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Assessing teacher evaluation system is wrong on several levels

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2011; 6:08 PM

Say it isn't so, Mayor Gray.

Here's why I was so disappointed to read my colleague Bill Turque's report on a plan by D.C. schools officials to have the flawed IMPACT teacher evaluation system reviewed by a Harvard professor:

1) I was optimistic that Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) was serious about fixing the problem when he said at a public forum recently that the evaluation system - instituted under former schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee - was unfair to teachers.

He said, "I guess I would say at this stage . . . it's a step in the right direction, but it's got a long way to go to be a fair evaluation of our teachers. And, frankly, any system that isn't sensitive to the differences in challenges of the kids in the schools only encourages teachers to teach in one part of the city and not in the other parts."

I had assumed that the new mayor would be moving swiftly to fix any system that was that unfair.

2) The basic flaws in IMPACT have already been identified.

3) Asking academics to evaluate any system usually takes time. A lot of it.

4) Asking an academic with a possible conflict of interest in a specific project to evaluate it seems like a bad idea.

Turque learned that D.C. schools officials had decided to ask the same Harvard think tank that experimented with paying D.C. middle-schoolers for good grades and behavior to evaluate IMPACT.

The Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University, or EdLabs, was tapped by school district officials and the former president of the Washington Teachers' Union to do the independent evaluation. (The new president, Nathan Saunders, is not happy with the arrangement.)

But EdLabs, headed by economics professor Roland G. Fryer Jr., has financial backers that include at least two private foundations - the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the John and Laura Arnold Family Fund - that are providing some of the tens of millions for performance pay bonuses that are a central element of IMPACT, Turque reported.

Handing over the evaluation to a Harvard think tank that carries prestige but will want to take time to do things is an easy way to slough off the responsibility of fixing IMPACT until, well, sometime later.

Yeah, sure, it seems, on the face of it, reasonable asking for an independent evaluation. But it isn't clear that this is an independent evaluation, and, anyway, the flaws are already known. There are evaluation systems that work better than IMPACT on which teachers and administrators have agreed.

Why do we have to reinvent the wheel?

Say it isn't so, Mayor Gray.

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