MARY SANCHEZ

We can hold teachers accountable without help from politicians

Updated: 2013-05-11T23:21:12Z

By MARY SANCHEZ

The Kansas City Star

There ought to be a grading system for politicians tinkering with education reform. Something to ensure they are pro-children, not simply anti-union.

None exists, so behold the Missouri legislature. Efforts to speed up a possible state takeover of the Kansas City School District aren’t going away, nor are ones to unravel tenure for teachers and press for evaluating teachers. Here is the thing: Politicians aren’t necessary to press forward many accountability reforms.

By the 2014-2015 academic year, the state’s Board of Education has already mandated that districts must either begin using the state model of teacher evaluations or create comparable standards.

Holding teachers accountable with verifiable data is well underway, here and nationally. It’s a necessary shift for public education.

And contrary to what some may believe, it’s not being fought by the two largest teachers’ unions. At least, not in theory. The devil is in the details, of course.

In Missouri, one player is St. Louis businessman and free-market advocate Rex Sinquefield, who has backed a petition measure on tenure and evaluation measures for teachers. The petition’s language is being challenged by lawsuit.

Another is Students First, the organization founded by former Washington, D.C., school chancellor Michelle Rhee. Rhee’s group has been behind legislative pushes in many states and is influential in Jefferson City.

“Value-added” is one term to understand. It is a way to track a student’s performance year-to-year in core subjects by standardized tests, measuring how progress correlates to specific teachers. It has limits, but it is a system that can eliminate some of the tired fallback excuses that some children are more difficult to teach due to poverty or other factors like language ability. In studies, some of the highest-performing teachers educate student populations long considered more challenging.

Here is what has to be achieved: Protect good teachers and school districts from state budget cuts and the antics of politicians bent on gaining points (and campaign donations) for sounding tough on unions. At the same time, support fair efforts to bring more accountability and esteem to teaching.

Listen for how adamantly a politician rails about finding ways to fire teachers, versus holding substantial conversations about the metrics to accurately measure teacher effectiveness.

Grade them A, B, C, D or F.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar.com.

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