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D.C. Contemplates Different Teaching Standards

The mayor of the District of Columbia harbors concerns that the city's IMPACT teacher evaluation doesn't account for differences in the students and schools located across the city and therefore may not be fair to teachers, The Washington Post reports.

This is a subtle but important story with potentially large implications for the teacher-evaluation discussion now being held across the nation.

"It's not the same to teach in Horace Mann [Elementary in Northwest] as to teach in Stanton Elementary School [in Southeast]. That's a very different challenge," the paper quotes Mayor Vincent C. Gray as saying. "And frankly I'm not convinced that we have figured out yet how, with an evaluation system that covers all teachers across the city, that you account for the social challenges that inevitably are to be addressed by a teacher at Stanton Elementary School in ways that are different from those at Horace Mann."

"So I guess I would say at this stage ... it's a step in the right direction, but it's got a long way to go to be a fair evaluation of our teachers. And frankly any system that isn't sensitive to the differences in challenges of the kids in the schools only encourages teachers to teach in one part of the city and not in the other parts."

Interestingly, part of IMPACT actually does try to minimize the effects of student characteristics on teacher assessment: the value-added component for teachers with such data. The "co-variates" used in value-added measurements are essentially controls so that things like prior performance and poverty and so on don't interfere with the teacher measurements, though such controls aren't perfect.

Bill Turque's story suggests, though, that city officials think the Teaching and Learning framework, a major part of the overall evaluation for all teachers, should also somehow be able to address such differences.

The story intimates that the local teachers' union, which plans to propose an alternative to IMPACT, would be supportive of such a move. But I wonder if teachers would object to an evaluation framework that isn't consistent across the city.

And already there are other D.C. officials, like a council member quoted in this story, who think that entertaining different standards would open the door to lesser standards for teachers of poor kids.

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