Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Amidst all the headline bills regarding guns, ethics, hospital bed taxes and various attempts to repeal federal constitutional amendments, there are bills that affect some of the real problems Georgia has faced for far too long quietly moving through the legislature. One such proposal – House Bill 244 – has passed the House and should be considered by the Full Senate this week. It attempts to improve the evaluation of teachers and deserves proper attention.
The bill is described by supporters as a way to improve public education in Georgia by providing for “meaningful” principal and teacher evaluations. The nonpartisan group StudentsFirst promotes the bill as a way to give educators “the respect they deserve by recognizing those who are great and providing resources to those who may benefit from extra help.”
The bill makes some minor tweaks and more substantial changes to evaluation requirements for Georgia’s public school teachers – including those teaching in charter schools. Those who receive two performance evaluations of “unsatisfactory”, “ineffective” or “needs development” during a five year period must be referred to the Professional Standards Commission. If referred, the educator would not be eligible for a renewable teaching certificate until all deficiencies of the teacher had been addressed.
Under currently law, only those receiving the rating of “unsatisfactory” twice in five years would receive the referral.
Bigger changes to the law include the call for the State Board of Education to develop a new evaluation method and system to begin no later than the 2014-2015 school year. The law calls for multiple measures of a teacher’s performance, “prioritizing growth in student achievement”. Teachers will be given written notice prior to the school year on how they will be evaluated which shall include “multiple, rigorous, and transparent methods.”
For teachers whose students are subject to statewide assessments, these tests scores will account for no less than 50% of a teacher’s evaluation under the proposed law. Teachers will also be evaluated multiple times during the year with formal written guidance given as to how they are performing.
The results of these evaluations will not be subject to open records request, so as to allow them to remain instructional for personnel development within the school system.
The evaluation standards are to be developed by a range of stakeholders, and hopefully will include meaningful input from a broad cross section of Georgia’s public school educators. For this process to work, it must be viewed as a collaborative effort and not a bureaucratic exercise to scapegoat classroom teachers or their principles for larger issues that contribute to poor performances.
Yet at the same time, Georgia has bounced along the bottom echelon of public school scores for decades. Investing significantly larger sums of money and brining teachers up to among the highest salaries in the nation when measured against local costs of living didn’t improve scores.
It is time to try new things, and developing an honest system of teacher assessment must be something that is supported by politicians and those at the department of education. It is also something that good teachers – while likely skeptical – should embrace and work with those establishing criteria to ensure that their expectations of classroom performance match the reality of what is under their control.
Above all, Georgia must understand that the status quo is unacceptable. HB 244 isn’t a simple or a quick fix. And the implementation of the rules developed by the State Board of Education must be closely monitored – with the classroom educator viewed as a vital partner in improving the outcomes of Georgia students.
It is time we tried something new. Investing in a more comprehensive evaluation system using highly trained observers seems like one way to identify those who are doing things very well, as well as those who could use additional resources to unlock their own full potential as teachers.