What our Education Reform Idol contestants accomplished this year on teacher effectiveness

Guest Blogger

Which of the five states competing to be America's next Education Reform Idol did the most to advance teacher effectiveness during the 2011 legislative session? Consider our analysis below, and attend our event Thursday morning (8:30-10:00AM) to see key players in all five states defend their records in front of a panel of ed-reform celebrity judges?Jeanne Allen, Richard Lee Colvin, and Bruno Manno. And click here to cast your vote for Education Reform Idol.

Florida

Florida made important strides toward ensuring teacher quality in the state this year. Governor Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 736, which ties teacher evaluation to student performance on standardized tests for the first time, using a ?value-added? model. The new evaluation system (which bases 50 percent of evaluation scores on student growth) will be used to inform decisions regarding pay raises and dismissals?these decisions will no longer be based on number of advanced degrees and/or last-in, first-out policies. Salary increases and bonuses will be awarded to teachers demonstrating high levels of performance, and to those who work in low-performing schools or high-need subject areas. Although the new law doesn't circumvent existing teacher contracts and pay plans, all teachers will take part in the test-evaluation system and are eligible to lose their jobs if they perform poorly. All newly hired teachers, regardless of performance, will sign annual contracts that may not be renewed if the teacher's performance isn't up to par, effectively ending tenure protections for new hires in the Sunshine State.

Illinois

Unlike some of our other contestants, which have moved to end teacher tenure, Illinois' newly-passed SB 7 will make it easier for teachers with the strongest evaluations to get tenure on an accelerated, three-year schedule. Additionally, it will give teachers an opportunity for increased mobility between districts, as teachers will be able to more easily transfer their tenure status from one district to the next. However, it will also be easier for school boards to remove a poorly performing teacher from the classroom, as two ?unsatisfactory? ratings over a seven year period will give superintendents the right to revoke a teacher's certification. The new law (which was passed with overwhelming support in both the state Senate and House) will end last-in, first-out layoffs and will use seniority only as a tiebreaker between teachers with equal performance. Performance on teacher evaluations will be considered in hiring, dismissal, tenure, and transfer decisions. Illinois's Performance Evaluation Reform Act, signed last year, requires teacher evaluations to take student achievement into account, but doesn't set any specific requirements as to how student achievement will be weighted. Additionally, although districts are required to develop local evaluation plans (in collaboration with unions), no deadline is specified by PERA, and districts can be granted waivers if the state doesn't respond to the request within forty-five days. It remains to be seen what the rather ambiguous PERA language will mean for implementation of the laudable SB 7 reforms.

Indiana

Indiana's education-reform law passed this year ends last-in, first-out layoff policies and mandates that budget-related dismissals be based on performance. Its new compensation model, effective next year, requires that pay increases be based on student test scores and in-class observations?though one-third of annual pay-increase decisions can still be made on the basis of seniority and number of advanced degrees; teachers rated ineffective or needing improvement will be ineligible for a raise. Parental approval is required for students to be placed in classrooms led by teachers with a two-year consecutive ?ineffective? rating. The new law requires local districts to establish multi-faceted annual evaluations, starting in the 2012-13 year, that emphasize student achievement and growth. Although Indiana does not specify how student growth must be weighted, the state is developing a model evaluation tool to serve as a blueprint for schools that may voluntarily choose to adopt it.

Ohio

This year, Ohio made several concrete steps toward improving teacher quality: Senate Bill 5 (SB5) eliminated last-in, first-out staffing practices and replaced them with a law that requires that staffing decisions be based on performance. In the same vein, continuing contracts are to be replaced with short-term contracts for new hires. Secondly, Ohio has given authority to local districts to craft their own teacher evaluations, but with some requirements: Districts must base a minimum of 50 percent of these evaluations on student growth. The rest of the evaluation plan will consider licensure level, whether teachers attain ?highly qualified? status, and at least two classroom observations of at least thirty minutes each. Currently, Governor John Kasich, in collaboration with a group of Ohio educators, is developing a statewide, performance-based merit-pay system that will do away with automatic pay raises and salary schedules. This system will go into effect in 2013-14. Unfortunately, movement on SB5 implementation (and, thus, the entire package of reforms reported above) has been suspended, as the legislation has been put to a referendum, scheduled for this fall.

Wisconsin

While the Wisconsin fight over collective-bargaining rights attracted national attention this year (more on that tomorrow), the Badger State's reforms also ended seniority-based staffing decisions. And despite the contention between Governor Walker and the state's teacher unions, the American Federation of Teachers has signed on to help his administration develop a state-wide school accountability system to measure teacher effectiveness.

Read why each state thinks they should be considered the 2011 Ed Reform Idol:

Florida

Illinois

Indiana

Ohio

Wisconsin

?Research Intern Alicia Goldberg

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