Gendron calls on school leaders to review teacher evaluation models


With the clock ticking on Maine’s Race to the Top application, the state’s Department of Education is calling on school officials to begin exploring the idea of teacher evaluation models which make use of student performance.

In an Informational Letter released Wednesday, the soon-to-be former commissioner, Susan Gendron, suggested that school officials take a careful look at two teacher evaluation systems, the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) and Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching. In her letter, the commissioner included a link to a paper written by the National Education Association which discusses these and other evaluation models and is worth reading, despite its authorship by an organization opposed to tying teacher pay to student achievement.

It is important that school officials reviewing the two models cited by the commissioner understand they take two very different approaches to the job of evaluating teachers.

The TAP program is by far the stronger of the two models. It is a comprehensive and fully integrated system that brings together targeted teacher training and support, thorough teacher evaluations, a career ladder model of professional advancement, and performance-based pay.  As the NEA’s paper notes, the TAP program is in place in districts across the county and has proven to be highly effective at improving student outcomes.

The Framework for Teaching model, though, is far more one-dimensional. It seeks to identify the various components of effective teaching, then uses that “framework” to assess and evaluate teachers. Under such a system, teachers are not evaluated for actually increasing student achievement directly, but for possessing the characteristics and skills that the Danielson framework suggests are simply correlated with increased student achievement. It is not, therefore, a pay-for-performance model. It is undoubtedly better than the evaluation systems in place in most states and school districts, but it is not a system that evaluates and rewards teachers for their success at actually increasing student outcomes.

But, because it does not directly tie teacher pay to student achievement, it has become the darling of those elements within the teacher unions which favor teacher evaluation reform, and I have little doubt it will be the first model approved by the now-infamous stakeholder group.

If I can take this opportunity to be self-serving, school officials and others who wish to read what I’d like to think is a solid overview of alternative teacher pay policies and models should read the two papers on this topic that I authored in 2007.

The first, titled Reforming Teacher Pay in Maine – Part 1: How Alternative Teacher Compensation Systems are Improving Student Outcomes, provides an overview of the concept of performance-based compensation, including a critique of the “single salary schedule” system under which nearly every teacher in the country is compensated today. The second research paper, titled Reforming Teacher Pay in Maine – Part 2:Making Alternative Teacher Compensation Systems Work, looked at best practices for performance-based teacher pay systems and made recommendations for Maine’s policymakers.

Additionally, I took some time yesterday to create a new page on our website devoted to this issue. The new page has links to both of our papers on the topic, as well as links to various research organizations and publications.

We have a month to discuss a very complex and controversial topic and come to some kind of statewide consensus on it. We’d better get started.