Missouri legislature discusses bills to improve student, teacher performance

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 | 8:11 p.m. CST; updated 10:16 a.m. CST, Thursday, February 16, 2012

JEFFERSON CITY — A Republican legislator's plan for improving Missouri's teachers came under bipartisan attack Wednesday for not going far enough.

Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, presented his bill to the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. Lager's bill would require each school district to create a system of evaluating teachers and its own standards for "instructional improvement."

Two senators from St. Louis County, Republican Jane Cunningham and Democrat Maria Chappelle-Nadal, said the legislation fails to establish a quantifiable standard for student performance. Cunningham said that without specifying what qualifies as learning, a district could create lower standards than what the state requires.

Cunningham said the bill comes too late in an existing conversation. Chappelle-Nadal said that schools in St. Louis County, where she serves on a school board, already have these practices.

"This does absolutely nothing to increase the outcomes in accountability for our districts," Chappelle-Nadal said.

Lager said his Senate district includes 76 school districts, not all of which have teacher evaluation practices in place. He said he intentionally left the language vague and was in favor of giving local school districts more control.

"Our oldest daughter is 4. By the time she goes through her professional life she will probably have seven to 10 careers, if not more," Lager said. "It's a fundamentally different way of educating people. What we're essentially talking about is how do you educate people to educate themselves."

Cunningham said the mantra for a teacher evaluation system should be growth and skills but still focus on a specific evaluation method such as state testing.

On the House side, a bill sponsored by Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, includes more extensive requirements.

His bill also requires annual evaluations, but these evaluations decide the teacher's contract and eliminate the current tenure system. Under Dieckhaus' bill, 50 percent of the teacher evaluation would be based on students' improvement on statewide standardized testing.

Increasing accountability for teachers is part of the state government's package of legislation intended to improve Missouri schools. The package also includes the formula to determine public school funding, methods for dealing with unaccredited districts and accountability measures for charter schools.

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