Governor wants revamped teacher evaluations

Workers who dread their annual job performance reviews might feel better about the process if they knew 99 percent of employees were rated effective. It's an unlikely scenario for many companies, but for Indiana teachers it's a reality that could soon be coming to an end.

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and state schools superintendent Tony Bennett say Indiana needs a more honest look at the job teachers and principals are doing. How can an internal Department of Education survey find that 99 percent of teachers are rated effective, they ask, when 25 percent of students don't pass statewide exams?

"What we are talking about is integrity," Bennett said. "Our current system is a statistical impossibility."

The issue is among the sweeping education changes Bennett and Daniels will be pushing when the General Assembly meets starting Wednesday. Their agenda also calls for using student performance to measure teacher success, focusing teacher collective bargaining agreements only on salary and wage-related benefits and allowing local districts to reward the best performing teachers instead of rewarding simple seniority.

But before local officials can create ways to reward the best teachers, Daniels and Bennett say they need to have evaluations that really identify the cream of the crop.

Some school districts currently have contracts with teacher unions that prohibit principals from walking into classrooms unannounced for reviews, Bennett said, while other contracts prohibit annual reviews after teachers reach a certain point in their careers.

Indiana State Teachers Association President Nate Schnellenberger said every district handles evaluations differently, and acknowledged that reviews might not be a priority in large school districts where evaluating hundreds of teachers is a matter of logistics. But he said ISTA, which has clashed with Daniels and Bennett on other issues, is on board with yearly reviews.

"That's one place where we can agree with Dr. Bennett in that we support a fair, rigorous evaluation system for educators on a yearly basis," Schnellenberger said.

For teachers worried that personality conflicts with principals could prevent them from getting a fair shake during reviews, Bennett said more accountability and a focus on student performance would help.

"In a highly accountable system, the folks in charge are going to want to keep the best and recruit the best," Bennett said.

Bennett, a Republican first elected in 2008, said he doesn't have a specific goal in mind regarding how many teachers should be classified as effective or highly effective, or how many would fall on the low end of the scale. But he said there could be some teachers who just don't belong in the classroom.

"A huge responsibility we have as professionals is to make sure we do address those who don't improve," Bennett said. "We should very honestly look them in the eye and say education is not the place for you."

Schnellenberger said administrators should work with teachers who aren't performing well and that the long-term goal should be to get all teachers rated as effective.

"Why would we want to have a non-effective teacher in the classroom?" he asked.

While Daniels and Bennett envision using yearly teacher evaluations to help local districts reward the best teachers, Daniels also suggested that they could later be used to determine which colleges do the best job of preparing Indiana teachers.

"I really wish I knew what the worst 10 were so we could say, 'teach something different,'" Daniels said.

For now, though, Daniels and Bennett are hoping that fellow Republicans who control the House and Senate will agree that teacher evaluations need an overhaul.

"We have to focus on teacher and principal quality," Bennett said. "We have to have an evaluation system that truly differentiates good and bad."

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