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Tennessee mistakes to avoid

Paul Teske is Dean and University of Colorado Distinguished Professor at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver. (These views represent the personal opinions of the author and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado system).

As our Colorado State Board of Education takes on detailed rules about teacher evaluation (SB 191), it is worth taking note of Monday’s New York Times article by Michael Winerip that finds that early implementation of Tennessee’s teacher evaluation program is going spectacularly badly. The title suggests the content – “In Tennessee, Following the Rules for Evaluations Off a Cliff.”

And, Tennessee has a distinguished history of tracking teacher data in their state, in the STAR program and other analyses, and the state won $500 million in Round 1 of Race to the Top, partly to move this forward. But, they seem to be doing a very poor job of evaluating teachers, if this article is at all accurate.

The article notes:

A recent article in Education Week said essentially that things were so bad in Tennessee, there was a danger that overhauls would be undermined elsewhere… The state is micromanaging principals to a degree never seen before here, and perhaps anywhere.

A lot of this seems like just poor, and perhaps overly rushed, implementation. Principals are faced with doing more evaluations than they are trained to manage and teachers without student achievement data from tests seem to get assigned almost randomly to data that they don’t even influence.

Now, I’m sure that my friends and colleagues in Colorado have already done a very thoughtful job in preparing the pilots and the implementations rules for teacher evaluation in our state. But this was never going to be an easy job. In fact, the slowdown in implementation that was caused by our not winning Race to the Top, and other fiscal and local control realities, may be a positive thing in the end for Colorado.

Still, thoughtful implementation is the key to something like new state-wide teacher evaluation systems (e.g., “devil is in the details,” “implementation is 90 percent of half the game”, etc.) and the Tennessee example should be sobering and humbling.

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