Apr 29, 2011

What Will Teachers Like About Indiana's New Education Reform Bills?

Jim teaches the seventh grade at the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School in Indianapolis, Indiana.
As a teacher, the bill I am most excited about within the education reform package that passed this week in Indiana is Senate Bill 1 which could transform the way our state evaluates, coaches, and recognizes teachers. I believe the new policies will have a dramatic positive impact in four ways.
It ensures evaluations are a team effort.
While administrators must play a critical role in teacher evaluation and should be held accountable for doing so, they must also heavily invest in teacher leaders to play major roles in the coaching and evaluating of teachers. In order for teacher evaluation to occur as frequently as is needed, administrators and teacher leaders must work together to identify problems and provide supports to correct them.
It creates a culture of reflective practice.
By establishing fair, credible and consistent evaluation practices that have ramifications for both administrators and teachers, Senate Bill 1 rebrands the notion of “teacher evaluation” into a meaningful, substantive process.
Those who will be responsible for implementing its features, namely district and building administrators, must also view this as an opportunity to take this “rebranding of teacher evaluation” one step further. If educators view these changes as purely punitive, then the opportunity is lost.
Instead, the legacy of Senate Bill 1 should be that it professionalized teachers unlike any other initiative by compelling teachers not simply to accept being evaluated, but rather to create a systemic, pervasive culture of reflective practice that renders teacher evaluation a school-wide, dynamic process rather than the work of a handful of administrators.
In a first-of-its-kind study of teacher evaluation practices in high-performing charter schools around the country published by the Center for American Progress, Heather Peske and Morgaen Donaldson found that in addition to annual evaluations for every teacher, the studied schools also infused a culture of reflection and accountability in the day-to-day work of schools. There also were efforts to advance a “no surprise policy” so teachers and administrators were on the same page throughout the year about teachers’ performance. This makes the consequences for teachers’ jobs predictable and clearly communicated from the start, when teachers still have power to adjust course if they need to.
While no bill can mandate this sort of culture within schools, Senate Bill 1 does everything possible to lay the foundation for such cultures of reflective practice to exist and thrive.
It creates urgency around evaluation.
The status quo of teacher evaluation practices is currently anything but urgent when it comes to improving teacher quality and removing those few teachers who are not showing improvement after significant interventions.
Compelling research exists to show that three consecutive years of an effective teacher is enough to close the achievement gap between scholars from underserved backgrounds and their more affluent counterparts.
We simply cannot wait to evaluate, coach, and in some cases, counsel out our lowest-performing teachers. The majority of teachers understand more than anybody that low-performing teachers do not represent the majority of the teaching force. Yet we also do not want such teachers in schools any more than students and parents do.
Senate Bill 1 moves us away from an era in which chronically failing schools do not coach or counsel out, let alone identify, their lowest-performing teachers.
In the end, I am grateful that the legislation is being signed into law because of the ways in which it will strengthen the teaching profession and improve the educational experiences of Indiana’s youth. It will enable us to recognize those in our ranks whose scholars are making tremendous academic growth and others who need the coaching and mentoring from these very teachers.
It enables us to learn from the true masters among us
Moreover, by requiring schools to utilize a differentiated teacher evaluation that looks for the same essential qualities and characteristics, we will be able to identify teachers who are exemplary not only in terms of their scholars’ academic growth, but also in terms of their planning, instruction, and leadership.
In doing so, the state could cull videos and documentation of exemplary practice from these elite educators. In turn this could shape the professional development for educators all across the state.
In the process, we would be affirming and celebrating in meaningful ways our state’s best classroom teachers while using their wisdom and skills to improve the broader Indiana teaching force and as a result, the educational attainment of our state’s scholars.
The views presented on our guest blogs are the views of the author and do not ne cessarily represent the views of StudentsFirst. We thank all of our guest bloggers for their thoughtful perspectives.

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