If you're planning a trip across town or across the country, these days the first step is to grab a smartphone to check Google Maps or Waze to get directions. But we're old enough to remember when every journey to a new place required unfolding an unwieldy paper map and then tracing out a course along tiny lines that may or may not represent the most efficient route.
In some states, education policymakers are still using the equivalent of paper roadmaps. They create policies based on a two-dimensional view of the education landscape, without clear vision, broad-based input or effective follow-through. As a result, they — along with the educators, parents and students they serve — are taken on a tiresome trip that can leave everyone a little cranky.
Consider teacher evaluation and support systems. The Aspen Institute has worked in a variety of capacities in many states and districts, and in every one of them teachers have been critical to students' success. But too often in teacher-evaluation policy, supports and growth end up as an afterthought. That's no way to foster and develop the valuable talents of teachers who work with our students every day.
The good news is that states and school districts can change that. Some are already taking a more Waze-inspired approach to teacher evaluation — tapping into insights from a variety of sources, keeping a close eye on data and making adjustments along the way.
The Aspen Institute has convened leaders from top-performing systems around the country and identified ways that they are moving from Point A — devising teacher feedback policies that meet minimum standards -- toward Point B — refining a system so that it truly supports educators' professional growth. The findings and recommendations are outlined in "Teacher Evaluation and Support Systems: a Roadmap for Improvement," a new resource aimed at helping policymakers chart a course forward.
The Roadmap is an especially timely resource, as many states are considering the directions they'll take with their increased education-policy responsibilities under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Since its passage in last December, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) also has compiled a set of principles for states on developing and refining teacher evaluation and support systems. Resources like Aspen's Roadmap and CCSSO's principles represent the smartphone navigation apps of education policy, if you will.
In Colorado for example, we are now looking closely at the first two years of implementation of our statewide teacher evaluation system. The "road map" we put out in 2012 did indeed give educators a detailed, specific set of practices to look at each year. That was helpful at the time, and it is still helpful for many teachers, but we are now looking at new data and feedback to streamline the map so that teachers and evaluators can get from Point A to Point B faster.
Our long involvement in education has made us keenly aware of the disconnect that sometimes exists between passing a policy and then implementing it. For meaningful implementation to happen, we need to constantly evaluate data and talk to the teachers and principals using the systems to ensure that those systems are meeting their needs and, most importantly, the needs of the students and families served by our public education system.
With educators' professional growth — and, ultimately, students' success — on the line, state policymakers have a great opportunity to craft smart, supportive evaluation policies. Now is the time for them to take a fresh look at where their current evaluation and support systems are and clarify where they want them to go. And they should lean on the experience of those in other states who are on similar (or even different) paths. With the right map, policymakers can ensure that their decisions drive success for teachers and students.