WHAT OTHERS SAY: Education bill is too broad to be effective

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 | 1:00 p.m. CDT

The Missouri House of Representatives is about to consider a bill that claims to seek to ensure the best educational outcomes for all of our students.

HB 631, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Springfield, has come under a lot of heat from some area educators and their union representatives. Some of the criticism is unfair, some legitimate. We have tried to understand both sides and unravel some of those concerns.

In the end, we find Elmer's efforts to be worthy and the bill to be thought-provoking. However, we also see a troubling trend to manage our children's education from the top down and treat high-performing districts with the same measures as districts that have fallen down on their job to educate. The policies proposed in the bill should be reserved for districts that fall into that second category and allow high-performing districts to continue doing their good work.

The bill basically establishes a requirement for evaluating both teachers and administrators on the basis of students' academic growth. That evaluation is to include "multiple measures" that would be developed by each school district as long as they are consistent with requirements of the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Perhaps most troubling to teachers is that the bill also calls for a method of evaluating teachers that could lead to their dismissal regardless of their tenure or union agreements.

Under the bill, teachers would be ranked in one of four categories: highly effective, effective, minimally effective, ineffective. To get tenure and become a permanent teacher, a new teacher would be required to rank highly effective or effective for the last four of at least five years working in the district but would not continue to teach there if he or she ranks ineffective for two consecutive school years. A tenured teacher would lose his or her job if ranked ineffective for three consecutive years.

True, tenure and union contracts should not guarantee that bad teachers continue teaching in our classrooms. The most important person in this equation is the student — not the teacher, administrator or union representative.

Requiring all school districts to develop an evaluation method based on this bill, getting that method approved by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, then using it consistently in every school within the district is not the right prescription for Springfield and other high-performing districts.

It is more likely great medicine for districts that have been foundering, districts in St. Louis and Kansas City, for example, or small districts that have few resources and plenty of local politics that influence their schools.

Springfield Public Schools is already using "multiple measures" for evaluating its faculty, but in a district this size, each school has its own strengths and weaknesses that need to be addressed in that evaluation. A school with lots of student and parent input and participation can use that as one of its evaluation tools. Other tools include peer feedback, classroom observation, as well as test scores and graduation rates.

The best teaching and evaluating methods include innovation, and innovation includes risk. These high-performing districts need to be able to take those risks and sometimes fail in order to find the best teaching methods and the best way to evaluate those methods and teachers.

We think that Elmer is on the right track — looking out for all students in Missouri. But this top-down method of school improvement is overreaching.

Copyright Springfield News-Leader. Reprinted with permission.

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