The New Haven Model
Education Secretary Arne Duncan is right to push the nation’s schools to develop teacher evaluation systems that take student achievement into account. The teachers’ unions, which have long opposed the idea, are beginning to realize that they can either stand on the sidelines or help develop these systems. We hope they will get involved and play a constructive role.
The politically savvy American Federation of Teachers has decided that it is better to get in the game. In New Haven, the union has agreed in its new contract to develop an evaluation system in collaboration with the city. Secretary Duncan praised the agreement lavishly. But the accolades seem premature given that crucial details have yet to be worked out.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. deserves credit for leading these negotiations and setting ambitious educational goals for the city, including halving the achievement gap between poor and wealthy students.
The new agreement gives the city important new tools, starting with significantly more authority to remake chronically failing schools.
System administrators will be able to remove the entire staff at a failing school and require teachers to reapply for their jobs. This should allow the new principals to build stronger teams.
(Teachers who are not rehired at these so-called turnaround schools will have the right to be placed elsewhere, at least until they are evaluated, which means that New Haven could still end up passing around teachers who should be ushered out of the system.)
School reformers were excited to hear that New Haven planned to take student performance into account in its teacher evaluations. But they uttered a collective “uh-oh” upon hearing that the details — including how much weight would be given to student performance — would be hashed out by a committee that includes teachers and administrators.
To be taken seriously, the evaluation system must be based on a clear formula in which the student achievement component carries the preponderance of the weight. It must also include a fine-grained analysis that tells teachers where they stand.
The New Haven contract represents a promising first step. But there is still a lot of room for politicking and shenanigans. Political leaders, school administrators, parents and everyone else who cares about improving education in this country will have to keep a close eye as this effort moves forward.