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    A failing grade for the state's new teacher-evaluation bill

    A critic argues that the bill, while purporting to provide serious reform in evaluating teachers, actually makes reform more difficult. And the feds should butt out.
    A teacher with her students

    A teacher with her students Courtesy of Washington Education Association

    Washington Schools Superintendent Randy Dorn

    Washington Schools Superintendent Randy Dorn

    Peter Callaghan of The News Tribune recently reported that federal intervention in the education of Washington students has pushed state lawmakers and top education officials to pass “more reform.” Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn says the intervention of the federal government has been “phenomenal.” “I take my hat off to them.”

    My hat is staying on. The new teacher evaluation law, SB 5895, passed by lawmakers last session to exempt the state from No Child Left Behind rules, is not a real reform. The federal government wants a better bill, and is requiring Supt. Dorn and lawmakers to rewrite, or else the feds will not extend the one-year waiver from No Child Left Behind rules.  

    The federal government has no business telling us how to evaluate our teachers, which, by the way, is what the U.S. Constitution provides, as I discuss here.  Also, put yourself in the shoes of the typical school principal. She will now be required to fill out burdensome federal checklists to evaluate her teachers, doubling the procedural hurdles that now prevent school administrators from removing weak teachers from Washington schools.  

    There are specific objections to the teacher evaluation bill passed this year, SB 5895. Here's my list:

    1) Sec 1 (2)(f) allows student growth data for teacher evaluations to be based upon "measures that can include classroom-based, school-based, district-based and state-based tools."  This definition is so loose that it would allow teachers to create tests upon which their evaluations are based. Student growth data should be based on either the state tests, the Measures of Student Progress (MSP), or High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE), or other objective, standardized measures. 

    This section also allows student growth data elements to include a teacher’s performance “as a member of a grade-level, subject-matter or instructional team within a school when the use of this data is relevant and appropriate.” This loophole is large enough to drive a truck through. A teacher who is unable to raise student achievement can easily hide behind the teachers in his or her school who can, and districts can claim student growth data is irrelevant and inappropriate. No definitions or limits are provided.

    2) Sec 1 (2)(b) provides that student growth data must be a substantial factor in at least three of the eight evaluation criteria.  Assuming that “substantial factor” means 50 percent, this means that only 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation must be based upon student learning.  The figure 20 percent is derived by multiplying 50 percent by 3 by 8, which is actually 18 percent, but rounded up to 20 percent. The bill does not define the words “substantial factor,” so districts are allowed to come up with their own definition, and thereby reduce the proportion of a teacher’s evaluation based on student learning to even less than 20 percent. 

    By contrast, fourteen states have required 50 percent of their teachers' evaluations to be based on student-achievement growth, as measured by the standardized state test. 

    3) Sec. 1 (8), requires evaluation results be used in making layoff and assignment decisions,  but “nothing in this section limits the ability to collectively bargain how the multiple factors shall be used in making human resource or personnel decision, with the exception that evaluation results must be a factor.”  This provision protects seniority and “last-in-first-out” rules.

    4) Sec. 1 (4)(c)requires the school district to implement discharge procedures for a teacher with five or more  years experience who receives a rating below level 2 for two consecutive years.  Implementing discharge procedures is not the same as firing a low-performing teacher.  The dismissal procedures under RCW 28A.405.300 are so onerous and costly that districts avoid them and will continue to do all they can to avoid them.  Districts say this process costs $200,000-$250,000 per teacher. 

    5) In 2010 the legislature passed SB 6696, the Governor’s Race to the Top bill.  This bill, though it caused Washington state to lose the Race, did delay by one year, from two years to three, the automatic grant of tenure (lifetime job security) to young teachers.  SB 5895 reverses that step forward, by providing in Sec. 7 (1) (b) that a young teacher can get tenure if he gets one of the top two evaluation ratings in his second year of teaching. 

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    Posted Mon, Aug 13, 3:48 p.m. Inappropriate

    "1) Sec 1 (2)(f) allows student growth data for teacher evaluations to be based upon "measures that can include classroom-based, school-based, district-based and state-based tools." This definition is so loose that it would allow teachers to create tests upon which their evaluations are based. Student growth data should be based on either the state tests, the Measures of Student Progress (MSP), or High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE), or other objective, standardized measures."

    How would you suggest we base my 2011-2012 evaluation on test scores that don't come back until fall of the following school year?


    Posted Mon, Aug 13, 8:16 p.m. Inappropriate

    "1) Sec 1 (2)(f) allows student growth data for teacher evaluations to be based upon "measures that can include classroom-based, school-based, district-based and state-based tools." This definition is so loose that it would allow teachers to create tests upon which their evaluations are based. Student growth data should be based on either the state tests, the Measures of Student Progress (MSP), or High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE), or other objective, standardized measures."

    How would you suggest we base an evaluation on test scores for subjects that are not tested, such as Social Studies, Science (except in 5th and 8th grade), Career and Technical Education classes, Music, Art, World Languages, P.E., and pretty much everything but Reading, Writing, and Math?


    Posted Mon, Aug 13, 8:19 p.m. Inappropriate

    Perhaps the legislature should not be telling school principals how to evaluate their staff. In what other industry would we tolerate this? What other state employees have their evaluations defined by statute?

    Maybe it would be best if the legislature, like the federal government, butt out and let the education professionals do their job. Don't like how they do it? Then the problem is with school district administrators, not with teachers.


    Posted Mon, Aug 13, 9:18 p.m. Inappropriate

    We've seen for decades the mess educational professionals have made of education. Right now is the lowest teacher/student ratio ever. Read it here; http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=28
    Any improvements? I suppose going from tedium to mediocrity could be considered an improvement of sorts. More money? Why would a rational person continue to support a system that fights responsibility for the product they produce?

    The first priority of the state is education. It's long past time for the state to start doing it's job, and if the educational professionals get in the way, they can seek employment else where.


    Posted Tue, Aug 14, 6:28 a.m. Inappropriate

    Thank you, Djinn, for asking if there have been any improvements.

    Yes, there have been improvements. Graduation rates are up. Even students who drop out have been dropping out later.

    Our schools have always done a good job of educating able-bodied, white, affluent students who are well-prepared for school and well-supported at home. They still do. They have never done a good job of educating disabled students, minority students, students living in poverty, poorly prepared students, and poorly supported students. That's where the improvements are coming and that's where we need more improvement.

    We already do a good job teaching the students who are easy to teach; we always have. Now we need to focus on the students who are hard to teach - students that the system didn't even used to serve.


    Posted Tue, Aug 14, 8:06 a.m. Inappropriate

    30 years ago Finland had "bad teachers" and a dismally poor education system, they now have the world's best system. They chose to raise the bar by only bringing in the very best students to their teacher training programs, extensively training them, paying them well, and integrating a peer mentoring continuous improvement program to support and develop the teachers. Additionally, they don't start academics until age 7. They spend the early years making sure kids are ready to learn (emotionally, socially, + behaviorally) and helping them find their passion. Families take on the responsibility of literacy at home in those early years. Together these things wind up costing no more than what we're spending, but their reforms worked. It's pretty futile for us to expect improvements in our ed system when we have such low requirements for teachers, pay them terribly and have professional development programs that are laughable. Additionally, hoping that early childhood development deficits can somehow be overcome at the back end is nonsensical. Teacher evaluation systems that do nothing but appease the Feds won't lead us to the journey Finland took. Let's take another look at the map so we can get on the right trail.

    Posted Tue, Aug 14, 10:56 a.m. Inappropriate

    A failing grade for Livve Fin who buys into corporate education reform!!!
    To KateMartin: Finland doesn't have the poverty that our country has. Ignoring the poverty means we are not going to accomplish what Finland has. I agree with coolpapa on many levels. Top down decision making never makes sense. The people in the trenches are the people who know what will best serve their kids. The educational professionals should have the most say in what goes into an evaluation. THEY are the professionals. Djinn is incorrect merely by using the words "the product they produce." Students are not products. If they were products, teachers could pick and choose what students they use to come up with the desired 'outcome' or test scores. I'm pretty sure teachers have to take students as they show up, and sometimes classrooms are full of easy to teach kids and sometimes they are full of challenges such as students who do not speak English, out of control behavior, and socio economic challenges. When Washington's schools are adequately funded for the first time in 30 years, let's revisit teacher evaluations. Until then, it really doesn't make any sense. And don't bring up how many children are losing out. Schools are doing fine. The flawed failing label from the flawed evaluation tool (NCLB) shouldn't alarm you. The failing label is FAKE and flawed just like the evaluation tool used to label schools (even some of our most successful schools have been labeled failures).

    Posted Tue, Aug 14, 2:14 p.m. Inappropriate

    Sorry you're wrong, the product is a student, a competent one. At least that's the desired outcome which seems to be beyond most teachers. There's a reason Seattle Schools toyed with idea of making a D the standard passing grade.

    Liberals never pass up the chance to play the poverty card, which in effect says, poor kids and parents are stupid to learn unless they have money.


    Posted Tue, Aug 14, 9:11 p.m. Inappropriate

    First, please don't de-humanize students by calling them products. They are not products; they are human beings with every aspect of humanity that you have. Second, the model that has them as products doesn't even work; who are the customers? If you need to apply a commercial model to it (a bad idea from the start), then surely the students are the customers and education is the service - a service, not a product.

    As for the "poverty card", no one is saying that students from low-income households are [too] stupid to learn. What people are saying is that poverty (and the other factors it brings with it, such as instability, illness, violence, substance abuse, etc.) presents barriers and challenges to learning. Unfortunately, our schools, students, and families are not provided with the tools necessary to overcome those barriers and challenges. Given the tools and resources, of course the students could learn. Those tools and resources cost money. It is not simply a matter of the teachers working harder.

    By the way, Djinn, a D is a passing grade just about everywhere. Not just in Seattle.


    Posted Tue, Aug 14, 2:06 p.m. Inappropriate

    There are so many things about the Finish system that would work very well here - including very high quality preschool experiences from age 4, extremely high quality teachers, and more. Why do you take a polarized stand against the Finish system, pugnacious, when we could adopt and adapt much of that system quite readily here in WA which is the same size as Finland? Yes we have over 20% child poverty in America and Finland has only 5%, but does that mean we shouldn't spend the first 6 years preparing the kids to learn and that we shouldn't focus on emotional competency, literacy, inspiration and motivation at the front end? I'm not sure what system you're for, but there's an awful lot to like in the Finish system for those, including kids from poor and severely disrupted families, who aren't reaping much from the factory model which leads to Arby's at best for many kids and incarceration for a bunch more who don't make it to Arby's. Directly collaborating with families on literacy is another fantastic practice we could adopt and adapt. We won't be able to overcome poverty with social safety net programs, but we can through improvements in education at school and at home. I'm for massive investment in that.

    Posted Tue, Aug 14, 2:30 p.m. Inappropriate

    The Finish system works well because it's in Finland.

    We could spend more money, of course. We've about doubled our expeditures over the last 40 years, but who knows, maybe tripling it is the solution.

    We could also consider an alternative system that empowers students and their families to chose education methods and systems that work for them. Technology has given us a wealth of resources to work with. Local nonprofits would rise up to meet the needs of the community. Nah, that would never work.

    Posted Tue, Aug 14, 9:17 p.m. Inappropriate

    Tell me, EstoyListo, how much of that "doubled expenditures over the last 40 years" has gone to special education, bilingual education, and other money spent to educate students who were not even in the schools 40 years ago?

    The golden age of education of 40 years ago is gone. It isn't coming back. It was a product of a school system that refused to serve poor students, immigrant students, minority students, and disabled students. It was done on the cheap with immensely talented college-educated women who had few, if any, other career choices.

    Today, those students who were excluded from the system are in our schools and we are committed to providing them with a college preparatory curriculum. Today, those talented women are free to pursue careers in law, business, finance, and sales that pay two or three times the money that they could make teaching school.

    The world of 40 years ago is gone. It isn't coming back and no one wants it to come back. Let go of it.


    Posted Tue, Aug 14, 9:19 p.m. Inappropriate

    By the way, EstoyListo, any local nonprofits who want to start a school are free to do so. There's nothing stopping them. Any technology company that wants to start a school is free to do so. There's nothing stopping them.


    Posted Wed, Aug 15, 12:54 p.m. Inappropriate


    I graduated from Rainier Beach, class of 67. We were so poor that we didnt' have shoes. My mother had to paint our feet--white in summer, black in winter.

    Most of my classmates came from working class families, many of them children and grandchildren of immigrants from Italy, the Philipines, Japan, China, etc. Most of my teachers were men, although it must be said that my math and biology teachers were--wait for it--women! And I had a black man for an English teacher, which I guess you could argue just goes to show how difficult it was for "talented" blacks to make 3X as much elsewhere.

    The present system of education is bloated and broken. Even your fervor in response is symptomatic of an insulated corp of "professionals" who cannot see beyond their biases and special interests. I'm suggesting that community based organizations, funded at the same level that our "public" schools are funded, is more likely to be responsive to the needs of the students, their families and the community.

    Posted Thu, Aug 16, 12:22 p.m. Inappropriate


    Posted Mon, Aug 20, 9:13 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'm tired of the fixation on teacher evaluations as the only means of improving the schools. The only reason for this is to attack labor unions. I am tired of the way teachers are being attacked, blamed and scapegoated.

    If the current trend of fixating on micromanaging the teaching profession continues, people with talent and creativity will not want to enter the profession of teaching. Consider corporate style forced choice performance review. Managers and professionals avoid at to the point where 50% of the employees at some companies are contractors. Bring that poisonous corporate culture into the schools and watch morale and performance plummet.

    Let's look at some of the problems other than the teachers. We need to get rid of all kinds of curriculum and education theory fads and go back to plain old drilling and repetition. Kids are entering 7th and 8th grade and no one has ever forced them to learn the multiplication tables. They are too busy making posters about chromatography.

    Nothing has changed in more than 30 years in the failure to offer decent opportunities to academically talented kids. In France and Italy, the students learn trigonometry in the 6th grade. Their science students finish college 6 years ahead of the Americans in math. The fear of "pushing" children is really a means of holding back gifted children. We still don't start children on foreign language learning in elementary school.


    Posted Mon, Aug 20, 9:20 p.m. Inappropriate

    More on the necessity of not fixating on teacher evaluation as the primary means of improving education:

    Corporations are very eager to place the blame on teachers rather than examine the role they play in the failure of the schools. When parents don't have secure jobs, when the dignity of parents at their jobs is attacked - the children recognize this. When I was growing up everyone's outlook was that if you studied and got reasonably good grades, you would get a job, and that job security lasted for a lifetime. The motivation for school was the ability to settle down in a community with a home and a stable livelihood.

    Nowadays it is difficult for young people to see a clear path from their education to providing for themselves. They see their parents suffering from workplace diseases such as layoffs or bullying and do not se any positive motivation in anything.


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