Thursday, March 3, 2011

Teacher tenure on the chopping block

Teachers could be put under the microscope and lose their tenure under legislation considered on Wednesday by a House committee.

The bill would require half of a teacher's evaluation to be based on students' scores or state tests.

Maryville R-II currently does not use scores to evaluate their educators according to district Superintendent Vickie Miller but she also states that each district in the state has the authority to do so.

The bill would organize teachers into four tiers within their district based on their evaluation and students' academic performance. Teachers would then be given different salaries based on the tier they qualify for and would no longer be guaranteed extra pay if they have a master's degree or several years of experience.

Joe Knodell, the state coordinator for the Missouri Education Reform Council, said he has seen teachers' performance change after they earn their tenure.

"They go into what I call 'cruise control,' where they won't be the teacher they were for the first five years," said Knodell, who is a former superintendent.

Miller stated that teachers with less than five years of experience are in what is considered a probationary period and are hired year to year. Once a teacher reaches the five year mark they earn their tenure and are hired on contract.

"Across the nation there are teachers who are underperforming and think because they have tenure that their jobs are safe," Miller said. "It's important that we do our part as administrators and as a district to help those teachers improve. There are laws however, that allow a teacher to be released from their contract if they have made continuous big mistakes."

Miller also stated that the bill, if passed, would create unnecessary competition amongst teachers that could create harmful learning environments.

"Our big focus as a district has been collaboration," Miller said. "We strive to work together and share information so that kids and teachers are continuously learning. I feel that this would create competition between teachers and maybe shut down the open door policy of sharing what works and what doesn't work in the classroom."

The legislation would take effect in July 2012 and would also change how teachers' salaries are calculated.

Teachers who are ranked in the top 16 percent based on their district evaluation and student test scores would be in the first tier. The second tier would cover those ranked from 17 percent to 34 percent. The third tier would be those ranked from 35 percent to 67 percent. The rest would be in the final tier.

Higer ranked teachers would get larger salaries. Teachers ranked in the highest tier would be paid more than twice the salary of teachers in the bottom third. However, teachers would still need to be paid a minimum of $25,000 annually.

"The bottom line is that there is already a process for eliminating teachers who are underperforming or should otherwise be let go for whatever reason," Miller said. "The districts can and should be doing their job of implementing those steps to either better the teacher or replace them."

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