Waiving a white flag on evaluationsFeds offer to postpone key SIG requirement
The Obama Administration is acknowledging that school districts nationwide have failed to comply with a cornerstone proviso of its School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. The U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to every state actually inviting them to apply for waivers from the requirement that SIG transformation schools must develop teacher and principal evaluations that include student test scores as part of formula. The State Board of Education yesterday voted to accept the invitation.
“I cannot emphasize enough the key role of high-quality teacher and principal evaluation systems in supporting improved teaching and learning in all schools, and particularly in persistently lowest-achieving schools,” wrote Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. “At the same time, I recognize that many districts are approaching this work for the first time. Without previous groundwork and investment, developing high-quality, comprehensive evaluation systems may take more time than initially contemplated under the SIG final requirements.”
The fact that the letter was sent to every state indicates that this is a sweeping problem, said Deborah Sigman, Deputy Superintendent of the California Department of Education. “When the federal government invites you, it’s a sign that it’s not just a California issue.”
In a draft letter responding to the U.S. Department of Education, Sigman, wrote that fewer than half the schools in the transformation model have met the timeline for establishing the teacher and principal evaluation system.
Transformation is one of four school improvement models under the SIG program. It’s also the most popular because, on the surface, it seems to be the least draconian. Transformation requires schools to replace the principal, increase learning time and develop the evaluation. The other three models call for closing the school, restarting it as a charter, or replacing the principal and at least half the staff.
California selected 91 schools to be in the first group to receive $416 million in SIG funds over three years. They’re known as cohort 1. Of those, 56 selected the transformation model. Cohort 1 began during the 2010-11 academic year, so those schools are already a year behind in implementing the evaluation system.
Following Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting, Sigman theorized that one reason for the delay is that teacher evaluations are part of the collective bargaining process, and that can take a while to work through. Especially when the evaluation “should be capable of being used for decisions regarding, for example, retention, promotion, compensation, and rewards,” as Sigman wrote in the draft letter.
An interesting side note is that the waiver being offered by the Feds gives schools three years to phase in the evaluation system. This current year is for development, next year the schools would run a pilot program, and in the 2013-14 school year, the full system would kick in. The thing is, the SIG money for cohort 1 schools runs out next year. Sigman explained that the “life of the money” isn’t analogous to the life of the reforms. Schools are supposed to develop sustainable programs. She said it was “never intended to be implemented and then just go away.”