Another Mess ESSA Made

Photo credit: Rob Crawley (CC-By-2.0)

Jay Matthews writing at The Washington Post last week pointed out another problem the Every Student Succeeds Act caused for states and school districts.

How do you identify an ineffective teacher?

He writes:

In 2015 both parties in both houses of Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, now the primary federal statute on schools. It barred the U.S. secretary of education from telling states how to assess teachers. But in the spirit of confusing bipartisanship, the new law also insisted each state define what an ineffective teacher was and make sure there aren’t a disproportionate number of them teaching poor and minority children.

The new law embraced one of the great myths of 21st century American education: just identify the bad teachers, improve them or fire them, and all will be well.

Many people have believed versions of that, including me. But the past 10 years have shaken the faithful. Using test scores or even humans to assess teachers is too vulnerable to factors out of teachers’ control, such as poverty, curriculum, leadership or happenstance.

The assessments don’t consistently predict classroom success. Often they just drive serious educators crazy.

State governments have been fumbling, and in most cases avoiding, the federal requirement that they come up with a definition of ineffectiveness. In an incisive piece in Education Week, Daarel Burnette II pointed out that only 17 states have so far submitted plans under the law, and many of those have said little or nothing about what makes a bad teacher.

When Burnette and the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and advocacy group, asked Michigan, for instance, about the lack of a definition in its plan, Michigan said, in effect, “Oops, we forgot,” and tried again.

States can’t win this game.

Any statement on ineffective teachers approved by the committees that do such things is going to be vague, unrealistic and annoying to our best educators.

Read the whole piece here.