The “fifty-state review” of educational policies has proliferated into a literary genre of its own. Extant are fifty-state reviews of academic standards, charter school laws, a whole plethora of ed-reform policies, teacher-union strength, and even bullying laws. Add to this growing body of literature the National Council on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ) recent fifty-state review of teacher evaluation policies. For NCTQ analysts, it’s not merely the teacher-evaluation tool per se that is important—it is also about how schools use evaluations in staffing decisions. The following are the three key takeaways from this study: First, teacher-evaluation policies have moved speedily—propelled, in part, by federal policy—through state legislatures. For example, in 2009 just fifteen of the fifty-one states (including D.C.) mandated that teacher evaluations be based on objective measures of student achievement. Now, forty-one states require such measures. Second, the degree to which teacher-evaluation systems are rigid or flexible varies across states. More than half of states (twenty-nine) give local districts considerable latitude in designing and implementing a homegrown evaluation system. The rest of the states take a heavier-handed approach, either mandating a single statewide system for all districts or a statewide system where districts can seek an “opt-out” waiver from the state if they implement a comparable evaluation system. Third, among the states with a teacher-evaluation policy based on achievement measures, state policies vary widely in how evaluations are linked to staffing decisions. Just six states tie evaluations to teacher salaries, while twenty-three states tie unsatisfactory evaluations to dismissal. To conclude, NCTQ rightly acknowledges that teacher evaluation is daunting task, fraught with both logistical and political hazards. In order to “stay the course” on teacher-evaluation policy, NCTQ provides fifteen practical recommendations that should help fair-minded policymakers traverse the precarious field of teacher-evaluation policy.

SOURCE: Kathryn M. Doherty and Sandi Jacobs, State of the States 2013: Connect the Dots: Using evaluations of teacher effectiveness to inform policy and practice (Washington, D.C.: National Council on Teacher Quality, October 2013).

Aaron Churchill is the Ohio research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where he has worked since 2012. In this role, Aaron oversees a portfolio of research projects aimed at strengthening education policy in Ohio. He also writes regularly on Fordham’s blog, the Ohio Gadfly Daily, and contributes analytic support for…

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