Evaluating administrators before evaluating teachers?

I’ve been curious to see how Utah state Senator Aaron Osmond would revamp his education reform bill, after he yanked an earlier bill that would have significantly changed Utah’s teacher  tenure – oops, “reasonable expectation of continued employment” – laws.

The answer, according to a story in today’s Deseret News, is that “the freshman senator’s bill . . . looks instead to focus on administrators.”

“When an organization is struggling,” Osmond said, ‘you don’t rifle-shot out the employees first. You look at what the leadership is doing.’”

The new bill would base a (to my mind not sufficiently high) 15% of administrator salaries on a variety of factors: “student achievement at the administrator’s respective school, feedback from teachers, parents and supervisors, and how thoroughly the administrator conducts teacher evaluations for every licensed professional on his or her staff.”

The Senator’s proposal may well be a good  place to start, especially since the UEA has announced its support. Reform has a much better shot at success if teachers are on board, indeed if teachers help design and implement evaluations. And there’s a fair amount of evidence that leadership from principals is key to turning schools around. (For a good summary of the literature, see http://www.readingrockets.org/article/25981/.)

But I’d note that the study cited above begins: “Leadership is second only to teaching among school influences on student success.” If principals want to earn their bonuses, they’re still going to have to tackle the contentious issue of measuring teacher effectiveness . . . and the even more contentious issue of firing ineffective teachers.

The new bill apparently addresses this issue, at least in part. According to the Deseret News report, teachers would be evaluated on a scale of one to four, and teachers receiving the lowest rating would not be eligible for yearly experience-based raises commonly known as steps and lanes.” The bill would also limit “the remediation time frame for teachers who perform poorly on evaluations. Schools would have a total 120 days to notify teachers of their poor evaluation, remediate them and terminate them if necessary. Teachers who receive an unsatisfactory evaluation more than once in a three-year period could be fired.”

I hope that the UEA’s support for this bill means they’re on board with this rating system, and with this stepped-up timetable. Several teachers have commented on my blog that administrator inaction, not teacher or teacher union resistance, constitutes the real obstacle to firing ineffective teachers. Giving administrators more incentive to address this issue may give them a needed nudge.

Still, studies of teacher evaluation have repeatedly shown that almost all teachers receive only cursory evaluations – and very high ratings. (See http://widgeteffect.org/downloads/TheWidgetEffect.pdf, probably the most often-cited study of this phenomenon.) It strikes me that the proposed new law will make a difference only if administrators are genuinely willing to identify poor performers and take decisive action. I wonder if the bill’s incentives are really significant enough to overcome resistance, or for that matter inertia.

Here’s the link to the Deseret News article: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865550053/Senate-bill-evaluate-administrators-to-improve-schools.html?s_cid=Email-1

2 comments

  1. Steve Edwards

    Mary,
    UEA helped create this bill. The credit goes to Senator Osmond for bringing the groups together BUT the bill itself is the end product of collaboration among the UEA, USOE, and USBA and the USSA.

    It would be absolutely refreshing to hear someone from the DN acknowledge the UEA as a significant contributor to this legislation. UEA members are parents who want excellence for their children.

    Be a part of the solution!

  2. Yak_Herder

    Random thoughts:

    1. I agree with Senator Osmond’s assertion that the leaders of a struggling organization should be held accountable for their performance. Here’s the thing: If pressure is applied on the administration to produce better scores on tests, the scores will probably increase. Problem solved? No way. I’ve already cought a glimpse of that world and it’s not at all appealing.

    2. Input from parents is definitely a plus, but that assertion is based on the premise that the parents are involved and informed. Otherwise, it’s little more than a popularity poll.

    3. How in anyone going to determine how thorough an administrator in in their evaluations?

    4. Because of the relationship between socio-economic realities and student performance, basing an Adminstrators pay on student performance is going to create an even bigger competition for administration slots in more affluent areas. The problem just got larger.

    And finally,…
    A teacher’s raise would hinge on a good evaluation. Okay, fine, but exactly what raise are we talking about? Who cares what the criteria is if there isn’t one being offered.

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