As disappointing as the Washington, D.C. school district’s contract with its American Federation of Teachers local may be, the fact that the district’s performance management system — the first in the nation that uses test scores as a dominant factor in teacher evaluations — remains intact is a great victory for efforts to reform teacher quality. This Dropout Nation report and video from this past January, which features the man at the heart of this effort, offers some insight on why D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s push to improve the quality of education in the district has come under such fire.
As D.C. Public Schools and the American Federation of Teachers’ Beltway local continue to spar over competing contract proposals — and Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s school reform plans — the district’s teacher quality czar continues to implement IMPACT, the performance review program that features the use of student test score data in evaluating teacher performance.
Jason Kamras may be the most-important person in education today. Yes, more important than Arne Duncan or Joel Klein or any of the two national union heads or even Rhee herself. On Rhee’s behalf, he is overseeing the most-comprehensive reform of teacher evaluation and performance management going on today. More importantly, he is already saying that the results he sees from this effort may be used in wide-ranging ways, from rewarding the best teachers to deciding which ed schools are deserving of D.C.’s patronage.
At a meeting with education professionals last night, Kamras admitted that the plan still needed some work. Although D.C. held a mass professional development session early in the school year, along with other meetings, Kamras said the district needed “to do more communication [with teachers]. We can never do enough of that” He also noted that the student benchmark tests given throughout the year aren’t fully included in the value-added analysis used in evaluating teachers; the final value-added assessment isn’t completed and delivered to teachers for their evaluations until July, just when they have to decide whether to stay and go through the remediation (if they are lagging) or quit. That said, Kamras notes that the rest of the evaluation scores, which are given in June, should give teachers more than enough info on where they are likely to stand; especially if their performance is in the proverbial red.
Kamras notes that there is still more work ahead. D.C. Public Schools is working with its test provider on delivering the final standardized test data in time so all the information can be used to fully evaluate teachers in a more-timely manner. There is also some discussion on how to use technology to conduct teacher observations; but, as Kamras noted in response to one question, cameras in the classroom aren’t comforting to teachers (who often prefer in-person observations) and given D.C. law (which requires a person to give permission to being taped on camera), it may not be worth it. Kamras notes that if a teacher rejects the use of cameras, then “we’re back at square one.”
The biggest impact may come in terms of choosing which ed schools from which D.C. and its sister traditional districts and charters schools they choose. Kamras said last night that if an ed school produces far too many laggard instructors, he will tell them that he’s not recruiting from their schools — and will tell his colleagues throughout the D.C.-Virginia-Maryland region as well. He will likely tell those districts about the successful ed schools as well. This could actually result in improvements in teaching quality throughout the area — and ultimately, the nation.
The efforts in D.C. are certainly interesting to watch. Whether or not other school districts will follow its model will largely depend on the willingness of school chief executives to take on the lax performance management cultures and servile relationships districts often have with their union locals. As you can see below, here is a short clip of Kamras’ response to a question about how he thinks performance pay will shake up teaching.