Washington senators took a dramatic and meaningful step toward improving public schools Tuesday when they approved a bipartisan compromise bill calling for teacher evaluations. We hope the bill is passed expeditiously by the House and signed by the governor, because it would replace an outdated and meaningless two-level teacher evaluation program (“satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” — and almost everybody passes) with a four-tier system that has teeth.But what happened last week was only a step in a long journey. There’s a lot of vague and open-ended language in the bill, which leaves a lot of room for merely tepid implementation. And there are several design and implementation mandates for state agencies that lack detail.
For example, according to the official analysis of Senate Bill 5895, it “requires student growth data to be a substantial factor in evaluating teacher and principal performance,” but it doesn’t say what substantial means. Likely, that is partly why the compromise bill was able to get passed by a 47-3 margin in the Senate.
Also, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction would be directed to “develop a professional development program to support implementation of the revised systems if funds are appropriated for this purpose,” which means we’re not as far down this road as we would like.
Furthermore, the Professional Educator Standards Board would be directed to “incorporate continuing education or competencies in the revised evaluation systems,” and no one really knows at this point exactly what those competencies might be.
There’s also the reality — well-understood by legislators and educators alike — that many of the bill’s provisions would be subject to collective bargaining.
All of which means that, even for all its fine points, this bill is far from law and, even if implemented, would require constant and careful monitoring for many years. That doesn’t stop us from liking it, though, and after all the opposition that supporters of teacher evaluations have had to overcome for several years now, let’s not quibble over the magnitude of the victory. It’s still a victory.
Teachers who score in the lower two levels would be placed on probation and, without improvement, ultimately would face dismissal. That sounds perfectly fair, especially when one considers the importance of teachers in students’ lives.
One of the strongest proponents of teacher and principal evaluations — state Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue — prefers an even more rigorous system. He likes the idea of ranking every teacher in each school district according to their evaluations … and then firing the bottom 1 percent each year. Such a strict standard is seen nowhere in the near future, however.
Keep in mind, teacher-evaluation pilot programs already are in place in 11 school districts around the state. How those experiments pan out will also be a factor in the state’s conversion to meaningful assessments of teachers and principals.
Progress on this issue is incremental and painfully slow, but it’s progress nonetheless.