Charter omission: All public teachers should be held accountable

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The idea behind charter schools in Pennsylvania is that they're just another form of public school, offering choices for parents and programming for students that's not available in schools run directly by elected boards of education. As such, the charters are entitled to funding comparable to traditional district schools, their students must take the same standardized assessment tests and the results are available to the public, which pays for their operations through tax dollars.

But in the final hours before their summer recess, the Legislature adopted and Gov. Tom Corbett signed a measure that gives charters a pass on new statewide standards for evaluating teachers. And that's not right.

Under the new law, the state Education Department has a year to develop a rating system in which half of public-school teachers' grades will be based on planning, preparation and instruction. The other half will rely in part on performance of their individual students and the entire building where they work. Where currently teachers can be deemed either satisfactory or unsatisfactory, the new system will provide for four levels of quality -- distinguished, proficient, needs improvement or failing. Teachers who receive these last two designations will be required to participate in improvement plans, and two consecutive unsatisfactory scores would give districts the option of firing them.

Increased accountability that is not based simply on student test scores but that includes them in the equation should prove more helpful to administrators than the current system which, according to the governor, has resulted in more than 99 percent of teachers being labeled satisfactory.

An Education Department spokesman said charters weren't included because they were not covered in the past by language in state law on educator evaluations and because parents have the option of removing their children from charters if they're unhappy. If parental choice is the rationale, couldn't the same argument be made for teachers assigned to magnet schools, which also are options within districts?

If charter schools are just like public schools when it comes to important matters of funding and student achievement, they also must be just like public schools when it comes to assuring their teachers make the grade.

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