Local Mich. Teacher Evaluation Innovation Could Be a Money Maker (Gasp!)

Today across Colorado, the last ballots are coming in to help determine who will serve on many of the state’s 178 local boards of education (some have no competitive races, and therefore no election). It may not be the most thorough or reliable way to bring about needed reforms, but opportunities exist for some positive changes to be made at the local level that promote parental choice, professional teaching and productive education spending. That a few dozen school board candidates came out last month to hear from my Education Policy Center friends gives me some small amount of hope.

Among the many topics covered at the September school board candidate briefings were examples of Colorado local K-12 innovation. Since 2005 the Education Policy Center has released a series of six papers in the “Innovative School District” series — including homages to Douglas County for its “home-grown teachers” waiver program, and to Delta County for its student-centered VISION program.

Well, believe it or not, school district-level innovation is by no means isolated to our own Centennial State. An article by my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow published in the new November issue of School Reform News highlights the initiative of Michigan’s Oscoda Area Schools, which created its own performance-based teacher evaluation system without waiting for state agencies and officials to guide them along:

The district partnered with an in-state software company to tailor a computer program that manages and processes the essential evaluation data quickly. This helps administrators spend more time mentoring teachers and less time filling out and duplicating paperwork, [then-Oscoda superintendent Christine] Beardsley said.

Other districts have shown interest in the customizable software, for which Oscoda owns the copyright. This could generate a stream of new revenue for the district.

Yes, a Michigan state legislature hungry for federal Race to the Top dollars passed a 2010 law requiring all school districts to incorporate student academic growth into professional teacher evaluations. Rather than wait until the last-minute deadline to comply, Oscoda seized the idea by meeting during the summer to craft its own locally-suitable program that incorporates the legislated state requirements. And now as other districts scramble to comply, Oscoda has the rights to a customizable data management software tool that it can share for a fee to generate revenue. Sounds kind of entrepreneurial, doesn’t it?

Hey, whether it’s Colorado or Michigan, good K-12 innovation is good K-12 innovation. News like the story from Oscoda is encouraging to see. If you want to learn more about what exactly the district did, I encourage you to check out a video created by my friends’ sister think tank, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Exit thought: Here in Colorado, our state senate president is pushing ahead with an audit of “for-profit” online schools. Have to demonize anyone who happens to make money, you know. Setting aside for a moment the larger debate that could take place, should school districts that make money off innovative software tools be subject to audit, too?