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Driving the Teacher Quality Component for Education Reform

Assistant State Commissioner Peter Shulman brings experience and expertise to his latest post.

Peter Shulman,the NJ assistant education commissioner overseeing teacher evaluations.

The man in charge of New Jersey’s latest effort to improve teacher quality easily uses terms like “human capital continuum,” “skill sets,” and “gap analysis.”

Peter Shulman, the new assistant state commissioner and chief talent officer, is a very much a systems guy. That's hardly surprising for someone not that long from getting an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Yet Shulman’s education and experience belie his 36 years. While he never taught in a classroom, he has held administrative stints in the Miami-Dade public schools and headed up the teacher quality push for Delaware’s education department, a forerunner in the education reform world. Shulman also holds a master's in education from Penn.

Now just a month on the job in Trenton, Shulman will need all those credentials and experience in leading the teacher quality component of Gov. Chris Christie’s and acting commissioner Chris Cerf’s education reform policy.

Job No. 1: the pilot program now underway in 10 districts to reform teacher evaluation statewide. The districts are each testing evaluation models that will more directly tie teacher performance with their students’ performance, including on state tests. It is the centerpiece of Christie’s plans to scale back and redefine teacher tenure.

But that’s just part of his job. Shulman will also leads the state offices that oversee teacher education, certification, professional development, and retention, each tricky topics in themselves.

And in talking with him recently, his business school vocabulary came into play to describe how these issues are all related: “None of these operate in a vacuum, but in a human capital continuum,” he said..

Shulman spoke at length as to how has seen all these issues play out before in his years in Miami, as its director of teacher recruitment, and then in Delaware, one of the first two winners of the federal Race to the Top competition, which has been a big impetus for refining teacher evaluation and tenure nationwide.

His charge in Delaware was to implement the educator piece of its Race to the Top plan, including evaluation and other areas. “It was everything from principal leadership to new teacher pipelines to data-driven professional learning communities,” he said.

Cerf said he hired Shulman for that experience and for his energy in trying to tackle these issues as one.

"Peter is a seasoned executive who combines both intensive public sector experience and strong analytic training,” Cerf said in an email yesterday. “In Delaware, a Race to the Top winner, he led one of the nation's leading human capital reform efforts.

“I am delighted that he has brought his experience and skills to the much larger arena of New Jersey," Cerf wrote.

This is the second top staff member that Cerf has brought from Delaware, the first being project management director James Palmer. Shulman -- like Cerf -- is also an alumnus of the Broad Foundation’s education network, a large class of reform-minded education officials spanning the country,

Shulman in the interview said Delaware provided some lessons for New Jersey in its teacher evaluation efforts. While it is well ahead of New Jersey in designing a new system, Shulman said it is still at least a year off from having something in place that will have direct consequences for teachers.

He said progress has been slowed by the same debates dogging every state, issues like how to evaluate teachers whose students don’t take state tests or the accuracy and reliability of that data itself.

“For them, it will be a one-year delay,” he said. “But there have definitely been lessons learned, the good and the bad.”

That is part of why Shulman said New Jersey is being deliberate with the current pilot, a project that he conceded is at very different levels in different districts so far. Last fall, Cerf announced that the pilot would continue into next year, with no consequences for teachers for at least another year after that.

“We are six weeks in and there are islands of success where we are moving aggressively and those where we are struggling,” Shulman said.

He promised a full status report on the pilot project within the month. Shulman said the state will also be launching a similar pilot for how districts evaluate school principals, with details to come.

Others have said the state needs to move carefully, pointing to several other states further along and still struggling. The New Jersey Education Association, the teachers' union, has so far been on board with the pilot, but one of its top directors said it requires patience.

‘We are looking for a quality experience, not a quick experience,” said Rosemary Knab, an NJEA associate director who is one of its leads in following the state project. “Most places where this has been successful have been slow and thoughtful and multiyear process.”

Shulman has no problem with that, but added it doesn’t lessen the urgency of the effort.

“I don’t believe in a finish line, but a model for continued improvement,” he said. “That will take some time, and over the next 18 months, I think we’ll get to a level of understanding for everyone.”

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