What can Ohio districts learn from Colorado's Harrison School District 2?

Ohio school district leaders as well as state policymakers and education leaders should pay attention to what's happening in the Harrison school district just outside of Colorado Springs, and not just because NCTQ President Kate Walsh called its teacher evaluation and compensation system one of the most sophisticated in the country. Miles described this system to a group of Ohio superintendents and district leaders at events last week at the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio and again in the Cleveland area. Faced with the daunting task of developing their own teacher evaluations and launching them in just two years, Ohio education leaders were eager to learn about Harrison's ?Effectiveness and Results? plan and the headway it's making toward improving teacher effectiveness after just 18 months of operation.

In brief, Miles has led his district of 11,000 students in one of the most bold and innovative pay for performance models in the nation. Pay for performance isn't just an additional (and monetarily thin) layer of compensation piled on top of an outdated salary schedule. Harrison 2 actually dismantled teachers' salary schedules, replacing them entirely with a system that measures teachers' effectiveness and rewards them accordingly. The new career ladder for teachers has nine levels, and effective teachers under this system don't have to wait several decades to reach the highest echelons of compensation.

Like most discussions about merit pay for teachers, one expects a litany of concerns about fairness, cost, and myriad implementation details. But in Miles' description of Harrison 2's system, he shattered several common myths and offered compelling reasons for any Ohio district wishing to go above and beyond what the state has mandated. His experience is worth reflecting on as Ohio moves closer to meaningful teacher personnel policy.

  • Teacher effectiveness is measurable. The attributes of highly effective teachers aren't ambiguous, ?you know it when you see it? types of qualities. Harrison 2 has rated teachers according to curricular alignment, classroom management, student engagement, commitment to school community, quality of instruction, and student growth data, among other variables. These are intuitive, fair, and measurable attributes.
  • Measuring student achievement doesn't have to mean only looking at one statewide achievement test. In Harrison 2, teachers are evaluated according to state and district-wide test results, but this is only a portion of one's overall evaluation. Statewide achievement results (the equivalent of Ohio's OAA) only count for three-eighths of the student growth score which in and of itself only counts toward 50 percent of the overall evaluation. Therefore the statewide achievement results account for less than 20 percent of a teacher's overall rating.
  • Robust teacher rating systems with multiple measures are more fair and accurate than what we employ now. When asked whether teachers feel the new system is fair and accurate, Miles said he surveys teachers in his district and nearly all of them report the new system accurately identifies high and low performers. Brief, random, and infrequent ?walk through? observations currently happening in most classrooms across the country are more likely to be capricious or unfair.
  • Merit pay fosters collaboration, not competition. Increasing accountability and raising expectations for teacher performance resulted in teachers banding together, sharing resources and effective teaching strategies, while helping one another improve. Performance pay isn't a zero sum game wherein if one teacher is recognized for stellar performance, another will lose money. This is a common misconception among educators, and one in need of being dismantled.

In order to assure that Ohio hires and retains highly effective teachers, teacher performance needs to be measured and compensated accordingly. As the state enters a new era in teacher performance evaluation, much can be learned from the innovative models fostered by district leaders such as Mike Miles. The groundwork has been laid in Harrison for a teacher performance evaluation system that not only ensures fairness and accuracy, but one that also encourages improvement and efficiency. Ohioans and others should heed the lessons.

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