Why IMPACT needs reform

The Reason DC Code 1-617.18 Must be Amended

What it says:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, rule, or regulation, during fiscal year 2006 and each succeeding fiscal year the evaluation process and instruments for evaluating District of Columbia Public Schools employees shall be a non-negotiable item for collective bargaining purposes.” 


What is should say:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, rule, or regulation, the evaluation process and instruments for evaluating District of Columbia Public Schools employees shall be designed primarily to improve instructional performance and student learning and is a negotiable item for collective bargaining purposes.”


Why this language is a problem:

  • A fundamental principle of any high performing school systems is the quality of the instruction it provides. As a Korean educational minister once said, “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.” With the constant high turnover of teachers, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) has failed to develop quality teaching in a systematic and widely distributed way.


  • This high rate of turnover is a direct result of the policies and procedures developed by DCPS administrations over the past decade or more. None of these policies has been more detrimental to developing high quality teaching in every DCPS classroom than IMPACT and its related structures and procedures.


  • From its inception, IMPACT was designed to intimidate, threaten, and ultimately dismiss teachers based on premise that you can bully and fire your way to better student outcomes. However, as Linda Daring Hammond (premier educational scholar from Stanford) has said many times, “you can’t fire your way to better schools.”


  • This systematic bullying was a direct outcome of DC Code 1-617.18. The code gives DCPS administration compete control over most aspects of teaching and learning in the schools. And is the case when given unchecked power, people use that power to further their own narrow goals. This was never more apparent than when Michelle Rhee was named Chancellor.


  • Although headlines were made with magazine covers sweeping teachers out of the classroom and mass firings of teachers, DC’s most vulnerable students paid a heavy price. The achievement gaps that were unacceptable before her tenure, exploded and became unfathomable in just a few short years after the introduction of IMPACT.


  • As Ed Week wrote in a special highlighted section on DC’s growing achievement gaps, “…the combined poverty gap for the District of Columbia expanded by 44 scale-score points, indicating that its poor students are now much more further behind their more affluent peers.” Although many factors contribute to achievement gaps, the one thing that changed in DCPS during this time was the IMPACT teacher evaluation system.


  • This was not a small increase, it was a major shift in student outcomes that was a direct outcome of DCPS use of their unbridled power granted to them by 1-617.18. It is true this code was in place before Chancellor Rhee, but those leaders knew that working in collaboration with teachers was the only way to mitigate and hopeful reverse the achievement gaps.


  • Here is a graph showing the growth of the achievement gap in fourth grade reading before and after the introduction of IMPACT.

  • As you can see, the achievement gap did exist in previous years. However, once the policies of the Rhee administration were implemented this gap exploded in the following years. This same pattern can be seen on all of the NAEP data and the reason Ed Week felt it was important enough to highlight in their report.


So what is the real Problem?

  • DCPS struggles to improve classroom instruction and retain teachers because they don’t focus on these things in a real and collaborative way. In fact, DCPS even released a report saying teacher turnover in the District, unlike every other school district in the country, was a good thing.


  • The administration’s philosophy has been that it is not our job to improve instructional practice; our job is to either reward or punish it. This is why so much money, energy, and press coverage has focused on these issues over the past 10 years. This is a direct result of the code on teacher evaluation. It gives the administration unilateral power to decide how and IF to improve instructional practice.


  • Simply put, this code prevents the school district from moving forward. Teachers can do all that they can do, but allowing one side to have all the power is not conducive to productive collaboration—it is not conducive to high performance. It is clear this code has been one of the major sticking points for teachers for many years. It’s time to fix it.


  • The code makes evaluation only focus on the goals of administration, not of teachers or other parts of the school system. As we has seen over the past 10 years, the code give administrators unfettered power to focus classroom instruction on what they perceive is their part of the work—deciding who to reward or fire.


  • Teachers want to use evaluation to improve their practice. The current DC code prevents them from doing that. They are forced by the policies and procedures to use their time to jump through hoops leaving little is any time for instructional improvement.


  • As years of practice and student growth data show us, the push to only reward and punish has greatly outweighed any effort to create a collaborative, supportive teaching environment. And teachers leave.


  • The code puts an important part of the school district, “out of balance.” When one side has all the power, and that side isn’t actually doing the core work of the organization—teaching kids—you create mistrust and resentment. That’s what IMPACT is, a tool to create mistrust and resentment. A tool only possible because of 1-617.18.


  • This code is an over-reach of managerial rights. How is it in the best interest of children when the people closest to the students have no say in what is important in terms of teaching? Actually, the people who know teaching the best are told what should work and what good teaching looks like.


  • The one person who created this system by using this code, who now leads another school system, now says he would never use the “code” again. He is on record saying you must work together, in collaboration with teachers, to create a teacher evaluation systems so both sides get what they need out of the system. Teachers want a system that helps them improve and administrators want a system that provides fair accountability.


  • This code requires that the large amount of effort to create and implement this system only really affects a very small percentage of teachers. Because it’s only about reward and punishment, the vast majority of teacher don’t gain any value from the system. They only see it as a “gotcha system.”


  • This code focuses the entire effort on the people who are at risk of being dismissed. The rest take a big sigh and move on. That’s not the way improving instructional practice across the whole system works. And, it is not the way high performing school systems become high performing.


  • Finally, some may say that the code does not prevent these things from happening. Yes it does. When you prohibit collaboration and compromise, you prohibit best practice. You must create the environment for high performance by providing the legislative framework. As Andreas Schleicher (one of the world’s foremost educational experts) said, “Collaboration doesn’t fall from the sky, you must create the policies and structures to make it happen.”


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