This year, the governor has put forward a legislative agenda that includes a small package of bills dealing with education. Unfortunately, at the heart of it are proposals that don’t push us forward but seek to drag us back.
Over the last couple of years, CABL and other groups working to improve education in Louisiana have helped enact a number of measures that seek to improve student performance and give school leaders more tools to effectively do their jobs. In many cases, teachers are key to this.
HB 651 is a step backward. In 2010, the Legislature passed Act 54, which was seen by many as model legislation to make teacher evaluations more meaningful. The changes in Act 54 meant that the evaluation scores for many were based on two equal factors: 1) a quantitative measurement of growth in student performance and 2) a qualitative measure using traditional evaluation techniques such as classroom evaluations.
Two years ago, when a number of groups came forward to effectively dismantle that approach, CABL and other reform organizations agreed to a compromise with the governor, school boards and teacher unions. Under that agreement, the student growth factor of 50 percent for evaluations as outlined in the original law was adjusted to 35 percent.
This arrangement was made in good faith and agreed to by all that this should remain in place for several years so its results could be evaluated. Now, with HB 651, that agreement has seemingly been abandoned, and the effort now is to reduce the student achievement factor in teacher evaluations to just 15 percent. That’s a big change from where it started.
Appearing to go backward on an agreement is one thing, but going backward on important policies that impact students is something else. Measurable growth in student achievement is an important consideration when it comes to the effectiveness of our teachers. Any parent would want to know that their children’s teachers are being evaluated and offered the tools to improve if needed based on their performance in the classroom.
HB 587 is another bill that attempts to water down an important policy change made six years ago. Before then, in 2009-10, less than 1 percent of Louisiana teachers received an unsatisfactory rating in their evaluations and less than 0.1 percent of tenured teachers across the state were actually removed from the classroom.
Clearly there was a disconnect. The teacher evaluations weren’t meaningful, and even when they showed teachers were unable to perform their jobs adequately, tenure policies dating back to the 1940s made it effectively impossible to remove those teachers.
But the changes in teacher evaluations mentioned earlier made it possible to get a clearer picture of how teachers were performing in the classrooms, and legislation was passed in 2012 that allowed that better information to be used in awarding tenure for new teachers.
For years, principals and superintendents have complained about how tenure ties their hands in making sure the best teacher is in the classroom. Largely in response to that concern, the 2012 legislation raised the bar for awarding tenure to new teachers. HB 587 seeks to lower it.
Louisiana is seeing real and positive results in student achievement growth. That’s a good thing that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens because Louisiana is implementing policies that encourage that growth, and teachers, principals and students are all rising to the occasion.
Which makes you wonder, why are we thinking about turning back?
Barry Erwin is president and CEO of the Council for A Better Louisiana, a nonprofit, non-partisan good government advocacy group based in Baton Rouge.