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Revisions under way for teacher tenure legislation

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Proposed legislation to end teacher tenure at Missouri public schools is undergoing revisions, and people on both sides of the issue expect the debate to heat up again.

House Bill 628, sponsored by Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, in its original form would have replaced teacher tenure with one-to-three-year contracts, changing the way teachers are evaluated and paid.

In Missouri, it takes teachers five years to gain tenure, which means that they cannot be removed from a school district without a legitimate reason for termination.

Dieckhaus – a former educator – and supporters of the bill have said House Bill 628 would have prevented ineffective teachers from remaining in the classroom because of tenure.

Another change under the original bill would have required school districts to use student performance to determine 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation score, with teachers’ pay being adjusted according to a tiered salary schedule.

The bill’s first reading was Feb. 22 and a public hearing was held March 2, but no action on the bill was taken during a March 10 executive session, according to www.house.mo.gov.

Seth Rector, legislative assistant for Rep. Dieckhaus, said a new draft of the bill does away with the tiered evaluation system, and would instead allow individual school boards to assess teacher evaluations. Details on other changes aren’t yet available, he said.

“The issue has died down for now, but it will definitely be back when the House starts working on Senate bills,” said Mike Woods, associate executive director of governmental relations for the Missouri State Teachers Association, which opposes ending tenure in Missouri’s public schools.

Woods said tenure isn’t a mechanism for keeping bad teachers in classrooms. “Tenure protects a teacher from arbitrary termination,” he said.

Elaine Emry, a fourth-grade teacher for Springfield Public Schools, agreed, noting that there are already factors in place to remove poor-quality teachers.

Problems arise when a teacher and school officials don’t see eye-to-eye on various teaching methods, and the teacher is evaluated unfairly, she said.      

“It’s the same in business,” Emry said. “Your philosophy may be different than your boss’. Your boss can stack the deck against you.”  

State Rep. Charlie Dennison, R-Springfield, said he doesn’t support teacher tenure, because he’d rather see teachers’ good work rewarded in other ways.

“Once they have tenure, they don’t have the enthusiasm they had prior to getting tenure,  and quality education is what it’s all about, as far as I’m concerned,” he said, noting that he believes teachers who do a good job and have students’ interests in mind won’t have trouble keeping their jobs.

MSTA’s Woods said his organization isn’t against using student performance to gauge teacher performance. The question, he said, is whether government should make that decision.

“We think that is the big hand of the government reaching into 522 local schools … telling them what’s best for their district,” Woods said.  “We’re not opposed to student performance being a part of teacher evaluation, but we think that decision should be left at the local level.”

Emry said there are plenty of challenges when teaching 30 students who each have different needs. Some students may have nightly study sessions with their parents, while others may come to school without a good night’s sleep or breakfast, which means that helping students achieve their best isn’t a level playing field.

“The majority of teachers are doing the best they can,” Emry said, noting current teacher evaluations include many factors beyond just student performance. “There is due process. I have performance evaluations every year. They are not tied directly to student achievement, because there are so many factors involved in a child’s overall educational experience,” she said.

The Springfield Public Schools Board of Education won’t take an official stand on legislation to change teacher tenure until the revised bill is released, said President Gerry Lee.

“There are some significant flaws in the original bill,” Lee said, noting that one of the biggest issues is determining an accurate method for evaluating teacher performance. “I support evaluating teachers, but I think you have to come up with a methodology that includes the key factors and is a fair, objective evaluation process.”

And while Lee agrees that student test scores should factor into teacher evaluations, he questions who should determine the extent to which those scores are considered.

“That’s not a decision, in my mind, for the state legislature to decide,” Lee said.

He noted, too, that using test scores in evaluations could be difficult for classes such as music and art, which don’t have traditional curricula.

For now, those on both sides of the teacher tenure debate must wait to see what the new version of the bill will look like. The bill is not currently on the House calendar, according to the House of Representatives’ Web site.

“The original version of 628 as proposed is a nonissue,” Woods said. “The real issue becomes due process and what type of due process should teachers receive if they are underperforming, or if a district says they are underperforming.”[[In-content Ad]]

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