A deal to strike on eval­u­at­ing teach­ers

New York Daily News - - EDITORIAL - BY DAVID BLOOM­FIELD Bloom­field is pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tional lead­er­ship, law and pol­icy at Brook­lyn Col­lege and the CUNY Grad­u­ate Cen­ter.

There’s rarely much progress on ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy in the state Leg­is­la­ture. The Re­pub­li­can-led state Se­nate tends to sup­port char­ter schools and lament the qual­ity of tra­di­tional pub­lic schools. The Assem­bly, with its Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity, is friendly to teacher unions and reg­u­larly seeks to in­crease school aid.

Gov. Cuomo typ­i­cally has a foot in both camps.

In 2015, dur­ing the height of the school ac­count­abil­ity move­ment and at the urg­ing of Cuomo, both sides came to­gether to pass a strong teacher ac­count­abil­ity mea­sure ty­ing teacher eval­u­a­tions to stu­dents’ stan­dard­ized test scores.

But be­cause of op­po­si­tion to the roll­out of the Com­mon Core stan­dards and the new law’s un­pop­u­lar­ity with teach­ers and par­ents, the tide turned against test­based ac­count­abil­ity. As a re­sult, with bi­par­ti­san agree­ment and Cuomo on board, the use of test scores alone for high-stakes de­ci­sions was tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended by the state Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment, ef­fec­tively nul­li­fy­ing the law.

That sus­pen­sion pe­riod is run­ning out. So, with the gov­er­nor’s elec­tion-year agree­ment, the Assem­bly re­cently passed a bill to let dis­tricts opt out of the test­ing regime, al­low­ing them to sub­sti­tute their own teacher as­sess­ments for state ex­ams. Pre­dictably, Se­nate leader John Flana­gan raised con­cerns, stalling fur­ther ac­tion.

This dis­agree­ment threat­ens to de­rail needed re­form of the test­based eval­u­a­tion law with no ob­vi­ous way out.

But an op­por­tu­nity for res­o­lu­tion ex­ists through a grand bar­gain: lib­er­al­iz­ing test-based teacher eval­u­a­tions as Democrats want, while at­tract­ing Re­pub­li­can votes through teacher ten­ure re­form, end­ing the in­de­fen­si­ble abil­ity of a few bad ap­ples to hang onto their pay­checks.

There are all sorts of prob­lems with ty­ing teacher eval­u­a­tions to test scores. Some sub­jects aren’t tested. The ex­ams are mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary, which means, for ex­am­ple, math scores may not re­flect com­pu­ta­tional abil­ity but poor read­ing of word prob­lems. Then there are issues of stu­dent stress, test prep, loss of in­struc­tional time through overtest­ing, and non­uni­form stu­dent en­roll­ment.

And link­ing test re­sults to teacher rat­ings will cre­ate per­verse in­cen­tives for good ed­u­ca­tors to try to avoid weaker classes.

What sim­plis­ti­cally seems like a causal straight line — good teach­ing re­sult­ing in higher scores — turns out to a dis­as­trous mix of false as­sump­tions and un­in­tended con­se­quences.

But this doesn’t mean our hands are tied when it comes to root­ing out bad teach­ers. We can do it if we fi­nally tar­get as­pects of ten­ure, which broadly pro­tects pub­lic-school ed­u­ca­tors from be­ing sum­mar­ily fired.

The first re­ac­tion from teacher union­ists on ten­ure re­form will be “never!” But there are ra­tio­nal changes to cur­rent pro­tec­tions that can main­tain nec­es­sary due process while root­ing out those who cre­ate wide­spread pub­lic sus­pi­cion of the pro­fes­sion and un­der­cut able col­leagues’ hard work.

Ten­ure is an im­por­tant shield for teach­ers to pro­tect against in­struc­tional in­ter­fer­ence. It should not be a pro­ce­dural sword to van­quish re­spon­si­ble su­per­vi­sion.

For ex­am­ple, it is il­log­i­cal for dis­tricts to pay the salaries of tenured teach­ers who lose their cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, but are still en­ti­tled to sep­a­rate, re­dun­dant ter­mi­na­tion pro­ce­dures. Ex­ist­ing com­mon-sense pro­vi­sions for ex­pe­dited hear­ings when teach­ers get two or more con­sec­u­tive in­ef­fec­tive rat­ings could be ex­tended to all pro­ceed­ings seek­ing to dis­miss tenured teach­ers.

Dis­tricts’ duty to pro­vide years of ex­ces­sively doc­u­mented, time­con­sum­ing re­me­di­a­tion to demon­stra­bly in­com­pe­tent teach­ers de­lays pro­ceed­ings and un­fairly shifts the bur­den for im­prove­ment to al­ready busy prin­ci­pals, di­vert­ing them from other school re­spon­si­bil­i­ties while in­ept in­struc­tors con­tinue to un­der­mine chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion.

These pro­vi­sions, of­ten re­sult­ing in six-fig­ure dis­trict le­gal fees and set­tle­ment costs, give un­due aid to un­de­serv­ing ed­u­ca­tors, bur­den­ing all mem­bers of the school com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing and es­pe­cially stu­dents.

Com­pro­mise is never easy. Op­po­si­tion will come from left and right. But our de­bil­i­tat­ing overem­pha­sis on stan­dard­ized test­ing has wide­spread neg­a­tive con­se­quences. Sim­i­larly, the over­whelm­ing dif­fi­culty of re­mov­ing the small per­cent­age of poor teach­ers im­pov­er­ishes ed­u­ca­tion for all. Tackle both.

At­tack ten­ure; forget test scores

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