Wimpy principals, Common Core critics pose mortal threat to results-based evaluations

Nov 21, 2013 by

Ben Velderman – PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The hard-earned education reform of tougher teacher evaluations could be in mortal danger, partly as a side-effect of the Common Core debate and partly from self-inflicted wounds.

Since 2009, virtually all 50 states have revamped the way their teachers’ classroom performance is evaluated, according to a recent report from the Center for Public Education. Many of the states were cajoled into doing so by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative, which links additional K-12 funding to various school reforms.

As a result of this Washington D.C. “nudge,” most states “have fine-tuned their strategies for classroom observations” – a long-standing cornerstone of teacher evaluations – while 38 of those states also use student test score data as a factor in educators’ job reviews, reports WPRI.com.

Not too long ago, there was widespread agreement among K-12 reform advocates that holding teachers accountable for how much their students are learning is a necessary step toward bettering the nation’s education system.

That’s not the case anymore.

One reason is the ongoing Common Core debate. An increasing number of Americans are turning against the nationalized math and English learning standards that are being used in 45 states. These critics – rightfully, in our view – believe Common Core-aligned assessments will give the federal government backdoor-access to the nation’s classrooms.

Many of these Common Core critics, however, are so opposed to Common Core that they’re against any and all forms of “high stakes testing” – a phrase they’ve borrowed from the nation’s teacher unions. Core critics lump revamped teacher evaluations and Common Core together, because they both have the federal government’s fingerprints over them.

The critics fail to see that it’s entirely reasonable to be in favor of linking student test scores to teacher evaluations while opposing the creation of standardized tests that are based on national, one-size-fits-all learning standards. The two policies are separate and distinct.

Many well-meaning Common Core critics don’t appreciate that nuanced position, and have even taken to joining forces with teacher union radicals who don’t want any oversight of what activist teachers do in the classroom. If conservative Common Core critics would pay closer attention to their union allies’ overall agenda, they’d be disgusted to find “the enemy of their enemy” isn’t, in fact, their “friend.”

That’s the biggest threat the teacher evaluation reform is facing, but it’s not the only one.

It turns out the tougher evaluations aren’t as systematic and objective as once believed. Too many weak-kneed school principals just can’t bring themselves to lower the boom on mediocre or struggling teachers. As a result, the new evaluations are producing findings that look eerily similar to the old teacher evaluations they’ve replaced.

According to WPRI.com, 95 percent of Rhode Island teachers were rated “effective” or “highly effective,” and only 1 percent was rated “ineffective” during the 2012-13 school year, the first full-year the state’s new evaluation process was used.

Other states – including Florida, Tennessee and Michigan – are also experiencing suspiciously high percentages of “effective” and “highly effective” teachers, according to The New York Times.

Some observers say that’s an amazing amount of effective teachers, especially considering the alarming number of students who lack the math and English skills needed to graduate high school.

How is this happening?

In a state survey, “two-thirds of (Rhode Island school) administrators admitted they gave a teacher a higher rating than they believe was warranted,” WPRI.com reports. That’s almost certainly happening in other states, as well.

It seems the “strong cultural forces” within schools are undermining the tougher new evaluations. This self-inflicted wound, coupled with the anti-Common Core uprising, has some advocates wondering if this particular K-12 reform can survive.

As reform advocate Sandi Jacobs told the Times earlier this year, “It is too soon to say that we’re where we started and it’s all been for nothing. But there are some alarm bells going off.”

Wimpy principals, Common Core critics pose mortal threat to results-based evaluations – EAGnews.org powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

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