Public Watchdog.org

Now Here’s A “Pilot” Program Worth Considering

11.13.09

Over the years, District 64 has been a test site for a number of academic and administrative “pilot” programs, many of which never got off the ground or which crashed and burned shortly after becoming airborne.

But Monday’s edition of the Chicago Tribune carried an article about a kind of “pilot” program (“School districts retooling how they evaluate teachers,” by John Keilman) that should be a must-read for the school board members and administrators at Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 – but, given the District’s track in matters like this, probably won’t be.

According to that article, Evanston-Skokie School District 65 has embarked on a program of evaluating teachers using a two-part process that will include an appraisal of classroom teaching style and an examination of the test scores of the children taught by that teacher.  The test-score portion is based on the difference between test scores at the beginning and at the end of the school year.

For a teacher to earn an “excellent” rating on a scale of “excellent,” “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory,” he/she is expected to enable no less than one low-scoring child to improve one grade level, while also enabling the rest of the class to gain a full year’s worth of educational growth irrespective of the level at which the child started the year.  And to be fair to the teacher, a child’s test scores can be discounted for appropriate cause – for example, if the child missed a significant portion of school due to illness. 

In order to receive a “merit” pay increase, the teacher must receive at least one “excellent” rating over a period of several years.  That sounds a little like an escape clause, but we can’t tell for sure.

One impetus for such performance-based teacher evaluation is coming from the New Teacher Project, a non-profit group based in Brooklyn, N.Y. which focuses on improving teacher quality.  In a recently-released study, it found that administrators tend to give top ratings to teachers even at schools with miserable test results.  Consequently, teachers are rarely fired, and merit-pay rarely is based on true “merit.”

Ah, yes, the insanity of “tenure” (a/k/a “guaranteed lifetime employment”) for elementary and high school teachers.

Obviously, a change like this will be neither simple or easy, especially when dealing with an industry – and, make no mistake about it, public education is an “industry” which, in Park Ridge, consumes almost two-thirds of our property tax dollars when both elementary and high school are included – that has virtually institutionalized non-accountability of teachers, administrators and the school board itself.

But perhaps one small benefit of the current economic crisis is that such sacred cows as ever-increasing teacher and administrator pay, pensions, etc. are being held just a tad less sacred.

Given the relatively mediocre performance of District 64 students on the ISAT tests which, rightly or wrongly, get the most attention from parents and the media, we think the District owes it to its students and the taxpayers to give a serious look at “piloting” this kind of teacher evaluation – and a program of merit pay based on such evaluations.

Because with homes on the brink or going into foreclosure at record levels and residents hurting financially to an extent not seen in decades, District 64’s business-as-usual just isn’t cutting it anymore.

P.S.:  We want to give a big Watchdog bark-out to Dist. 207 Supt. Ken Wallace for foregoing a $26,950 merit-based pay raise as a symbol of his commitment to reduce District 207’s $17 million “structural deficit.”  He joins Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt, who has foresworn his entire $12,000 annual mayoral salary, as two local government leaders who are at least showing some recognition for real-world employment insecurity and fiscal responsibility, two things about which the pandering politicians, bureaucrats and lifetime government employees too often seem oblivious.

Well done, Mr. Wallace!

5 comments so far

Wow, I can hardly wait for the PREA’s boo-hoo response to this. Let’s be sure D64 hires a new Superintendent with the determination to get something like this done.

I sure hope Washington adopts this. I doubt the bureaucracy will let it happen. The 4th grade teachers there need to be fired but I am sure their tenured and on their pension cruises. One screams at the kids, two have been caught playing computer games while the class runs amok and one teaches by reading out of a text book. From the word on the street, 4th grade has been a “lost year” for many years. Too bad nothing will get accomplished. I am sure D64 will be coming back to the taxpayers for money in the next few years to fund their contractual raises.

I don’t know about the other schools in D64 but Washington needs some serious help in 4th grade. The teachers spend their days screaming at the kids, playing computer games and letting the students run wild. When they do teach they read the text book to the kids. They rarely give homework because if they did they would have to correct it!!!

Word on the street is that 4th grade at Washington has been a “lost year” for many years. I am guessing the teachers are tenured and on their pension cruises. Sure would have been nice to have this type of evaluation system before they got tenured.

The Chicago Tribune editorial from Friday titled “Rigging the test” shows the kind of fraud that is practiced by school administrators when it comes to standardized achievement tests, including holding kids out of such testing and dumbing down the ISATs to make it easier for Illinois students than other states make it for their students. Illinois standards are the fourth lowest in the country. Eighth grade reading scores involved standards that were 12th lowest in the country.

So when District 64 brags about its ISAT scores, we need to be ,more than a little suspicious. And when it does anything less than brag, we should be alarmed.

Really, if they need to know who are the good teachers and who are the bad teachers, all they need to do is ask the parents.



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