Maine should take fresh look at teacher tenure

Most parents of older children can cite a long list of dedicated teachers and counselors who inspired their children to do well in school.

The educational profession is full of such people.

But most parents can also recall a teacher they seriously suspected just wasn't up to the job anymore or seemed in over their head.

That's a painful realization for a parent. Their son or daughter may already have fallen behind or lost months of progress before the source of the problem is evident. Even then, parents are often reluctant to rock the boat by expressing their concerns.

Maine is now taking the tentative first steps toward developing a system linking student achievement data to teacher evaluations.

A stakeholder group will meet later this year to review and approve evaluation models for Maine's school districts to use.

The data, according to the Maine Department of Education, will take into account "student growth" over the course of a year.

Still unclear, however, is what will be done with the evaluations once they are performed. It will still be up to individual districts to act as they see fit upon poorly performing teachers.

Legislators here should take note of a more ambitious step taken by Colorado to change how teachers earn and keep job protections known as tenure.

Firing a teacher for poor performance is a notoriously difficult process which most districts undertake in only the most extreme circumstances.

Tenure, once meant to protect teachers from being fired for their political or religious views, is now widely seen as protecting mediocre or incompetent teachers from removal.

Colorado's governor and Legislature will begin, in 2015,  requiring that teachers be evaluated annually, with at least half of the rating based upon student progress during the school year.

Beginning teachers will have to show they have boosted student achievement for three straight years to earn tenure.

Teachers could lose tenure, meanwhile, if their students didn't show progress for two consecutive years.

While other states have tried to modify their tenure systems to improve educational results, Colorado's effort is the boldest yet.

The new law may also move Colorado into the lead for "Race to the Top" funding, a competition sponsored by the federal government to distribute $4.35 billion to states that show initiative in restructuring their educational systems.

In fact, Maine's efforts to change its assessment system were based upon improving our chances of receiving federal funds.

Still, assessments are of little use unless they result in improvement.

Hopefully, our new assessments will help administrators constructively improve teacher performance through training and other assistance.

Still, a school is like any workplace. Some employees are self-motivated, others can be motivated and a few will be either unwilling or unable to improve.

Maine needs a stronger system for not only identifying those under-performing teachers, but for getting them out of the classroom.

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Thank you.

Thank you to Cranky Yankee for an clearly stated and accurate response to this editorial.


Cranky Yankee, thumbs up

Great comment and entirely true. Parents point at teachers because they won't point at themselves or their children. Some years ago, I attended a conference of school boards where the firing process was laid out and documented. As cranky yankee wrote, the process is simple. I also was on a school board and attended all of our district's history offerrings (in the main they were pathetic). One teacher stood out. This teacher did nothing in class (AP History) and when the teacher started to teach something it is was pathetic, dumbed down to the point of nonsense. The teacher assigned grades not on student performance, but on the gender of the student and admitted it, was proud of it in fact. Was this teacher fired. No! The super took the Navy way - the teacher was promoted to a non-teaching position which should have gotten the super fired but didn't.
We should stop blaming teachers in general and become involved in our children's education at every level.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Great post, jalb..we don't

Great post, jalb..we don't always agree, but you sure nailed this one.


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