Friday, May 21, 2010

The value of engagement

As a new form of teacher evaluation took another step toward becoming law on Thursday, it was clear that the Louisiana Federation of Teachers has played a major role in shaping the bill, even while remaining opposed to its adoption.

This article by Times-Picayune reporter Bill Barrow clearly explains why it is important to maintain a dialog with lawmakers.

Rep. Frank Hoffman's HB 1033 will make a new, relatively untested science called the "value added model" an integral part of teacher evaluations in Louisiana. While LFT believes there is merit to the concept, the Federation is concerned that writing it into law is premature. The union would prefer to see the VAM field-tested before becoming policy.

But it is obvious that the bill has strong support in the legislature and in the governor's office. Its passage is almost universally regarded as assured.

Faced with that certainty, the Federation chose to engage with Rep. Hoffman in hopes of making it a better bill. In that, the union succeeded.

Because the Federation worked with Rep. Hoffman, the bill ensures that teachers will have a process to challenge evaluations they believe are inaccurate. The evaluation will account for factors beyond a teacher's control, including the socio-economic status of the students. There will be an advisory committee, which includes a majority of teacher members, to oversee development of the evaluation instrument.

Most important, there will be a two-year phase in of the new system. If the advisory committee reports that it is not working as it should, the education committees of the House and Senate will be able to halt the program.

These changes were not enough to earn LFT support for the bill. But they make it much, much better than it was. That cooperation led to a moment of comity during the hearing. As Barrow writes, "Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said his group maintains its opposition to writing 'value-added' assessments in state law, saying the developing method is too new to codify. But Monaghan praised Hoffman for working on changes to the bill over the course of the session. Hoffman returned the praise. "

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