By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, March 8, the Senate Education Policy Committee narrowly voted to give a favorable report to a tenure reform bill introduced and championed by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston). The PREP Act, Senate Bill 316 would make tenure harder to get, five years versus the present three years; would create a state mandated system for evaluating teachers; 25 percent of that would be directly tied to student test score performance; and would make it possible to strip a tenured teacher of tenure after two years of poor evaluations.
The Senate Education Policy Committee held a long public hearing on SB316 before voting to give the bill a favorable report.
Marsh said that the PREP bill represents a lot of work and represents a lot of conversations with the education community, “I think it is a very pro-education bill.”
Ebraham Lee, who is the Principal at Bellingrath Middle School spoke in favor of the bill because he supports the incentives to get teachers to go to a failing school, which includes his. “I am a master teacher and a lifelong learner, but I am working on becoming a master principal. We are a failing school. 40 percent of my staff are non-traditional teachers. I am using permanent subs, emergency certificates, and paraprofessionals. It has been hard to fill positions especially for Math and Special Ed teachers. It often takes to January or March. I support bonuses to fill those positions. I stand today in support of this bill.”
Dicky Barlow, the Superintendent of the Mountain Brook Schools spoke against. “I am not for SB 316. I mean no disrespect but value added models came from the agricultural world. Agricultural scientists studied performance when you added more of an input like fertilizer. While that may work for trees it doesn’t work for teachers. These evaluations are not reliable or valuable. In evaluating teacher performance you have to consider poverty, whether they read or not in the summer, and traumatic events like a divorce. When parents go through a divorce students don’t grow for a while. Student performance suffers during those events.”
Barlow warned of what he called high stakes testing. “Any time there is too much focus on a metric that metric becomes corrupted. When test scores become the goal of the education process they both suffer.”
Mary Harman, who is a guidance counselor and former math teacher spoke in favor of the bill. “I am a Grandmother of 7 who deserve a stellar public education. Teacher evaluation is multi-faceted and includes a plan for improvement. As a mathematician I am glad that the teacher evaluation includes a numerical standard. I am highly competitive and wanted my scores to be the best in the department and the best in the school. The Auburn University in Montgomery student evaluations of teachers pushed me toward excellence. If a teacher is there because it is their calling the student evaluation should parallel the principal evaluation and the teacher scores.”
Sandy Jacobs supported the legislation. “43 states require proof of student performance in teacher evaluations. In the past many states had satisfactory or unsatisfactory ratings; but did not provide feed back. There is a real hunger to develop professional development systems. The purpose is to make sure that all teachers get feedback to get better. There is a real small percentage of teachers that are real chronic underachievers we want to identify them, but that is not the primary purpose of this. 35 states require more student growth than in your bill.”
Scott Cofield the Superintendent of the Pelham City Schools spoke against. “At this time our teachers and administrators are not going to trust this. We are about to appoint a new superintendent he should have a role in developing any evaluation system. I support tenure reform; but value added assessments concern me. There is a tangible cost in being able to effectively carry out evaluations. There are so many things that affect teacher performance beyond just test scores.”
Joe Morton with the Business Education Alliance (BEA) spoke in support. He said, “The BEA did a research report in August on this and they found that teachers matter. The top teachers can produce gain of 1.5 grade levels a year while the bottom teachers only produce .5 grade level gain. I would remind people that of that 25 percent are state evaluated assessments.”
Senator Marsh said that if you don’t teach a subject that is part of the State assessment, then the numbers don’t apply to your evaluation.
Morton argued that changing tenure from 3 to 5 years is good for everyone. The bill puts $10 million put into reward system to get rewards for performance. High flyers like Vestavia and Mountain Brook will get some of that money encouraging them to remain high fliers and it will encourage other schools to become high flyers.
Dr. Joe Windle, the Superintendent of the Tallapoosa County Schools said that his concern is that cost to rural systems. “Our system has five schools and a career tech center and 2900 students. We have 49 bus routes and transport students over 17000 miles weekly and 600,000 miles annually. Rural systems suffer the most when we have these unfunded costs. This will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. We already have a system that works. We do not need another evaluation system. We have what we need to evaluate teachers and administrators in an effective way. You should address the real issue: the cost of dollars to terminate a tenured teacher. 57 school systems barely have a months worth of expenses. Our teachers are tired of measures that do not work and are not needed.”
The Alabama Policy Institute’s (API) Katherine Robinson said that her group recommends: a more efficient process to remove a teacher; stop automatic tenure; lengthening the time on tenure from 3 to 5 years. Tenure can be revoked after consistent unsatisfactory evaluations. This bill does away with tenure for support personnel new hires that is a very good idea.
Sen. Marsh said in a statement, “I introduced the Preparing and Rewarding Education Professionals Act. This legislation is designed to show a commitment to the education professionals in Alabama as well as reform a broken tenure system. In addition, it provides funding for a teacher mentoring reward program and gives extra money for teachers who choose to teach in rural schools or schools deemed to be failing by the State Board of Education.”
Marsh’s evaluation process would include a variety of student surveys, two classroom observations and student achievement growth. The amount each criteria counts toward the final evaluation will largely be left up to local school districts, however a minimum of 25 percent must include student achievement growth.
Teachers would be rated on a one to five scale based on their levels of effectiveness: Significantly exceeds expectations, Exceeds expectations, Satisfies expectations, Below expectations and Significantly below expectations.
The PREP Act also provided extra money for teachers who choose to teach in rural schools or schools deemed to be failing by the State Board of Education. The PREP Act would also set aside money to be used for a teacher mentoring program, and create a committee of classroom teachers to advise legislators on the best way to implement future changes to this legislation.
Under the PREP Act, teachers would attain tenure after five years however if two consecutive evaluations of below expectations or significantly below expectations are given, a decision will be made on necessary actions which may include mandatory professional development or loss of tenure. Paraprofessionals, aides, lunchroom workers, janitors, and school bus drivers would get no tenure.
After a lengthy public hearing the committee voted five to four to give Marsh’s bill a favorable report.