In Olympia this session, the Washington Education Association (the state teachers' union) successfully argued against more stringent standards for teacher evaluation. As a result, this year's education reform bill—which does include things the union had to give in on like reforms like allowing alternate paths to teaching jobs, making it easier to fire bad principals, and giving the state the ability to deal with failing schools—ultimately goes with more union-friendly subjective district-by-district standards as opposed to a state-wide, uniform teacher evaluation system that the union opposed.
This last point means Washington State is in jeopardy of missing out on $250 million in Federal aid, part of President Obama's Race to the Top initiative. (Uniform teacher evaluation is one of Obama's big agenda items for school reform.) Ironically, a GOP amendment in Olympia called for uniform standards, but the Democrats—scared to offend their allies in the union—let the amendment die before the bill came to a vote.
PubliCola cynicism about Democrats and unions aside, the WEA does have a compelling argument: A "one-size-fits-all" standard applied to every teacher in the state takes away the power of local school districts to make evaluation decisions for themselves.
So, in the wake of the disappointment in Olympia, reformers—perhaps trying to call the union's bluff—are now going local. They're organizing in the district level to try to get schools to meet higher standards. First test case? Seattle.
The Alliance for Education, which lobbies the Seattle Public School District on community issues, and the League of Education Voters, a state-wide reform group that lobbied in Olympia this session for reform a la the Obama standards, are working together now as the "Our Schools Coalition." Their goal is to help the district move toward the standards adopted in this year's ed bill, particularly as the Seattle Public Schools negotiates its new contract with Seattle teachers this month.
City Council Member Tim Burgess, the Seattle Urban League, and the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce are among the fifteen other members of the coalition.
At a press conference held at Urban League headquarters yesterday afternoon, the coalition announced nine priorities they're pushing in Seattle Public Schools-Seattle Education Association contract negotiations, including giving teachers more prep time, speeding up the process for firing bad teachers, allowing alternative (non-certificate) teachers into the system, and, most notably, tying a student's academic growth to teacher evaluations. They also presented poll data they collected on how Seattle teachers and parents feel about each of their points.
League of Education Voters Director Chris Korsmo says the coalition will focus on implementing the standards that were adopted in Olympia this session, like new standards for hiring and firing principals. With regard to teacher standards, however, Korsmo said, "we really hope Seattle will adopt something bolder" that the provisions that passed in Olympia this session.
"The idea here is that these policies set the floor" for what Washington State can accomplish in terms of reform, Korsmo says. "There's no reason why Seattle shouldn't busting through the ceiling."
According to their own study, the only part of their agenda teachers found contentious was the coalition's idea to have staffing decisions based on teacher performance rather than seniority and to make student academic growth the primary factor in teacher evaluations.
Parents, as opposed to teachers, supported all nine of the Coalition's points, according the survey. (They interviewed 175 teachers and 200 parents altogether).
When I asked Seattle Education Association Executive Director Glenn Bafia what he thought of the new coalition's goals, he told me he's doing what he has to do in working with the standards that passed in Olympia. Particularly, they're working with a new four-tiered standard for teacher evaluation, rather than the old "satisfactory/unsatisfactory" model. (The four-tiered model is more nuanced and could include things like "Needs improvement" and "examplary" rather than the Roger Ebert thumbs up thumbs down model.)
"Our members will have to approve the contract, but now that it's state law that a four-tiered evaluation has to be used, this will be the recommendation we take forward," Bafia said in an email, which didn't really address my question about the coalition's agenda. "The new law also states that student growth has to be connected with the evaluation. We do not know how this will work at this time." (Editor's note: The law actually does not "require" student growth to be connected to evaluation.)
When I asked at the press conference if the Our Schools Coalition was working with south-end state legislators (all Democrats who went with this year's weaker bill), Korsmo said they haven't reached out because the legislative session is still going on.
- Advertisement -
OTHER POPULAR CONTENT
This Week in Restaurant News: Big Openings and Big News
Update: Zara Seattle
Morning Fizz: Keynote Speaker
5 Reasons to Get Excited About Joey Kitchen
Seattle New Year's Eve Event Guide 2013
5 Reasons to Get Excited About Loulay
First Look: Chef Jason Stratton's Aragona
Morning Fizz: GOP Christmas Wish List
Judy Travis Is the 21st Century Video Star
The 30 Seattle Restaurant Experiences You Must Have Before You Die
Best Things to See and Do in Winter in Seattle
On Other Blogs Today: Budget Negotiations, Rail Debate, and More
- This Week in Restaurant News: Big Openings and Big News
- Update: Zara Seattle
- Morning Fizz: Keynote Speaker
- 5 Reasons to Get Excited About Joey Kitchen
- Seattle New Year's Eve Event Guide 2013
- 5 Reasons to Get Excited About Loulay
- First Look: Chef Jason Stratton's Aragona
- Morning Fizz: GOP Christmas Wish List
- Advertisement -
Most popularSlide Shows & Videos
- Advertisement -