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Effective Systems Invest in Professional Learning

As I have written about previously, Learning Forward is participating in an Education Effectiveness task force convened by the National Conference of State Legislators. The goal of the task force is to publish a set of recommendations for state legislators to use in crafting their teacher effectiveness strategies. The task force has dedicated study sessions to topics including induction, mentoring, professional development, and teacher licensure.

Our most recent session focused on teacher evaluation. We heard from representatives of AIR, NCTQ, NEA, AFT, and SAS. Practitioners, consultants, researchers, and attorneys shared their views. We explored key components of effective systems, cautions, strategies, and competing philosophies.

As I listened to each speaker I became increasingly frustrated. I imagined what it could mean for the field of professional development if all the resources being invested in teacher evaluation were instead focused on teacher development and career paths for educators:


  • External researchers would focus on developing valid and reliable tools to assess the impact of professional learning.

  • States and districts would focus on building collective responsibility and creating the time necessary for teams of teachers to work, learn, and problem solve together to advance the achievement of a larger group of students.

  • Resources could be allocated to teachers who demonstrate exemplary practice and are willing to assume additional responsibilities for mentoring and supporting new teachers and facilitating teacher team learning.

  • Attention would be focused on measures of student success and teacher impact beyond standardized tests.

  • And school leaders could be empowered to create systems that build capacity, create internal accountability, and accelerate substantive growth because of the peer-to-peer accountability.

Legislators might benefit from looking at results in states that have invested in both teacher evaluation systems and teacher development systems to determine which investments have produced the greatest benefits for teachers and students. We need better teacher evaluation systems, but they are not the panacea for challenges in our classroom. Substantive professional learning for all teachers is the closest thing we have to it. It merits the same attention from our legislators. And while both teacher evaluation and professional development are important, I hope our state leaders do not put all their eggs in the "teacher evaluation" basket.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

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The opinions expressed in Learning Forward's PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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