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Editorial: A workable balance for teacher evaluation?

Last Modified: Friday, July 05, 2013 5:47 PM

The state Department of Education continues to seek common ground between classroom teachers, their union leaders and education reformers on the prickly subject of teacher evaluation.

State Superintendent of Education John White said recently that he wanted to give school principals more say-so in teacher evaluations.

‘‘I am for a high-trust system, but I am also for a system that starts with accountability,’’ White told The Advocate of Baton Rouge.

That’s certainly a tough balancing act.

The new evaluation methods have been roundly criticized by teachers ever since the plan was approved by state lawmakers last year. Teacher tenure, job security and some compensation is based on those evaluations, making it a volatile issue.

White raised eyebrows last year when he predicted that the teacher evaluation results would resemble a Bell Curve, with 10 percent of the teachers earning the highest ranking, highly effective, 80 percent falling into either effective/proficient or effective/emerging, and 10 percent being rated as ineffective.

Criticism of that plan ranged from teachers to media, including this newspaper, and White later with changes to the evaluation process by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education revised his predictions to say that 20 percent of all public school teachers would earn the highly effective rating.

Teachers’ unions and reformists are now shooting holes in White’s plan for principals to have more authority in evaluating teachers. Half of teachers evaluations will be based on the growth of student achievement. The other half will be determined by principals’ evaluation of teachers in the classroom.

Brigitte Nieland of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry said giving principals more power over teacher evaluations smacks of the old system where teacher tenure was nearly automatic.

Joyce Haynes, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, wonders if inexperienced principals have the foundation to properly judge teachers’ methods and styles.

‘‘What a shame it is that there are those out there that want to kill the system that don’t like accountability, and some have more faith in bureaucrats to judge the teachers than the principals,’’ White said.

Some of this latest controversy rests with White, the state Department of Education and Gov. Bobby Jindal, who refused to gather and value teacher input while crafting the education reform package last year.

It’s encouraging now that White is listening to both sides. And the fact that he’s getting criticism from all angles may be a sign that he’s close to striking a workable balance.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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