Breathing Room for Teacher Evaluation; Will ED Extend Approach to Teacher Prep?

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a statement responding to widespread concerns about standardized testing—saying that “testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools” and offering to delay by a year the federal requirement that teacher evaluations include some “significant” influence from students’ performance on state assessments.

Reaction from the field1 to Duncan’s statement has been, as expected, profoundly respectful and professional. Unions, administrators, and policy makers have expressed relief that ED has finally acknowledged feedback from the field as to the wisdom of policy. While the announced delay in tying teacher evaluations to these impact measures is very important, I am even more interested to see how consistent, congruent, and powerful the Obama administration intends to be in its handling of similar policy questions.

As the PK-12 community breathes a sigh of relief, the postsecondary community awaits the release of proposed regulations for Title II of the Higher Education Act. If past proposals are any indication of the direction ED intends to pursue, we should expect to see the higher education version of high-stakes value-added analysis applied to teacher preparation programs. Such a policy would be even less valid for teacher preparation than for PK-12 schools and would drain resources (only a small percentage of which is federal money) from important educator preparation innovations now under way.

The model for innovation and accountability in educator preparation we recommend is well articulated in the federal Teacher Quality Partnership program and in the proposed Educator Preparation Reform Act. The underlying model in the current and proposed laws is the same: Both focus on the educational needs of underserved populations of students; both require recruitment and development of education personnel in high-need disciplines to serve students in high-need communities; both require data to understand impact on human capital development and student achievement. 

My great hope is that Secretary Duncan will use the important remaining years of the Obama administration to sustain the present focus on accountability in productive ways: by strengthening the education community’s capacity for partnerships that benefit student achievement, transparency, and reliability in reporting and reflecting on results of our efforts; by helping us build reliable data systems that support evaluation of practice; and by supporting field-based pilots to address questions of human resource management and high-leverage practices essential to the delivery of effective educational services.

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Sharon Robinson

President and CEO, AACTE