Starting this year, teacher tenure as it once existed in Louisiana will be no more, according to The Hechinger Report. Instead, each of the state’s 50,000 teachers currently working will be assessed on their performance on an annual basis, and those who are consistently found to be underperforming will be fired regardless of seniority.
It isn’t a surprise that this new system of teacher evaluation and retention – which will depend largely on standardized exam results – is drawing mixed reactions. Those who support it feel that the calcified tenure system kept bad teachers in the classroom and contributed to the mediocre academic outcomes of the state’s students. Those who oppose the evaluation system think it is an assault both on educators and the organized labor that protects them.
The shift has drawn a mix of tentative enthusiasm, fierce anxiety and reams of questions from educators. Will the ever-tightening focus on test scores snuff out creativity? What about those who teach in subjects that aren’t tested, which in fact make up a majority?
Adding to the confusion is the fact that the state has introduced substantial changes to the assessment system it will be using between the pilot program and its state-wide launch last year. Those who thought they had a solid grasp on what the new system will mean to them now find themselves, once again, lost.
Steve Monaghan, head of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, describes the system as flawed beyond hope. The main theme of the group’s annual convention, scheduled for this weekend, is the ongoing effort to get the various statutes involved repealed. Broadly speaking, Monaghan and his counterparts in other states view these new evaluation methods as part of a destructive campaign to vilify unions and blame teachers for all that ails public education. “I’m the union boss; I’m evil,” Monaghan said.
He said that he doesn’t just take the issue with the idea of each teachers proving their worth every year. According to Monaghan, the details of how each teacher will be assessed is in conflict with the promises made by the legislature when the new approach was first discussed. For example, although the lawmakers said that no more than half of a teacher’s final ranking will come from value-added data, in reality, if the value-added data says that the teacher is “ineffective,” the teacher must be rated that way. The same thing goes for in-person observation; if the observer determines that the teacher is underperforming, that’s how the teacher will be graded.
Monaghan also faults the state for deliberately calibrating the system so that 10 percent of the state’s teachers — or at least the third that teach value-added subjects — fall into the ineffective category. “You have an evaluation plan with a predetermined outcome,” he said.