The current system of evaluation is clearly nonfunctional; more than 95 percent of teachers are rated "satisfactory," a designation far too broad to be of much use to anyone, including teachers who don't belong there - to say nothing of the kids struggling or failing. So it's wise to talk about broadening the way teachers are evaluated, which right now depends mainly on classroom observation.
And those teachers who are not satisfactory should not be teaching. In fact, the State Education Association, the state's largest teacher's union agrees, and recently offered a plan that includes a proposal for teacher evaluation. PSEA wants evaluations to be a tool in helping those teachers who need improvement.
The Piccola bill would add student test scores as an element in teacher evaluations, and would be used to get teachers more easily dismissed for incompetency.
The effort to create an effective and fair way to rate and improve teachers is laudable, especially if it can provide a path for teachers to improve. Most professionals want to know how well they're doing, and to fix the things they don't do well.
What concerns us is that the bill effectively exempts charter-school teachers from such evaluations. The Legislature wants to give charter schools and teachers as much flexibility as possible. But keeping them out of that evaluation process does no favors for the charter schools or their students.
In fact, recent Stanford University research that tracked charter-school performance against noncharter public schools found too many charters lagging in math and reading scores.
If the belief is that better education can come from better evaluation of the people delivering it, it makes no sense to exempt any category of educators. Holding charter teachers to high evaluation standards should do nothing to impede their flexibility to create its mission or curriculum.
We wonder what message this bill is sending: that test scores of charter students are less important as a barometer of those schools' success? Does that mean lawmakers have a different standard for charter performance? We'd like to know what that standard is.
Alternatives to traditional public education - like charters and vouchers - have great merit. It's also true that they are political darlings, embraced and beloved by Gov. Corbett and much of the Legislature. But creating separate standards for performance and evaluation is no way to reform or improve education. And basing educational standards on politics alone is a sure way to fail at both. *