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Seattle opens next front in education reform effort

Post by Kim Bradford on Aug. 19, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
August 20, 2010 9:19 am

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Seattle Public Schools administrators are fighting a battle for schoolchildren across the state.

The district has decided to go to the mat over teacher performance evaluations. District officials want teachers to be judged based in part on their students’ academic growth.

The union says the proposal is a no-go. With the school year fast approaching, a strike could be in the offing.

The Seattle Education Association would rather stick to a previous compromise: an evaluation system that would put teachers who rate “basic” or “unsatisfactory” at risk of dismissal.

What a radical notion – that teacher performance should dictate a teacher’s career prospects. Such is what qualifies as “historic change” – union officials’ words – in public education.

The district’s proposal is also rather modest contrary to the union’s characterizations.

Teachers would have to volunteer to be a part of the new evaluation program, which would use a combination of student test scores to determine no more than one-fourth of a teacher’s grade.

Participants would receive pay raises for merely opting in and also be eligible for more pay bumps if they are highly rated. Teachers who didn’t perform well would get more help.

A dramatic overhaul, it is not. But the district’s proposal is a step toward true merit pay, an idea the teachers union has been fighting long and hard – and mostly winning. The Washington Education Association successfully fended off proposals to require districts to connect hard data to job evaluations last legislative session.

But many of the union’s traditional allies, faced with dismal student test scores and research that shows a good teacher is the biggest school-based factor in student achievement, are defecting.

That’s what happened in Olympia this spring, when the WEA was forced to accept baby steps toward more rigorous accountability for schools and educators, and it’s what’s happening in Seattle now.

A coalition of political leaders and community groups – the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, League of Education Voters and a nonprofit group that raises money for the district among them – is loudly backing the district’s proposal.

The group has help from the National Council on Teacher Quality, which had previously dinged the district for inadequate teacher performance appraisals. It issued a report this week, calling the district’s plan to factor student growth in evaluations a “must have.”

If Seattle succeeds, its accomplishment could encourage other Washington districts to press for evaluation systems that reward teachers based on how well they teach. That would be a victory for students across the state.

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