Today’s Deseret News ran an article about the education reform bill recently passed by the Utah legislature. In case you missed the lead paragraphs:
Gov. Gary Herbert on Tuesday came to an elementary school to sign into law an education reform bill that passed both houses of the Legislature with near-unanimous support, garnered widespread acclaim from educators and was described by some as a groundbreaking piece of legislation.
The question that remains: Will it actually do anything to improve education in Utah?
This bill began life as a much more radical reform that essentially ended teacher tenure (okay, assumption of continued employment) in Utah. When the inevitable uproar ensued, sponsor Senator Aaron Osmond took a step that I admire: He went out and met with teachers and other interested groups, and asked what reforms they’d like to see enacted. This new law is the result.
As the Deseret News explains,
The new law seeks to eliminate inconsistencies in school employee evaluations by establishing statewide teaching standards. It ties educator salaries to the evaluation and shortens the time to improve performance before cutting ties with underperforming teachers and administrators.
So, to repeat the headline question, will this make a difference in the classroom?
We don’t know. So much depends on how well the evaluations are designed and how thoroughly they are pursued; how seriously administrators respond to new requirements and incentives; and how vigorously parents respond to new information about underperforming teachers. Precisely because this new law was negotiated with teachers’ representatives, I hope it makes a big difference – because I think transformation has to begin with teacher buy-in.
Now that I’ve said this, I’ll still probably generate some negative comments with the following observation: One test of whether the new law makes a difference will be whether whether Utah moves from the very bottom of the pack in terms of the percent of “tenured” (U.S. Department of Education term, not mine) teachers whose contracts or terminated.
I cited this article from the Salt Lake Tribune in my blog before, but here it is again:
“In a survey of 12 school districts in Colorado, Ohio, Arkansas and Illinois, The New Teacher Project found that 99 percent of teachers are deemed “satisfactory” on their final exams. And in Utah’s largest districts, fewer than 1 percent of teachers are dismissed each year for poor performance.”
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not advocating a bell curve approach where the bottom 5% is automatically axed. And I like the law’s provision that remediation efforts precede termination. But realistically, a stricter teacher evaluation regime and expedited teacher termination track should lead to at least a few more pink slips.
So let’s watch and see.