Do we have anything to learn from New York?
It has long been accepted that the quality of any education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. And that the quality of teaching has a significant effect on outcomes.
In the UK it is rare that teachers are sacked for incompetence or poor performance which may go some way to explaining why significant new Government investment in education has not delivered the expected returns and why the professions status is not as high in the UK as it is in some other high performing countries. In the States teacher performance and evaluation has become a big issue. Unions and state education officials are beginning to seek to address the issue spurred on by the possibility of extra Federal funding. In New York, the State Education Department and New York’s teachers’ unions have just announced agreement on a rigorous teacher evaluation system. The aim is to improve New York’s schools and the state’s chances in the second round of the federal Race to the Top competition for hundreds of millions of dollars in education grants from the Federal Government There has been an evaluation system in place under which teachers are observed briefly in the classroom but critics have long complained that even the most ineffective ones regularly receive glowing assessments.
The new system would require more intensive monitoring and would finally take student performance into account. Teachers would eventually be measured on a 100-point scale, with 25 points based on how much students improve on the standardized state exams and 15 percent based on locally selected measures. The remaining part of the evaluation would be locally determined, consistent with state regulations, and could include such things as evaluations by a school principal, peer observations, a teacher’s ability to produce lesson plans and so on. Teachers would be categorized as highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective. Those who need help would be given coaching. Those rated ineffective for two consecutive years could be sacked, through a hearing process that would take no longer than 60 days. Right now that process can drag on for more than a year. What is so distinctive and encouraging about this New York initiative is that the Unions, New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers, have worked closely with local officials in the systems design, despite the real threat of teacher lay offs. It does seem as if they have placed the interests of children first. Our unions should look at this initiative to see what they can learn from it.