Rhode Island gets the Gist

We predicted that Deborah Gist would bring her hard-knock reformer skills to Rhode Island, possibly manifesting in an overhaul of that state's timeworn, ineffectual teacher evaluation system. This seems to be exactly what she plans to do. In a move somewhat reminiscent of Gist and D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee's Plan B, the Ocean State's board of regents recently approved a new slate of teacher evaluation requirements. Most school systems will be starting from scratch, as today they not only have no consequences for ineffective educators (or rewards for effective ones), but also review their instructors so infrequently as to make evaluations near-meaningless. Under the new Rhode Island standards, districts are required to revamp evaluation systems to include classroom observation, student performance, and outside input (like parent and student surveys), and to conduct evaluations at least annually. The changes will go into effect mostly in fall 2010, though some districts are waiting until collective bargaining agreements expire in two to three years to implement the changes. Which brings up a point in need of clarification. Though districts are also required to use the new evaluations to help struggling teachers and reward effective classroom practitioners, it's not clear how they will circumvent the union contracts that for the most part champion job protectionism and tenure. Will they take a lesson from the District, which tied these evaluations to teacher recertification, the key in Gist's earlier strategy to circumvent union rules? If Rhode Island's students have anything to say about it, the answer is yes. Rising Ocean State eleventh grader Johanna German explains: "Recertification needs to be connected to what actually goes on in the classroom." RI has got the Gist of teacher review; now it needs to give these evaluation systems teeth.

"R.I. regents approve new guidelines for teachers," by Jennifer D. Jordan, The Providence Journal, August 7, 2009

"R.I. Regents to bolster teacher evaluations," by Jennifer D. Jordan, The Providence Journal, August 6, 2009