I appreciate the idealism of state Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, who wants only the best for students, and who considers classroom excellence to be “a matter of civil rights” (“Teacher layoff bills gain little ground in state Senate,” March 13). To her and Republicans pressing for change, this means measuring teachers by their performance.
As a public school instructor for 32 years and past contract negotiator in Eden Prairie, I understand that the current system of teacher tenure has been long-standing, but could be altered or eliminated if certain conditions are met. To achieve their goal, Bonoff and fellow advocates to change tenure laws must first legislate how the performance of teachers will be fairly measured.
Legislators must standardize the term “measurement.” This will take careful science to set up a valid, objective tool so that the profession of teaching in Minnesota is not compromised or diminished.
They must establish a clear workplace balance for assessment, so that no teacher — young or old — is unfairly judged.
To fairly effect change, the effort of legislators will be to eliminate all assessment variables from the classroom. Each classroom must be structured equally at grade level. Before their assessments, teachers will not be burdened with a unique and unusual set of students differing from the classroom down the hall. This will be a major change from current classrooms that house great diversity and individual need.
Here are five key requirements to assure an effective, scientific assessment model that can separate competent, even exceptional teachers, from the underperformers who, as Bonoff suggests, are largely responsible for the racial achievement gap in Minnesota.
1. The move to separate special-education students from the regular classroom is essential (even though the Supreme Court has indicated otherwise). This is top on the list of changes to bring classrooms back to uniformity before performing teacher assessments.
2. The Legislature must establish a standard number of students for each classroom at the grade levels, so that no third-grade teacher has 20 students (including some special-education students), while another has 28 (with several bad behavers). That’s an unfair apples-vs.-oranges situation to be remedied before comparing teachers and their effectiveness.
3. Make every effort to eliminate from the classroom children in single-parent families. On average, these students carry greater emotional issues and can skew the outcome of teaching and testing. These children can invalidate any scientific judgment of teacher skills.
4. The social, ethnic and economic diversity of students in the urban classroom has created multiple variables that invalidate all current standardized assessments of teachers. Classes should be restructured accordingly to homogenize and funds allocated to meet the housing modifications necessary to eliminate extreme elements of diversity.
5. It will be necessary to set up tighter personality profiles in hiring so that administrators can objectively measure strengths and weaknesses of teachers. Any personal style or innovation exercised on subject matter and instruction will only confuse administrators and undermine the final assessment process.
If legislators in this 2015 session can focus on classroom uniformity, we can look forward to accurate assessment and placement of our finest teachers. If our state leaders are prepared to tackle these necessary steps, then parents, students and taxpayers can be assured that the lesser instructors will be isolated and subsequently released.
If this seems familiar, a similar model of “separate but equal” described here operated for a time, although it galvanized a much greater achievement gap — in education, in hiring and in American civil liberties.
Bonoff and her colleagues, in seeking education reform, may not actually be asking us to move in the direction of “civil rights.”
Steve Watson, of Minneapolis, is a retired instructor and Eden Prairie Education Association negotiator.