Look For The Consensus Label…

WaPo’s Nick Anderson goes for the ‘Duncan is cozying up with the unions’ line about Race to the Top.   It’s an easy line to sell because it confirms pre-existing biases about Democrats and teachers’ unions and plenty of people are happy to try to score partisan points by making the case.   Only problem?  It’s not the cause of how RTT scoring came out.   Winner and loser states were all over the place on stakeholder support.  Even Smarick, who started this line of argument, has backed off. Yet it’s become one of these “everybody knows” kind of things.  And it’s apparently too good to check.  Here’s the usually skeptical Richard Colvin falling for the causation – correlation on stakeholder support.

In fact, a problem is that it’s unclear if reviewers even applied the stakeholder support standard consistently.  Did some just apply it to the point categories based on stakeholder buy-in while others applied it as a more general plausibility test across key aspects of the different proposals?  You can argue it both ways from the reviewer comments.   And that’s the more general problem with the scoring — albeit one that is less useful to partisans and critics of Secretary Duncan — there is too much randomness.   The WaPo editorial page gets at that in the case of D.C citing the reviewer who criticized D.C. for having too much ambition…in a competition that was supposed to be about ambitious reform.

Secretary Duncan didn’t help matters when he pointed to stakeholder buy-in while announcing the winners, but that’s the sort of ex post facto political move that’s par for the course with these kinds of things.   The  unions haven’t been happy with the administration of late, so here’s an easy way to throw them a bone based on how the scoring came out.   Had the reviewers landed on Louisiana, Florida, and Rhode Island as top tier states along with DE and TN, which would have been a perfectly defensible outcome based on the applications, the message would have likely been different.

By the way, a second myth that is taking hold is the idea that Delaware’s teacher eval system is state of the art.   It actually has an arguably low bar for what constitutes “effective” (less than a year’s worth of growth will get you there).   The reviewers didn’t focus on that nor have the chatterers.  Also, kudos to DE state teachers’ union leader Diane Donohue for some candor about the challenges ahead.   In both states we’ll see how long the era of good feelings lasts.

Update: Colvin objects saying it’s undeniable that stakeholder support added points.   Sure, of course.  But, on a 500 point competition, with those points spread across multiple categories, you can say that about just about anything.  In other words, you could also say both these states won because of x, y, or z.  The issue is whether this or x, y, or z was systematic and/or causal or just reasons grafted onto these states after the fact.  Based on the overall scoring it appears to be the latter.

3 thoughts on “Look For The Consensus Label…

  1. Richard Colvin

    Andy, it’s undeniable that, in the scoring system, broad support, from school districts, business leaders, superintendents AND union leaders, added some points. Unions aren’t the only “stakeholders.” I quoted Duncan saying stakeholder support was only one factor of many. I also quoted him saying that the RttT money would reach all of the students in both states and that that factor influenced the decision. That, too, is undeniable. So, I don’t see how I’ve fallen for the “causation” argument.

  2. paul herdman

    To put the Delaware story in a bit more context, I am going to respectfully disagree with my good friend, Andy.

    In the last para above, he suggests that DE is not “state of the art” in terms of its teacher evaluation. The reality is that it is A powerful model to watch. This week, TNTP put DE’s model in the top five nationally; last month, NCTQ put it in the top three.

    Is it flawless, no, but a few features stand out — 1) this is a statewide evaluation platform, so their will not be huge variations from district to district in terms of what an effective teacher means; 2) student growth is a non-negotiable in terms getting an effective rating or tenure; 3) this will be tied to the state’s new, online, computer adaptive assessment; and 4) it will be married to a fairly comprehensive set of pd and bonus opportunities with the intent of moving the whole performance distribution to the right, not just weeding out weaker performers.

    Moreover, the storyline in DE is that the state crafted a smart/coherent policy framework that cut across all four assurances and and it had strong leadership (the governor absolutely owned this process). Collaboration will be important to implementation, but without the right policy framework and leadership, signing on to a MOU would have been an empty promise.

    Finally, this 100% sign off didn’t happen over night. DE began thinking hard about rebuilding its education system benchmarked against the world’s best five years ago. Public and private sector leaders got immersed in the data and crafted a plan (Vision 2015) 4 years ago and have been meeting about every six weeks ever since to implement it, so none of the potentially contentious RTTT topics were new.

    Bottom line, none of the states have actually implemented high stakes teacher evaluations for every teacher based on performance. None have implemented the Comon Core or turnaround strategies at scale. This nation is on a huge learning curve. This is one of the most exciting times in history to be in this space. I hope we collectively keep our feet to the fire and that we are relentless about sharing our best ideas and perhaps more importantly, our mistakes along the way. Our foundation, rodelfoundationde.org, will attempt to play a role in moving this conversation forward and we welcome hearing from other folks.

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