Hawaii lawmakers brought in a national education reform expert this week to give them a crash course in teacher evaluation issues and tools.

It’s an especially hot topic for Hawaii, which has promised in its Race to the Top application to implement performance-based evaluations for all teachers by 2014. To date, the only teacher performance evaluations in the state have been pilots in a small number of schools.

Laura Goe came from the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality and brought with her some helpful national perspective and a handy slideshow. One big takeaway from her formal briefing on Thursday is that measuring teachers’ effectiveness is extraordinarily complex and difficult.

We know the goal of evaluating teacher performance is to ensure every student is receiving instruction from a qualified teacher, but Goe challenged some of the assumptions that often come with that goal.

For one, “you can’t fire your way to success,” she said. “The assumption that if you just fire the bottom 10 percent of your teachers and you’ll be fine doesn’t work. It assumes you have another set of qualified teachers waiting in the wings.”

The statement hits home in Hawaii, where the Department of Education already struggles to hire and retain quality teachers, especially in its more geographically isolated schools.

“You really need to find ways to improve the effectiveness of the teachers you already have, while also retaining effective teachers,” she said.

Also, one-time bonuses are ineffective in the long run, she said.

One advantage Hawaii has as it tackles the sticky issue is a commitment to collaboration, Goe said. She based that on a meeting earlier this week with complex area administrators, teachers union representatives from Oahu and the Big Island.

“In other states and districts, I see a lot of reinventing the wheel, because a lot of them are not sharing information,” she said. “That coming together here is so powerful, and I really hope to see it continue, because I know it’s not easy geographically to get together. But it’s something other states could learn from.”

View Goe’s full slideshow here.

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