Education spending: Legislature should look before it leaps

Guest Opinion

In September 2013 Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education issued a report. The report stated that non-competitive salaries make hiring and retaining teachers difficult, the current educational system does not provide incentives, and it lacks accountability. The report’s centerpiece solution, which carried the biggest price tag, was the Career Ladder Compensation Model.

The key selling point for the Career Ladder Compensation Model: it would be performance based. Said the report, “The model…combines competitive salaries with incentives, rewards, and accountability.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra recently presented the legislature with her K-12 education budget, which seeks $56.5 million in increased funding for fiscal year 2017 career ladder implementation and related salary apportionment. The teacher’s component alone represents a $39 million funding increase over last year.

Pupil-services staff are also to be added to the career ladder. Thus, eventually, non-instructional personnel are to be evaluated alongside teachers.

Let’s focus on the main point, teacher performance and accountability are supposed to be the cornerstones of the career ladder. The supporting recommendations by the Task Force for Improving Education called for accountability “predicated on a strong evaluation system.”

So, what is the evaluation system? How is it being used? The evaluation system is called Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching. It encompasses four categories: Planning and Preparation, The Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities. Spread across the four categories are 76 “rating elements” for which teachers are deemed: unsatisfactory, basic, proficient, and distinguished. For example, under Planning and Preparation, one element is, “knowledge of the learning process.” That sounds reasonable. However, another element is, “knowledge of students’ interests and cultural heritage.” Keep in mind, these are just two of the 76 elements. Each of the 76 elements also has a descriptive component for written evaluations of the teacher.

Imagine how much administrative time — and expense — it would take to rate more than 14,000 teachers on all of these 76 elements. This brings me to a more disturbing point: The evaluations are not being done.

Granted the implementation is supposed to take five years, but the rating system as currently structured is too complex to be implemented effectively.

Of the 14,038 teacher ratings for the most recent school years we have, more than 98 percent of teachers were rated in the two highest categories, proficient and distinguished, with only 1.3 percent rated basic and well under 1 percent were rated unsatisfactory.

The devil is in the details, so it is essential that the public knows that education leaders are not following the spirit of the task force report recommendations. The report’s career ladder implementation examples suggest state-level pay increases per teacher of 51 percent spread over five years for newer teachers, 35 percent for those more experienced, and 17 percent for Master Level teachers.

Perhaps the overall, multi-year, price tag of $200 to $250 million for implementation of the career ladder model will attract more teachers and help us retain the good ones.

However, one thing is certain, it will not chase many poor teachers away. That is the rub. What is really happening: More money is simply being thrown at the current educational system while we pretend we are helping students prepare for their futures.

Lawmakers need to address the lack of rigor in the teacher performance evaluation system before they simply fork over more money for the career ladder.

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