New Haven teacher evaluation model may be salvation of stakeholder group

1 Comment

The infamous LD 1799 stakeholder group, which holds Maine’s hopes for a Race to the Top grant in its hands, has now met twice. The first meeting was something of a disaster, accomplishing little and ending without the most basic questions – what the panel’s mission was, what its process for approving evaluation models might be – being answered. The  second convening of the stakeholder group – a day-long meeting this time – might have been worse.  As I noted in my live blog of the day’s activities, much of the meeting was taken up reviewing a model that, despite its many merits,  most Maine districts would struggle to implement. The remainder of the panel’s time was consumed by ongoing debates about what the panel was to do and how it was to do it.

So where are we?

I would submit that the stakeholder group,  and with it Maine’s chances for a Race to the Top grant, are teetering on the edge.  Simply put, the chances of the stakeholder group, with only a single three-hour meeting remaining on its schedule, coming to consensus around an evaluation model are slim to none.

The Department, despite its best intentions, has made a godawful mess of this thing.  They seem to have hoped that they could quickly propose a couple of models and get the panel to sign on, but they made a handful of serious mistakes.  First, they stumbled out of the gate by not being clear enough with the panel about what its obligations were under LD 1799 and applicable federal rules and regulations. Unbelievably, the panel was still debating yesterday afternoon about whether it actually had to do what LD 1799, Maine’s governor, and Maine’s attorney general said it needed to do.  Second, the Department never established any kind of ground rules for how the panel was to operate.  Only in the waning hours of yesterday’s meeting did they even discuss how the panel was to come to a decision. Third, the Department largely botched its assigned role under LD 1799, which was to provide workable models for the stakeholder group’s consideration. Neither of the models the department put forward – Danielson and TAP – uses student performance data as part of teacher evaluation.  True, either model might be modified in such a way that student performance could be used in evaluations, but the Department failed to produce even one such model, which has left the panel scrambling for something – anything- to look at with only hours of meeting time left to go.

Where to put the blame for the Department’s bungling?  In my mind, it falls squarely on now-former Commissioner Susan Gendron, who could not possibly have picked a worse time to move on to greener pastures. Incoming acting commissioner Angela Faherty has been relatively steady at the tiller in the stakeholder meetings, but is clearly out of her element leading an effort of this kind. Gendron threw Faherty to the wolves regardless, leaving the incoming commissioner to pick up the pieces of the Gendron’s failed effort to pass LD 1799 in its original stakeholder panel-less form.

Where the MEA handled itself relatively well in the last meeting, it embarrassed itself at this past meeting. The stakeholder group, remember, was their idea.  Yet they have come to the table with absolutely nothing.  As late as 3pm yesterday, with the panel in the last hour of it second-to-last meeting, MEA director Mark Gray was still pushing to somehow get A.G. Mills to back off on her demand, which is clearly driven by the MEA-approved language of LD 1799, that the panel produce an evaluation model in time for her to sign off on the state’s Race to the Top application. The union realizes, I think, the almost impossible situation into which they have gotten themselves. If the panel succeeds, districts across Maine will start using performance-based teacher evaluations, something the MEA’s membership opposes. If the panel fails, the state will not be eligible for $70 million in Race to the Top funding and the union will get the blame for being obstructionist.

The  only way out for the union at this point is to come to the table with something – to bring a model to the panel that it is prepared to live with. Continuing to complain about how it has been wronged by Mills and Baldacci, when the union got the bill it wanted in the first place, just won’t cut it. The stakeholder group was their idea. For the sake of their credibility, they, more than anyone else around the table, need to make it work.

For the MEA and the rest of the panel, time is short but there remains a slender reed of hope. Like the cavalry appearing on the horizon, a reasonable, thoughtful, and innovative performance-based teacher evaluation model has just been developed which may be exactly what the panel is looking for.  Praised in a New York Times editorial yesterday and described in some detail in a lengthy New Haven Independent article (which includes a link to a detailed PowerPoint presentation), New Haven, Connecticut’s new teacher evaluation model, still to be approved by that city’s Board of Education, is an ingenious blending of traditional observation-based evaluation models and a careful assessment of student achievement. The plan uses multiple measures of achievement, looks carefully at important elements such a professional knowledge and skills, and integrates student achievement data in a way that is helpful to teachers and fair.

The stakeholder group would do well to study this model (which I’ll be outlining more thoroughly in an upcoming report) between now and next week. It may be the panel’s only hope of completing its work on time and moving Maine, and its Race to the Top application, forward.