Too much is at stake for regulators to keep quiet
The Maryland State Department of Education revealed last month that Montgomery County’s highly touted teacher evaluation system had not passed muster and must be replaced with a still-to-be-determined state system for measuring a teacher’s value.
The Gazette’s Jen Bondeson unpacked Montgomery’s Professional Growth System in last week’s editions, showing how it worked. Her coverage also showed how little information the state had provided initially on why the system needs to be replaced.
The state decision is a bit unsettling on several fronts. The first is the notion that Montgomery’s system was rejected without details on the alternative. The state has a pilot program that’s still to be finalized. To believe that system will be better than Montgomery’s will take a leap of faith. The state’s role in education is primarily to set broad policies, not to administer systems.
But assuming the state was justified in its decision, that leads to a second unsettling thought. It’s one more sign that Montgomery’s school system might not be living up to its reputation. That’s not to say the system has major deficiencies, but Montgomery schools have an intractable achievement gap and flat or declining SAT scores. Some parents have grown complacent with how the school system was using its resources. Perhaps the lesson here is that the school system requires greater scrutiny.
Finally, the state decision is wrapped up in a Maryland effort to score federal Race to the Top money. Race to the Top is the latest in a series of programs coming out of Washington to reform education. Like the state, the feds have little experience in managing a school system. A better reform might be to leave alone high-performing school systems, like Montgomery, and spend time working on systems that need the help.
Only recently the state divulged that 20 percent of teacher performance must be based on student test scores. The state’s logic appears to be, if children ace exams, then teachers must be first rate. Anyone who values an education will see the value of the proposition and could see that some portion of a teacher’s final grade should be based on the scores of his or her students.
Any cynic will spot the pitfalls: With a paycheck now resting on student performance, good teachers will gravitate toward schools of privilege. Or worse, our schools will face pressure to manipulate test scores.
In Montgomery, the better teachers grade their peers. From a layperson’s point of view, it looks like a good system. Everyone can recall a mentor who helped shape our skills to become better at what we do. And Bondeson’s research found a Massachusetts consulting group that helped develop the Montgomery system and then exported it to other school districts.
But one figure seems a bit troubling: Each year the school system has about 11,000 teachers. During the past 12 years, the evaluation system found 266 that should be let go. Such a small fraction makes one question how rigorously Montgomery County Public Schools is rooting out its poor performers.
The state could be on to something. But, on this test, the county school system has a right to ask the state to show its work.