Thursday, December 27, 2012

Beware Governors Bearing Gifts

McDonnell proposes 2% teacher pay raise

That's how the headlines and lead ins on the news went on Thursday evening two weeks ago.  Sounds good right?  But like most things in education looks can be deceiving.  How and why Virginia governor Bob McDonnell found the $59 million in tough budget times to fund such raises demands a closer look.

The 2% pay raise horse on the shore of the VA General Assembly and local divisions is an incentive to accept some significant changes to the way teacher effectiveness is measured.  Time will tell whether they take the bait.  State funding for such raises would be provided to localities on a sliding scale based on the ability to fund or the "composite index".  This will motivate smaller, more rural and economically disadvantaged districts to be more willing to accept the changes as they will receive a greater share.  That will likely translate to more support in the General Assembly where the VA Senate has previously blocked McDonnel'ls efforts at reform.  

The Education Fairness Act will bring stricter teacher evaluations, extending the probationary employment of new teachers to reach tenure from3 to 5 years, increases support for STEM(Science, Technology and Math) and also make it easier to fire teachers after one Unsatisfactory rating.  Virginia Education Association President Meg Gruber wisely stated that legislation must be evaluated to see if it is open and honest.  Wise words indeed.

VA teachers are 31st in the nation in compensation and haven't gotten a raise from the state in 5 years.  That puts more pressure on localities to fund their own systems and with declining property values that has been difficult.  Some have tried to keep up, few have.  Everyone knows teaching is a far from lucrative profession and most agree teachers should get more.  Still, experienced and informed educators like the Underground are wary as we know that if we take the bait and roll the horse within the walls of the city it might be full of unpleasant and in our minds unhelpful things.

The heart of the matter is Teacher Evaluaton and Job Security.  McDonnell and others want to chip away at tenure, continuing contracts and link performance to pay.  On paper these seem reasonable.  But the devil is in the details and one does not have to look far to appreciate the complexities of evaluating teachers effectively.  You can easily find some insights by typing "teacher effectiveness" in the search box top right.  If you are too lazy, here you go.
The TU and any other right minded educator welcomes any and all reform that improves education, helps kids learn and helps teachers teach.   While I hear a whisper in my ear saying "take the deal" we'd be wise to remember Virginia is a conservative state.  That is not a partisan statement and instead references the Old Dominion's cautious and measured approach to most issues.  The mechanisms of government are wisely inefficient at times and the first jump at Race to the Top cash or any other dangled incentive might be wise to be sure what they are doing is true reform.

McDonnell is a generally well received governor.  But this administration also proposed mandatory ultrasounds for women, sued its largest higher learning institution, omitted any mention of slavery in declaring Confederate History Month and  flip-flopped on state employee pension contributions to the tune of 5% after borrowing from that same VRS system.  So one must excuse any up-front anxiety on the part of those teachers affected.

By now we have covered ad nauseum the issues of how to evaluate teachers
The state school system has its share of bad teachers but efforts to purge them(referred to as "deselection") should not frustrate the good teachers already leaving the job at an alarming rate.  Every profession has those that under-perform and attempts to improve or remove  these individuals must be precise, delicate and some might say not coming from Richmond.  If the state continues to lean on localities to fund education why then do they increasingly demand more control of it?

So what the future holds for the Education Fairness Act, Virginia education reform and all those within the state's public schools is uncertain.  Our representatives and leaders might be wise to emulate many of the state's teachers in taking a more skeptical approach to such carefully crafted and named piece of legislation.  Our citizens would be wise to take the advice of one unheeded Trojan who after considering the source of the gift said..."Hey...maybe we should look inside this thing first?"

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