Earlier, I praised the Harkin-Enzi ESEA Reauthorization bill’s handling of teacher and principal evaluations, noting that they found a very small middle ground between the Obama administration’s waiver package and the Senate Republican plan. Well, strike that. Guess Senators Harkin and Enzi really aren’t worried about what I think of their plan.
A substitute has been introduced and posted to the Senate HELP Committee website which essentially decimates the teacher and evaluation provisions in the original bill. In short, they caved. Teacher and principal evaluations are no longer required, but rather an option that states can apply for as part of the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), a competitive grant program in Title II of the bill. If a state applies to use TIF funds for a new teacher and principal evaluation system, they would still be used to make professional development decisions, and not necessarily personnel ones. These evaluations would also still be based partially on student achievement and on other measures. Look familiar? It’s basically the Senate Republican proposal.
So why do I say they caved? The answer lies in a letter five advocacy groups representing teachers, principals, school administrators, and school boards sent to Senators Harkin and Enzi over the weekend. In it, they wrote: “we are concerned about the capacity of states and local school districts to develop meaningful evaluation systems that do not become mechanisms for forced teacher and principal distribution (emphasis added).” The original bill would have required states to implement new evaluation systems over five years. Then, within three years the most effective teachers would have to be equitably distributed among schools to ensure that students in high-poverty and high-minority schools did not get shortchanged. So, in theory, some states could have tried to incentivize the most effective teachers to work in the highest-needs schools. Of course, the consequences of failing to equitably distribute teachers were basically nonexistent.
Still, the equity provision was a big problem for the advocacy groups. So, the new substitute bill doesn’t even touch the issue. Rather, a state would report how teachers were distributed based on: 1) whether they meet the inadequate “highly qualified” definition that’s been ineffective under NCLB, 2) whether they are inexperienced, 3) whether they did not complete a teacher preparation program, and 4) whether they are not certified in the subject they teach. These measures are inputs, and do not incorporate the outcomes that truly determine whether a teacher is effective: student achievement.
While other portions of the bill continue to reflect the lessons learned over a decade of implementing NCLB, the new teacher evaluation provisions are just more of the same. The new Harkin-Enzi bill will produce highly-qualified teachers, but not necessarily high-quality ones.