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Eakins with teachersAfter six years and over $180 million, Hillsborough County plans to move beyond a teacher evaluation system developed with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to a more data driven system of educator support emblematic of strategies advanced by Learning Forward. The move was announced in an email from Superintendent Jeff Eakins to the more than 260 Peer Evaluators and Mentors who form the core of the system. Said Eakins:

Much of the latest research points to job-embedded professional development and non-evaluative feedback from colleagues as the mechanisms which create a quality professional growth environment within organizations.

The feeling was apparently mutual, with Gates choosing not to fund the final $20 million of its own grant. And while some components of the Empowering Effective Teachers program developed under prior Superintendent MaryEllen Elia will remain, including the student value added models embedded in Florida state law, Eakins is convening a work group to guide a transition toward a system that includes:

  • Non-evaluative systems of support by colleagues.
  • Fully released intensive systems of support for teachers who need it the most, such as brand new teachers, new teachers to HCPS and struggling teachers.
  • Job-embedded professional development.
  • Site-based Teacher-Leaders who support both students, through great instruction, and teachers, through timely observations and feedback.
  • Model and/or Demonstration Classrooms where the most effective teachers can share best practices with other colleagues.

“Relationships are key in teachers growing professionally,” Eakins said. He believes such relationships should exist largely within the school walls, and that collaboration will also cut down on the turnover that plagues the district’s poorest schools.

Why the change?

  1. Limited program efficacy. Gaps in student performance between poor and black students and others in the district persist. Hillsborough aimed to address the achievement gap for poor and black students, and to have 90 percent of its third-grade and eighth-grade students testing at or above grade level in reading and math. But 2014 FCAT proficiency rates were between 53 and 59 percent (as low as 33 percent for black students), and lower-income schools continue to hire the newest and least qualified teachers.
  2. Projected Costs. The current program is projected to cost more to sustain (upwards of $52 million per year) than Hillsborough can afford. Eakins learned recently that Hillsborough’s reserve fund was evaporating at an alarming rate, affecting the district’s ability to borrow money. Costs associated with the Gates initiative are a contributing factor, including as much as $100 million dollars in district funds for new evaluator and mentor positions, data systems, and district analysts.
  3. Lack of evidence that you can measure your way to improvement. Though it did include some mentoring and coaching, EET was, at its core, a measurement project, and mentoring was provided by the same people who did the measuring. You don’t need an advanced degree in psychology – or to be an educator – to think that might not work as intended.

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What We Think

We do measurement, research and evaluation. We like to work with data to drive decisions. We believe there is a place for value-added measurement and the use of multiple data points to understand teaching and learning. But not every useful research design for understanding an education problem or the efficacy of an education program is appropriate to evaluating individual educators. This is one of those cases.

We commend Eakins’ decision on multiple levels. First, it makes use of the full range of data appropriate for the decision, including student performance, staffing patterns, fiscal implications, educator feedback, and consideration of research. Second, the new model builds on the institutional strengths developed through the EET program. Third, the model focuses on building the professional practices of Hillsborough educators required for sustained improvement through collaboration, mentoring, and individual growth. Finally, the proposed new direction values educators, which is as important systemically as it is within each school to building the trust, openness and professional engagement required for success.

Hillsborough isn’t running from data driven decision making. They’re embracing it.

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