Event recap: Assuring Highly Effective Teachers for All Ohio Students

Last week Fordham, along with the Nord
Family Foundation and Ohio Grantmakers Forum, convened two public discussions
in Lorain and Cleveland on
how districts across the state can improve teacher effectiveness. Panelists for
the two events included Eric Gordon, CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School
District; Mike Miles, superintendent of Harrison School District 2 in Colorado;
Robert Sommers, director of the Governor’s Office of 21st Century
Learning; and Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality
(NCTQ).

Picture of Panelists.jpg

With Ohio’s new requirements surrounding
evaluations – districts and charter schools have until the 2013-14 school year
to adopt new evaluations based on a state model, slated to come out by the end
of this year – the discussions delved into details of teacher evaluations and
personnel policies tied to them.

Both events fostered productive
conversations around this key issue. Be sure to check out footage of the
September 13th event at the Cleveland City Club here, or a brief video of Superintendent Mike Miles describing his
district’s reforms to teacher evaluation and compensation.  To view Twitter coverage of the events,
search for the hashtag, #EffectiveTeachers, or check out the newsfeed from our
Twitter account, @OhioGadfly.

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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