Memphis teachers adopted the D.C. method — in significant part — over two alternatives that are better known and more widely used. They said IMPACT offers concise, concrete formulations of what effective teaching looks like.
“It really allows you to reflect,” said Melanie Fleming, who teaches third grade at Richland Elementary, one of the higher-performing schools in Memphis.
But many of the city’s 7,000 teachers are raising grievances about the new system and fears that school officials will use it to purge educators, not help them raise their game. Union officials say teachers feel betrayed, an echo of the D.C. tumult.
“What they are going to do is run some good veteran teachers into retirement,” said Stephanie Fitzgerald, a longtime science teacher and former president of the Memphis Education Association.
Superintendent Kriner Cash disagreed. “This isn’t about gotcha,” he said.
The Memphis debate raises the question of how much D.C. school reform efforts will influence public education elsewhere. In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently proposed $20,000 raises for teachers who earn top ratings two years in a row — similar to the D.C. teacher bonus program. Interest in IMPACT is so broad that D.C. school officials in January held a second annual “educator evaluation summit,” which drew educators from 17 states for briefings on what Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and her team have learned.
To Henderson, the birth of IMPACT’s Tennessee cousin is a heartening sign.
“Previously, nobody would look at DCPS for much of anything except to point to us as an example of urban education failure,” Henderson said. “And the simple fact that we are now on the cutting edge of things around some of this stuff is incredibly gratifying.”
Initiatives here and in the District are part of what a recent study called “unprecedented momentum” toward evaluations that hold teachers accountable for student achievement. Lured by the Obama administration’s $4 billion Race to the Top grant contest, and private sources such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 32 states have overhauled their assessments in the past three years, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Tennessee is a hotbed for change in how teachers are appraised. State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman (Rhee’s ex-husband) is a former top official of Teach for America, a leading proponent of stringent evaluations. In 2010, the state legislature passed a law requiring annual evaluations for all licensed teachers, using multiple measures that include “value-added” — a controversial statistical tool to determine an instructor’s contribution to student test scores.