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What I Learned at CompetencyWorks’s National Summit: Let’s End the Tradeoff Between Accountability and Teacher Professionalism

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Tony Monfiletto

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

This post originally appeared at New Mexico Center for School Leadership on June 30, 2017.

From June 21-June 23, I spent my time brainstorming and collaborating with some of the nation’s most innovative educators at CompetencyWorks’s National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. It was clear that to many educators, we are neglecting the importance of investing in teachers. Here’s what I learned.

Our schools are like factories and they should be more like orchestras. Orchestras have conductors that lead talented experts who make music together. Factories are command and control systems with line workers who are judged by their output and number of defects. Since before the inception of No Child Left Behind, we have increasingly neglected building the expertise of our teachers who are the musicians of our schools. They are professionals who need to be developed and need time together to rehearse so that they can make music.  Our future prosperity as a community is dependent on whether we will re-invest in their profession.

The orchestra metaphor is a difficult to realize because we’re trapped between two competing values: teacher professionalism and accountability. I’m sympathetic to the calls for evaluation systems that are reliable and valid and I’m not romantic about the past when so many students were neglected.  However, taking judgement out of teachers hands and giving it to a testing company causes more harm than good because it reinforces the way we have mechanized our schools. Our policy makers are skeptical of teachers, while other states are pushing them into the forefront of change by building their professional expertise. They are making them the key ingredient for accountability by investing in training and professional development aimed at making them the expert in evaluating student learning. We should learn from other states about how to make a system that bets on teachers as valid and reliable.

Ahead of the Curve:

The New Metrics project was created to elevate the most innovative ways that schools in our community are serving their students.  All of these schools had one thing in common, they were asking teachers to be accountable for much more than “proficiency” in Math and Reading from  young people. In their search for ways to prepare students for the future, they also wanted to hold their schools accountable for their performance.  Amy Biehl, Media Arts, South Valley Academy and ACE, Health and Technology Leadership High schools collaborated on this project because expectations are high for our young people in an increasingly complex society where we cannot predict our future jobs or civic challenges. The New Metrics Project was rooted in the fundamental question, “What should students know and be able to do in the future and how would teachers and their schools know that they can?”

These schools and their teachers are ahead of their time and the findings from the New Metrics project has much to offer the discussion going forward.  As other states have begun to create Graduate Profiles and our partners at Mission: Graduate have done the same for the Albuquerque Public Schools, we are beginning to ask if there is a better and more sophisticated way forward.  It has become clear that standardized testing only measure a fraction of what we care about.  Adaptability, problem solving, creativity and teamwork are king and our evaluation system cannot adapt to that reality.  After exhaustive research across the Albuquerque Metropolitan Area Mission: Graduate found a series of skills, knowledge and attitudes that are highly valuable to the community.  It’s the right stuff.  Now imagine trying to evaluate the following examples through a standardized test:

  • I am agile and ready to create my own future
  • I am resourceful
  • I am curious and willing to learn

These outcomes are difficult to teach and even harder to measure.  They call for teachers to develop projects for students that are complex and expect “deeper learning.”  Building their capacity to do so is essential because teachers are closest to the students and they have the best vantage point to judge whether they have learned.

See also:

Sarah Linet is the policy specialist at the Great Schools Partnership. She works with internal and external partners and stakeholders to advance the mission of the New England Secondary Schools Consortium to close achievement gaps and promote educational equity and opportunity for all students through federal, state, and local policy.

Stafford Peat is a senior consultant at the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE). He is a member of the NEBHE Policy and Research team and supports states in adopting high-impact higher education policies and evidenced-based practices to increase the region’s competitiveness.