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Flexibility, with Strings Attached

Last Friday, President Obama unveiled his plan to give states flexibility in implementing portions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). He emphasized that the U.S. Department of Education will only entertain states' requests for relief from NCLB's requirements if they include bold and innovative reforms that would result in deeper learning and increased achievement for students. Among the provisions from which states may seek relief is the highly qualified teacher requirements. In exchange for this relief, states "must commit to develop, adopt, pilot and implement... teacher and principal evaluation and support systems."

According to the rules of the president's waiver program, the teacher and principal evaluation and support systems will support continuous improvements in teaching, differentiate performance among teachers, guide professional development, and inform personnel decisions. I am pleased that the department's description of the teacher and principal evaluation system leads with the statement that the system "will be used for continual improvement of instruction." The description also notes that the evaluation system should "provide clear, timely, and useful feedback, including feedback that identifies needs and guides professional development."

These are good signs. My hope is that these guidelines help states build meaningful teacher and principal evaluation systems that go beyond tools to reward and fire educators. I hope that states build comprehensive systems of professional learning that begin with student data, and identify needed improvements in educator practice, and support educators in developing the knowledge, skills and dispositions needed for effective practice.

M. René Islas
Director, Learning Forward Center for Results

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