Public evaluations are a bad idea

By Walt Braun

There probably are people in this state who think Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to post public school teachers’ evaluations on the Internet is terrific.

We think the idea, which was tucked into the governor’s school finance overhaul, is dreadful.

There’s reason the plan met bipartisan opposition — yes, Republicans and Democrats can agree if the cause merits — in the House Education Committee last week. Members said they thought the plan would create tension between teachers and parents and interfere with school administrators’ decisions. Rep. Clay Aurand, a Belleville Republican, summed up the objections well when he said it would “create more problems than it solves.” We agree.

Sen. Jean Kurtis Schodorf, a Wichita Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, called the plan “pretty toxic.” As she noted,  the Kansas Board of Education is testing a model that would involve uniform evaluations statewide.

Under the governor’s plan, 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation would be based on growth in student achievement as demonstrated in state assessments; 40 percent would involve grades and comments from supervisors, peers, parents and students; and the final 10 percent would be based on the teacher’s contributions to the profession. The evaluations would be posted online at sites available to parents.

Teachers would be rated as highly effective, effective, progressing or ineffective. Teachers considered ineffective two years in a row would be subject to termination; in fact the plan would keep them from teaching. On the other hand, some highly effective teachers could be in line for $5,000 bonuses.

Given that student performance on state assessments would be the primary factor in evaluations, we wonder whether the state would consider the teacher of say, an eighth-grader, responsible for his or her performance on state assessments or whether some or all of the students’ previous teachers should get some or most of the credit or the blame.

One Democrat in the House Education Committee speculated that making the information public could pressure administrators to contrive more positive evaluations or lead some teachers to alter test results to show achievement.

It also comes to mind that sabotaging a teacher’s very public evaluation would be an effective way for parents, students or others who are angry or upset with a teacher for any reason — valid or otherwise — to get even.

We won’t pretend that every teacher is outstanding — or even above average. Fair evaluations of teachers can be immensely useful both in improving their skills or in pointing chronically ineffective teachers toward other careers.

It’s one thing for the governor to support teacher evaluations, and quite another to dictate their provisions.

And if he thinks evaluations of public employees should be public, he ought to start higher in the pecking order.

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