Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Live from the House Education Finance Committee. It's another night session with the House Education Finance Committee just coming to order. The first item on the agenda tonight is Representative Branden Petersen's (R-Andover) HF 945, a bill that everyone is going to hear a lot about in the coming months. HF 945 proposes a new statewide teacher evaluation and professional development program. This bill was largely developed from work performed by the Minnesota Chamber in its efforts to improve student learning through improved teacher effectiveness. Teacher effectiveness has been a hot topic both here and in Washington over the past few years, as more and more research shows a quality teacher has an undeniable link to the achievement of students in their classroom.

The bill creates a appraisal framework based 50% on student academic growth on state tests or local tests developed by teachers and administrators if statewide measuring tools are not available. The other 50% of the teacher assessment would come from locally developed criteria that would have to be agreed upon by the teachers and school board before they could be used. From these assessment tools, teachers would be placed in five categories (from highest to lowest): (1) Highly effective, (2) Effective, (3) Average, (4) Needs improvement, and (5) Ineffective.

Four different levels of status designation are developed from the five levels of teacher assessment. A teacher who attains highly effective status in seven of ten years in two consecutive five-year periods is given "exemplary" status. A teacher who attains highly effective status in three of five years is given a "distinguished" rating. If a teacher earns an average, effective, or highly effective ranking in four of five years, they are given an "advanced" designation." A "standard" designation is given to a probationary teacher who have received at least one average, effective, or highly effective rating during their three-year probationary period.

In addition to the scores earned by teachers through their assessments, teachers must also successfully meet their professional development requirements. Effective staff development is described in the bill as activities aligned with district and school site staff development plans that is focused on student learning goals and promotes scientifically-based research strategies, job-embedded or integrated professional development opportunities that can be incorporated into the teacher-contract day, and the practice of new teacher strategies (among other things). Ironically, the bill brings back the 2 percent staff development set-aside that is marked for repeal in a number of other education bills before the Legislature.

The assessment rankings would determine the order of teachers released from employment through unrequested leave of absence. Teachers in the "needs improvement" or "ineffective" categories would be the first teachers to be cut. Teachers in the "average," "effective," "highly effective," "distinguished," and "exemplary" would then be laid off in that respective order.

SF 636, carried by Senate Education Chair Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), is the Senate companion to HF 945. The Senate Education Committee has already heard this legislation.

The proponents and opponents to this legislation are pretty much as expected for the expected reasons. There are a small number of teachers who support the legislation (one teacher--speaking on his own behalf--contending that the bill does not go far enough because it does not provide merit pay for exemplary teachers) along with the Minnesota Chamber and the Minnesota Business Partnership. Education Minnesota, which believes that assessment frameworks should be developed locally, opposes the bill. My major concern is that I don't know if our principals and other school personnel who would be expected to perform the increased number of assessments will have enough time to complete this additional work with the level of attention needed to ensure the assessments will be accurate.

This issue will not be going away this session. I fully expect it to be a part of the omnibus education funding bill in both the House and the Senate and it will make it to the Governor's desk in some form. It is unclear what changes the Governor will want to make to this legislation (I imagine there will be some), but there is a lot of momentum to this effort. Representative Petersen has done an admirable job piloting the legislation in the House, taking feedback from the broad range of interests following this legislation. Although discussion in the House Education Committees has been far spicier than the Senate Education Committee conversations, Senator Olson has also done well in her role guiding the bill in the Senate.

Stay tuned.

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