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Tue October 11, 2011
Schools Urged To Improve Teacher Evaluations
By Paul Tuthill
Springfield, MA – A study by an education think tank, commissioned by a Massachusetts business backed advocacy organization ,contends that student achievement should be the primary factor when it comes to evaluating teachers and making decisions on tenure, pay, and layoffs. WAMC's Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
The Springfield Public School District has ten of the 35 worst performing schools in the state. But less than one percent of its teachers received below passing marks in last year's evaluations. Beefing up weak teacher evaluations and tieing classroom performance to pay , tenure and hiring and firing decisions , as well as giving principals more autonomy are the key findings of a new study by the National Council on Teacher Quality.
The Washington DC based research organization has done a series of analysis in several school districts across the country, including Boston, Hartford and Baltimore. The organization's president Kate Walsh says improving teacher evaluations is job one.
Under new regulations in Massachusetts, school districts will be able to factor student performance into teacher evaluations, but it will be up to the local schools to determine how much weight to give it versus other criteria. The report also urges that teacher evaluations be the primary factor in tenure decisions and that probationary periods for teachers in Massachusetts be extended from the current three years to four. It also calls for changing state law requiring layoffs be based on senority.
But not every recommendation in the report would require a change in state law. It urges the Springfield schools to change the timeline for hiring new teachers, so that hiring is not done so close to the start of the school year, when the most talented teachers have already accepted positions. The report says principals should not be forced to accept teachers they don't' want. The study recommends teachers have an 8 hour work day and the district monitor attendance and prevent sick leave abuse.
These later recommendations go toward changing what Walsh says is the culture of the schools.
One of the reports most controversial recommendations is performance pay. Tim Collins, the president of the Springfield Education Association, says Springfield struggles now to recruit and keep teachers because its salaries are lower than in surrounding districts.
Springfield School Superintendent Alan Ingram said the study's recommendations are worthy of a careful review
Linda Noonan , executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, said the group commissioned the study because the state's business community is concerned about student achievement gaps and the impact on the state's labor force..
The group of Springfield business leaders also sponsored the study, which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.