Study gives Maine an F for evaluating teachers

By Walter Griffin,
Posted Jan. 29, 2009, at 7 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Although a national group has given Maine a failing grade in the way it retains good teachers and removes the bad ones, the state Department of Education is hardly concerned.

According to a study released Thursday in Washington, D.C., by the National Council on Teacher Quality, Maine was one of five states, along with the District of Columbia, to be given a grade of F by the council.

The other failing states were New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island and Montana, according to the study.

Maine Department of Education communications director David Connerty-Marin said the state was unconcerned with the rating. Connerty-Marin described the National Council on Teacher Quality as a “politically motivated lobbying group” that opposes local control over teacher qualifications.

Connerty-Marin said Maine requires that every district have a teacher supervisory and evaluation policy in place, but that the state’s individual school districts have control over those polices.

“They don’t want the locals having control of their schools,” Connerty-Marin said of the group Thursday. “They are grading us on policies that they think are the right policies. They don’t do anything like analyze data about retaining teachers. We’re getting graded on policies, not effectiveness.”

According to the study, hiring and firing teachers is done locally in more than 14,000 school districts nationwide. But state laws govern virtually every aspect of teaching, including how and when teachers obtain tenure, which protects teachers from being fired.

Tenure is not a job guarantee. But it is a significant safeguard, preventing teachers from being fired without just cause or due process.

Nearly every state lets public school teachers earn tenure in three years or less, the group said. In all but Iowa and New Mexico, tenure is virtually automatic, the study said.

“States can help districts do much more to ensure that the right teachers stay and the right teachers leave,” said Kate Walsh, president of the Washington-based nonpartisan group.

The group’s policy evaluation is broken down into three areas that encompass 15 goals. The goals examine state policy on identifying effective teachers, retaining those deemed effective and removing those deemed ineffective. Maine’s best performance is in the way it brings on new teachers, according to the report’s executive summary.

“While Maine is making progress toward meeting a few of our goals, it lags behind other states in most other goals. The state completely missed nine goals, met a small portion of one, partially met four and nearly met one,” the summary noted.

The group contends that more work needs to be done on requiring instructional effectiveness in teacher evaluations, making tenure decisions meaningful, articulating consequences for teachers with unsatisfactory evaluations and strengthening its policies regarding teacher compensation issues.

The report stated that Maine’s policies toward identifying effective teachers were “sorely lacking” and that its policies for removing ineffective teachers were “severely lacking.” Maine’s requirement that all new teachers receive monitoring were described as “a step in the right direction” toward measuring classroom perform-ance.

Nationwide, only 13 states say that teachers who get multiple bad reviews can be fired. Only about half the states, 26 of them, put teachers on an improvement plan after one bad review.

The National Education Association, the biggest teachers union, said job protections shouldn’t be blamed for keeping bad teachers on the job.

“No district-union contract in America states that bad teachers can never be fired from their jobs,” said Segun Eubanks, NEA’s director of teacher quality. “Yet too often, district-teacher union contracts are blamed for inadequate, ineffective and misused teacher evaluation systems.”

Eubanks said teacher firing should be part of a broad evaluation and support system developed in cooperation with teachers, either through unions or teacher groups.

That argument jibes with the study, which said that states are sorely lacking when it comes to evaluating teachers. The study says states do little to keep teachers on the job, even raising barriers in some cases.

“This group has a very clear agenda on teacher policies,” Connerty-Marin said. “Maine and New England are fairly independently minded places where school districts like local control of their policies.”

To view the entire National Council on Teacher Quality findings, visit nctq.org

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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http://bangordailynews.com/2009/01/29/news/study-gives-maine-an-f-for-evaluating-teachers/ printed on December 21, 2014