Featured Friend Friday- A Discussion with the National Council on Teacher Quality

The Collaborative is trying something new. We’re taking some space to highlight and uplift some of the incredible work being done by our partners and friends in the field with our new effort, Featured Friend Friday. Featured Friend Friday will include a Q&A, a Collaborative “take” piece, or a social toolkit to help amplify and celebrate new reports, upcoming events, and other projects from partners in the field that are moving the needle in education and serving to advance student achievement in all forms.

We are excited to announce our inaugural Featured Friend, the National Council for Teacher Quality.

The National Council on Teacher Quality is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit research and policy organization that is dedicated to identifying the challenges and solutions that impact teacher quality. Many NCTQ staff are former educators and are motivated by a passion of ensuring teachers have the resources and the conditions necessary to provide for each and every one of their students.

Our communications team chatted with Elizabeth Ross, Managing Director of Teacher Quality at NCTQ about their recently released report.  Building on their extensive evaluations of over 2,400 teacher preparation programs, state policy and teacher contract databases, and research on best practices in teacher preparation, NCTQ’s new State of the States report highlights the current status of state teacher and principal evaluation policy.

The report – titled NCTQ State of the States 2019: Teacher and Principal Evaluation Policy – was released on October 8, 2019, and can be read in full here.

Check out our Q&A discussion with our friends at the National Council on Teacher Quality below!

CSS: Give us a snapshot, what’s going on with teacher and principal evaluation systems across the country?

Elizabeth: Our new research found significant regression in-state teacher and principal evaluation policies intended to provide meaningful and actionable educator quality data to policymakers, education leaders, and practitioners. 

This matters for practitioners who want access to good information about where their practice is strong and where it could use some improvement. It also matters for education leaders who need reliable information about teacher performance across states, districts, and schools. Most especially, though, it matters for students, every single one of whom deserves access to great teachers, including and particularly our most vulnerable students, who research consistently demonstrates are least likely to have access to effective teachers.

CSS: Why are teacher and principal evaluations an important topic to be discussing right now?

Elizabeth: As the country contends with increasing inequality, ensuring equitable access to effective teachers and school leaders remains paramount. Continuing to invest in and improve upon the systems that provide information about educator effectiveness is essential to ensure that all students, particularly vulnerable students, have equitable access to effective educators and that practitioners have access to the necessary information to improve their practice.

CSS: Research shows that teachers are the most important in-school factor that influences student achievement. Knowing this, why do you think that states are withdrawing efforts made during evaluation reform?

Elizabeth: The short answer is: I can’t tell you definitively, because state policymakers are not a monolith. State and local context differs across the country and if you talked to each of the policymakers in each of the states that have made changes, I think that each state, and each individual within each state, would cite different reasons for making such changes.

Nevertheless, in general, I think the timing of some of these changes alongside the passage of the ESSA is not coincidental. ESSA includes specific prohibitions preventing the Secretary of Education from requiring states to include certain measures, including objective measures of student learning and growth, in their teacher evaluation systems and ended the federal waiver program known as ESEA flexibility, which incentivized states to adopt teacher and leader evaluation and support systems that include objective measures of student learning and growth. The passage of ESSA also coincided with the end of the Race to the Top program, which of course also incentivized more rigorous teacher and principal evaluation systems.

CSS: What are specific trends that you’re seeing amongst the states?

Elizabeth: Unfortunately, given the difference that we know great teaching makes in students’ learning and lives, we found significant regression in state policies across the country.  Notably, nine fewer states now require teacher evaluations to include objective measures of student growth. Fewer states also now require annual evaluations for all teachers, for teachers who receive low evaluation ratings to receive support by way of targeted support plans, and both objective measures of student growth and annual evaluations for principals.

CSS: Are there any states that we can look to as good examples for teacher and principal evaluation systems?

Elizabeth: We’re really excited by some of the good work that we’re seeing underway in Texas under a law passed late last legislative session – HB 3 – which, among other components, provides specific funding to districts implementing rigorous teacher evaluation systems that include objective measures of student growth.

States like Utah, which have consistently maintained strong teacher and principal evaluation policies also deserve recognition for their ongoing commitment in this space.

CSS: How can partners and stakeholders advocate for and hold states accountable for their evaluation systems? 

Elizabeth: Similar to other areas of policy, the engagement of stakeholders and advocates is critical here. State policymakers and educational leaders need to know that the field is paying attention to the work that they’re doing – whether positive or negative – and I encourage advocates to elevate the strong work that’s underway in states and districts in this space, as well as to point out where there’s room for improvement.

And, it’s a little self-serving. But read our research! And that of the other smart folks who are part of this group. Arm yourselves with the best information about what policies and practices are currently underway. Read about and take any opportunity to see in action what good practice looks like so that you can do your part to ensure that all students have access to excellent teachers.

CSS: At the Collaborative, communications is a big part of what we do. Tell us the biggest takeaway that you want people to get from your report that’s Tweetable (280 characters or less).

Elizabeth: NCTQ’s State of the States is back and better than ever with a new approach. See the new updated data on teacher and principal evaluation policies throughout the country here: http://bit.ly/2mmrJjz