If there is one thing everyone can agree on, it is the need for good teachers.
For too long, measuring the quality of education in New York state has focused on student test scores and not the teachers who are paid to educate students. The federal Race to the Top program, with its insistence on teacher evaluation in exchange for additional federal aid, puts much-needed focus on the job teachers do in the classroom.
Kudos, then, to Jamestown Public Schools officials and the Jamestown Teachers' Association for reaching an agreement on teacher evaluations. Give credit to the teachers' union for working with the district to devise a system the teachers can work with, especially since nearly 300 schools statewide still haven't submitted a plan to the state. Jamestown's compromise can only be a good thing for Jamestown Public Schools students.
Jamestown's formula relies on a mix of test scores, student growth scores and classroom observations, which are graded on 22 scoreable components and 76 smaller elements. One formal observation is required, with the addition of at least one and as many as five informal observations. Nontenured teachers will have at least two informal observational sessions. Also included is the structured review of lesson plans, records and documents. All of that information is fed into a computer to determine if a city teacher's students have achieved an appropriate level of growth over time. Teachers whose students aren't showing appropriate growth will have additional training.
The information generated by teacher evaluations can be useful for district officials beyond deciding which teachers need additional training. The information can be used to grade the effectiveness of teacher training programs in colleges or to help quantify the ways teachers help students from poor backgrounds. Districts will be better able to show how well tenured teachers are reaching students. The information can help districts separate the new teachers who aren't making the grade from the good teachers who need to be kept and serve as an evaluation tool of the district's teacher improvement efforts.
None of those good things could happen without an agreement between the district and teacher's union. They have taken a good first step. It's up to them to build on that positive momentum in the coming years.