School is out and summer is upon us. But if anyone is paying attention, this is the week when powerful interest groups take the unsuspecting masses to school. It is the last week of Delaware’s legislative session and while most are ruminating on 4th of July plans, pressure groups are seeing their bills breeze by on their way to becoming law. Budget decisions are being made, negotiations are under way, and insiders are making trades that may or may not be in the best interest of students and concerned citizens. While normal folks are making their way down to the beach, the “big boys” are playing in the political sandbox. But when all the sand settles, will the outcomes of all the power politics result in better outcomes for students?
House Bill 399 (the Delaware teacher’s union’s (DSEA) teacher evaluation legislation) provides a textbook example of how well-connected adults push legislation through the process with little justification for how it improves the system for students. It takes a lot of sleight of hand and political influence to have politicians on board for legislation that would allow a teacher to struggle with Instruction, Classroom Environment, and Student Improvement and still be considered “Effective.” But for those who understand that the “disservice is in the details”, here are a few ways this bill is unfair to students, teachers, and taxpayers:
- It is unfair to students because it mandates a flawed teacher evaluation pilot program that deprioritizes student progress: In DSEA’s pilot evaluation system a teacher can struggle with 3 out of 5 components and still be considered “Effective.” A teacher can be also be rated “Effective” even if he or she is struggling to improve student learning. How do we justify moving to such a system if the ultimate goal of our education system is to ensure student learning?
- It is unfair to teachers because it treats all teachers the same, in spite of differences in teaching quality: An evaluation system is supposed to give different feedback and information to those being evaluated based on their level of performance. Using the current evaluation system 6000 Delaware teachers were evaluated last year and 120 were rated “Needs Improvement” or “Ineffective. There is no evidence that DSEA’s pilot or legislation will actually lead to a fair and realistic evaluation system.
- It is unfair to teachers because it is a top-down mandate instead of a locally-designed system: Under existing law (§1270(f)) there’s already a process to apply to use a customized system that is collaboratively designed by teachers and leaders in a district. If any district was interested in using DSEA’s system, they could have already attempted to do so. Colonial School District is already using its own system, for example. Charter schools like Kuumba, Eastside, and Edison are also already using their own system. In each of these settings, new systems were created after extensive collaboration and many meetings. The little information available on DSEA’s proposed pilot indicates it was developed after three private meetings with ten teacher’s union leaders and principals. I’m pretty sure that prior to DSEA’s recent call for support for HB399, the overwhelming majority of teachers and administrators in the state had no knowledge of this system and were not engaged in the process.
- It is unfair to teachers because it does not actually address the real issues with Delaware’s teacher evaluation system: DSEA suggests this legislation will “restore confidence” in the state’s teacher evaluation system. But the legislation does nothing to ensure principals are skilled in using the rubric to observe teachers, or that teachers receive high-quality and accurate feedback to improve their teaching practice, or that the evaluation process is less time-consuming, or that student and parent feedback is incorporated in teachers’ evaluations, or that teachers have an opportunity to be observed by someone in their content area. These aren’t as sexy as making test scores optional and reducing accountability for student learning. But these would be real ways to make Delaware’s evaluation system better for teachers and “restore confidence.”
- It is unfair to taxpayers because it unnecessarily requires taxpayer dollars to study DSEA’s pilot system: While the state has not yet studied existing alternative systems like Colonial School District’s system, HB399 mandates the state hire an external evaluator to study its pilot. It is already required in regulation 106a that the state evaluate the current teacher evaluation system every other year. Prior to a recent regulation change, the state was required to study the DPAS-II system each year. This cost the state around $200k per year for 8 years! HB399 will add to this expense.
- It is unfair to taxpayers because it ignores important voices on this topic: The process to create this legislation excluded the primary customers of the education system (parents and students) and a wider set of stakeholders (business and community leaders) concerned with the success of the education system and the quality of teaching in schools. It is definitely much easier to move such legislation through the process with a fairly homogenous set of hand-picked stakeholders. But the fairness issues outlined above are not hard to understand given the process.
If you have concerns about this legislation please write to (or call) your senators as soon as possible! It already passed in the House and will be voted on in the Senate this week.