By now, I hope you have had time to nibble on the first few chunks of “ESSA the Elephant” I carved out for you last week.

In my three previous posts, I have jabbed my fork into several of the more meaty slabs from ESSA’s backside, specifically: (1) High standards; (2) Annual Standardized Testing, and (3) State Flexibility.

If you are new to this buffet, ESSA stands for the Every Student Succeeds Act, the latest federal education euphemism which, for the foreseeable future, will be used to blame teachers and schools for the failings of American society.

Because we all know if students do not succeed, it cannot possibly be the result of poverty, broken homes, crime-filled neighborhoods, disengaged parents, or uncaring kids. Nope, it’s teachers and schools.

This makes me wonder why we the feds chose to call President Obama’s 2009 healthcare legislation the Affordable Care Act instead of the Every American is Healthy and Lives a Long Life Act. If they did, we could have blamed doctors and hospitals when people got sick or died.

Hospitals could be given an A-F grade based on the medical condition of their patients, and physicians could be rated by Value Added Models that compared the health of their patients to similar cohorts being served by other doctors.

What could be more fair?

Of course, those hospitals which served the sickest patients in our society would likely earn the lowest scores and be justifiably shut down and replaced by state-run charter hospitals. The doctors and nurses in these failing hospitals would be summarily fired and replaced by young, highly motivated Ivy League (Heal for America) graduates with 5 weeks of intensive training.

I mean, if these systems work so well for public education, why haven’t we transferred these models to other entities?

Anyhow, I digress.

Do you have your knife and fork ready? It’s time for our next yummy piece of ESSA elephant: Teacher Evaluation.

Let’s first take a short stroll down memory lane.

In 2010, Oklahoma, along with a majority of other states, passed new teacher evaluation legislation (Senate Bill 2033 in our case) in an attempt to qualify for billions of Federal Race to the Top (RttT) dollars. After luring states into their trap, the feds then made these new evaluation plans a component of ESEA waivers.

This part is important. Oklahoma had NO plans that year to change our state’s teacher evaluation processes prior to the federal government’s carrot and stick machinations.

In short, the current Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE) system would not exist today if not for RttT and ESEA waivers.

However, as a result of passage of ESSA, this federal requirement now goes away.

States have already received preliminary guidance to navigate the transition from NCLB to ESSA in the form of a four-page letter from the US Department of Education.

In particular, carefully read this section regarding teacher evaluation systems (emphasis mine):

As noted, the law provides for ESEA flexibility, including those principles related to educator evaluation and support systems, to continue to be implemented through August 1, 2016. Given that educator evaluation and support systems are not required under the ESSA, ED will continue to provide technical assistance, including feedback and support, but will not formally process amendment requests related to these systems, and will prioritize monitoring and enforcement on principles that are included in both the ESEA and ESSA.

Allow me to translate. Our ESEA flexibility waiver is in effect through August 1, 2016. Teacher evaluation systems are not a requirement of the new ESSA legislation. The feds will not be monitoring or enforcing state compliance since teacher evaluation is not included in both ESEA and ESSA.

So, we are right back where we were prior to SB2033. Oklahoma can do anything we choose without the threat of federal interference. We can change this law during this legislative session, and we should.

There are some who believe we should move slowly and take our time to truly evaluate these reforms before making any changes.

As it is now, Oklahoma can either: (A) retain the existing law that requires teachers be evaluated with both qualitative and quantitative measures, or (B) keep the qualitative components (observations) only.

I vote for (C): None of the above.

That’s right. I vote to abolish TLE completely. Every part of it–The Tulsa Model, Marzano, McRel, roster verification, value-added models, teacher portfolios, student and parent surveys, benchmark testing, qualitative scores, quantitative scores…EVERY. Damn. Part.

You’re likely thinking, Whoa, Rob, what caused you to jump on the crazy train?”

What would be crazy in my mind would be for Oklahoma to continue to support a system that is too expensive; has added excessive and unnecessary administrative requirements to schools; demotivates our best teachers; we didn’t want in the first place, and doesn’t result in a positive bang for the buck.

I understand that many people will disagree with this idea, perhaps strongly—even friends and fellow administrators.

But, seriously, does anyone have any empirical data handy that shows a statistically significant and valid correlation between implementation of the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Model in 2010 and ANY positive student outcomes? You don’t because it does not exist.

Here is how I would rewrite this legislation:

Local Education Agencies (LEAs) will develop and implement educator evaluation and support systems. The focus of these systems should be on providing meaningful feedback and instructional support to educators. Probationary teachers will be evaluated once per semester and career teachers once per year.

That’s it. And that is all it needs to say.

But Rob, what about accountability?”

Well, remember how accountability used to look in Oklahoma?

Students used to be accountable to teachers and parents. If you didn’t do your homework or try your best in school, you’d earn a failing grade.

Teachers used to be accountable to their principals. Administrators would observe their teachers throughout the year and determine if they were doing a good job.

Principals were then accountable to superintendents who were, in turn, accountable to the school board and finally the community of voters.

The State department was responsible for holding districts accountable through financial audits, annual accreditation reports and scheduled on-site visits.

This system worked for the vast majority of schools.

Adding layers of bureaucracy and mandates at the state level has done little to improve the quality of teachers in our state. Teacher evaluation has always been–and will always be–a function of school leadership.

If school districts want to continue to use the Tulsa Model, or Marzano, or McRel, or whatever system they feel is most appropriate for their educators, they should have the freedom to do that.

If they wish to incorporate value added models, teacher portfolios, surveys, benchmark testing, peer or team-based evaluations, PLCs, or the use of multiple measures, it is up to that district and its teachers.

And the state department should be responsible for ensuring that educators are properly certified and meet annual professional development requirements. Nothing more.

One size of teacher evaluation will never fit all districts and educators in our state.

Accountability measures like TLE are the tools of managers. In contrast, leaders build capacity in their people by inspiring them to pursue mastery and purpose through the positive quality of their daily interactions.

Therefore, the best method of teacher evaluation will always be to hire a great principal and let them do their job.

Likewise, the best approach for our best teachers is to let them teach. We should provide the resources, training and supports they need and then get out of their way.

The reality is that great teachers will be great teachers with or without TLE. They are intrinsically motivated and likely harder on themselves than any administrator could ever be. This does not mean they won’t appreciate meaningful feedback and suggestions from their administrators. But it’s just gravy for many of them.

In contrast, TLE does very little to improve poor teachers who don’t care. The solution to poor teachers is for administrators to do their job. Yet, this job has been made increasingly difficult because of the significant shortage of good teachers looking for employment.

We will all agree that the purpose of evaluation should be to help people improve rather than firing our way to excellence. Accordingly, we need to shift the focus of the evaluation process from outputs to inputs.

Instead of spending millions each year for roster verification, inaccurate VAM models and TLE training and software, we need to spend our time building effective mentoring programs; restoring the entry-level educator committees; improving professional development, and providing teachers with time and resources to effectively plan and collaborate with their colleagues.

With emphasis on building strength, we not only get better teachers, but we automatically build the atmosphere of collegiality, support, and quality work that makes a school a better place.

Our strategy for improving schools should be on enhancing the capacity of teachers and school leaders; increasing incentives to be able to recruit and retain high quality teachers; instilling a love of learning in children and fostering the development of critical thinkers and problem solvers rather than good test takers; and creating a culture of inclusiveness, empathy, compassion, trust and collaboration.

If TLE does not contribute substantially to these goals, we don’t need it.

In conclusion, when it comes to voting for whether the federal government or the state government should control teacher evaluation for my district, my vote is: