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Teacher-Observation Tools Get Easier For Districts to Purchase

Cross-posted from Digital Education

Teachscape, a privately owned company that provides online, video-based tools to help conduct classroom observations of teachers, continues to ride the wave of states and school districts seeking to implement and improve new teacher evaluation systems.

The company, which already works in roughly 2,000 districts in 47 states, announced Thursday that it has been selected as an approved vendor on behalf of The Cooperative Purchasing Network, a national procurement co-op serving roughly 35,000 public agencies and nonprofits.

The announcement means that it will now be easier and less expensive for many states, school districts, and charter schools to contract with Teachscape while meeting the requirements of competitive public procurement processes.

A Teachscape official attributed the company's continued rise to the federal Race to the Top initiative, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-supported Measures of Effective Teaching Project, and the growing number of state legislatures mandating new teacher evaluation systems.

"It's hard to do this scale of [teacher] evaluations with paper and pencil," said Lory Pilchik, the company's chief marketing officer.

Much of the politically volatile national conversation around teacher evaluation has focused on using student performance data to gauge teachers' effectiveness, frequently by relying on controversial "value-added" analyses based on students' scores on standardized tests.

But classroom observations are often an equally important—and, for educators, nearly as fraught—component of most teacher evaluation systems.

"Many states and districts are very concerned about rolling out fair, reliable systems," Pilchik said. "It all starts with having trained observers."

Founded in 1999, Teachscape has exclusive rights to incorporate the most current version of common-core teaching guru Charlotte Danielson's popular Framework for Teaching into its platform.

Among the company's products are:

  • A video-based system for training the principals, coaches, superintendents, and others who are responsible for conducting teacher observations.
  • An online system that uses practice videos to ensure that those observers are reliably, accurately rating teachers according to Danielson's framework.
  • A platform for gathering, storing, and integrating information gleaned from classroom walkthroughs, formal observations, and other components of teacher evaluation systems, like value-added scores.

Pilchik said that despite being "very intensive," the system is popular with both observers and the observed.

"From teachers' perspective, they are concerned about fairness, if the principal is going to know how to evaluate them," she said. "This gives them a high degree of confidence."

While the use of teacher evaluations for accountability purposes (i.e., getting rid of poor teachers) has gotten all the attention, Pilchik said that many states and districts are equally focused on using the newly available "diagnostic" information about teachers—and the videos of teachers' classroom practice that her company is selling them—to improve "professional learning."

"Many are focused on what they can do with this information, and how they can help support their teachers," Pilchik said. "It's a positive shift."

Illinois, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania are among the eight states with statewide contracts with Teachscape. The company also has contracts with prominent school districts in New York City, Clark County, Nev., and Pittsburgh, Pa.

Pilchik would not provide information about the company's current revenues.

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