To gain traction for grants from the federal government under provisions of the Race To The Top initiative, our elected leaders in Annapolis passed legislation requiring that student growth become a significant portion of a teacher’s annual evaluation.
Over the strenuous objections of the education community, the Maryland State Department of Education declared “significant” to be 50 percent of the annual evaluation despite a total lack of research-based evidence that such a model improves learning outcomes, not to mention the lack of a tried-and-true model anywhere in the nation. Everyone is attempting to construct the plane in flight.
Provisions of the legislation provided management and labor the opportunity to negotiate a local model, or face implementation of a MSDE model that is more onerously lopsided toward state-mandate assessments. The Prince George’s County Public Schools and the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association collaborated for three years to arrive at a mutually agreed-to model that was submitted in December.
Maryland school systems bargained in good faith for two years and, in December, presented their own models — as agreed to by their management/labor teams — to MSDE. Every model — even those of the seven pilot school systems — has been summarily rejected. You may read that: quashed by bureaucratic fiat.
Every single day in classrooms across this nation, educators do everything in their power to convince students of the merits to a life of learning. For any number of reasons, from succumbing to peer pressure to homelessness, young people choose other paths. Those decisions invariably have adverse effects on test scores.
Teacher unions have historically resisted efforts to use standardized test scores as an evaluative tool for pedagogical practice because student achievement is ultimately influenced by an astronomically high number of variables over which the teacher lacks any control. In Prince George’s County, educators have embraced accountability for behaviors within their control by adopting the Framework For Teaching as the rubric for delivering instruction and improving professional practice. Our constant incremental improvement in learning outcomes is a testament to that work.
Still, it is perhaps possible that an established lack of academic growth in a classroom may indicate a need for improved pedagogical practice, just as a high mortality rate may suggest that a doctor’s delivery of care is suspect. However, the extrapolation of meaningful data sets for every teacher is proving to be a more complicated process than anyone imagined.
So logistically complicated, in fact, that many involved in the process wonder if it can ever be accomplished, let alone by next year.
Kenneth B. Haines is president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association.