Sunday, July 25, 2010

Do we have an achievement gap with teachers and administrators?

Education reform is a hot topic widely debated among educational leaders around the world.  I think it is safe to say we are all interested in improving the educational process to ensure the proper mental and physical development of our students.  As with every controversial topic there is definitely not a shortage of opinions by teachers, administrators, parents, students, community members and politicians.  With so many people wanting to have their voice heard, how do we decide to whom to listen?

We can all agree that eliminating the achievement gap and improving education are the main purposes of educational reform.  However, before we can address educational reform we need to be 100% sure we are attacking the problem correctly.

Education impacts and has an effect on everybody in our society, and because of this, there is not and never can be a silver bullet to address educational reform.  There are so many pieces to education that contribute to our success or contribute to our lack of success.  In particular, I would like to concentrate on what we can control...ourselves...the educators.  As many are aware, Colorado's Senate Bill 191 is aimed at reforming teacher tenure and teacher evaluations.  This is a topic that most people tend to ignore and push under the rug, but as an educator we must sometimes do what is difficult to do what is right.

Many of my friends are not in education, and I can honestly say they find the idea of tenure to be unfair and wrong.  During one of the most difficult economic periods since The Great Depression, I can understand their plight when they hear about teachers teaching for three years and are virtually unfireable.  We all know there are teachers who are "underperforming," and how we deal with these teachers seems to be at the heart of the problem, and the solution.  At the risk of upsetting millions of teachers in America, I feel it is important to note that I am not claiming to have an answer to teacher tenure and evaluation.  I do, however feel it is crucial to address the issue of teacher tenure if we are to eliminate the achievement gap and improve education.  There are too many factors that we can not control, but hiring and retaining good and effective teachers is something we can control.
Please realize the laws of teacher tenure and evaluation are written and developed at the state level (not at the district or school level).  As educators we should be proactive and do what is right for the students.  Doing what is right is not always easy, but don't we owe that to our students?  Don't we owe that to society?  Don't we owe that to ourselves?  Take time to read about Senate Bill 191 and discuss this with your fellow educators.  Can this Bill be a model for other states to help eliminate our educator achievement gap, or should we continue searching for ways to improve teacher tenure and evaluation?  As Vance Havner so eloquently said, "The vision must be followed by the venture.  It is not enough to stare up the steps - we must step up the stairs."

Highlights of Senate Bill 191

Senate Sponsors: Michael Johnston, D-Denver, Nancy Spence, R-Centennial
•Teachers and principals are evaluated each year, 50 percent based on supervisors' reviews and 50 percent on student academic growth based on assessment tests and other measures.
•Teachers can earn nonprobationary status after three consecutive years of demonstrated effectiveness.
•Teachers can lose nonprobationary status after two consecutive years of ineffective reviews, returning to probationary status. Those teachers may appeal those reviews to their superintendents. Teachers on probation have one-year contracts and may be fired at will after that.
•Principals get reviewed every year by their supervisors.
•Highly effective teachers and principals can climb "career ladders" to additional pay and responsibility. Lesson plans and advice from the state's top teachers would be online and available to other educators.
•Displaced tenured teachers who cannot land a new position will have two years to find another job within the district. After that period, if they cannot find employment, they will be removed from the payroll and placed on unpaid leave.

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