State Must Ease Off On Teachers

We’re not sure school districts ever really had a problem identifying bad teachers.

Building principals typically had a good handle on the teachers who were absent too much, who didn’t collaborate with others or who just didn’t do a good job of imparting knowledge to their students. School districts’ biggest issue, historically, was what to do once they identified a bad teacher – particularly one who had been given tenure.

It’s harder than ever to identify bad teachers now and just as hard to remove a bad teacher, thanks to the continued ineptitude of the state Board of Regents and elected officials.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo rolled out his Annual Professional Performance Review plan in 2012. Rather than fix the problem of dealing with struggling teachers, the APPR system was a hodgepodge mess that created more administrative work for school administrators who would be better served using that time to oversee their school. When applying these more rigid rules to the teacher evaluation process didn’t result in as many failing teachers as Cuomo thought there should be, his response was to ratchet up the rhetoric a little further and more than double the amount that a child’s results on third- through eighth-grade tests count toward a teacher’s evaluation.

A 2010 Economic Policy Institute report said there are many factors found to have strong influences on student learning gains: the influences of students’ other teachers, tutors or instructional specialists, which the report said have been found often to have very large influences on achievement gains; school conditions such as quality of curriculum materials, specialist or tutoring supports; class sizes; and things like block scheduling and team teaching. The report also echoes research that shows student learning is influenced by school attendance, out-of-school learning at home, with friends, visits to museums and libraries and use of summer learning opportunities. Well-educated parents who support their child’s learning by helping with homework are statistically likely to do better on tests than children whose parents don’t support learning. Student health, family mobility and the influence of neighborhood peers and of classmates all have an impact on test scores.

The state has left little for local school districts to negotiate with their teachers in this latest round of APPR negotiations, something which should make teachers’ unions and parents nervous. A better system based on local measurements that gives local administrators the power to deal with teachers who are obviously poor provides a better alternative than playing around with the edges of the Cuomo’s APPR. If the state simply must have a hand in evaluating teachers, then give local districts an approved range of evaluation measures that fall into several categories and let local districts pick what works for them. And, the state must provide the local officials the teeth to deal with the small percentage of teachers who just aren’t cut out for the job.

For all the hullabaloo, it really doesn’t matter much if area school districts meet the state’s Oct. 1 deadline to have new teacher evaluation agreements in place because the system remains just as flawed as it has been since 2012. State legislators who approved Cuomo’s latest changes as part of a budget compromise in April should realize their mistake, return authority to local school districts and provide help where it is needed – providing a mechanism to remove the small percentage of teachers that we have always known are a problem.