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A Fresh Vision of Teaching

Rewriting the rules for teacher evaluation and accountability

By Dennis Van Roekel
May 11, 2011

In the drive to improve teacher quality, the battle lines have been drawn. While some states, like Massachusetts and Illinois, have embarked on thoughtful teacher evaluation and accountability reforms, many more states have handcuffed students and teachers with badly crafted laws pushed through by governors and legislators who have silenced teacher voices.

The irony is that teachers themselves have long complained that evaluation systems are broken. They have been some of the most forceful advocates for better evaluations linked to meaningful feedback and support. What’s been missing is sufficient guidance – developed by and for teachers – to help navigate these very challenging and complex issues in the current environment.

Recently a workgroup of NEA leaders from across the country tackled the issue of teacher evaluation and accountability by examining our policies designed to promote excellence in the teaching profession. The group analyzed existing NEA positions, third-party research and other data to inform its thinking.

The result of this thorough review is an unprecedented policy statement that reflects the first broad endorsement by NEA of the need for evaluation and accountability reform. It presents a clear path toward high quality evaluation and accountability systems that help teachers improve their craft and impact student learning, while outlining our union’s role in developing, implementing and enforcing those systems.

Having gained the approval of the NEA Board at its May meeting, it now moves to the Representative Assembly, our highest policy-making body, for final action and a vote in July.

In no uncertain language, it states that tenure – or career status – should not be automatic but earned; that career status should reflect that a teacher has met or exceeded standards in his or her practice; and that a teacher who fails to meet expectations, after being given a reasonable opportunity to improve, should be counseled out of the profession or be subject to a swift and fair dismissal process.

In contrast to the typical drive-by approach, the policy statement also calls for regular evaluations of all teachers based on multiple indicators – including the limited use of standardized test scores in evaluation plans based on tests that are valid, reliable and high quality measures of student learning and growth.

Unlike those pushing ridiculous teacher accountability schemes, our job as educators is to solve problems, not score political points. And our goal is to find solutions, not scapegoats. This new policy statement offers a fresh vision for the teaching profession grounded in ideas that are realistic, doable, and will ensure that every student has access to a high quality teacher. The time is right to take back our profession. And we’re giving teachers the tools and support they need to carry out that mission.

Let’s do the math...

  • Within the past two years, 24 states have moved to reform teacher evaluation and accountability systems.
  • A 2008 Regional Education Laboratory (REL) Midwest study on teacher evaluation policies found that fewer than 1 out of 10 district policies required training for personnel conducting the evaluations.
  • Less than half of all teachers receive continuous professional development, mentoring or coaching or engage in peer observation as a result of evaluation.

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NEA President on MSNBC

NEA President on MSNBC
Dennis Van Roekel tells a national audience about NEA’s Bully Free: It Starts with Me campaign.