Teacher to Teacher: Effective Reform Efforts at Your School

In our second blog post, we asked teachers (and even a few parents too!) to weigh in on how teacher effectiveness should be defined and measured.

There was a wide range of responses. Most commenters agreed that measuring student learning outcomes is complex and difficult. The Department took these issues into account when crafting its current reform and policy initiatives. Race to the Top and the ESEA Blueprint ask states and local districts to establish definitions of teacher effectiveness “that are based in significant part on student growth and also include other measures, such as classroom observations of practice.” No single measure of student learning, standardized test or otherwise, is a complete or fair measure of what students learn or how teachers teach. None of the policies in Race to the Top, the ESEA Blueprint, or any other Department of Education program proposes using a single test to make major decisions regarding teacher evaluation or compensation.

Several of you provided information regarding ongoing work at the state and national level to address the need for developing credible measures of teacher effectiveness and student learning. There is no question that those two issues, while inextricably linked, are distinct. They warrant careful examination as states and local districts build comprehensive systems of teacher evaluation and measurement of student learning. Moreover, most of you believe that professional educators are responsible for student outcomes and want meaningful measurement of what teachers do. As Ben writes in one comment, “Teachers, if we keep falling back on the ‘measuring teacher effectiveness is just too complicated to measure’ position, then the public will rightfully take these decisions into their own hands.”

The level of teacher engagement that Ben’s post calls for—and the type of collaboration between local, state, and national education stakeholders that the Department promotes—was on display at the recent Teacher Union Reform Network’s National Conference. Michelle Bissonnette, a Washington Teacher Ambassador Fellow, was fortunate enough to attend the conference.

She reflects: “I was so impressed with the work that so many of the local teacher leaders are doing as they grapple with what is arguably one of the most challenging times we’ve ever experienced in education. The political, economic, and policy reform climate are really pushing everyone to think outside the box. Despite really huge challenges, these courageous leaders are breaking the status quo and rising to the occasion as teacher leaders in their district reform efforts. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the incredible work happening at the teacher led public school, the Math and Science Leadership Academy in Denver, Colorado, I would highly recommend it.”

As this blog discussion moves forward, we’d like to hear from you about the schools where there have been successful models in turning around low performance. We know they are out there—in fact, ED’s video team has profiled a number of successful turnarounds (see http://blog.ed.gov/2010/03/whats-possible-turning-around-americas-lowest-achieving-schools/)—and we want to hear about more of them!

In what ways have you been part of effective reform efforts at your school? Where are the examples of teacher led reforms that have been models of collaborative stakeholder engagement?

Teacher Ambassador Fellows


  1. @parker – the charter schools in Colorado are legendary for their effectiveness. I was quite sad that Colorado didn’t get the federal government great. Maybe next time they will, I know that I would love to see what could be done with some actual capital.

  2. “we’d like to hear from you about the schools where there have been successful models in turning around low performance”

    I live in Colorado Springs and we have seen a ton of success in our students through using charter schools. Thanks for the great post.

  3. In my opinion success should be gaged on the over all health of the child. Because everyone learns and interacts with the world differently there should be some room for interpretation as to the development level of the kids, But what is more recognizable is the health of the child both physical and mental.

  4. I have been observing in Special Ed classrooms (Wilmette, Evanston, CPS) for the past two weeks. One of my best professors, Sandra Truax, was a principal in Lombard for 30 years. She said simply, “Look for the teachers sitting behind the desk.” It is amazing how true that is. Let’s reward those teachers who are walking around the room, interacting and engaging with the kids, and creating such amazing learning! I saw it in class after class, irrespective of race or SES. Let’s reward those teachers, double their salaries! (And eliminate the dance of the lemons too.)

    Finally, Social and Emotional Learning reduces behavior problems in the classroom by 10% — just at the outset! It’s not behavior modification and punishment, it’s giving those kids what they need. Social and Emotional Learning has real stats to show that it increases academic performance and reduces behavior problems.

  5. I’ve been a teacher for 11 years now and I think we should get rid of tenure or at least limit it. Why are teachers guaranteed a job for life? No one else is.

    I have teachers at my school that should not be in the classroom. I’ve seen the ones who very clearly need to retire, and the new ones who get in the classroom and realize it’s not what they thought it would be but stay even though they don’t like it. I see some teachers taking advantage of the fact that it is almost impossible to be fired. This is a very small percentage of teachers though. Most teachers really love kids and genuinely want to help them but I think every teacher out there knows at least one colleague who really should find another profession but won’t because his or her job will be there year after year regardless of what goes on, or doesn’t go on, in the classroom.

    I don’t believe that getting rid of tenure will cure all of education’s problems but it might help with teacher accountability. Then we can move on to parent and student accountability.

  6. There is only one way to improve education.English and math test for 8th grade,English,math,physics and chemistry exit examination for 12th grade and reform the textbooks.All teachers in middle and high schools must have a bachelor degree for the subject.Evry other way is wasting the time for the future of the county.

  7. Measuring Teacher Effectiveness can be a very complex; but, useful tool pertaining to improving the overall educational learning environment in our nations schools. After 13 years of teaching experiences in Missouri’s public school sector and upon review of parental, student and teacher comments, in addition to statistics nationwide, attention must be given to effective models targeting disruptive and disrespectful student behaviors. Behavioral modification training is not a mandated prerequisite course for classroom teachers. However, parental, student and teacher comments and statistics thereto indicate disciplinary related issues such as safety, classroom management, alternative interventions other than suspensions, expulsions, including administrative support is the number one concern throughout our nations public school sector. Without adequate teacher training and effective behavioral modification models, there will be no effective reforms. I created an “all-school” behavioral modification program that is flawless during the spring of 2004 recognized as Pat. App. 11/153,118 entitled “System and Method for Out of Area Behavior Modification in Schools,” and Copyright TX 6-164-501. Unfortunately, Missouri politicians and attorneys interfered therewith creating unprecedented legal roadblocks. If we are going to improve the overall learning environment in our nations “[S]econdary Schools,” whereas producing an effective reform, ethics must instituted within. As a result of my unprecedented and effective reform behavioral modification model, I lost not only my teaching job, but my life. Good Luck!

  8. I think that we need to be a little more understanding about teachers. Public schools cannot cherry pick students. It seems to me that we are at the same time blamed for and asked to fix all the ills of our society–poverty, abuse, addiction and a culture that does not really reward scholarship. Teachers are asked to assure passing rates for kids whose home lives are more and more in great distress and turmoil. In my school, with 75% at risk students, I see every day the mounting challenges my students face in their lives. I am deeply worried about our students during this financial crisis–I am worried about summer school being cut too far back. That there are not enough early childhood programs, vocational programs or after school programs for our kids.

    I wish that the government would buy the rights to some of these best teaching models and get this information out to teachers right away–free online courses…Let’s make public what TeacherU or Doug Lemov does. They should put their stimulous money where their mouth is.

  9. A dear friend of mine has set up an interview series of educators discussing the future of education regarding methodology and practice. I have found it particularly interesting how many people believe that technology is going to become an increasingly important addition to classrooms and certain forms of social media, such as Twitter, may be integrated into lessons and classroom discussion.

    She would love feedback, and encourages anyone who might be interested in an interview to respond.

  10. We need to address the drop out problem that plagues our nation. We need to stop “retaining” (ie,failing) our students. The policy of retention has been an abject failure in every since of the word. The costs, both human and otherwise, are astronomical and unsustainable. Teachers need to do everything in their power to make a kid successful; if we don’t, someone else will try. And to that end, No Child Left Behind was introduced to take over the reins. Bill and Melinda Gates are now in the picture. Teachers: Own it. Do it.

    As a nation, it is embarrassing and inhumane to retain students especially since most of them are the poor and from a minority group. Shame on all of us.

  11. Hi Dan,
    I think many of us agree with you that measuring teacher effectiveness is do-able (although I think it is complex). Where the issues get raised are: what measures are used. The default (because it’s easier and cheaper than other measures that ARE currently in use in a few districts and many other countries) is student scores on standardized tests. For some really interesting ideas on other ways to measure teacher effectiveness, I’d recommend a NEW REPORT A Quality Teacher in Every Classroom:
    An Evaluation System that Works for California by a group of very accomplished teachers. URL is http://accomplishedcaliforniateachers.wordpress.com/act-publications/

  12. I have read countless articles and papers addressing why measuring teacher effectiveness is so difficult and how it could cause more harm than good. Yet, I have refused to believe most of these claims through shear experience. We have managed to determine what a successful doctor, lawyer, NFL quarterback, pilot, mechanic, psychologist, plumber, relief pitcher, alpaca farmer, and regional quick lube chain president look like and there is no reason we should not do the same for teachers.

  13. I just found out that our elementary school in Oregon is threatened to have one of the primary programs cut. This means a layoff for 30 teachers and my child is enrolled to start this fall in that program.

    It’s something that seems so incredible. Save our education department. They are the future of America.


    What do we do? Where do we go?

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