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SEE YOU IN COURT! - November 2011

November 1, 2011

Authors: Thomas B. Mooney

Mr. Superintendent was concerned. The teacher evaluation plan for the Nutmeg Public Schools had not been revised since he had arrived in Nutmeg twelve years ago, and he knew he had to do something. So he formed a committee of principals to revamp the entire plan. “Don’t be shy,” he told the intrepid administrators he had selected. “I want you to shake up teacher evaluation in Nutmeg!”

Peter Principal headed up that committee of administrators, and he was anything but shy. After just two meetings, the committee unveiled its new program. Gone was the professional growth phase of the teacher evaluation plan. Instead, all teachers were to be observed teaching at least three times each year. In addition, each teacher would now be required to write a two page reflection on each of the lessons observed. Moreover, teachers identified as needing improvement would be placed on a six-week program, and then they would be fired unless they dramatically improved.

The Nutmeg Board of Education received this new report to much fanfare at its regular meeting last month. Veteran Board member Bob Bombast congratulated Peter Principal on a job well done, and he asked for a motion to adopt the new plan.

“Wait just a minute!” shouted Paula Pedant, President of NUTS, the Nutmeg Union of Teachers. Striding to the podium, Paula continued. “By law, the union must approve the evaluation plan, and we will not tolerate this illegal action!” With that, the room erupted in applause from the numerous teachers in attendance.

The Board members were taken aback by Paula’s vehement objection. After a quick huddle, the Board amended the plan by removing the requirement for reflection. While the Board hoped that this change would satisfy NUTS, it did not.

“You people are asking for it,” shouted Paula after the vote. As she was being dragged from the podium, she continued. “The law says that we have the final say over teacher evaluation. After all, who is better able to judge teacher performance than the teachers themselves? You will be sorry you did this!”

The Board members looked uneasily at each other as Paula was removed from the room. Should the Board reconsider this action?

*        *        *

Teacher evaluation is governed by statute, and those statutes are changing. However, boards of education still have the final authority to adopt and amend teacher evaluation plans. They must, however, do so within the statutory framework.

In the first instance, teacher evaluation plans are the province of a “professional development committee” that boards of education must appoint, including “certified employees, and such other school personnel as the board deems appropriate,” including representatives of the teacher union. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-220a(b). That committee is responsible for the development, evaluation and annual updating of the district’s “professional development plan,” which includes teacher evaluation.

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-151b further provides that boards of education must “develop and implement teacher evaluation programs consistent with guidelines established by the State Board of Education, pursuant to subsection (c) of this section, and [which must be] consistent with the plan developed in accordance with the provisions of subsection (b) of section 10-220a.” In plain English, the board of education must consider the recommendations of its professional development committee, and then it must adopt the teacher evaluation plan for the district. Moreover, any such plan must conform to state guidelines.

Last year and again in the 2011 session, the General Assembly addressed the teacher evaluation guidelines. Now, by July 1, 2012, in consultation with the Performance Advisory Council (appointed last year), the State Board of Education is required to adopt new guidelines for a “model teacher evaluation program.” The statute is quite prescriptive as to those guidelines. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-151b(c) now states: “[S]uch guidelines shall provide guidance on the use of multiple indicators of student academic growth in teacher evaluations. Such guidelines shall include, but not be limited to: (1) Methods for assessing student academic growth; (2) a consideration of control factors tracked by the state-wide public school information system, pursuant to subsection (c) of section 10-10a, that may influence teacher performance ratings, including, but not limited to, student characteristics, student attendance and student mobility; and (3) minimum requirements for teacher evaluation instruments and procedures.”

As is obvious, the General Assembly has made the issue of teacher evaluation quite complicated, and we wait with bated breath for the new guidelines on teacher evaluation from the State Board of Education. However, two points are central.

First, teacher evaluation is not a mandatory subject of negotiation. Boards of education must consider the recommendations of its professional development committee, including representatives of the teacher union. But since 1986, the law has been clear that boards of education need not negotiate over the provisions of their teacher evaluation plans as long as they conform to the state guidelines.

Second, we must be wary of teacher efforts to control the process. Last year, teacher unions asked the Education Committee to amend the evaluation statute to give teacher unions equal say in developing teacher evaluation plans and in writing assistance plans for poor-performing teachers. Such efforts must be rejected. There is a fundamental conflict of interest for teacher unions to write evaluation procedures and support plans, only then to turn around and attack those procedures and plans in individual cases. Generally, members of professional oversight boards are impartial, and they have no loyalty to the individuals brought before them. They are thus able to hold people accountable as appropriate. By contrast, teacher unions are anything but impartial. Teacher unions have a duty of fair representation to teachers whose employment is threatened. The opinions of teachers and their unions on effective teacher evaluation are, of course, valued. However, the union’s first responsibility is to defend its members. Thus, it would be illogical and inappropriate in the extreme for the General Assembly to give teacher unions control over teacher evaluation procedures.

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