New study of DC’s teacher evaluation program – IMPACT – out today (pdf). Getting a ride in The Times this morning. The researchers found positive effects associated with the evaluation system in D.C. and it’s a significant evaluation. Other than all the usual caveats about any study three things seem relevant here.
First, IMPACT is among the more robust of the new teacher evaluation schemes states and school districts are putting in place. It’s linked to the teachers’ contract in D.C. and its upside and downside incentives are substantial (in other words you can earn a lot more or lose your job). Overall, k-12 education has long been the bastion of weak incentives – for instance, a few hundred bucks to be a mentor teacher, light-touch compliance-oriented accountability, and steps and lanes salary schemes that do not incentivize performance . Again and again evidence does seem to point to more significant incentives as being more effective. The research on school accountability schemes shows this pretty clearly, the evidence on the impact of school choice does, some research on teacher pay points in this direction and on school turnarounds the evidence indicates that lighter touch approaches are largely a waste of time and resources but more substantial turnarounds can achieve results. Punchline: Be cautious of half measures.
Second, teacher evaluations are a fluid part of the sector right now with a great deal of change in the past few years. In many places we’ve gone from effectively evaluating no one to trying to evaluate everyone in just a couple of school years. It’s a necessary and overdue change, but also a complicated one and there have not surprisingly been some bumps in the road. IMPACT has been revised since its inception – a willingness to heed feedback and adjust is a credit to district leaders in D.C. Punchline: Don’t let a caution of half measures turn into an unwillingness to make changes.
Third, there is a big debate right now about whether statewide evaluation systems are desirable or workable. It’s worth noting that while DC operates as a state, in practice it’s large urban school district. So this evaluation is really an evaluation of a district evaluation system rather than a statewide one.