Monday, March 12, 2012

Teacher Evaluation Discussion Continues. HF 1870 will be heading to conference committee to iron out the difference between the versions of the bill (a provision relating to probationary teachers) and I would expect that to hit the Governor's desk within a week or two. No one seems to know what the Governor will do when the bill hits his desk, although inklings are that it may meet with a veto. There are ample reasons on both political and policy grounds for vetoing the bill, although a veto would signify somewhat of a political risk given the public's seemingly overwhelming support for getting rid of "bad teachers."

Even if HF 1870 were to meet a veto, the discussion will continue, as witnessed in the House Education Finance Committee last week when testimony on the bill was taken once again. There were some new faces at the witness table, one of them being Minneapolis parent Lynnell Mickelson. Mickelson's testimony was one of the more entertaining pieces of witness table work I have watched in my many years of wearing out hearing room chairs. Energetic and funny (I am tempted to use the term "delightfully daffy, yet profound"), alternatively seemingly off subject or straight to the heart of the matter, Mickelson hit a number of key issues and challenged legislators (especially DFLers as she reminded the committee at a number of junctures that she is a die-hard DFLer) to pass the legislation Whether or not that has an effect remains to be seen, but it again shows that the teacher evaluation issue is not monolithic in its support. The basics of Mickelson's testimony can be found (sans sizzling delivery) in this piece from the Minneapolis StarTribune:

The hearing in House Education Finance showed that the House is committed to continuing to push this bill and will find ways to get it on the Governor's desk as often as they can in one form or another during the 2012 Legislative Session.

The problem with teacher evaluation systems is that even with comprehensive student performance data and other evaluation tools, the whole story will not be told for a number of teachers. This was perhaps summed up best in an opinion piece from The New York Times written by Brooklyn, New York, special education teacher William Johnson.

As I stated above, I don't know what the Governor will do if and when the teacher evaluation legislation hits his desk, but Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius' opinion piece in this Sunday's Minneapolis StarTribune does point out the rationale I mentioned earlier that could justify a gubernatorial veto. The task force that is developing the teacher evaluation framework is in the middle of its work. While there is nothing against the Legislature passing bills that would narrow the playing field for the task force, allowing the task force to continue unimpeded is also a justifiable position. The Commissioner's other point--that teachers have largely been left out of the discussion--also rings true to an extent.

To me, the problem remains that teaching is an art as much as a science and it will always be difficult--though some contend it can be done--to develop a statistical model that will conclusively show who is and who isn't a good teacher based on student performance data. While other elements were added to the teacher evaluation model passed as part of the legislation contained in last year's omnibus education bill, I still get the feeling that those who desperately want teacher evaluation want it to be based almost solely on student performance on standardized tests.

The other angle in this is how the teacher evaluation piece will tie into teacher layoff positions. Getting rid of "last in, first out" as a blanket policy may be a laudable goal, but both proponents and defenders of the policy seem to have reduced the discussion to its bare bones shorn of any nuance and if there is a profession in which nuance reigns, it is in teaching.

Anyway, as Colin Quinn used to say when doing the news on Saturday Night Live, "That's my story and I'm sticking to it."

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