The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion D.C.’s teacher evaluation system has worked. Council members shouldn’t jettison it.

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An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly listed Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) as signing on to the bill. He did not. This version has been updated.

WHEN THE D.C. Public Schools system instituted a comprehensive teacher evaluation system in 2009, it was guided by certain basic principles. Teachers should be judged based on their skill, their commitment and their success in getting students to learn. Those who performed well would be rewarded with higher pay and promotions, while those who were ineffective would be dismissed. Studies have shown that, by and large, the system has worked well: There are now more effective teachers in D.C. classrooms, teacher pay has increased, and student outcomes have improved.

So it is more than a little disconcerting that some D.C. Council members seem ready to jettison this successful system. In doing the bidding of the teachers union, they are putting the interests of adults ahead of the needs of students.

Legislation drafted and pushed by the president of the Washington Teachers’ Union has been introduced by D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) that would make teacher evaluations, which have long been nonnegotiable, a subject of collective bargaining. Under the bill, unions would negotiate with school administrators over which criteria would be used to evaluate teacher performance and the system would be barred from penalizing teachers on criteria that hadn’t been agreed upon. Signing on to the bill were Democratic council members Charles Allen (Ward 6), Brianne K. Nadeau (Ward 1), Brandon T. Todd (Ward 4), Robert C. White Jr. (At Large), Jack Evans (Ward 2) and Mary M. Cheh (Ward 3).

Union officials have made no secret of their dislike of IMPACT, the teacher evaluation system introduced by then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee that was among the first in the country to link student achievement to teacher pay and job security. They claim it has led to teacher turnover and other problems, including school scandals. But data shows that the school system has retained 93 percent of its best (effective/highly effective) teachers. That suggests that those who left were not up to the job. Equally far-fetched is the notion — insulting to teachers — that the stress of being evaluated leads to teacher misconduct.

A far more accurate picture of IMPACT emerges from a study by Thomas Toch of Georgetown University’s FutureEd think tank. In an article for Washington Monthly in 2017, he credited IMPACT with helping to transform teaching in D.C. from “a low-status occupation marked by weak standards and factory-like work rules” to “a performance-based profession that provides recognition, responsibility, collegiality, support, and significant compensation.”

There is no question that problems still exist with the traditional public schools. IMPACT, which has seen several adjustments since its introduction a decade ago, might need further refinement, and Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee has said he is conducting a review. The D.C. Council needs to butt out and let Ferebee do his job, which includes holding those who work for him accountable for the job they do.

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