Battle over teacher tenure and classroom tests heating up

Sides argue impact of Amendment 3 proposal on Missouri education

While voters last Tuesday were deciding the fate of five proposed amendments to Missouri’s Constitution, Secretary of State Jason Kander was announcing the addition of a fourth proposed amendment to the November general election ballot.

Kander designated the proposal as “Amendment 3” for the Nov. 4 ballot, saying supporters gathered more than enough signatures to qualify their proposal for the ballot, changing the way Missouri public school teachers are evaluated and employed.

The ballot language Kander’s office wrote for the amendment says: “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:

• require teachers to be evaluated by a standards based performance evaluation system for which each local school district must receive state approval to continue receiving state and local funding;

• require teachers to be dismissed, retained, demoted, promoted and paid primarily using quantifiable student performance data as part of the evaluation system;

• require teachers to enter into contracts of three years or fewer with public school districts; and

• prohibit teachers from organizing or collectively bargaining regarding the design and implementation of the teacher evaluation system?”

Kate Casas, spokeswoman for Teach Great, the main group backing the petition, said: “As we’ve modernized our ability to collect and analyze data, we think that it’s really important that we use those modern technologies in our classrooms — and feel that new evaluations will make sure that we are protecting really great teachers (and) supporting teachers who might be struggling in some areas.”

Under the proposed amendment, teachers would keep their jobs or get pay increases based on “objective measures of student growth,” Casas said.

“Our evaluation system allows for teachers to use teacher-created assessments,” she said. “What we’ve done is given local school boards and classroom teachers probably the widest-ever latitude in terms of how they’re going to monitor their own students’ growth.”

But Mike Sherman, communications director for the opposition campaign, Protect Our Local Schools, said Thursday: “This proposal is taking control away from the school districts.

“It takes away the local control from parents, teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards — the people who know the best for their schools — and will hand it over to the state bureaucrats and elected officials in Jeff City.”

The proposed amendment says that school districts would be required to “develop and implement a standards based performance evaluation system approved by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.”

That, Sherman said, is “just wrong. And, by taking local control away, what we’ll do is implement more standardized tests that will determine school funding for local schools.”

The Missouri School Boards Association supports the opposition.

“This proposal is poorly drafted and strips local school boards of much of their authority for educational decisions that have an impact on students,” MSBA spokesman Brent Ghan said. “Among other things it would prevent school boards from terminating teachers for violating board policy.”

Roger Kurtz, a former Jefferson City School Board member and now executive director of the Missouri Association of School Administrators, said: “Missouri schools are already underfunded by the state of Missouri, and Amendment 3 will require local taxpayers to bear the cost of these new, mandated standardized tests.”

And Mike Schooley, a former principal in the Columbia and St. Joseph districts, who now directs the Missouri Association of Elementary School Principals, said: “The most effective way for schools to evaluate teachers is through hands-on evaluation in the classroom by local principals. Amendment 3 creates one-size-fits-all system mandated by bureaucrats in Jefferson City.”

But Casas disagreed: “I think that Missouri voters will agree that best-practice for teachers is to look at what they want their students to know, and work toward that goal and be able to test and make sure that they have reached that goal.”

Sherman said the proposed amendment ultimately would lead to more testing and less opportunity to give students the one-on-one attention each child needs.

Otto Fajen, long-time lobbyist for the Missouri National Education Association said: “This one-size-fits-all approach will hurt districts’ ability to recruit and retain teachers in high-risk and low-performing schools and will adversely affect the students in those schools.”

Fajen also said the proposed amendment’s “new, standardized test-driven evaluations” would be required “just at the time that districts across the state are already implementing a new, comprehensive, high-quality educator evaluation system — and have already invested in the tools and training to implement that system.”

Mike Wood, a lobbyist for the Missouri State Teachers Association, said: “It will lead to much more standardized testing because teachers who are not currently giving a statewide assessment will have to give some sort of assessment to students in order to be properly evaluated.

The students, Wood said, would be the real “losers in all of this,” making them good at taking tests but not at critical thinking.

Wood also said it’s “interesting that all of the experts in education … are all opposed to this.”

But Casas said: “I’m certain that the ‘too much testing’ sound bite is one that opponents will use, but I have far more faith in Missouri voters — that they’ll look at this and say we’re giving our teachers a whole lot of latitude to make sure that students are learning the material that they need to learn.”

Many Missourians are calling it the “teacher tenure” proposal because, if passed, the amendment would change current state law, which requires school districts to have indefinite contracts for teachers who have been “employed as a teacher in the same school district for five successive years.”

Both Casas and Sherman said the tenure issue is just one part of a larger proposal.

But the tenure language is a main focus of a 10-page lawsuit filed June 17, accusing supporters of violating the Constitution and election laws by amending two different sections of the state Constitution instead of only one, as required.

Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green is scheduled to hear arguments in that lawsuit on Aug. 28.

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