There's been a spate of useful education reports coming out of various state groups.
Visions of a new Delaware
A recent report on the state's educational prospects is getting a decent bit of attention up in Delaware. Dubbed "Vision 2015," there is actually a bit of vision to be found in it, making it better reading than most other reports of the "We must take action!" subgenre. Still, Vision 2015's scope is as broad as can be, with topics running the gamut from school accountability to the umpteenth recommendation to adopt universal pre-K.
On teacher quality, the report suggests revising the state's formal evaluation process to include "measures of gains in student achievement, student and parent feedback, and skills as observed by trained in-class evaluators." Right idea, certainly--but the suggestion is without teeth unless the state makes student achievement gains the preponderant criterion of a teacher's evaluation. In fact, Delaware's current evaluation instrument already factors in "student improvement," but the state only requires that it be given equal weight among five other indicators. Evaluations like these make it possible for horrible teachers to keep their jobs provided they earn a high rating on other categories, like showing up to faculty meetings, demonstrating a great team spirit and getting along with parents.
Vision 2015 would also have Delaware adopt statewide bonuses and incentives for teachers who improve student learning and take hard-to-fill positions. Another right idea, but unfortunately they recommend that these go on top of a statewide salary schedule, which is not likely to help districts attract much-needed math and science teachers without having to raise salaries for all teachers. Moreover, it would preclude serious compensation reforms like cutting down on the dollars spent rewarding teachers who get master's degrees that bring no measurable benefit to teaching. One step forward, two steps back.
Shining a very, very bright light
Colorado's Alliance for Quality Teaching has produced a useful study on the state of teaching in the Centennial State. Shining the Light lives up to its name by doing some serious teacher data analysis on the state's school districts. The report supplies a wealth of granular data on the distribution of teacher experience, qualifications, and salaries by district for the entire state, as well as providing useful information on where the state's teachers are prepared and how its teacher supply looks for the future. While Colorado doesn't share other states' broad shortage woes, it too is facing difficulty finding qualified math teachers.
Gold stars for the Golden State
The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning presents a rundown of important trends in teacher preparation, evaluation, and recruitment in California. The report includes useful summaries of the Golden State's education policy past and future, including projected funding on various types of professional development programs.
Included is a lot of good information on an important piece of legislation passed this October, Senator Jack Scott's SB 1209. The bill requires the state to reduce bureaucratic obstacles for teachers who want to teach in California and allow teachers to submit equivalent scores on tests like the GRE in lieu of taking the heretofore mandatory C-BEST basic skills test. Most intriguing of all is the bill's requirement that new teachers pass a performance assessment before they enter the classroom. SB 1209 also folds the state's RICA reading instruction exam into this assessment.
Texas treasure trove
Out of the Longhorn State comes the most readable of the bunch, the Governor's Business Council's Excellence in the Classroom: Bolstering Teacher Effectiveness. The report's thankfully brief 15 pages contain a bevy of good ideas about everything from teacher prep to alternate route programs, connecting the dots between them in an admirably sensible way.
While a lot of state reports call for more and better data, too few of them articulate the need for better data as the first order of business to improve the evaluation of teachers. The report speaks eloquently about this issue: "In Texas, as in other states, teacher evaluation is currently inadequate and insufficient. It relies more on inputs and efforts than on results and effectiveness. Further, it often blesses certain faddish and unproven pedagogies, such as "learner-centered instruction." The report is right as rain on this. An important point they miss, that would have helped their case, is that Texas allows veteran teachers to go up to five years without an evaluation.
There are other notable suggestions, such as the idea of collecting data on teachers' other professional experience in order to collect better data on alternate route teachers and the impact their experience may have. The Governor's Business Council also takes on other vital topics not addressed often enough, like the need to collect data on the murky world of professional development--and the need to assess its effectiveness by tracking the effectiveness of teachers taking different kinds of PD. All in all, it's a nice little primer on what's needed to overhaul state policy.
Stay tuned for the bible of state teacher policy, NCTQ's upcoming State Teacher Policy Yearbook 2007.