The Unheralded Virtues of Grown-Up Policymaking, New Jersey-style

While working at the New Jersey Department of Education, I found our work on improving educator evaluations to be our most technically and politically challenging initiative. It required close work with schools, districts, labor organizations, the state board, and various internal offices and deep knowledge of state law and regulation and the growing national research base.

That’s why I was so impressed with (and proud of) the recent memo sent out by my former colleagues.

I’ve said many times before that educator evaluation policy got far ahead of the practice. This memo shows that the NJDOE has been assiduous in trying to bridge that gap.

The graphic on page 3 shows how they’ve used multiple sources to continuously inform their work. The timeline on the final page shows how they’ve choreographed the various activities over a long stretch of time to ensure that the work progresses—but prudently.

The heart of the memo is a summary of what they’ve learned from these various sources to date and how the department is responding to the lessons.

I may be biased, but this is—in my opinion—top-notch, grown-up policymaking by a state department of education: Take a broad policy directive, start a pilot, develop multiple external assessors, integrate this work with mid-stream RTTT-3 funds and a new tenure law, make course corrections, act with transparency about findings, and push on.

I would commend this memo to just about anyone in our field, but particularly groups like TNTP that do this work day in and day out, officials at USED interested in witnessing the difficulty of bringing an Administration priority to life, the Gates Foundation MET team (who I’ve been pestering about next steps), academics who study policy implementation, and anyone else with an interest in today’s work on educator effectiveness.

Finally, I’m including a few links to somewhat unflattering news articles associated with the memo’s release. These should serve as lessons to those who want to do serious policymaking. Do your job thoughtfully and well, and take pride in that—but know that the aspects likeliest to be covered will be those that generate the most heat, not the most light.

My congratulations to my superior former boss Commissioner Chris Cerf, my amazing former colleague Chief Talent Officer Pete Shulman, and their colleagues.

When people look back on this era of ed reform, I’m sure they will remember the big pieces of legislation and the political fights. That’s wonderful theatre for sure.

But the day-to-day work to animate cold words in a statute book is what matters most.

-Andy Smarick

This blog entry first appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog.

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