In addition, the waiver process helped break down barriers between the U.S. Department of Education, states, districts, and individual schools. This created a more collaborative environment in education and opened up lines of communication around every school system’s greatest and most precious asset for moving student achievement: teachers. As I’ve written previously, ESEA waivers were integral in moving states from being mere compliance monitors to taking a more active role in district reform implementation. Some states provided guidelines for district teacher evaluation systems, and others gave districts the opportunity to develop parts or all of their systems without their initial input, following up at the end of the year with a check-in system. Importantly, many states moved into the 21st century by developing electronic data systems for approving and monitoring district teacher evaluation systems.
This work is not easy and it’s certainly going better in some states and districts than in others, but through the waiver process, states have proven that they can act as a support system to districts. Without waivers, states would not have been inclined to do this work. And without teacher evaluation in a reauthorized ESEA, states will no longer have the political cover to continue the work.
Teacher evaluation systems in this country are far from perfect. In many places, teacher evaluation has not yet differentiated teacher performance. And the multiple measures in some places are not yet reflecting the work of teachers in a fair fashion, particularly for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects. But teachers need policymakers to get this right because teacher evaluation is central to changing the teaching profession. Great teacher evaluation systems give districts and school leaders differentiated teacher performance data so that they can support struggling teachers and provide expert teachers with opportunities for advancement. This impacts the education system’s ability to attract, retain, and leverage a high-performing teaching force. But this work takes time and there has not been enough of it. The termination of teacher evaluation in a reauthorized ESEA will cause the good, hard work taking place in states and districts to backslide before it ever had a chance to impact students.
Kaitlin Pennington, guest blogger, is vice president of communications and outreach for YEP-DC and an education policy analyst at a think tank. Reach her via email or Twitter.