By Alice Mercer, a California teacher. Special to K12NN.
California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has been a real friend to public education in a lot of ways because he didn’t just stand up to Arne Duncan on the issue of teacher evaluation, he created a better alternative.
Many teachers know about how Tom said California would not agree to using student test scores for teacher evaluations (required for Race to the Top grant applications, and in most cases for NCLB Waivers), and that he was able to get a moratorium on counting new SBAC tests approved by Duncan. Many parents were also pleased with Torlakson’s decision because it saved students from being tested twice and allowed time for schools to adjust to new curriculum.
The moratorium on using student test scores to judge teachers was critical because these tests are not designed for that and should never be used for that purpose. The American Statistical Association has stated this rather plainly, but finding an elected officials to see reason on this has been hard to find. Few state education chiefs have had the courage of their their convictions to insist that children matter most in the face of education trends that favor data-driven junk science. Just on this point alone, Torlakson would have my vote.
But Tom is not just about supporting teachers, he wants to help make us better is ways that are based in research and proven methodology. When he was first elected we had a visit in Sacramento from Diane Ravitch. I got to see Tom there on the podium with her, one of the few state school chiefs to align themselves so clearly with teachers, communities and children and practices that emphasize American cultural values and strengths, that other top nations seek to duplicate. Also that day, I attended an event looking at teacher evaluation that featured eminent Stanford University education professor Linda Darling Hammond. Tom Torlakson announced at that event he was forming a new task force (headed by Darling Hammond) to look at teaching standards for the state. These are important because even though teacher evaluations are negotiated on a local by local basis, the standards often form the backbone of whatever is agreed to.
This was a task force headed by Linda Darling Hammond and drew from teaching talent and researchers around the state, like award-winning Sacramento teacher, Larry Ferlazzo. The document they came up with was called Greatness by Design, and Larry Ferlazzo has some links talking about it here.
Greatness By Design creates the conditions for every teacher to excel, provides them with support, mentorship, and training, and elevates the profession to the importance it deserves. It’s about making teachers better, not with sticks and carrots, but with support and training. While the Vegara trial had a great deal of publicity and news coverage, Torlakson’s Greatness By Design does more to reassure families day-to-day that every teacher their child will encounter is highly-trained, mentored by a master teacher, and has the professional support to perfect his or her craft. Because parents know their children make leaps and bounds with the help of experienced teachers. It represents action of substance, not soundbites. This will not just be good for teachers, but good for schools. That’s why I support Tom Torlakson for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and you should too.