The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s excellent education reporter, Maureen Downey, posts Bill Gates’ speech to the Education Commission of the States conference in her GetSchooled blog. Gates’ foundation is funding a teacher evaluation pilot program in Hillsborough county. Many will find his comments to be critical of the Florida’s rush and hectic application of SB 736:
Right now, we are funding pilot programs in five urban school districts, working with them to develop teacher evaluation and improvement systems. This is the heart of our work. Developing a great teacher improvement system is truly difficult – because there are no models. The country’s teachers have been working in systems where almost everyone gets a good evaluation — and almost no one gets any feedback. That’s the key point. Our teachers get no feedback – no guidance on how to get better…………..But we need to remember: A new teacher evaluation system is not automatically a good thing. If states and school districts feel pressured to rush out new systems, those systems could evaluate teachers unfairly and fail to help teachers improve. That would be a disaster. A flawed execution of a good idea could convince people it is a bad idea – and that could kill this push for reform………..using gains on annual test scores as a sole measure of teaching performance has huge drawbacks. First, the tests say how the students are performing too late for the teacher to do anything about it – and the whole purpose of evaluation is better student performance. Second, annual tests are not diagnostic. If the scores are high, they don’t tell us what the teacher did well. If the scores are low, they don’t tell us what the teacher could do better. Teaching is part art, part science – there are lots of great things that teachers do for students that will never be captured on a test.
This is clearly at odds with what Rick Scott and his republican legislative allies have rammed through and continue to defend. Unlike them, Gates is actually immersed into the creation and implementation of a model and not relying on what they are told by Jeb Bush. And Gates is putting his own money into it and not utilizing taxpayers money for a pilot program.
Two outgoing school superintendents were highly critical of the Florida way this spring. One of them, Bill Vogel from Seminole county said, “we have an accountability system that is going to fall apart like a house of cards,” and that state leaders are “making up the rules as they go along without listening to educators.”
In the run-up to SB 736, Sen. Nan Rich (D-Sunrise) cautioned against such a hasty implementation until the results and feedback were obtained from Gates’ Hillsborough project. Her concerns were dismissed by bill sponsor Steve Wise (R-Jacksonville) who said ”kids would be irreparably harmed” if his bill didn’t pass. Rich, who announced earlier this year that she would be running for governor will obviously be making political hay out of this. Especially if the current free fall of the education house that Jeb Bush built continues to accelerate.