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October 20, 2014

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Teacher evaluations called unproductive

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Brian Sandoval

The assumption behind Gov. Brian Sandoval’s education reform package is that red tape has prevented schools from getting rid of bad teachers, who are increasingly viewed as the greatest impediment to improving public education.

Simply put, the governor wants to make it easier to fire teachers by ending tenure and removing those who fail annual evaluations.

Testifying Saturday on behalf of the reform measure, Assembly Bill 555, Sandoval’s senior adviser, Dale Erquiaga, noted that 0.3 percent of Nevada public school teachers annually lose their jobs because of poor performance. The national average, he said, is 1.5 percent.

The implication: The current process fails to weed out poor teachers.

Erquiaga argued the process is “too hard” and “too cumbersome,” citing research showing 5 to 10 percent of teachers could be replaced for poor performance.

But school officials say they have the ability to fire teachers, and the goals the governor wants to accomplish require more of a cultural transformation than a legal one.

•••

Over the past five years, 171 licensed personnel, most of them teachers, have lost their jobs to “ineffective classroom performance,” said Bill Garis, Clark County School District’s acting human resources officer. That’s not many for a district with 18,000 teachers, he says.

Teachers, administrators, union activists, business leaders and education reform advocates say the district has a variety of tools and techniques to get rid of bad teachers. Principals may transfer poor teachers to another school. They may place them in less-desirable classrooms or give them especially difficult students to teach, with the hope that they’ll just quit.

It’s not known how many have packed up.

School District lobbyist Joyce Haldeman says many procedural barriers tie the hands of administrators who want to fire incompetent teachers, forcing principals to make a simple decision: Is it worth the time to begin the removal process, knowing that such efforts could be delayed or eventually dropped because of administrative appeals?

“What we currently have is not working,” Haldeman says. “It’s not productive. Because of technicalities it’s not happening. It’s not that it can’t be done. Principals do it here, but it’s not worth the time of principals to go through the motions because it’s not productive.”

As proof, she turns north to Washoe County School District — rather than her own — where she says district officials have publicly spoken of an abusive physical education teacher who they have been unable to get out of the classroom despite the educator’s having shoved a student and left another on a gym floor with a broken leg. Despite their best efforts, administrators have been unable to fire the teacher because of barriers established through decades of collective bargaining arrangements, legislation and an inflexible workplace structure, Haldeman says.

Union officials counter that principals often lack the skill, will, time, patience or training to work with teachers who need developmental assistance.

The reality is that poor teachers continue to teach, she says, and their students, parents and co-workers pay the price, a dynamic that filmmaker Davis Guggenheim characterized as the dance of the lemons in the 2010 documentary, “Waiting for Superman.” Quite simply, school administrators transfer the worst of the worst from school to school hoping they will improve or quit.

The reasons for the backdoor strategy include the length and complexity of the disciplinary effort, with its due process and employee protections.

•••

Whether Sandoval’s education reform package passes or the status quo persists, the hiring and retention of first-rate teachers will depend on effective evaluations.

Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, says 97 percent of teachers receive satisfactory evaluations. Dozens of teachers testified in the Carson City hearing room and via satellite from a hearing room at the Sawyer State Office Building in Las Vegas, where they were joined by a single legislator, Assemblyman Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas, a retired UNLV math professor.

Aizley suggested that the implementation of the governor’s proposal, which awaits legislative votes, be delayed for as many as two years so the current evaluation process could be understood within Nevada’s school districts.

More than a dozen teachers testified that they fear the change could make it easier for principals and school districts to get rid of teachers who earn more than younger teachers, particularly in tight budgetary times, an echo of the anti-collective bargaining techniques employed by Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Several noted that budget-constrained school administrators might turn to two entry-level teachers to replace a more costly educator with 15 or 20 years experience. They also worry that postprobationary teachers could lose their jobs to principals who do not like their personalities.

“You could be subject to the whims of a principal in a given year,” one teacher said.

Others spoke of the frustrations felt by young, high-quality educators who are about to lose their jobs to budget cuts because of the last-in, first-out formula that dictates who stays and who goes.

Principals are required to perform nine classroom evaluations for first-year teachers and three classroom evaluations annually for teachers who have passed probationary periods. Instead, the evaluations are used inconsistently, with some principals closely following the rules, while others rarely make the required classroom visits, particularly for veteran teachers.

The first three years of a teacher’s Clark County School District career routinely finds them undergoing a three-page, 45- to 60-minute review conducted by a principal or assistant principal who gauges a teacher’s planning and preparation, student achievement, the learning environment, professional standards and professional responsibilities.

Each category has three to nine subcategories, with teachers graded on a scale of one to four, with four being the highest level. The subcategories are designed to assess a teacher’s mastery of the curriculum and lessons, classroom management and his ability to work with students, administrators, co-workers and parents.

After the successful completion of nine such evaluations, a teacher is eligible to receive a much more limited single-page evaluation through which a principal or assistant principal may offer a brief “performance summary” that might offer a few suggestions for improvement.

The School District has hired an estimated 25,000 teachers during the past decade, the culmination of a 16-year period that saw the its student population double to 309,000. Hire 25,000 people to fill any positions, and even the staunchest advocates of the tenure-style job protections note that you will hire some who are excellent, some who should be fired and many who fill the bell curve of the broad middle.

No matter the outcome of the legislative debate, School District officials say a mix of new teacher and student performance measurements developed with the aid of advanced computerization and national standardized testing will create a more effective gauge of teacher performance, making it easier for principals and vice principals to perform teacher appraisals.

“This will give principals the data they need to determine how effective teachers are,” said Annie Amoia, a former elementary school principal who is the School District’s director of teacher induction mentoring and development.

There is another wild card that could affect Sandoval’s plan to improve teacher assessment. If his proposed budget cuts are adopted by state lawmakers, the School District will not only lose good teachers but also good administrators, the sort who effectively assess the performance of the best and worst teachers. The quality assessments that Sandoval and his staff crave could be hindered by the loss of those top-notch administrators, making it more difficult to remove poor teachers.

“The key to all of this is the execution of the evaluations. The district’s going to say their hands are tied; they can’t do the job,” said Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association. “My question is what kind of training has been provided to these principals for the evaluations? What kind of training have they been given to provide teachers with assistance and improvements? When the district says it is too lengthy of a process, it is because they don’t try.”

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  1. "Principals may transfer poor teachers to another school. They may place them in less-desirable classrooms or give them especially difficult students to teach, with the hope that they'll just quit."

    This is why we need reform. Transferring bad teachers to "less-desirable" schools to make them want to quit? So you screw a classroom full of kids just so you can keep a worthless teacher on the payroll and just continuing the cycle producing a poor performance school? That is the biggest load of BS I have ever heard. It sounds like the union is more concerned with keeping their asses covered reguardless of performance than caring about the actual kids which they are tasked with educating.

  2. There is some merrit to the Govenors argument. In any organization there are always some who are not good at what they do, so one has to assume that is true of the 18,000 CCSD teachers. I wonder how many poor performing CCSD administrators are given pink slips.

    The former principal of Mohave was sent packing, to another school. It took the district ten years and a number of failed schools to to figure out this "educator" was a bummer, By the By where is she now in the system, because they NEVER fire one of the administrators they just move them on?

  3. This all begs the question. We don't know what "performance" is, how to measure it, how to attribute it to a particular teacher, or even whether it is attributable to a particular teacher. So, without knowing any of this, we are standing by why politicians -- politicians -- strive for votes and contributions by "reforms" based on sound bites rather than sound logic and solid foundations in research and experience. That there is a "budget crisis" doesn't excuse doing something stupid, like passing our educational failures along to others, worse for our "reform" efforts than had we done nothing at all.

  4. Leric...
    Well said, man. Well said.

    Someone should write a book...
    "How Education became the scapegoat for the failures of an entire Society".

    The NeoNuts have deftly changed the subject ENTIRELY from "how the hell did we get into this fiscal mess, & HOW DO WE GET OUT OF IT?", to "Let's blame Public Employees in general & Teachers in particular for ALL OF OUR FAILINGS"..."We'll make THEM pay for everything! Literally AND figuratively!"
    It's a POLITICAL STRATEGY, not a sincere, well-intentioned desire to modify our existing educational strategies.

    And so, now we have B.S. making B.S. calls on how to "fix" things.
    Yeah, B.S. is "fixing" things, THAT is a FACT!!!

    Are people REALLY SO GULLIBLE?
    Yep, they surely are.

  5. "Dale Erquiaga, noted that 0.3 percent of Nevada public school teachers annually lose their jobs because of poor performance. The national average, he said, is 1.5 percent."

    So 1.2% of the teachers are causing all the problems? Destroying the entire Nevada Elementary School system? Fat Chance.

    This is simply an excuse to destroy public education and use taxpayer money to create funding for Religious Schools - Not Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Religious Science, Science of the Mind, Scientologists, etc., and the Heaven's Gate people are all gone. These schools will be Sandoval approved schools.

  6. "What a broken record...wah wah wah. Blame game #1-the teachers, #2-the administrators, #3-the inefficient school district. WOW.....WHAT ABOUT THE PRINCIPLE EDUCATOR OF ALL CHILDREN: THE PARENTS!!!!
    Oh, sorry, they're too busy to be involved with their kids."
    Right on, retired teach.
    You ought to be required to actually have been in a CCSD classroom or ANY USA classroom in an urban setting for a specified period of time before you are allowed to pass judgement on "the system"... you would change your tune in a New York Minute.

  7. improveLV...
    Another fallacy.
    NO ONE is "protecting" crappy teachers.
    They happen, just like crappy writers, crappy cops, crappy accountants, and so on.
    The notion that they are somehow LEGION and schooling our kids (poorly) is really funny...ha ha ha.
    Our "experts" are barking up the WRONG TREE.
    As SunJon points out:
    "So 1.2% of the teachers are causing all the problems? Destroying the entire Nevada Elementary School system? Fat Chance."
    It's a POLITICAL GAME, and YOU are being SCAMMED.

  8. The latest way CCSD is putting some "accountability" onto the teachers is the new INFORM system of cherry-picking test result information out of massive clouds of testing information (this is an extremely simplified explanation of it).

    While attending a training for this with a colleague, it became interesting to view 3 years worth of test information of a student side-by-side. Some of the anomalies were rather striking, for example, a group of students had fabulous test scores with one teacher in first grade, then the scores were lower, but consistent the two following years. One could wonder, if, by chance, that certain teacher might be doing something for all these students (some students can barely count or read and write in English language arts on a daily basis). When students' test scores are a part of the proposed teacher evaluations, stuff like this is disconcerting, to say the least. Most teachers are honest, hard working, and have integrity. INFORM will definitely be a type of watchdog on many levels. It is a great tool for grabbing information fast and being able to analyze it for interventions, although it does NOT replace the daily Q & A in the classroom where a teacher gets the gist of where a student needs the pats on the back and the extra help.

    Again, if gaming/resorts, mining, and big box store industries were taxed even the national average here in Nevada, we would not be going through this same conversation every time the Nevada State Legislature meets! DUH

  9. Firing 171 teachers in CCSD in one year would be less than 2 percent of all teachers in the district. Spread it over 5 years and you've got me saying big deal. There is no way over 99 percent of CCSD teachers are good to great let alone above average.

    Even the left-of-center Center for American Progress calls for reform on teacher tenure http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2... (see page 30 for a comparison of which state fires the least and which state fire the most teachers. Only 3 states fire fewer teachers for poor performance than Nevada).

    Having interviewed several principals in the district, they tell me the process of firing a teacher is not worth the hassle unless the teacher is an otherwordly kind of incompetent. One principal told me that writing bad reviews of a teacher forces you into time consuming mediation and its easier to write a good review and dump the teacher on another school.

    Tenure has to go.

  10. I personally liked the teachers who testified "I don't do it for the money BUT" followed by a statement how they wanted more money, wanted to get paid for things unrelated to student achievement, or wanted to keep their higher salaries than younger teachers even if that teacher was better. One teacher wanted all three after repeating several times she's not teaching for the money. In other words "I'm not it in for the money, but I'm in it for the money"