The first step in the attack against tenure for Missouri teachers came during the 2009 legislative session when a bill was passed granting merit pay in St. Louis schools to teachers who were willing to sacrifice their tenure rights.
Anyone who thought that would be the end of it was sorely mistaken, and did not take the hatred of Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, into consideration.
During her eight years in the House of Representatives and her first term in the Senate, Mrs. Cunningham has offered one bill after another designed to cripple public education. As a House member, she notoriously, and successfully, lobbied former Speaker of the House Rod Jetton for the chairmanship of the Education Committee, offering only one qualification- her ability to corral large amounts of campaign cash for House members from All Children Matter, a national group dedicated to putting public money into private schools.
And now, with SB 1024, Jane Cunningham has declared all-out war on tenure for Missouri teachers. Her bill would eliminate it altogether and not put any brake on vengeful administrators who want to eliminate teachers for personal disagreements or other petty reasons.
It would also create a paperwork nightmare for public schools, which normally would be something Mrs. Cunningham would frown upon, unless, of course, it involves public schools.
The bill calls for the following:
-The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must "prepare a report on the effectiveness of the graduates of state-approved teacher preparation programs. The report must include an analysis of public school student learning gains on statewide assessments. The first report must be prepared by March 1, 2011, and then every two years thereafter."
-"The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must annually prepare a report by December 31 on the number of classroom teachers, by school district, whose students' declining academic performance indicates educational insufficiency."
-Instead of tenure, teachers who have taught for five years would be eligible for "professional performance contracts," which would be limited to no more than five years. After that time, if a school board wishes to fire a teacher, it can do so, without cause, according to the bill.
-Superintendents will be required to send to the state commissioner the names of teachers who are fired due to "educational insufficiency." That will go on the teacher's permanent record.
-Each district must establish procedures to evaluate all educators, which will include parent input.
And, though the bill says that items other than test scores should be considered in evaluating teacher performances, there is no doubt that the scores are meant to be the final factor in whether teachers continue to be employed.
On the face of it, that sounds like a sensible approach. After all, if the students are not doing well on standardized tests, it would certainly seem like the teacher should be held accountable. Of course, that is a simplistic approach that does not take into consideration some important factors.
-No one ever talks about the serious problem we have with students who simply do not care and put no effort into their education.
-Many students have no support structure at home. With homes where the parents do not see the value of education, and in homes where children undergo physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, how well they bubble in a standardized test is the last of their concerns.
-Scores are not just affected by the quality of education students are receiving from their current teachers, but also from the quality of education they received from their past teachers.
-Schools (and teachers) are held responsible for the test scores of students who move into their school district well into the school year, many times right before the standardized tests are given. (Some school districts are notorious for "encouraging" low-achieving students to transfer to other districts so their scores will not affect the districts' performance.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to basing employment strictly on the results of standardized tests.
Of course,the opponents of teacher tenure have made it seem like there is no way to get rid of a poor teacher. That is simply not true. While we see the admittedly horrid cases in New York, Los Angeles and other major cities of teachers who remain on the public dollar despite low performance because union rules make them almost impossible to remove, that is not the way it is in most United States school districts and nearly all Missouri school districts. Teacher tenure laws do not say you cannot remove a teacher, they just require that the teacher be given due process.
Proposed laws like this one are part of a continuing effort to undermine public schoolteachers, most of whom are performing well at what can be a thankless job. Teachers continue to be the major target, simply because we are a convenient target.
I know of no good schoolteacher who wants to see bad teachers remain in the classroom. This, however, is not the path Missouri should be taking. This is a bill that needs to be shelved immediately.