Executive Summary

Jennifer Vranek

Background

Jenn founded Education First in 2006 to partner with policymakers, education advocates, and foundation and business leaders to analyze education improvement options and strategy, move public policy agendas forward, and generate public and educator support for reform. Jenn’s work focuses on policy, strategic planning and communication projects in the areas of college and career readiness, teacher and leader effectiveness, college completion and STEM education. Her clients include Achieve, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Data Quality Campaign, Hope Street Group, Louisiana Department of Education, Lumina Foundation, National State Teachers of the Year, Ohio State Board of Education, Seattle Public Schools and Teach Plus. She led or was a team member on the development of winning Race to the Top applications for Hawaii, Maryland, Ohio and Tennessee. Jenn also currently serves as co-content leader for teacher and leader effectiveness for the Race to the Top Reform Support Network, leading the strategy and delivery of technical assistance on the implementation of states’ plans to implement common standards, assessments and teacher/principal effectiveness systems.

Jenn holds a master's degree in public policy from Georgetown University and an AB in history and public policy from the College of William and Mary in Virginia. She resides in Seattle, Washington.

What parts of Tennessee’s work are you most proud of?

  • Tennessee’s advisory committee that guided their work, the Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee (TEAC), started with a strong knowledge base about quality evaluation processes, and during their work they became even more knowledgeable about leading evaluation systems.
  • When it was adopted, Tennessee’s Race to the Top legislation, First to the Top, was the best law in the nation. A number of other Race to the Top legislations (e.g. Illinois and Colorado), are modeled on Tennessee’s First to the Top law.
  • In Tennessee, there has been a willingness to refine the system in real time as the state has moved quickly into statewide implementation. During the current school year, Commissioner Huffman has made important changes to the policy adopted in 2010 as “unintended consequences” of the policy have played out during initial implementation. For example, the state has reduced the number of required observations for nontenured teachers amidst concerns about the system’s capacity in the initial year of implementation. What parts of Tennessee’s work were harder than you expected?
  • As the first state in the nation out of the gate to revamp state-wide educator evaluation, Tennessee was breaking new ground every day. Translating lessons from district-wide evaluation systems to a state-wide system was very challenging, and Tennessee became the nation’s "guinea pig." Also, as in most states implementing new educator evaluation systems, the political momentum for new systems is far ahead of the technical know-how. New solutions are being created every day to address policy and implementation challenges.
  • A new governor was elected in 2010, and there were four education commissioners chairing the TEAC during Tennessee’s planning year for the new system.
  • Supporting administrators to become instructional leaders whose primary charge is to enhance and improve educator development is a critical challenge that Tennessee faces today.

What about teacher engagement? What were the highlights?

  • I would suggest that the teacher engagement was real when it occurred and that there needs to be a continuing mechanism to effectively engage teachers.
  • The audience in the TEAC meetings included principals, SCORE, union pres. and executive director, and educators.
  • I am proud that there was dozens of educators engaged in developing growth measures for non-tested grades and subjects. What are the big questions that remain?
  • How do you reorganize the school day so that a building level instructional leader can handle the high number of observations that they will have to do under a new evaluation system?
  • How do you support a principal or assistant principal in becoming better instructional leaders?
  • Should teacher leaders or instructional coaches also be certified/trained as official evaluators? The state adopted the TAP rubric that relies on building levels teachers working as coaches and mentors that provide real time feedback.
  • What growth measures should be used for educators in non-tested subjects and grades? For the 2011-2012 school year, school wide value added measurement (VAM) is the default in Tennessee. The state continues to identify multiple measures that are applicable to teachers in non-tested grades and subjects.

What advice you would give your peer in another state?

  • Start with the end in mind. Know where the states need to end at and design your engagement to get you there.
  • When you are facilitating a committee, ensure you know who your client is, from the get go. Sometimes it will be tough to know whether it is the governor, committee members or someone else.
  • Design your work so that you spend more time on implementation, and less time than on design. For example, spend less time worrying over issues like the choice of approved observation rubrics and the percent of student growth in an evaluation formula. Instead, focus on what it’s going to take to train and certify evaluators to become good observers of quality instruction aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Focus on In general, let's focus on what’s “good enough” on the policy design and then focus on “what needs to be great” within the full landscape of implementation issues—such as what evaluators need to know and be able to do when they are observing teachers, how to conduct excellent pre- and post-observation feedback sessions, how to measure learning growth in the non-tested subjects and grades.

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