ESEA Reauthorization and Teacher Evaluations

January 20, 2015

By Dave Reid

Last week U.S. Senate Education Committee Chair Lamar Alexander released a draft of his 2015 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) proposal. ESEA, currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), is the federal government’s most significant public education law. While much of the coverage and conversation has revolved around annual testing and accountability, another major aspect of the reauthorization includes teacher evaluations.

Photo Courtesy of the Senate Appropriations Committee

Photo Courtesy of the Senate Appropriations Committee

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan still firmly believes that teacher evaluations should be based, at least in part, on student assessment results and that states should adhere to newly created evaluation systems. Using assessment data in teacher evaluations was a big part of Race to the Top and NCLB waivers and it appears Secretary Duncan wants to cement that policy in the next ESEA reauthorization. However, Alexander’s reauthorization draft gives much greater control to states on how they design and implement teacher evaluations.

Greater Flexibility for States

Alexander’s ESEA reauthorization draft gives states greater flexibility for how they use federal funds meant for teacher quality, including teacher evaluations. States can use this money to develop new teacher evaluation systems or for things other than teacher evaluations, such as professional development for teachers.

Give and Take?

While the Republican controlled Senate strongly believes states should be allowed to design their own teacher evaluations, ultimately President Obama can use his veto power to prevent the passage of this new legislation and Duncan’s speech may shed some light on what it would take to get Obama’s signature. Both parties have said publicly that they want the ESEA reauthorization to be a bipartisan effort, but they are not in agreement on several key issues, including how teachers will be evaluated, who should set the rules for how they are evaluated and whether evaluation criteria will be decided at the federal, state, or local level.

Transparency in ESEA Reauthorization

Duncan has argued that parents and guardians deserve transparent information about the people who are teaching their children. In New York, for example, parents are able to see the evaluation scores of teachers of their child, although few, if any, actually ask for these results.

An important issue that is only lightly addressed in Alexander’s agenda is how to ensure that teacher evaluation data is accessible to the public. While the draft of ESEA provides some details, questions remain. Most importantly, the draft does not yet address guidelines for how to ensure that data are transparent.

Reauthorization of ESEA should include fair, rigorous, and transparent information on teacher evaluations and school effectiveness that is easily accessible to parents and community members. Parents and guardians deserve to know what their child is learning and how they are progressing through their learning. Parents and guardians deserve information on the quality of school their child is attending and the quality of the teacher running their child’s classroom.

Admittedly, this is not easy, and as the New York case shows, parents and guardians may not access this information even if given the opportunity. However, parents and guardians still deserve the opportunity to gather as much information as possible about their child’s education if they so choose and we have a responsibility to ensure that the data are transparent and being used fairly. Renewed ESEA legislation should be carefully developed and pay particular attention to ensuring that data are accessible and transparent for parents and guardians.

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