WASHINGTON – The National Council on Teacher Quality — which advocates reforming how teachers are evaluated — gave Maryland a D+ for teacher effectiveness in a recent report, a grade that stands in stark contrast to other ratings of the state’s schools.
The council’s report says Maryland’s schools have work to do in terms of enhancing teacher requirements and changing tenure and performance policies.
But Education Week and others consistently say the state has one of the best education systems in the country. And some researchers who study teacher effectiveness argue the report does not evaluate the correct criteria because it focuses on policies instead of teacher performance.
Angela Minnici, principal researcher at the American Institutes for Research, a behavioral and social science organization, found the council’s assessment of teacher effectiveness lacking in substance.
“I think it tells you something about the data used, the way in which the information was reviewed or even the kinds of questions that each organization might have been trying to answer in its review,” Minnici said. “It doesn’t really make sense.”
Minnici said the council does not support the claims in the report with evidence. Also, she does not see a relationship between such items as performance pay and having good teachers, one of the aspects the council studies in ranking a state’s teacher effectiveness.
But the council defends its report, saying its grades are based on criteria such as teacher preparation, performance pay, tenure policies and alternative routes to certification.
The Council’s Managing Director Sandi Jacobs explained the measures of the study.
“We’re not looking at teachers,” Jacobs said. “We’re looking at the policy framework that governs the teacher profession.”
The council’s report focuses on 31 different areas, separating them into five categories, Jacobs said.
“I think this is a very comprehensive report,” she said, explaining that the study depends on a review of each state’s policies.
The Center for Education Reform, a think-tank that supports charter schools, agrees with the council’s report.
Kara Kerwin, the center’s president, said the council’s report reflects what Maryland policymakers need to address to enhance teacher quality and is consistent with their own evaluation.
“The problem in Maryland is that there’s this sense that everything’s fine,” Kerwin said.
A union representative from the Montgomery County Education Association disagreed with the report’s findings. Executive Director Tom Israel pointed out inconsistencies between the issues the report addresses and Maryland policies.
“What strikes me is, one, at many levels what they assert is actually wrong when it comes to Montgomery County,” Israel said.
The report claims that schools in the state make tenure decisions after three years and fail to dismiss ineffective teachers. Additionally, the council suggests having secondary school teachers in Maryland pass subject tests.
Montgomery County decides on teacher tenure based on standards, not just three years of teaching, Israel said. Secondary education teachers are also required to pass the Praxis tests for their respective subjects.
Israel and Montgomery County have been dealing with questions about teacher effectiveness since early February because of widespread exam failures, which teachers in the district attributed to studying habits and the grading system.
Teachers explained exam failures in Montgomery County by arguing that students knew the exam would not affect their final grades, Israel said.
Israel said the exam failures have nothing to do with teacher effectiveness, especially because the results were systematic across the county. But education reform groups attribute the failures to teacher quality.
Although Maryland jumped from a D in 2009, there remains much improvement needed, according to the council’s report.
But Israel argues that the report is agenda driven.
“The so-called grades are in alliance to a particular agenda,” Israel said about the report. “It’s just like the NRA putting out grades on gun rights.”