You can’t pick up an education publication these days without reading an article about teacher effectiveness. Teacher effectiveness is the new buzz word for this decade.
Since the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) authorization, the focus has been on highly qualified teachers. During the past eight years of NCLB, we have seen many states and districts achieve 99 percent highly qualified teachers. What also happens is that teacher evaluation systems report over 95 percent of teachers at or above standard.
However, graduation rates indicate that children are not successful in school. Apparently, the inconsistency is due to lack of focus on teacher effectiveness. So, we have lots of proponents of tying evaluation to test scores, merit pay, performance pay, value-added and the list goes on.
Many foundations are promoting the teacher effectiveness conversation, and the U.S. Department of Education is focusing Race to the Top and NCLB/ESEA reauthorization on teacher effectiveness. This focus is the right focus; however, I am not so certain that the details are on target.
I read a great article in Education Week recently. The article was by Dr. James Stigler, who is a senior fellow with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He cautioned readers that we need to rethink teacher accountability before it is too late. The article resonated with me since it had close alignment with the philosophies of W. Edwards Deming. In the article, Dr. Stigler talks about the Japanese model of “lesson study.” This is a highly engaging model where teachers develop common assessments, teach common curriculum, teach on a common calendar and work together to monitor student achievement and study best practices for intervening when students are not successful. Japanese teachers are provided with the time and support to have these professional conversations. In the U.S., we are calling this approach the professional learning community.
The reason I liked this article so much was the relationship to the work I was part of in my former school system. The Iredell-Statesville system in North Carolina was recognized as the 2008 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award recipient in education. A key reason for the recognition was the level of deployment of professional learning communities and classroom Plan Do Study Act (PDSA) cycles, which are a key component of the Deming philosophy. These cycles very much mirror the Japanese lesson study model. Teachers of same subject met weekly to develop common curriculum, learning targets for students and common assessments and to share best instructional strategies. The student learning results over seven years in the school system documented that the PDSA method worked for all subjects, all grades and all types of students.
While discussions about teacher effectiveness are extremely important, I could never support a system that utilizes only standardized testing to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers. I will support working with teachers and other stakeholders to develop a growth model for teacher effectiveness that has multiple measures. I have appointed a teacher effectiveness steering committee to follow up from our Race to the Top application. This group is comprised of teachers, principals, superintendents and other key stakeholders. I am very excited about their work and look forward to the discussions we will have.
This work is not easy, and it will take several years to develop a valid, reliable and fair system for gauging teacher effectiveness. I also know that we must measure the working conditions within which teachers work. Another Deming philosophy I strongly adhere to is that, in most cases, non-performance and poor results are a direct result of the system and not the people in the system. By measuring working conditions, we can determine at the school, district and state levels what working conditions need to be in place for teachers and principals to be more effective in helping more students succeed. The bottom line for me is that we must DO this work WITH teachers and principals and not just do it TO them.