The U.S. Education Department did ask the 10 states receiving waivers from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as No Child Left Behind) to provide more clarity about their plans to institute teacher- and principal-evaluation systems. But in many cases, they remain promises, at best.
And as we know from the Race to the Top states of Hawaii and New York, promises can be really difficult to keep, especially when it comes to the accelerated timelines called for in these documents: adoption of evaluation-system guidelines by the end of this school year, pilot by the 2013-14 school year, full implementation by the end of the 2014-15 school year.
In sum, reading over the Education Department's peer-review comments and the revised applications, many of the unanswered questions about how this is going to work are looming.
Let's take a bit of a look at some of the applications. The Education Department's peer reviewers felt that the Massachusetts plan, for instance, didn't put enough emphasis on connecting student growth to evaluation outcomes or aligning professional development to the system. In response, the state provided information on the implementation guides it's providing to districts to help coordinate professional development.
Georgia and Minnesota were asked to provide more information on how teacher reviews would factor into personnel decisions. Georgia assured the department that its board of education's authority in this area is broad; Minnesota said its teacher-evaluation work group would provide "guidance" about what districts should do if teachers were not making "adequate progress" on improvement.
States that have already passed laws or regulations regarding evaluations were also asked for more information. Reviewers questioned, for instance, whether Indiana could scale up a pilot evaluation program from just six districts to the entire state in a short period of time.
Collective bargaining states, where procedural details and sometimes the format of evaluations themselves remain to be bargained locally, would appear to bring even more challenges.
"New Jersey provided a comprehensive plan for developing teacher- and principal-evaluation guidelines; however, there are concerns about timeline and complexity of implementation across 600 school districts," reads the summary document from the department on the peer-review comments.
That's a pretty diplomatic way to put it. Consider that a state teachers' union official and Gov. Chris Christie, who's pushing hard on the new evaluations, have spent most of the last week calling for each other's resignation, as just one reason why this might prove more than a little difficult in the Garden State.
In Minnesota, the original plan did not address "the challenge districts face in negotiating collective bargaining agreements that are consistent with the forthcoming guidelines," the peer reviewers said.
So while there are more details now about timelines and plans and so forth, states are promising a lot of follow-through here. There are a ton of moving parts to keep track of. And as with the Race to the Top, it remains to be seen how the Education Department will step in regarding states that do not manage to meet their timelines and commitments.