Matt Barnum, who has been doing a good job over at The Seventy Four, just wrote a thoughtful piece on Arne Duncan’s legacy.
Matt argues that Duncan should have stuck to pushing for test based teacher evals for only those teachers covered by preexisitng annual tests. I’m sympathetic to Matt’s argument, but I also haven’t spent much time thinking about this specific issue.
What I do sometimes think about this: what policies will matter 50 years from now?
This is not to say that we should only focus on policies that will have 50 year staying power, but, in expending political capital, reform longevity should be a part of the calculation.
I am skeptical that government mandated teacher evaluations will still be a major issue in 50 years. My guess is that a combination of deregulation (charters not being a part of state evaluation systems) and technological advancement (less reliance on annual tests for measuring teacher performance) will render the issue mostly moot.
If I had created Race to the Top, I probably would have focused on the following:
1. Governance: incentivizing alternative forms of governance (RSDs, alternative authorizers, etc.).
2. School Operators: increasing supply of high-quality charters, contract, and vouchers schools.
3. Teacher pipelines: creating new pipelines and reforming existing institutions.
4. Standards and Assessments: incentivizing the raising of standards and the adoption of rigorous assessments.
I think the aforementioned initiatives would all have increased the probability of increasing student achievement. I also think these initiatives would have had some staying power.
I have no idea if they would have been politically feasible to push from the federal level in 2009.
Lastly, for whatever it’s worth, I have a lot of respect for Arne Duncan. Being a cabinet secretary for eight years takes a lot of grit and passion.