charter school

Should Our Teachers be Graded on Student Achievement?

There was much discussion about public education reform during Governor Tom Corbett’s campaign and this week the Governor offered four broad proposals for reform (however, the specifics are limited).

(1) Charter school reform — Give the process of approving charter schools to a new state commission rather than to local school districts;

(2) Expansion of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program — The program offers businesses tax credits for providing funding for scholarships or other educational improvement organizations;

(3) Voucher program — Create ‘opportunity scholarships’ that would allow low-income students in poor-performing schools to attend a different school;

(4) Grading teachers — Review and beef-up the teacher evaluation system in Pennsylvania’s schools.

As Tredyffrin Easttown School District candidates prepare for the League of Women Voters debate on Tuesday (7-9 PM at the Tredyffrin Township building), it was Corbett’s fourth initiative on public education reform that caught my attention. I wonder what school board candidates think about Corbett’s proposed teacher grading system.  And how, if any, would a grading system challenge the TESD teacher contract negotiations of 2012?

My understanding is that Corbett is proposing a grading system for teachers much like the way students are graded.  Currently teachers are graded ‘satisfactory’ or ‘unsatisfactory’ and 99.4 percent of teachers in public school in Pennsylvania receive an ‘A’ . . . satisfactory rating.  However, counter to the teacher’s ratings, some school systems in the state have barely 50 percent of their students performing at grade level.  The new proposed multiple-point grading system for teachers would include “distinguished”, “proficient,” “needs improvement” or “failing.”

We know that most local school teachers are good, but are there not any bad ones?  Is it accurate that less than 1 percent of teachers in Pennsylvania are unsatisfactory?  Especially in light of the number of failing students and Pennsylvania’s ever-increasing high school drop out rate.  Is there any correlation between the quality of teaching (performance of teachers) and the performance levels of students?  Corbett’s is suggesting a reform of the teacher evaluation system that combines classroom observations and student performances . . . linking student achievement to teacher performance.

Is it possible that a single, statewide pay-for-performance model will work in each of the state’s 500 school districts?  Should the grading of teachers take into account a teachers’ longevity?

I believe that the most important school-based factor in children’s success is good-quality teachers.  Isn’t there a real possibility if we tie the merit pay of teachers performance to student achievement, this will discourage teachers from taking on the needier students and push the educators to ‘teach to the test’?

Most of us would probably agree that students with experienced, highly skilled teachers tend to do better academically. And that poorer schools have a more difficult time in attracting and keeping those teachers.  The real challenge is what is the solution?

Taking that logic a step further . . . if vouchers and charter schools remove the highest-performing students from the poor school districts, isn’t there a real risk that the failing school districts will not be fixed by Corbett’s proposed public education reform?

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