5 Issues To Watch In 2013

I’ve been tied up, traveling, and working on some other 2013 forecast projects, but here are five things I’d pay attention to this year on education policy:

Common Core – This seems likely to be the big story of the year, and probably next year as well. Last summer Utah bailed out of the new assessments that will accompany the new standards.  Will others follow? It’s going to be debated in a few states this year at the same time the two state assessment consortia figure out what passing scores on the test look like and what flexibility states will have. Meanwhile, everyone from the GE Foundation and Gates Foundation to the two national teachers unions is scrambling to help train teachers and support schools in the transition to the new standards. Significant needs from curriculum to technology for the assessments remain and education insiders remain skeptical of the ability of school districts to pull this off. The reality is that schools struggle with today’s more basic standards and tests, so even if everything goes smoothly – read big if -  the Common Core will be a real shock to the system.

Teacher EvaluationThis Bellwether analysis shows what states have actually done, and not done, on teacher evaluation – there is not surprisingly a gap between some of the hand-wringing and the actual policies.  No one, for instance, is basing teacher evaluation entirely, or even mostly, on test scores. But that doesn’t mean there will not be implementation challenges this year as the ambition of some state laws meets the reality of today’s system.  You don’t go from essentially evaluating no one to evaluating everyone – including the overwhelming majority of teachers who work in subjects and/or grades without standardized tests – without some bumps in the road.  At the same time, an increasing number of states are reporting evaluation data under their new systems that looks a lot like it did under the old system – cutting against the grain of Race to the Top.

School Boards – Several key big city school boards remain a jump ball on reform.  Two – Los Angeles and Denver – have pivotal elections this year that will go a long way toward sorting out the longevity of the ambitious reform efforts of their superintendents.  Look for a lot of money from all sides, but, after voters have their say, also a signal about the stability of the demand for reform.  Solid pro-reform majorities would have implications in those cities, but also nationally.

Pensions – The sustainability of teacher pensions has emerged as a major fiscal issue for states.  A few years ago the warnings about pensions were coming from just a few wonks, now policymakers in most states are paying attention to an overall pension shortfall of more than half a trillion dollars (double that when health care is factored in).  At the same time there is growing awareness of how the current pension systems shortchange many teachers – especially mobile ones and career shifters – and contribute to America’s broader retirement security problems.  Even absent a headline-grabbing fiscal crisis pensions will make news this year as policymakers try to sort out how to meet the different goals of fiscal sustainability, adequate retirement benefits for workers, and adapting relatively static pension systems to the more dynamic teacher labor market today.

Teacher Preparation – Teacher prep is one of those issues where the gap between the research base and practice and policy today is truly awe inspiring. But the abundant evidence that – except for warm body emergency credentials – candidate characteristics matter more than routes into the profession do is starting to inform policy and the cost-benefit issues are attracting attention at a time when public dollars are tight. Look for a big blow-up when US News and the National Council on Teacher Quality releases their analysis of teacher preparation programs later this year, more analysis from state data systems, as well as some action in the states and Washington on the policy questions.

Disclosure – Bellwether does research and analysis on the pension issue and is in the midst of a research project on the status of Common Core implementation.  We’re also helping the state of Rhode Island with revisions to its teacher preparation scheme and I’m vice-chair of the board at the University of Virginia’s ed school and on the Visiting Committee for Harvard’s.

5 Responses to “5 Issues To Watch In 2013”

  1. PhillipMarlowe Says:

    No one, for instance, is basing teacher evaluation entirely, or even mostly, on test scores.
    Strawman Alert.

  2. Bridgette Jackson Says:

    There are several ways of changing the way in which teachers are evaluated. One way could be to incorporate registered, approved school volunteers in a “checks and balances process” where they also sit in on teacher evaluations and combine their observations with that of administrators. Any discrepancies between the two would be discussed in a post conference before a final rating is submitted.

    -Bridgette Jackson, Author & Educator
    Drive Thru Teachers: The McDonaldization of the Classroom Teacher

  3. Michael Cuddy Says:

    RE: PhillipMarlowe

    Florida bases 50% of teacher evaluation on student performance and 50% on Marzano’s work. There is much debate on the validity of this method and evaluations are in the works with iObserve only one of the tools. With the push for RTT and CCSS, what is being said for the vocational/technical student who wish not to go to college or college-relate education?

  4. Kelly Cross Says:

    I understand that teachers and students should both be held accountable; however, when you teach in a school in which classes are grouped homogeneously, there is no question as to which class will have the best scores and which will have the worst. How will teachers then be assigned to the “level” of class?

  5. PhillipMarlowe Says:

    Los Angeles school Board race.
    The billionaires lose.

    Monica Ratliff’s election to L.A. school board is ‘huge upset’
    The fifth-grade teacher’s low-budget effort defeats Antonio Sanchez, who had $2.2 million spent on his behalf and was endorsed by the mayor’s reform coalition.

    Her election night party? She jammed some 10 people into her one-bedroom apartment and then shooed them out at 11 p.m. — before the results were in — because she had to get up early to teach on Wednesday.

    Her opponent, Antonio Sanchez, meanwhile, had more than $2.2 million spent on his behalf and an aggressive ground campaign of union volunteers and paid canvassers. He was endorsed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Coalition for School Reform, which received major donations from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and L.A. philanthropist Eli Broad, among others.

    Political observers shook their heads Wednesday as they tried to make sense of it all.

    Ratliff, 43, had the lead from the get-go Tuesday, ending up with about 52% of the votes, or 20,243 to Sanchez’s 18,779.

    “This is a huge upset,” said Charles Kerchner, a professor at Claremont Graduate University who studies labor and education politics. “Overcoming financial odds of this size … suggests a big difference in the allure of the candidates and the ability to make big money unattractive.”

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