Rather than imposing systems that are currently nothing more than concepts, legislators should focus on stripping out troubling mandates, creating room for new solutions, and building the tests and data systems. This way, by the time those systems start to come online, lawmakers will have experience to inform their deliberations.
Right now, the best move for states is to insist that districts base a substantial part of teacher evaluation and pay on outcomes, flag indicators deemed legitimate for these purposes (this might include principal evaluations, parental feedback, value-added calculations, and classroom observation), and then give districts and providers leeway to develop and employ their own metrics. Over the next few years, this will begin to shift norms, allow value-added systems and evaluation models to develop organically, and set the table for adoption when proven value-added metrics are more readily available. If advocates are nervous that their window of opportunity will pass, they should write a trigger into the statute that will force the legislature or state board to revisit the question in 2013 or 2014.
The frustration with the status quo and union resistance that has fueled this “fix it now” thinking is eminently understandable. But K–12 schooling is a sprawling, complex exercise. Big, hurried solutions have a way of working less well than hoped. Impatience and lashing out in frustration can lead to flawed policy — as with No Child Left Behind, which overreached in ways that helped undercut public support and the law’s more sensible provisions. The more promising path is the patient course that lawmakers followed when they pursued welfare reform: Create opportunities, nurture and monitor successful efforts, and then talk about new policy requirements.
– Frederick M. Hess is director of education-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.