Last September Sara Mead, Rachael Brown, and I published – via an AEI human capital project – a paper on what we saw as problems with the push to reform broken teacher evaluation systems (pdf). The paper, “The Hangover” sparked a healthy discussion in policy circles about what was working, not working, and where there was consensus and divergence around key issues.
Friday, Governing ran a story on the charter specific aspects of teacher evaluation It’s a real issue – and one we addressed in the paper. Whether and how charter schools, many of which have developed their own effective methodologies for teacher evaluation, should be held accountable under new teacher evaluation laws as well as whether the state or their authorizer should oversee that is as much about governance as it is about the most effective policy.
But the paper was about how and why poorly constructed evaluation policies can be problematic for all kinds of schools and especially for innovative schools in all parts of the education sector. Ironically, however, those frustrated with the mechanical nature of some new evaluation systems might find solace in the more human-judgement based approaches favored by many charters. And though charters wanting to preserve the autonomy they enjoy under state laws is seen by charter critics as some sort of ‘gotcha’ moment where charters seek flexibility they don’t want others to enjoy, that’s a misreading of the landscape. School district leaders frequently say, ‘if this flexibility is good for charter schools then why shouldn’t everyone have it?’ To which almost all charter supporters reply, ‘yes, they should!’
The problem is that there are so many choke points within the current system and so many obstacles – statutory, regulatory, and cultural – to providing more flexibility within a more performance-based framework* that we end up with efforts to create the sort of broad, complex and technically daunting, and frequently blunt policies we wrote about in “The Hangover.” From a policy perspective it’s especially frustrating because while overall charter schools are a mixed bag, the high-performing ones offer some clear lessons that could be incorporated into policy more broadly.
*Obviously charter schools and charter school policy does not have this all figured out, but the best authorizers offer some lessons on what a real portfolio approach could look like.