New law excludes charter school teachers from revised evaluations
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In 2013-14, public schools across the state will be required to consider student performance when evaluating teachers -- except for charter schools.
The General Assembly last week approved legislation that requires half of a teacher's evaluation to be based on observation and half on various measures of student performance. Under the old law, considering student performance is not required in teacher evaluations.
Ron Cowell, president of the Education Policy and Leadership Center, a nonprofit based in Harrisburg, said changing the teacher evaluation process was necessary, but he called excluding charter school teachers from the requirement a "serious omission."
"I think the law generally emphasizes charter schools are public schools, and there really is no good reason to not create the same kind of evaluation and accountability system for educators in charter schools," Mr. Cowell said.
Critics accuse Gov. Tom Corbett, who championed the proposal, of opposing public schools and favoring charter schools.
Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said, "I don't want to bash charter schools, but it is unfair and unconscionable that charter schools have so many exemptions for rules that public schools have to follow.
"Gov. Corbett is so [anti-regular public schools] and pro-charter schools."
But state education officials defend the measure.
Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said in an email, "Since the beginning, charter schools have never been subjected to Section 1123 of the Public School Code, which is where the educator evaluation language is found.
"Furthermore, charter schools are choice schools in which parents have the option to remove their child if they are not satisfied with the education their child receives."
State Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, could not be reached for comment.
State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, minority education committee chairman, said charter school teachers need to be included.
"They're all paid out of public money. Charter schools are public schools, so why wouldn't we want to guarantee an effective evaluation in all public schools?" he said.
As to whether parents can just take their child from a charter school if they don't like it, Mr. Dinniman said, "That only creates chaos for the schools and for the child."
In the flurry of bills that came before the Legislature last week, a bill on oversight of charter schools was not passed.
Mr. Dinniman thinks that bill could be a vehicle for including teacher evaluation requirements for charter schools when the bill comes up in the fall.
Mr. Eller wrote that Education Secretary Ron Tomalis sent to Mr. Dinniman and state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, a letter "expressing the department's intent to hold charter and cyber charter schools to a high level of accountability."
In the charter school legislation that did not pass, a new independent charter board would develop a performance matrix for charters.
This matrix, which remains under discussion, could "very well include a system for evaluating educators in charter and cyber charter schools," Mr. Eller wrote.
Bob Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, said he supports teacher evaluations, "but it's got to be done in the right way."
He said "a lot" of charter schools have teacher evaluation systems that already take into account student performance.
He said "most of them" are better than what the regular public schools will have to follow.
"If something already exists that is better, let's not take a step backwards," he said.
He would like to see a provision that enables charter schools to "opt out" if they already have a more effective teacher evaluation system.
Under the current system, two consecutive years of an "unsatisfactory" rating already allows school boards to dismiss a teacher who isn't measuring up.
But as of the 2013-14 school year, how well students do in school -- including their promotion and graduation rates, attendance and standardized test scores -- will be included in teacher evaluations, ratings, and promotion and firing decisions.
Not only will the performance of students taught by a particular teacher be considered in his evaluation, but also the performance of students in the school as a whole -- even though many of them might never have been taught by that particular educator.
Under the new law, the state Department of Education -- in consultation with education experts, parents, teachers and administrators -- must create a rating card by June 30, 2013, to measure the performance of permanent and temporary teachers.
Half of a teacher's rating will be based on his planning and preparation, the classroom environment, instruction and professional responsibilities, such as the types of classes taught, according to the legislation. The other half will be based on student performance.
Of that half, 15 percent of the score will be based on the entire school's performance on assessments, graduation rate, promotion rate, attendance rate, Advanced Placement course participation and SAT and PSAT/NMSQT data, according to the legislation.
An additional 15 percent of the score will be based on data specific to the teacher, including the performance on assessments by the teacher's students; the teacher's progress in meeting goals set by students' individualized education programs, known as IEPs, required under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; and locally developed school district performance measurements.
The remainder of the score will comprise data from the school district's own measurements of student achievement, including not only standardized tests but also student projects and portfolios.
Based on those measurements, teachers will receive ratings of "distinguished," "proficient," "needs improvement" or "failing."
The first two ratings will be considered satisfactory, as will a "needs improvement" rating the first time it is given. If a teacher is rated as "needs improvement" a second time in 10 consecutive years, however, the rating will be considered unsatisfactory, according to the legislation.
An overall rating of "failing" -- which is considered unsatisfactory -- and "needs improvement" require the teacher to participate in a performance improvement plan, including mentoring, coaching, professional development training and intensive supervision. Two consecutive unsatisfactory ratings give the school district the option of firing the teacher.
No employee's performance will be rated as unsatisfactory based solely on student test scores, according to the legislation.
Similar methods will be used to evaluate principals and nonteaching professional employees, such as reading and math specialists, beginning in the 2014-15 school year.
Individual ratings will not be subject to public disclosure under the state's Right-to-Know law.
In Pittsburgh, teacher evaluations already consider student performance. Whether Pittsburgh's system is compatible with the new state law will take some study, Ms. Esposito-Visgitis said.
"I hope it has some flexibility," she said of the legislation. "It would be awful if Pittsburgh has worked tirelessly on this for years and they say, oops -- you have to change it."
First Published July 5, 2012 12:00 am