On November 23 California was notified that it was once again out of the running for federal money in the Race to the Top funding. In this round of possible funding, states were competing for $200 million.

Diana Lambert and Vanessa Gibbons, both of the Sacramento Bee, reported on the rejection. According to Gibbons, California lost out on $49 million. The reported reason? State officials would not sign off on “endorsing the establishment of statewide teacher evaluation methods…”

As Eduskeptic has said many times before, it’s not quite that simple. It is clear that the states have to play by the federal rules to get federal funds. Not every has to play either.

Teacher evaluations in California are generally subject to negotiations with teachers unions or associations. Districts simply aren’t legally able to unilaterally impose evaluation systems on teachers. For the most part, this works out pretty well, unless of course one is intent on either bashing teachers, teachers unions/associations, or collective bargaining in general.

Evaluating how effective teachers are is difficult at best. There is no clear cut way to do it. It is important to note that business models applied to evaluating teachers simply won’t work. Business is not in the same boat as education, no matter how much business types wish it to be so.

It is relatively easy to evaluate workers on an assembly line, or in a cubicle farm. Since the business has complete control over raw material and processes, metrics are easy to apply.

The software end of the tech businesses is the same. Evaluation is based on whether the code produced works. Either one produces workable solutions to whatever software issue is at hand or not. Proof is immediately available. As soon as the code is launched, the system either works with the newest release, or crashes everything in sight.

Teachers, and districts, inĀ  the public sector, do not have that kind of luxury. Public school teachers have no control over the raw material they work with: the children who show up in their classrooms. Districts have no control either. Whoever shows up is put into the mix, and the school year begins. 180 or so days later, a grade level is completed, and the children either stay in the same grade level or move on to the next.

It is extremely problematic to fairly evaluate teacher performance over those 180 days, or over a few years. The mix of children changes constantly, from day to day in some cases, and every year for everyone. The curriculum is subject to change as well. Just because a district pushes one set of books and approaches this year, which the teachers are responsible to know, with little or no training, is no indication that the same approach with the same materials will be in place the following year.

Within each classroom is a mix of children who range from simply not ready to the very bright, and every iteration in between. The only constant is the teacher. One fabulous year may be followed by a year that is beyond polite description.

Developing an evaluation system that works across the entire state, any state, is an admirable goal. In California, no one has yet come up with one. No one else has either, despite what the feds say.

The teachers in California aren’t against a good, fair system. They are rightly concerned, as is the State, that just cobbling something together to get the federal money would simply not be worth the damage done to the profession, and by extension, the children in our schools.

If you have the solution to this issue, let me know. As always, assume nothing, verify everything.