Salt Lake Tribune
February 14, 2012
Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, spent some time last summer talking to public school teachers across the state. He said he was trying to determine how the Legislature could help teachers do their jobs better and improve education for Utah schoolchildren.
One result is SB64, which would make teacher evaluations more meaningful, because the outcome would affect paychecks, and helpful, because poorly performing teachers would get a deadline and some help to improve.
Osmond’s bill, if properly implemented, would be the first real attempt to require teachers to meet certain standards and to ease the way for administrators to dismiss them if they don’t. That "if" has been a problem in the past, when administrators and teacher unions have found ways to circumvent legislative mandates to tie pay increases or bonuses to performance and adopt evaluation systems that can lead to dismissals of poor teachers. It’s a hopeful sign that SB64 has the backing of the Utah Education Association.
If passed, the law itself should be evaluated regularly and results monitored. Nonetheless, SB64 is a real step forward.
As Osmond said in presenting the bill, Utah has many fine educators and "great pockets of innovation," but the quality of teaching could be higher across the board. One way to bring up classroom standards is by rewarding excellence and weeding out those teachers who are sliding by.
It’s widely accepted that the teacher is the foremost factor in determining whether students perform up to their potential. Utah has the largest class sizes in the nation, but great teachers have been able to meet that challenge and produce outstanding results. They should be rewarded. However, Utah has too many mediocre and even poor teachers. SB64 recognizes that and provides a process for identifying them and sending them packing if they do not improve.
The bill would set up four new performance categories to be addressed in annual evaluations. A teacher would have to forgo scheduled raises if he or she received a low rating and could be fired for poor ratings twice in three years. The bill sets a 120-day remediation period before an employee could be fired.
Administrators would be evaluated annually based on student achievement, leadership skills, ability to complete teacher evaluations and other areas decided by a local school board. Gradually, districts would have to begin paying administrators according to their evaluations, eventually basing at least 15 percent of their pay on performance.
Teachers can and should be evaluated. Utah children deserve the best.