Fix education by keeping, rewarding good teachers

Are elected officials doing enough to retain and reward good teachers? Do they understand, for example, that student attendance (not poor teaching) is the No. 1 factor in school achievement?

In 2012, a new teacher evaluation system was enacted by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire. According to my research, not a single member of the Washington Education Association was in the room during the signing of this supposed compromise. Senate Bill 5895 replaced seniority with student achievement (measured by test performance) as the predominant factor in teacher termination or re-assignment.

In fact, No Child Left Behind expects student test scores to account for 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

In an effort to weed out bad teachers and principals, a 2010 law codifies a four-tier rating system: unsatisfactory, basic, proficient,and distinguished. All school districts are expected to implement this approach in the 2013-14 school year. (Will legislators use the same system for their own evaluations and committee chairmanships?)

Concurrent with these new requirements and lack of seniority protection is Gov. Jay Inslee’s call for the state to once again suspend voter-approved cost-of-living adjustments for teachers. Apparently, when people do not receive promised compensation, they experience greater job satisfaction and perform at a higher level.

Seasoned teachers are simply not the problem.

A USA Today article published Feb. 13 of this year reported the following: “A 2007 study by Duke University researchers estimated that for every 10 teacher absences, math achievement dropped by the same degree as if a school had replaced an experienced teacher with a novice one.”

So if experienced (old) teachers are the reason for student failure, wouldn’t we expect the opposite result? Wouldn’t students actually do better when their regular teacher was absent?

Some districts are requiring teachers to compile a notebook/portfolio showing professional and personal accomplishments for the year. The teacher must record his/her classroom test data, service on committees, attendance at PTA meetings, photos, etc.

It’s the professional equivalent of scrapbooking. I have no idea where all these notebooks will be stored or who will evaluate them. And I can’t help thinking that this time would be better spent crafting quality lessons or attending classes designed to improve instruction.

In addition to being a dubious use of time, this approach completely underestimates the value of seniority. If you were choosing a surgeon, a trial lawyer or an airline pilot, for example, would you value years of service or consider them a detriment?

We should be wary of efforts to pit older teachers against younger ones, and we should not be fooled into using teacher turnover as a cost-cutting measure.

An outcome of the government using student test performance as a condition of teacher employment can be seen in the faces of the 35 educators just indicted in the Atlanta cheating scandal.

It is alleged that teachers and administrators engaged in “racketeering, theft and making false statements” by erasing and changing incorrect student responses on standardized tests.

These teachers were incentivized for high scores, severely penalized for low ones. Cheating in these circumstances is not acceptable, but it is predictable.

My advice: Support both experienced and novice educators. To attract the best college students to a teaching career, restore seniority protections and cost-of-living adjustments. Strengthen student attendance laws. Tour a couple of school faculty rooms and compare them with the employee amenities of Google or Boeing. Thank the next teacher you see for his/her devotion to students with special needs (learning disabilities, autism, fragile health) .... to students living in poverty ... to those who speak English as a second language ... and to all the new students who show up at the classroom door.

Thank teachers for being the most inclusive members of our society. Thank them – don’t make their jobs harder.

Pamela Boyd is a member of the Washington Education Association and the Screen Actors Guild, and a Board of Contributors writer. She can be reached at harbortalk@comcast.net.