Despite blazing a trail in performance pay several years ago, a new study released today finds that Minnesota is among a pack of states that must strengthen policies to retain effective teachers and show ineffective ones the door.

South Carolina was the only state to earn an overall grade of B-minus in the National Council on Teacher Quality study, based in large part on its effectiveness in evaluating new teachers. Tennessee and Florida earned a C for basing teacher evaluations primarily on student learning. Most states, including Minnesota, earned a D.

"Since we don't have good metrics for determining who's going to be good teacher from the minute they walk into the door, we have to make that probationary period meaningful," said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of policy for the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit research group based in Washington, D.C. "Then [states must] work hard to keep the good ones and work hard to make sure children aren't sitting in classrooms with teachers we know are ineffective."

The council counts the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation among its major supporters and includes among its mission a commitment to "restructuring the teaching profession."

While the report praised Gov. Tim Pawlenty's Q Comp program, it said the state should develop a data system that ties teacher quality to student performance over time, establish tenure polices that are closely connected to performance in the classroom and provide mentors for new teachers. It also said the state should set up a differential pay system for subjects with teacher shortages, and close loopholes that allow teachers who haven't met licensing standards to remain in schools for up to three years.

The Minnesota Department of Education cooperated with the group as it produced the study and said it underscores several concerns the state plans to address. Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said state officials are working to establish more efficient data systems.

"What this does is reinforce what we're trying to do with the governor's Teacher Transformation Act," Seagren said. "We're doing a lot of good things [in these areas], but now the issue is making sure we scale them up."

The teacher transformation proposal was unveiled in 2008 and would require all public schools to tie teacher pay raises to performance under Q Comp, enforce tighter admission standards to teacher education programs, recruit mid-career professionals from other fields, and provide continuous teacher training that is directly applicable to the classroom.

Pawlenty recently proposed spending $41 million to expand the pay-for-performance model to every public school in the state as part of his 2010-11 budget plan.

From Tennessee to Minnesota

Minneapolis Public Schools, the state's third-largest district with 32,500 students, participates in Q Comp and uses multiple peer evaluations and mentor programs to assess the effectiveness of new teachers.

Minneapolis Deputy Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson previously worked for the Memphis School District and said she wasn't surprised the state earned a higher grade.

"Tennessee has taken a much more hands-on approach to setting some standards around these areas for districts so the [teacher] evaluation for schools in Memphis is the same for schools in Chattanooga," Johnson said.

Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher said the report's findings reflect the fact that Minnesota doesn't have an effective statewide system to measure teacher quality or provide incentives for teachers to pursue rigorous training such as National Board Certification.

"What we disagree with [from this report] is that student test results would adequately or accurately portray a teacher's effectiveness," Dooher said.

The report, Dooher said, overlooks the fact that ineffective teachers exit the profession on an ongoing basis, although he acknowledged it's difficult for researchers to track those trends.

"I don't know of another profession where you're probationary for three years," Dooher said. "Teachers do exit the profession but it's not a public display; many times it's the local unions working with people to counsel them out."

Patrice Relerford • 612-673-4395