Mike Stein on the Teachers’ Bill of Rights

Coffee County teacher Mike Stein offers his thoughts on the Teachers’ Bill of Rights (SB14/HB1074) being sponsored at the General Assembly by Mark Green of Clarksville and Jay Reedy of Erin.

Here’s some of what he has to say:

In my view, the most impactful elements of the Teachers’ Bill of Rights are the last four items. Teachers have been saying for decades that we shouldn’t be expected to purchase our own school supplies. No other profession does that. Additionally, it makes much-needed changes to the evaluation system. It is difficult, if not impossible, to argue against the notion that we should be evaluated by other educators with the same expertise. While good teaching is good teaching, there are content-specific strategies that only experts in that subject would truly be able to appreciate fully. Both the Coffee County Education Association and the Tennessee Education Association support this bill.

And here are those four items he references:

This bill further provides that an educator is not: (1) Required to spend the educator’s personal money to appropriately equip a classroom; (2) Evaluated by professionals, under the teacher evaluation advisory committee, without the same subject matter expertise as the educator; (3) Evaluated based on the performance of students whom the educator has never taught; or (4) Relocated to a different school based solely on test scores from state mandated assessments.

The legislation would change the teacher evaluation system by effectively eliminating TVAAS scores from the evaluations of teachers in non-tested subjects — those scores may be replaced by portfolios, an idea the state has rolled out but not funded. Additionally, identifying subject matter specific evaluators could prove difficult, but would likely provide stronger, more relevant evaluations.

Currently, teachers aren’t required to spend their own money on classrooms, but many teachers do because schools too often lack the resources to meet the needs of students. It’s good to see Senator Green and Rep. Reedy drawing attention to the important issue of classroom resources.

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How to Properly Deploy a New Teacher Evaluation System

Like Tennessee, Kentucky has a new teacher evaluation model — The Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES). Similar to reforms in Tennessee, the new model uses multiple measures to evaluate teachers, including classroom observation and student growth.

Unlike Tennessee, Kentucky has rolled out its new evaluation in phases, improving it along the way based on feedback from teachers and administrators.

Here’s a description of how the model, to be fully implemented in 2014-15, has been rolled out:

During the 2012-2013 school year, over 50 school districts in Kentucky have participated in a field test of the new system.  The field test has allowed educator experience and feedback to inform improvements prior to the statewide pilot during the 2013-2014 school year.  During the statewide pilot in 2013-2014, as least 10% of the schools in each district will implement the Professional Growth & Effectiveness System.  In 2014-2015 the system will be fully implemented statewide with full accountability in Spring 2015.

That’s two years of pilot work before a single teacher is held fully accountable for the results of the new system.  Of course, those evaluated get the chance to have their practice informed by the strengths of the new system. But they also are not held back by problems that may need reform or improvement.

Contrast that with Tennessee, which implemented a new evaluation system in 2011-12.  Teachers were responsible for meeting the evaluation standards immediately.  There was no statewide pilot, no partial implementation, testing, and then improvement.  The evaluation has been changed or “improved” along the way, but that process has caused confusion as the standard by which teachers are evaluated seems to change from year to year.

Yes, there are strengths to evaluating teachers through multiple measures. Certainly, the old evaluation system warranted improvement.  But the implementation process directed by the Department of Education failed to adequately take into account teacher and administrator feedback. A more measured approach, as seen in Kentucky, could have helped build educator support and buy-in and could have improved the process without the fear that comes with instant accountability for a previously unused standard.

It’s not too late for Tennessee to “re-launch” it’s evaluation process in light of new Common Core tests.  A suspension of the use of TVAAS for teacher evaluation, as called for by PET and others could allow the state to re-examine the evaluations and phase-in improvements, fully implementing the new system as Common Core tests replace the old TCAP and EOC tests.

Doing so would require a step back from the rapid pace of recent reforms in the state. But the best way forward is not always the fastest. Tennessee would do well to emulate our neighbors, slow down, and focus on getting education reform right.

For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow us @TNEdReport