Florida (with B grade) leads states in teacher-quality survey

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This post has been updated. Please see note at bottom for details.

Seven states that toughened how they deal with teacher effectiveness earned the top grades this year in an annual survey by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research group primarily funded by leading foundations.

Florida, which weakened tenure for teachers while stiffening evaluation practices, led the way nationally, earning a B grade from the group. Florida also led all states in 2009, but with a C grade. (California received a D+ in 2011 and 2009.)

The survey, released Wednesday, measures five areas in determining each state’s grade, but three go to the heart of the ongoing debate over teacher quality and its role in the education system. Those areas focus on how states identify and retain effective teachers while helping ineffective ones leave. The other criteria are how states deliver well-prepared teachers and how they expand the pool of teachers.

“New state policies for identifying effective teachers and exiting ineffective ones contributed" to the highest grades in the report, titled “2011 State Teacher Policy Yearbook.” The council, a research and policy group that examines issues related to teaching quality, is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.

The current report, the fifth annual edition of the yearbook, puts the National Council on Teacher Policy at the center of the increasingly contentious debate over teacher-quality issues.

Financially pressed school districts have been seeking greater control over teacher performances in the classroom, tying tenure to student performance or using evaluations linked to pupil test scores in determining financial compensation. Unions have fought back, arguing that such attributes as pay and tenure have traditionally been matters for collective bargaining and that any changes have to ensure fairness and prevent arbitrary decisions by administrators.

The wind is clearly at the backs of education reformers. States including Missouri, Connecticut, Louisiana and New Jersey and cities including New York have seen negotiating battles that revolve in part around evaluations.

In 2009, no state required student performance to be a key factor in awarding tenure; today, eight states do, according to the yearbook’s analysis. Four other states want evidence of student performance before awarding tenure to teachers.

Eleven states require districts to consider teacher performance when deciding who will be terminated even in layoffs caused by financial problems. About half of all states require that classroom effectiveness be given some weight in teacher evaluations, the yearbook found.

According to the yearbook analysis, Florida is followed by Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Tennessee, all with B-. Indiana, Michigan and Ohio all earned a C+, with no other state earning above a C. Overall, 28 states improved their grades in 2011 when compared with 2009, according to the report.

The highest performing states were helped by their teacher policies, the analysis shows. Rhode Island earned an A- for its efforts at identifying effective teachers, while Colorado, Oklahoma and Illinois earned an A for helping ineffective teachers leave. Both scores helped bring up the overall state grade.

Updated 11:56 a.m., Jan. 25:  The following is a union response to the report: 

“Ten years of No Child Left Behind has proven that simply doubling down on a test-based accountability system doesn't lead to sustained student achievement," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in an emailed statement.

"So it’s a shame that some states — presumably because of tight economic times — seem to be following suit. We can’t test or fire our way to better schools and better teaching. We must find ways to continuously improve instruction, and teacher evaluations are a good tool for that when they are based on many measures, not just test scores, and provide the right help, resources and tools for continuous improvement. If we think about evaluations in terms of improving skills, not about firing employees — like sports teams and successful businesses do — we could stop the constant teacher turnover that’s costing the nation more than $7 billion annually and we’d have greatly improved teacher quality.”

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-- Michael Muskal

Photo: Students try their hand at penmanship in this California classroom in 2006. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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