Ohio cannot afford to delay on teacher effectiveness measures

For as long as anyone can remember, in Ohio as in the rest
of America, a public-school teacher’s effectiveness and performance in the
classroom have had little to no impact on decisions about whether she is
retained by her district or laid off, how she is compensated or assigned to a
district’s schools, or how her professional development is crafted.

Instead, all of these critical decisions are made on the
basis of quality-blind state policies, like the notorious “last-in, first-out”
mandate governing lay-offs, and tenure rules that allow teachers to have job
protection for life and “bump” less senior teachers when jockeying for
positions. Effective teachers are forced to go simply because they have not
taught as long as others, regardless of how successful (or not) other teachers
might be, students are left with whichever instructors have been in the system
the longest, and teachers receive professional development that is not tied at
all to their individual improvement needs.

To their credit, Governor Kasich and the Ohio House have
been trying to transform the system by which the state handles these crucial
teacher HR decisions. The biennial budget bill passed by the House assigns
classroom effectiveness a key role in determining how teachers are assigned to
schools, whether their contracts are renewed, and – when budgets make it
unavoidable – how they are laid off. It would put in place a teacher evaluation
system that incorporates student academic growth and several other key
job-related performance factors and would rate teachers according to four
tiers. Basic personnel decisions around tenure, placement, dismissal, and
professional development would be tied directly to the evaluation results.

The evaluation model in this bill resembles those developed
in bi-partisan fashion in other states. Recently, Colorado, Florida, Illinois,
Indiana, Arizona, and Oklahoma have all passed laws that prohibit teacher
layoffs based solely on seniority. These states all now require teacher
performance ratings and/or evaluations to be considered in making such
decisions. What’s more, rigorous performance evaluations in these states are
not just in place to help determine which teachers to let go. They will also
help identify and reward highly effective teachers and tailor professional
development in ways that help all teachers improve instruction. Ohio should do
the same, and the teacher evaluation language presented to the Senate achieved
just that.

performance evaluations in these states are not just in place to help
determine which teachers to let go. They will also help identify and
reward highly effective teachers and tailor professional development in
ways that help all teachers improve instruction.

Unfortunately, however, the Senate has dropped all of these
provisions from its version of the budget, preferring instead to maintain
Ohio’s status as a laggard state with archaic laws that force school districts
to consider only seniority when making teacher layoff decisions.

Some claim that the budget doesn’t need to address teacher
quality issues because Senate Bill 5 – the much-debated contentious collective
bargaining measure signed by Governor Kasich in March – deals with these
matters, too. (It is, of course, expected to be on the November ballot for
voter consideration.) But they’re wrong. The House budget bill’s provisions are
very different—and much better. While SB 5 does indeed remove the sanctity of
seniority, it largely defines teacher effectiveness through antiquated
input-based measures such as degrees earned and other paper credentials.
Indeed, the teacher HR provisions of SB 5 are essentially unworkable, even if
that law survives Election Day. They will be far harder on districts to
implement than the budget language and will not get Ohio where it needs to go
in boosting student achievement.

The House version of the budget would. It connects measures
of pupil academic growth to teachers, and further connects teachers’
effectiveness to key personnel decisions. This is the direction other states
are moving fast because they know teacher effectiveness is key to improving
their schools.

The House budget version will also help Ohio to fulfill the
promises it made in its successful $400 million Race to the Top application.
The state’s Education Department and participating districts are already at
work creating teacher-evaluation systems that incorporate student data. This is
in keeping with Ohio’s pledge to the feds to create a “comprehensive evaluation
system that will provide constructive and timely feedback to teachers and
principals, serve as a guide to professional development, and influence
decisions regarding advanced licensure, continuing contracts, and removal of
ineffective teachers and principals.” Further, Ohio agreed to place “effective
teachers and principals in their high-poverty and high-minority school through
removing seniority barriers.”

Moving toward a fairer and more modern system of gauging
teacher effectiveness and using that information to inform personnel decisions
will give districts the flexibility their leaders crave—and need even more when
budgets are shrinking. It will help them retain their very best instructors
while providing all teachers with the support and professional development they
need to get better.

A version of this editorial originally appeared in the
Columbus Dispatch.  For additional coverage on the current
teacher evaluation debate in Ohio, see the
Akron Beacon, Columbus
, and the Dayton Daily