SB 5 could simply mean business as usual for local teacher personnel policies

Much ink and energy already has been spilled over Senate Bill 5,
legislation that places significant restrictions around collective bargaining
for public employees of all
stripes
– K-12 teachers, police, fire fighters, and state employees. The New York Times labels it “anti-union”
and points
out
that it’s tougher than a similar law in Wisconsin. Opponents of the
bill say it represents an assault on Democrats (literally: “GOP
trying to annihilate opposition, Dems say
”); while supporters argue
in compelling fashion that it merely brings into closer alignment what public
employee contracts stipulate and what taxpayers can actually afford.
Given the campaign to seek its repeal
via referendum this fall, Ohioans will be inundated with a lot more coverage of
SB 5 in the coming months.    

To be clear, the Fordham Institute does not support all
portions of SB 5, but there are provisions in the bill that are critical for  moving K-12 education forward in Ohio, like
eliminating automatic salary increases, ending last in, first out layoffs
(LIFO), and moving health care and pension negotiations outside of collective
bargaining.

Whether SB 5’s reforms are ever fully implemented is
uncertain. The referendum may squash the legislation (assuming it’s successfully
put on the ballot), but lawmakers – anticipating its repeal - may still borrow
language on key teacher personnel provisions and insert it into the governor’s
budget bill or other legislative vehicle. In either case, there are a handful
of provisions pivotal to ensuring that school districts have a fair and
consistent way to determine levels of instructional effectiveness. But even the
best teacher personnel reforms in SB 5 need some improvement.

For starters, while replacing the statewide salary schedule
with district-determined “salaries based upon performance” is a step in the
right direction, SB 5 still preserves pay ranges that are largely correlated
with years on the job and masters degrees. In similar fashion, reductions in
force (RIFs) will no longer be determined solely based on seniority, but the
language that replaces it needs to be stronger. Specifically, SB 5 requires a
local school board to consider five factors when determining “performance,” and
thus compensation and order of RIFs.  As
it is written, all of the following
would factor into decisions around teacher pay and layoffs:

1.      
The “level
of license
issued under section 3319.22
– in other words, whether a teacher holds a resident, professional, senior, or
lead professional educator license. The problem here is that moving up the
licensure ladder requires a minimum number of years in the classroom and
attaining a master’s degree. Thus, SB 5 still rewards seniority and credentials
(though in a more back-door way) regardless of the fact that research shows
both are largely uncorrelated with instructional effectiveness.

2.      
Whether the teacher is “highly qualified” – again, this is a proxy for credentials,
degrees, and years on the job and says nothing of a teacher’s actual
effectiveness.

3.      
Value-added
measures,
where applicable (only reading and math teachers in grades 4-8
would have such data available).

4.      
Results
from the teacher’s “performance evaluations
” which are improved
dramatically by this legislation. SB 5 requires that evaluations include
“multiple measures of a teacher’s use of knowledge and skills,” include at
least two observations that last not less than 30 minutes, occur annually (the
formal evaluation, not classroom observations), and incorporate student
academic growth (which must make up at least 50 percent of the overall
evaluation). Also folded into evaluation requirements (but districts are free
to determine the weight of each) are things like “communication and
professionalism,” and parent and student satisfaction – which may be determined
through surveys or questionnaires.

5.      
Any
other criteria established by the board
.”

The teacher (and principal) evaluations described in SB 5
are a marked improvement over the hodge-podge of current evaluations across
Ohio that tend to rate nearly every
teacher as “satisfactory,” but it is unclear how much weight evaluations will
actually receive when it comes to important personnel decisions. The existing
language is silent as to whether districts are free to determine the weight of
each performance variable.

 Whether an overhaul of the state's evaluation system happens via SB
5, the budget bill, or some other piece of legislation matters far less
than whether Ohio ensures there is strong, clear language that prevents
districts from falling back into their old habits....

 
   
 

For example, what if a district gives evaluations a weight
of just 15 percent, and then bases the majority of decisions about pay and
layoffs on “level of licensure,” “highly qualified” status, and “other
criteria”? That district’s salary structure and layoff decisions would closely
resemble the existing system. Further, what happens in instances where each of
these “performance” factors may contradict one another? A young teacher without
a master’s degree – and therefore on a lower tier of licensure – may be more
effective according to his/her evaluation than a “highly qualified” and
credentialed peer, but which one would be laid off first or paid more?

In sum, the language around teacher “performance” is still
murky and threatens to undermine many of SB 5’s best provisions: ending LIFO,
ending automatic pay increases, attempting to install a system of merit, and
streamlining the dismissal process for ineffective teachers. Whether an
overhaul of the state’s evaluation system happens via SB 5, the budget bill, or
some other piece of legislation matters far less than whether Ohio ensures
there is strong, clear language that prevents districts from falling back into
their old habits of rewarding seniority and credentials above all else.

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