As an aspiring educator, I am passionate about the influence a teacher can have on students. In January I began student teaching at a Boston Public School, where I have witnessed a great teacher at work. This teacher has taught in other schools before, but it is her first year at this school. Many of her students misbehave, which could reduce learning time. But despite such challenges, she has created an effective learning environment through good management skills and student-teacher relationships. She has one of the highest homework completion rates in the school, her students recently outperformed the district on the ANETs (tests aligned with the standards of the MCAS), and her students are regularly engaged during class. Her presence in this school has undoubtedly increased sixth grade math achievement, and it would be detrimental for the school to lose her.
However, if the school had to reduce spending and needed to cut teachers, it is likely she would be dismissed. Why? For one simple reason: it is her first year at the school. Due to the common practice of Last In, First Out (LIFO), dismissal decisions are based on a teacher’s seniority. Her transformative effects on student learning would be irrelevant.
Recognizing this oversimplified practice, the non-profit organization Stand for Children launched a campaign called Great Teachers, Great Schools. This campaign has proposed a ballot initiative (H3883) that calls for hiring, dismissal, and transfer decisions to be based on teacher evaluations, rather than on seniority.
Stand for Children’s initiative is not an attack against LIFO in regards to a teacher’s experience. It understands that more experienced teachers often are more effective; however it aims to also acknowledge the potential effectiveness of new educators. In the current system, these new teachers are dismissed for their lack of seniority, despite their effectiveness. Instead, educators should be dismissed for lack of effectiveness, regardless of experience. Amongst various studies including the Widget Effect, a good teacher is the most important in-class factor for high student achievement. For this reason, effective educators, not senior educators, need to fill schools.
So how do we measure teacher effectiveness? Through teacher evaluations that consider many factors of effectiveness. In the past, evaluations have been condemned for producing skewed results. There have been complaints such as test scores being unreliable or observations being held on a “bad day.” The inconsistencies of past evaluations have been sifted out due to the new MA Race to the Top evaluations. The creation of the new system was a result of collaboration between many parties including teacher unions, school administrations, curriculum developers, and the staff of MA Department of Elementary and Secondary education. Through collaboration, these stakeholders critiqued past systems and proposed new ideas. In the end, a comprehensive evaluation system was developed to encompass the many factors surrounding teacher effectiveness. It considers test scores, announced and unannounced observations, as well as student and staff feedback; all of these factors provid!
e a teacher with an opportunity to fully demonstrate his or her effectiveness. Many variables are considered in the new system, which was only possible through the collaboration of the many stakeholders.
If Massachusetts has initiated this comprehensive evaluation reform, and if a teacher is the most important factor in the classroom, then why not fuse the ideas to achieve weighted evaluations? There are two options to achieve this:
1) Stand for Children’s initiative can appear as a question on the November 2012 ballot. Its thirty pages of text will be condensed into a few, complicated lines aside a yes/no checkbox. If passed, the language of the question will not be amendable, and collaboration will be prevented.
2) The legislature and other stakeholders can support Stand for Children’s initiative and draft a bill. A bill would permit collaboration between all parties involved. It could be discussed and revised to meet the needs of all stakeholders. Most importantly, it would be amendable.
The second option is the best solution that I can see. Collaboration amongst stakeholders and the drafting of a bill is imperative for implementing comprehensive, weighted evaluations. It could be worked on and improved through a process, much like the collaborative establishment of the Race to the Top evaluations. The complicated, underlying issues in Stand for Children’s initiative could be teased out and weighted evaluations would be the ultimate goal. In a recent talk with Students for Education Reform members at Harvard University, the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Paul Toner, personally indicated the benefits of attaching weight to evaluations. He has expressed union beliefs about this initiative. Now, both he and the legislature must support the initiative and draft a bill by July 2. Otherwise, the misleading question will appear on the November 2012 ballot.
It is imperative that weighted evaluations are considered. We are close to securing an improved system that ensures that the best educators are teaching America’s children. But before we can see real improvement, all of the stakeholders must recognize their responsibility in providing children with great educational opportunities by working together to amend and support this bill.
Sophomore, Boston College
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