RttT: Redefining Teacher Effectiveness

Friday, August 28, 2009
My colleagues and I at the New Teacher Center have offered up what I believe to be a balanced and thoughtful series of recommendations to strengthen the teacher and principal effectiveness provisions in the U.S. Department of Education's proposed Race to the Top regulations. You can find the NTC's initial public comments -- submitted on August 21 -- here. And you find an addendum -- filed yesterday -- offering recommendations for specific language additions, here.

Generally, we are supportive of the overall direction of Race to the Top. But we feel that its focus on teacher effectiveness is too narrowly about measuring individual teacher impact at the exclusion of supporting all educators to strengthen their teaching and leadership skills and attending to teaching and learning conditions within schools that impact student success.

Here is a brief summary of our recommendations:
Improving Teacher Effectiveness and Achieving Equity in Teacher Distribution
• The RttT guidelines should include a definition of teacher effectiveness that acknowledges and
supports the development of teacher and principal practice, especially during the early years.
New teachers and principals, who disproportionately work in struggling schools, need strong
mentoring and support to become effective.

• The RttT guidelines should define ‘effective principal’ more expansively, drawing upon
additional measures of student success and data on teaching and learning conditions to fully
reflect the impact of teachers, school leaders, and school environment on student learning.

• The RttT guidelines should require states to address school leadership development and teaching and learning conditions in their strategies to improve teacher effectiveness and the equitable distribution of quality teachers.

Improving Collection and Use of Data
• RttT guidelines should specifically include teaching and learning conditions data gathered from
practitioners to help schools, districts and states better understand supports and barriers to
teacher effectiveness and equitable teacher distribution, and to incorporate this information into
their longitudinal P-20 data systems.
And here is some selected language that provides insight into our thinking around teacher effectiveness and teacher development:
Teacher effectiveness in the proposed RttT guidelines focuses exclusively on value-added student assessments. While value-added student achievement data can be used to reward and recognize certain achievements by educators, it should not be the sole method by which teachers are evaluated, observed, rewarded, and deemed “effective.” Firing the least effective teachers and rewarding the most effective alone is short-sighted and ignores the vast majority of teachers in the middle who can achieve greater success if given access to high-quality induction and professional development, strong and supportive school administrators, and opportunities for collaboration and leadership. Great teachers are made – not born. Teachers need professional support and opportunities to develop their practice, including focused induction during their initial years in the profession. It is important to measure teacher impact on student learning, but measuring impact without providing the means to help educators strengthen their practice will ultimately fail our schools.

If RttT is to be an effective reform strategy, it needs to recognize teacher development as a primary means to maximize classroom effectiveness. RttT should require states not merely to identify the best teachers, but see that their successes form the building blocks of a better understanding of effective teaching practice that can be replicated in classrooms across America.
And on teaching and learning conditions:
In order for school leaders to attract and retain quality teachers, research shows the need for school leaders to make decisions based on data that incorporate the perspective of classroom teachers. Teacher survey data can provide insight into the school culture, how decisions are made, and the use of instructional and planning time for teachers. Such contextual data may explain differences in teacher effectiveness between schools and districts. NTC has worked with over 300,000 educators in 10 states, and collected teaching and learning conditions data from over 8,000 schools to utilize in school improvement plans. In North Carolina, the State Board of Education now requires schools to utilize the data from the biennial working conditions survey to inform annual improvement plans and strategies.

Quality teachers will seek out and stay with strong supportive school leaders; therefore, using RttT funds for salary bonuses in hard-to-staff schools would not be the most effective approach. RttT should encourage states to show how they are using data from teachers, along with student achievement and other relevant data, to develop policies for these schools, strengthen school leadership, and ensure that they are settings where the most effective teachers want to work and can succeed.
The RttT public comment period closes today and a spate of organizations have submitted comments just under the wire. They range from narrow to broad, supportive to critical, and offer everything from research-based suggested line edits to what basically look like press releases buttering up Secretary Duncan.

Visit here to review all of the public comments submitted.