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Wed., Feb. 15, 2012

Editorial: Teacher evaluation bill shows promise

Immediately after the Washington Senate passed a bill (SB 5895) on teacher and principal evaluations Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Chris Gregoire sent out a tweet calling this “good news for our kids.”

We’re pleased with the bill’s passage and urge the House to follow suit, but its success will rest on rigorous follow-through by the state superintendent of public instruction, district superintendents, school boards and principals.

The bill sets forth four ratings for teachers and principals: 1, unsatisfactory; 2, basic; 3, proficient; and 4, distinguished. Unsatisfactory teachers would be placed on probation, then dismissed if they failed to improve. That’s better than the current pass/fail metric currently employed by districts under which virtually every teacher passes.

But the same leniency that undermines the credibility of the current system could arise again if, say, 90 percent of teachers and principals are deemed 3s and 4s. Similarly, the bill says the evaluations are to be a factor in layoff and reassignment decisions but doesn’t specify how much weight they are to be given. If it’s a tiny percentage, then the whole exercise is pointless.

The bill gives Randy Dorn, the state’s schools chief, until December to hammer out guidelines for school districts. Some of the changes would be subject to collective bargaining. A lot could happen to water down this system before the transitional 2013-’14 school year.

That’s why it’s imperative that lawmakers stay on top of developments to ensure that the intent of the legislation – producing better teachers and principals – is not lost in the process. The fact that it’s taken this long for the Legislature to get serious about performance evaluations shows that powerful forces are aligned against change.

It’s this glacial pace of reform that keeps some legislators, even many who voted for the bill, skeptical of the outcome. Significantly, PubliCola reported Tuesday that a major Democratic donor has set up a meeting with Rob McKenna, the Republican candidate for governor, out of frustration over the intransigence of his party on education reform.

Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, who co-founded the respected League of Education Voters, said of McKenna in an email obtained by PublicCola that “there can be no doubt that the positions he is taking on public ed are crisper and more aligned with my thinking than any Democratic leader in our state.”

We hope that teachers and principals will look at this bill as an opportunity for professional growth and development. Outside of a child’s home environment, educators are the most important factors in determining whether students will receive a high-quality education. However, as in every profession, there are substandard performers, and we need ways to identify them.

This bill has bipartisan support and is backed by the business community because it is a step in the right direction. But lawmakers and education officials must make sure the process is not diluted to meaninglessness before this reform can be deemed good news for schoolchildren.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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