Bloomberg: Evaluating Teachers Without Student Data Is Like Evaluating Surgeons Without Patient Survival Rates

An important facet of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program (in which states compete for $4 billion in funding for innovative education reform efforts) is that, in order to qualify, states must remove their prohibitions on using student achievement data to evaluate teachers. Many states, including California, Indiana and Wisconsin, are getting rid of these “firewalls,” in order to make themselves eligible for the funding.

Last year, the state of New York passed a firewall law, and in a speech today at the Center for American Progress, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called out the state legislature for making a bone-headed move:

A state can’t enter Race to the Top if it prohibits schools from using student achievement data to evaluate teachers, and that’s why California just repealed its prohibition on doing so. In New York, the state legislature passed a law last year that actually tells principals ‘you can evaluate teachers on any criteria you want, just not on student achievement data.’ That’s like saying to hospitals ‘you can evaluate surgeons on any criteria you want, just not patient survival rates.’ You really can’t make this up.

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The firewall law is set to expire in June, and Bloomberg called on the state to not only throw firewalls into the dustbin of history, but also to “require all districts to create data-driven systems to comprehensively evaluate teachers and principals.”

Bloomberg appeared with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who earlier in the morning highlighted Louisiana’s data tracking system, which the state uses to track not only teachers and students, but the ways in which the teachers themselves were educated:

Louisiana tracks students’ progress, they track teachers back to students, and they track teachers back to their school of education, back to their different certification routes, so that after hundreds of thousands of students and tens of thousands of teachers, you see schools of education literally changing their curriculum based upon the results of the students of their alumni. Louisiana doesn’t have some technology the rest of the country can’t figure outSo I question why, when it’s not some miracle technology that Louisiana’s patented and won’t share with the rest of the world, why is it, today, we only have one state operating in this manner?

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As Robin Chait has explained, “the way we currently pay teachers in this country isn’t working. There’s a strong consensus that it’s not working and we need to try different things. Pay for performance is one of the most promising strategies that we have to experiment with in order to reinvigorate the teacher workforce, especially in high-poverty schools.”