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Public Conversations on Teaching Effectiveness and Online Learning

Once again, I’d like to encourage a slight shift in the public conversation around two issues that are dominating the education press: teacher effectiveness and online learning.  Both have the potential to be transformational for districts if we are willing to shift the discussions beyond the current contexts.

Teacher Evaluation and Compensation: 

We’ve seen many recent examples of states proposing to link teacher pay to student performance.  (See “Christie Wants to Grade Teachers,” “In Florida, Push to Link Teacher Pay to Student Performance,” and “O’Malley Proposes Linking Student Performance, Teachers Jobs”) While measuring teacher effectiveness is critical, a single-minded focus on measuring individual performance through test scores alone could have dangerous ramifications. This high stakes approach to individual teacher performance fails to account for a critical driver in student success: teacher collaboration.

The Shift: We know that students soar when teams of teachers combine their expertise and energy to know students well, monitor their progress and intervene to keep them on track. We also know that our most talented teachers have other career options in which they can command higher compensation.  Therefore, the evaluation and compensation models that we need must go beyond student performance to include a teacher’s individual responsibilities as well as team contribution. By linking compensation both to student performance and differentiated roles for teachers, districts will free resources to pay the most expert, highest contributors significantly more, sooner in their careers.  States and districts can support school leaders to improve teacher and team effectiveness by developing evaluation and information systems that consider a teacher’s strengths and weaknesses, professional support opportunities, and school context along with student test scores. (see our recent Ed Week Commentary and The Teaching Job) 

Online Learning:  An interesting Ed Week Article, “E-Learning Requirement Could Hurt Idaho Students Without Internet,” shows that to prepare students for the information age, Idaho is making online courses part of student graduation requirements. While other districts admit that this approach is beneficial to students, they complain that they lack the resources to invest in online learning systems.  By seeing online learning as an add-on program, these districts miss an opportunity for district transformation.

The Shift:  Online learning provides real cost-savings and re-investment potential.  By providing whole or portions of courses online, especially lower-enrolled, higher-cost electives, districts can reduce reliance on the one teacher, one class model. The best lecturers become available to all students. Now freed teachers and resources can be redirected toward other instructional priorities. In essence, more is possible with less.

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