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The New Hampshire Department of Education Commissioner Barry negotiated a No Child Left Behind waiver that avoided in New Hampshire the requirement for high-stakes testing that teachers contend with in many other waiver states. We’re a local control state, so districts have the high-stakes option, but high-stakes is not policy in New Hampshire. Now other states are coming around to that policy. (more…)
The experience in district after New Hampshire school district is that it’s the leadership that makes the difference in how well the school performs. I’ve talked to school board members who thought that many of the teachers in a certain school performed poorly but, under a new principal, those same teachers, they agreed, were doing a great job. They were inspired and given direction and support. (more…)
Here is NHPR keeping the education discussion grounded, providing an on-the-ground view of the meaning of New Hampshire’s No Child Left Behind waiver:
But what does the waiver mean for schools and teachers? Much of what’s in the waiver – the Common Core State Standards, a new teacher evaluations model, and support networks for professional development – were efforts already underway in New Hampshire.
The waiver had to address four areas of concern:
· College and Career Ready standards: New Hampshire satisfied this category by adopting the Common Core State Standards, a rigorous set of standards that been taken up by 45 other states.
· Accountability and Support: Under this section New Hampshire had to put together a new set of goal posts for improving student test-scores. Instead of shooting for 100% proficiency – an NCLB goal, which many thought unworkable – NH will seek to decrease the gap between full proficiency by 50% in six years. The bottom performing 5% of schools will be designated “priority schools”, and the 10% of schools with the largest achievement gap (the gap between top performing and bottom performing students) will qualify for additional resources.
· Teacher and Principal Evaluation: schools are already required to have some sort of teacher evaluation system in place, but under the waiver schools accepting federal money for teaching high percentages of poor students will be required to base 20 percent of teacher evaluations on a measure of student growth, be it test scores or a locally developed measure. A little over half of New Hampshire schools accept these “Title I” dollars.
· Reducing unnecessary duplication: This section was meant to spur innovation in terms of reducing administrative costs and streamlining school bureaucracies. In the 126 page waiver document it is given a single page of consideration.
The question will be, how much did we have to compromise on including student testing in teaching evaluations? From Education Week:
Two more states—Alabama and New Hampshire—are about to get waivers from requirements under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, sources say. (Expect an announcement sometime very soon.) That will bring the grand total to … 39 states, plus the District of Columbia. So almost everyone. (But, notably, not big juggernauts California and Texas.)
Valerie Strauss (The Answer Sheet blog at the Washington Post) had widely respected Finnish education strategist Pasi Sahlberg write a guest column. It’s great fun to get these thoughts unconstrained by the limits of our current American education debate. Key points:
In the United States, for example, there are more than 1,500 different teacher-preparation programs. The range in quality is wide. In Singapore and Finland only one academically rigorous teacher education program is available for those who desire to become teachers. Likewise, neither Canada nor South Korea has fast-track options into teaching, such as Teach for America or Teach First in Europe. Teacher quality in high-performing countries is a result of careful quality control at entry into teaching rather than measuring teacher effectiveness in service.
In the United States today, 23 percent of children live in poor homes. In Finland, the same way to calculate child poverty would show that figure to be almost five times smaller. The United States ranked in the bottom four in the recent United Nations review on child well-being. Among 29 wealthy countries, the United States landed second from the last in child poverty and held a similarly poor position in “child life satisfaction.” Teachers alone, regardless of how effective they are, will not be able to overcome the challenges that poor children bring with them to schools everyday.
Thinking about teacher evaluation
Teachers should not be subjected to the corporate numbers game advocated by StudentsFirst and the corporate education reformers. But, still, we do know that some teachers are better than others. And in a rough way we know how to identify, say, the better 4th grade teachers: ask the 5th grade teachers.
That’s not an evaluation system, though. It’s too subjective. And there is a lot to consider. The kids have different backgrounds and levels of readiness to learn. They have different styles of learning. Also, many teachers may have helped any one student, so we don’t always know who is responsible for a student’s progress.
So the question is how to distinguish the better teachers from those who need improvement. The number of years a teacher has taught and the number of courses taken probably isn’t it. Classroom observation is a component of it – if the observer is very good at it. But there’s got to be more to it than that.
Corporate-stye education reform
That’s why education reformers propose measuring teacher performance based on student test scores. The trouble is, when deployed by radical advocates of corporate-style education reform,high stakes testing can become a club for beating up teachers and their unions, shutting down schools and privatizing public education.
The national debate about the future of American public education – the “education reform” debate that has taken shape over the past 10 years – has two major parts. One is essentially about privatization of our public school systems – either though for-profit charter schools (unlike those we have in New Hampshire) or by using publicly-funded vouchers to send children to private schools (like our New Hampshire voucher plan).
The other part of the debate is all about how best to hold schools and teachers accountable for educational results. This often has a corporate tone, as in, “Show me the improved scores or you will be fired (if you’re a teacher) or shut down (if you’re a school).” In this form, evaluation is not directly concerned with curriculum questions and can become a club to beat on teachers. At the other end of the spectrum, teacher evaluation can be integrated with curriculum as a tool for coaching teachers and improving schools.
That debate on how teacher performance should be evaluated has arrived in New Hampshire.