final problem with the report is there are no detailed recommendations on how CDE will monitor and enforce school district implementation of SB 10-191.
What are the incentives for districts to implement the law effectively? And what are the consequences for those districts that do not live up to the intent of the law?
I am not alone. Many in the education and business communities – including Colorado Stand for Children, Colorado Concern, the Metro Chamber of Commerce– have some of these same concerns.
Because of SB 10-191’s passage, Colorado is now in the national spotlight when it comes to teacher and principal effectiveness. Not only will Colorado’s students greatly benefit from a new effective teacher and principal evaluation system tied to retention and promotion, but many other states are lined up to follow Colorado’s lead.
We have to get this right.
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