Don't delay new Md. teacher evaluations

A recent article in The Baltimore Sun reported that the Maryland State Department of Education is considering another delay in the implementation of new teacher evaluations — or at least the stakes associated with them — until the Common Core has been fully implemented and teachers have adjusted to the new curriculum and assessment. I firmly believe that this is the wrong approach.

Let me be clear — the great teachers of Maryland are doing incredible work and we should take pride in our state's achievements. According to a new Education Sector report, Maryland made a 50-point leap on the National Assessment of Educational Progress between 2003 and 2011, twice the national average and the greatest gain of any state in the nation. Education Week has ranked our state No. 1 for five years running in overall educational achievement, and the U.S. Department of Education has ranked Maryland as the highest achieving state in the nation.

We ought to build on this momentum and keep driving forward. Even as the top state for education, we still face significant competition from abroad. A recent analysis of relatively high-income students, called "Wake Up Call for the Middle Class," found that upper-middle income U.S. students rank behind students in 15 other developed countries in science and 24 other developed countries in mathematics. We must also keep in mind that our state has a sizable achievement gap with white, middle- and high-income students outperforming low-income students of color. When we reflect on these ongoing challenges, it is clear that we cannot afford to delay our efforts. We must do all that we can to ensure that all Maryland children are competitive in a 21st century, globalized economy.

The Common Core was developed to bring world-class academic content standards and essential skills to Maryland's classrooms. With the ongoing implementation of Common Core, our public schools across the state will be better prepared to bridge statewide and international achievement gaps. The higher standards of the Common Core will help to ensure that our students are ready to succeed in a college or career of their choice.

The magic of a great teacher is abundantly clear — significant research has shown that a struggling student who benefits from great teachers for three years in a row can erase prior academic achievement gaps. Teacher evaluations — and the feedback that teachers receive through the evaluation process — are critical to ensuring that we are able to identify and reward our best teachers and provide support to help others grow. Ensuring that every student has an excellent teacher should be our top priority as schools work to implement the Common Core. We cannot wait several more years for all students to have great teachers. We cannot wait even one more year.

The work of reforming teacher evaluations has gone slowly enough already — we've been promising to implement a new teacher evaluation system since 2010 and have failed to deliver. School communities have suffered too long in limbo as Maryland children have moved from one grade to the next with each passing year. Great teachers deserve the confidence that comes with clear expectations and high-quality feedback about their performance. Struggling teachers need the support that will come with more rigorous evaluations. Delaying the new evaluations does not benefit great teachers, and it does not help struggling teachers.

Moreover, there's no reason to think that slowing down the Common Core implementation process will lead to better results. If anything, research and common sense tell us that teachers and administrators will work harder and more quickly to master the new standards if they are meaningfully linked to professional evaluations.

I do not want to diminish the challenges associated with transitioning to new standards and a new assessment. There will be significant adjustments and the work will be challenging for everyone involved — students, teachers, administrators and entire school communities alike. But Maryland leaders charted this course years ago. Maryland teachers have consistently demonstrated that they will rise to the challenge. We need to keep moving forward. Our state's children do not have the time to wait.

Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Democrat, represents Baltimore in the state Senate. He is also director of reform initiatives at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. His email is bill@billforbaltimore.com.