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Posted at 12:35 PM ET, 01/21/2011

Say it isn’t so on IMPACT, Mayor Gray

By Valerie Strauss

Here’s why I was so disappointed to read my colleague Bill Turque’s report on a plan by D.C. schools officials to have the flawed IMPACT teacher evaluation system reviewed by a Harvard think tank:

1) I was optimistic that new Mayor Vincent Gray was serious about fixing the problem when he said at a recent public forum that the evaluation system --instituted under former Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee -- was unfair to teachers. In his own words:

"I guess I would say at this stage... it’s a step in the right direction, but it’s got a long way to go to be a fair evaluation of our teachers. And frankly any system that isn’t sensitive to the differences in challenges of the kids in the schools only encourages teachers to teach in one part of the city and not in the other parts."

That is a real indictment of the system, and I had assumed that the new mayor would be moving swiftly to fix any system that was that unfair.

2) The basic flaws in IMPACT have already been identified.

3) Asking academics to evaluate any system usually takes time, a lot of it.

4) Asking an academic with a potential conflict of interest in a specific project seems like a bad idea.

Turque learned that D.C. schools officials had decided to ask the same Harvard think tank that experimented with paying D.C. middle schoolers for good grades and behavior to evaluate IMPACT teacher evaluation system.

The Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University, aka EdLabs, was tapped by school district officials and the former president of the Washington Teachers Union to do the independent evaluation. (The new president, Nathan Saunders, is not happy with the arrangement.)

But EdLabs, headed by economics Professor Roland G. Fryer Jr., has financial backers that include at least two private foundations -- the Eli and Edy Broad Foundation and the John and Laura Arnold Family Fund-- that are providing some of the tens of millions for performance pay bonuses that are a central element of IMPACT, Turque reported.

Handing over the evaluation to a Harvard think tank that carries prestige but will want to take time to do things is an easy way to schluff off the responsibility of fixing IMPACT right now until, well, sometime later.

On its face a request for an independent evaluation makes sense, but it isn't clear this is really independent or that it is really needed. There are evaluation systems that now exist that work better than IMPACT on which teachers and administrators have agreed in other jurisdictions.

Why do we have to reinvent the wheel here?

Say it isn’t say, Mayor Gray.

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 21, 2011; 12:35 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Schools, Michelle Rhee, Teacher assessment  | Tags:  d.c. schools, edulabs, harvard research, harvard thinktank, harvard university, mayor gray, mayor vincent gray, merit pay for teachers, michelle rhee, performance pay, teacher assessment, teacher evaluation  
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Why, oh why, do you persist in the belief that poor children can't learn unless everything else in their lives is fixed first.

Posted by: horacemann | January 21, 2011 1:10 PM | Report abuse


Why do you suggest that poor kids can't learn? By alluding to something that doesn't even make sense ("poor kids can't learn") you imply that you believe such a thing is possible. In my 42 years of teaching, I never heard a single teacher, or anyone else for that matter, say such a thing. Why would they? Surely you must know that learning is natural to the human condition.

Educators want to ENHANCE the learning of poor children. Put it simply, if the child is absent half the year because of untreated asthma, the teacher asks, "Please get this child some medical care."

Do you object to that? If so, why?

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | January 21, 2011 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, horacemann, for giving us a perfect illustration of the "straw man" propaganda tactic. Nobody is saying poor children can't learn. What they are saying is that they may not be able to arrive at the same finish line in 12 years at which privileged children are expected to arrive in the same time period. The achievement gap begins in the five years before they ever arrive at school. Students don't start the race at the same starting line. That's the difference.

Posted by: buckbuck11 | January 21, 2011 1:35 PM | Report abuse


I would like to know where in the article the claim that poor children can't learn unless other aspects are fixed first is made.

I'm waiting, Horace.

I highly suggest that you swear off writing and commenting until you swear to read and think first.

Posted by: DHume1 | January 21, 2011 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Once again, the inimitable DHume reverts to trying to make other posters feel foolish. His contrived superior attitude is typical of most bullies. They need to dump on others in order to make themselves feel adequate. Every comment posted by this loser is critical of someone else's thoughts.

Do the world a favor a$$breath. State your opinion and then shut your mouth.

FYI: Your initial thought to Horace above is incoherent AND a run on sentence.

Posted by: phoss1 | January 21, 2011 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Of course poor children can learn. But Buckbuck11 is right. The time frame is probably going to be different.

I taught extremely poor first graders in the early 1970's. Many of my students had never been read to. Try teaching a child to read when he has never had books, magazines, or newspapers in the house. Learning the alphabet was a real challenge. Sesame Street had not been around very long and I don't think many of my students had ever watched it. PBS was not the channel of choice in their homes. Most of my students had not been to kindergarten. Many of them did not even know the colors.

Even with these challenges, some of the children did learn to read that year. I think a couple of them may have even been on grade level. All of them made progress. Was it a successful year? I think so--but I doubt I would have been rehired with today's standards. These kids would not have done well on today's standardized tests.

Posted by: mmkm | January 21, 2011 5:20 PM | Report abuse


I apologize for the incoherency. I was attempting to appropriate Horace's words with my own while remaining true to his own meaning. Now that I think about it, perhaps using some quotes would have helped.

No matter how hard I try, however, I can't see how that sentence is a run-on. I've diagrammed that puppy and I still don't get it. I can only assume that your education is superior to my own in regards to identifying things that run-on.

Respectfully yours,

The Superior Bully of Reasoning

Posted by: DHume1 | January 21, 2011 7:22 PM | Report abuse


Nuff said.

Posted by: gardyloo | January 21, 2011 11:06 PM | Report abuse

"There are evaluation systems that now exist that work better than IMPACT on which teachers and administrators have agreed in other jurisdictions."

Name them. Are you saying that with those systems you would back pay for performance and teacher dismissals for poor performance?

Posted by: staticvars | January 21, 2011 11:54 PM | Report abuse

horacemann is sounding cranky.
I guess the collapse of Hardy after the removal of Patrick Pope is what he expected.


Posted by: phillipmarlowe | January 22, 2011 6:30 AM | Report abuse

buckbuck and mmkm are on track. To think we can force kids to learn equally on all subjects at the same time is beyond proof.

We need to rethink age and grade level assignments. If not, then we need to rethink our way of addressing adult skills, knowledge, and abilities.

The last thing that MUST happen...stop trying to keep up with the Jones'.

Posted by: jbeeler | January 22, 2011 8:09 AM | Report abuse

Children who are under greater stress don't learn as well children under less stress. Poor children are under greater stress, and thus learn less.

There is also more disruption in classes in poor schools because there are more disruptive students.

Posted by: educationlover54 | January 22, 2011 2:15 PM | Report abuse

As an editor and proofreader, I agree that the sentence is not a run-on and is perfectly good grammatically, although making it a direct question might have made it a bit easier to read.

By the way, did anyone read the article in Time Magazine about children's concussions? There is a program to measure possible post-concussion brain damage that is called ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing). There is probably a joke here about measuring teaching and measuring brain damage, but I'll let everyone think of his or her own line.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | January 22, 2011 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Montgomery County schools has an evaluation system where teachers are fired, but the have strong professional development and support so that weak teachers with potential can grow and so that they aren't fired because their kids are hungry every day or don't show up half the time for health issues or being homeless. IMPACT is weak on a lot of counts, but most importantly because it was developed as a teacher firing tool, not as a teacher evaluation and improvement tool that leads to all staff improving from where they start. I know no teacher who wants teachers who can't do their job to keep it, but they don't want to be subjected to a tool that is unfair and can cost them their job for reasons they have no control over. Including "Master Teacher" evaluators who aren't really qualified.

Posted by: Mulch5 | January 23, 2011 12:53 PM | Report abuse

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