Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

An Analysis of the Policy, Research, and Legal Issues Surrounding the Exclusion of Charter Schools from the Teacher Evaluation Revolution

Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

An Analysis of the Policy, Research, and Legal Issues Surrounding the Exclusion of Charter Schools from the Teacher Evaluation Revolution

Article excerpt


There is general consensus that teachers have a significant impact on student achievement.' According to the New Teacher Project, "[a] few years with effective teachers can put even the most disadvantaged students on the path to college."2 By contrast, "[a] few years with ineffective teachers can deal students an academic blow from which they never recover."5 However, traditional teacher evaluation systems suffer from a number of design flaws that prevent all students from obtaining quality instruction.4 One problem is that traditional teacher evaluation systems have rarely focused on student academic progress; instead, they have focused on superficial considerations, like bulletin board presentations, that have little impact on student learning.5 Another problem is that schools infrequently use the results of teacher evaluation systems to make decisions about compensation, tenure, and promotion.6 Because of these concerns, states have revised their teacher evaluations in a number of ways including the following: (1) including objective measures of student learning; (2) requiring student achievement to be a significant or preponderant factor; (3) requiring teacher evaluation systems to factor into tenure decisions; and (4) subjecting teachers with unsatisfactory ratings to dismissal.7

Charter schools and their supporters claim that the new teacher evaluation systems may have the unintended consequence of stifling the development of innovative evaluation approaches.8 Charter schools are public schools that must satisfy specific educational objectives in exchange for exemption from state and local rules and regulations that traditional public schools must follow.9 The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an advocacy group, estimates that there are presently 6,440 charter schools.10 States differ as to whether charter schools must comply with state-mandated, performance-based teacher evaluation policies."

This article examines the policy, research, and legal issues surrounding the possible exclusion of charter schools from the teacher evaluation revolution. The first part discusses why states are now changing their teacher evaluation systems. The second part examines federal and state policies regarding the application of the new teacher evaluation policies to charter schools. The third part discusses the research surrounding teacher evaluation practices in charter schools. The final part analyzes the legal implications of excluding charter schools from these new teacher evaluation systems.

A. An Overview of the Teacher Evaluation Revolution

In 2009, two events helped to bring about a sea of change in teacher evaluation policies.12 The first event was a study published by the New Teacher Project titled the Widget Effect. This survey of approximately 15,000 teachers and 1,300 administrators from twelve districts in four states found that 99% of tenured teachers in districts that employed binary evaluation ratings received a satisfactory rating.13 The Widget Effect also found that 94% of teachers in districts that used more than two ratings categories were rated in one of the top two levels.14

The second major development in 2009 was the Obama Administration's Race to the Top Program (RTT). Part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,15 RTT was a $4.35 billion state incentive program, that authorized the U.S. Department of Education to award grants to states based on four reform areas, including "[r]ecruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers."16 The Department then promulgated regulations to hand out awards for the competitive grants. The evaluation system consisted of a 500-point scale.17 The largest component of that evaluation system-worth 138 points (28%)-was based on "great teachers and leaders," which was the "effective teachers and principals" educational reform area.18 The award system allotted fifty-eight points in this section for proposals that "improv[ed] teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance. …

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