Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposals in the original Senate Bill 24 aimed to implement the teacher and principal evaluation guidelines unanimously adopted by the state's Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) in January. The bill established a system for evaluating educators based on a very simple premise: a teacher's effectiveness in the classroom ought to be relevant information in evaluating teacher performance and ought to be used to inform decisions of consequence within the teaching profession. The version of the bill that came out of the Education Committee last month sets Connecticut back by removing these linkages as proposed in the original bill.
This seemingly obvious premise that teacher effectiveness should matter has been largely absent from teacher evaluation systems across the country. Fortunately, this is changing, and not just in a few isolated locales. As we've tracked in our annual State Teacher Policy Yearbook there are 17 other states that include student achievement as a significant criterion in teacher evaluations, and with the State Board of Education's adoption of the PEAC guidelines in February, Connecticut is the 18th.
Measuring and acting on teachers' success (and yes, sometimes failure) to help students learn is smart, solid policy - and can't simply be written off by opponents as unfair or arbitrary. If Connecticut is committed to putting the interests of children over adults and serious about ensuring that all children have effective teachers, state policymakers need to reinstate the linkage between evaluation and staffing decisions that was made in the governor's proposals back in February.
Connecticut needs to make tenure a meaningful milestone in a teacher's career rather than an automatic award of what amounts, for all intents and purposes, to a job for life to any teacher, regardless of job performance. Effective teachers absolutely deserve tenure, but due process rights shouldn't allow consistently and persistently ineffective teachers to remain in the classroom.
Likewise, the original proposal was right to articulate that ineffectiveness in the classroom is grounds for teacher dismissal. It is reasonable to allow school systems to have the option to fire a teacher who time and again fails to demonstrate an ability to teach and get results with students. And while this may technically be possible under current rules, the time, money and effort required to remove an ineffective, tenured teacher are prohibitive for most school districts.
The original bill also included a logical next step: allowing for the possibility that teacher salaries might bear some relationship to the quality of their work, rather than basing compensation on factors such as seniority or advanced degrees in non-subject-specific areas, which research shows have little or no bearing on student achievement.
The teacher quality proposals that were brought forth in February hinge on ensuring that the teacher evaluation system yields accurate and actionable information about teacher effectiveness. Wherever the Nutmeg State lands on the details of the state's teacher evaluation system, the bottom line is clear. A teacher should not be able to receive a satisfactory performance rating if he/she is ineffective in teaching students in the classroom. Period.
There is cause for cautious optimism about teacher effectiveness policy in Connecticut. But only if the state is willing to do what it takes to adopt meaningful performance measures for teachers and use them to ensure that all students in Connecticut have effective teachers. At this point, that is tantamount to the legislature bringing back the key linkages between evaluations and staffing decisions as proposed by Gov. Malloy.
Sandi Jacobs is vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). NCTQ, a research and policy group.