Editor’s Note: Last week, Education Sector released On Her Majesty’s School Inspection Service, which outlines how school inspections have become part of the accountability system in England. Would such a system work in the U.S.? We asked a variety of education experts to weigh in with their thoughts. We’ll share them throughout the week, and we encourage you to share your reactions as well. First up is a blog post by Patrick Riccards, who heads ConnCAN, one of the most influential state education advocacy organizations in the country.
At first blush, one can look at On Her Majesty’s School Inspection Service and wonder if there truly is relevance to the challenges currently facing state departments of education. The notion of “expert” inspection teams in the United Kingdom begins to sound a lot like the “swat teams” that were rumored as No Child Left Behind was launched, with experts parachuting into at-risk schools to determine if they were doing what NCLB proscribed.
But a closer look reveals some intriguing thoughts for some of the challenges facing our SEAs. With state after state grappling with how to build effective evaluation systems for educators, Her Majesty’s provides us some interesting discussion points.
By now, we all realize that effective educator evaluation requires multiple measures. While many want to focus on just the inputs that go into teaching – what our educators are bringing to the classroom – it is equally, if not more, important for us to focus on student achievement. And England makes clear that student learning is the most important element to its evaluation system. (As the report notes, Scotland and Wales have programs that differ from what Ofsted does in England.)
Student Achievement and Growth is measured by Academic Achievement, Learning and Progress, and Achievement Overall. Quality of Teaching is evaluated based on whether students are making exceptional progress and applying knowledge. Even Great Britain’s failing schools are ultimately assessed based on the progress they are making in achieving those student-focused measured in areas like Student Achievement and Quality of Teaching.
Are there tough swallows here? Of course. While the English model has 27 specific areas that are measured, the vast majority of them, while student oriented, are not specifically student performance focused. And while multiple measures are important, we must be careful of any system that minimizes the importance of student achievement. At the end of the day, the true “return on investment” measure of our public schools is how well our students perform, be it on state proficiency exams, high school exit exams, or college entrance exams such as ACT and SAT. With 27 measures to a system, we run a real risk of losing that focus.
And then there is the cost. Education Sector estimates that the adoption of an inspectorate model would cost upwards of $1.1 billion for the United States. In a state like Connecticut, such a system would cost nearly $19 million a year. And in a state trying to get out of a tough economic situation, $19 million can buy a lot of preK and can do a lot of good in helping provide resources for our lowest performing schools.
In my state of Connecticut, we have declared 2012 to be the Year for Education Reform. Gov. Dan Malloy hs issued a bold call for reform, identifying six guiding principles for our school reform efforts. Central to those principles is ensuring “that our schools are home to the very best teachers and principles – working within a fair system that values skill and effectiveness over seniority and tenure.”
To achieve this goal, we need to develop a fair evaluation system focused on providing every school and every classroom with great teachers and principals. That means establishing a strong state model educator evaluation system that includes student growth as a significant factor and requires every educator to be evaluated every year.
Implementing such a model is the challenge before Connecticut and many other states. If On Her Majesty’s School Inspection Service can help get us there, or at least help start a dialogue on what effective, student-focused evaluation looks like, then all of the better. Our schools have been shaken and stirred far too much when it comes to accountability and evaluation. We now need a model that ensures every student – regardless of race, family income, or zip code – has excellent educators … and that those educators are effectively evaluated every year.
—Guestblogger Patrick Riccards is CEO of ConnCAN, a statewide education reform advocacy organization in Connecticut.