July 10, 2009
A group of 28 teachers, administrators, and policymakers have taken on a lofty summer assignment: They plan to come up with an ideal teacher evaluation system, or at least a report explaining the “essential elements” of one, and to do it by the fall.
The effort is the latest in a string of reports and announcements focusing on the way teachers are evaluated, a process that has been called broken by everyone from teachers union officials to The New Teacher Project, a nonprofit created by Michelle Rhee. A report by The New Teacher Project called evaluation systems “largely meaningless,” and the American Federation of Teachers union has launched an internal working group to build its own recommendations for what comprises a fair evaluation system.
A novel nonprofit called Hope Street Group is behind the effort to involve educators in the debate. Created in 2003 as a volunteer-only experiment, Hope Street Group now has a full-time staff that works to build “coalitions of the reasonable” around domestic policy questions by gathering diverse groups of people to solve them together.
In a process officials at Hope Street Group call Policy 2.0, business executives and policy experts join with doctors or nurses or — in this case — teachers via small working groups, and then come up with a policy recommendation that everyone can agree on.
The team of 28 people who have signed up to write guidelines for a teacher evaluation system includes administrators, teachers, and policy experts, and they come from all around the country, Hope Street officials said. “This is a chance for an authentic and neutral voice,” said Catherine Cullen, a staffer who will work with the teacher-evaluation group.
The teacher evaluation project will be the first time the nonprofit, created in 2003, has built a policy proposal entirely on the Internet. The group built a new online platform that is essentially a specialized Facebook, where participants can talk to each other, divide into smaller groups, and share information.
The recommendations will also be published online, along with a database of examples of real evaluations used in school districts that principals and superintendents could search through.
A recent education recommendation by Hope Street Group won the endorsement of Arne Duncan, President Obama’s education secretary. The recommendation suggested that the federal stimulus package should focus on education, including five specific areas:
1. Building capacity to measure, manage, and improve performance;
2. Ensuring all students have access to a quality teacher;
3. Advancing teaching into a 21st-century profession;
4. Establishing high, competitive standards and assessments; and
5. Promoting best practices and rewarding innovation.