SB 5 could simply mean business as usual for local teacher personnel policies
Much ink and energy already has been spilled over Senate Bill 5, legislation that places significant restrictions around collective bargaining for public employees of all stripes – K-12 teachers, police, fire fighters, and state employees. The New York Times labels it “anti-union” and points out that it’s tougher than a similar law in Wisconsin. Opponents of the bill say it represents an assault on Democrats (literally: “GOP trying to annihilate opposition, Dems say”); while supporters argue in compelling fashion that it merely brings into closer alignment what public employee contracts stipulate and what taxpayers can actually afford. Given the campaign to seek its repeal via referendum this fall, Ohioans will be inundated with a lot more coverage of SB 5 in the coming months.
To be clear, the Fordham Institute does not support all portions of SB 5, but there are provisions in the bill that are critical for moving K-12 education forward in Ohio, like eliminating automatic salary increases, ending last in, first out layoffs (LIFO), and moving health care and pension negotiations outside of collective bargaining.
Whether SB 5’s reforms are ever fully implemented is uncertain. The referendum may squash the legislation (assuming it’s successfully put on the ballot), but lawmakers – anticipating its repeal - may still borrow language on key teacher personnel provisions and insert it into the governor’s budget bill or other legislative vehicle. In either case, there are a handful of provisions pivotal to ensuring that school districts have a fair and consistent way to determine levels of instructional effectiveness. But even the best teacher personnel reforms in SB 5 need some improvement.
For starters, while replacing the statewide salary schedule with district-determined “salaries based upon performance” is a step in the right direction, SB 5 still preserves pay ranges that are largely correlated with years on the job and masters degrees. In similar fashion, reductions in force (RIFs) will no longer be determined solely based on seniority, but the language that replaces it needs to be stronger. Specifically, SB 5 requires a local school board to consider five factors when determining “performance,” and thus compensation and order of RIFs. As it is written, all of the following would factor into decisions around teacher pay and layoffs:
1. The “level of license issued under section 3319.22” – in other words, whether a teacher holds a resident, professional, senior, or lead professional educator license. The problem here is that moving up the licensure ladder requires a minimum number of years in the classroom and attaining a master’s degree. Thus, SB 5 still rewards seniority and credentials (though in a more back-door way) regardless of the fact that research shows both are largely uncorrelated with instructional effectiveness.
2. Whether the teacher is “highly qualified” – again, this is a proxy for credentials, degrees, and years on the job and says nothing of a teacher’s actual effectiveness.
3. Value-added measures, where applicable (only reading and math teachers in grades 4-8 would have such data available).
4. Results from the teacher’s “performance evaluations” which are improved dramatically by this legislation. SB 5 requires that evaluations include “multiple measures of a teacher’s use of knowledge and skills,” include at least two observations that last not less than 30 minutes, occur annually (the formal evaluation, not classroom observations), and incorporate student academic growth (which must make up at least 50 percent of the overall evaluation). Also folded into evaluation requirements (but districts are free to determine the weight of each) are things like “communication and professionalism,” and parent and student satisfaction – which may be determined through surveys or questionnaires.
5. “Any other criteria established by the board.”
The teacher (and principal) evaluations described in SB 5 are a marked improvement over the hodge-podge of current evaluations across Ohio that tend to rate nearly every teacher as “satisfactory,” but it is unclear how much weight evaluations will actually receive when it comes to important personnel decisions. The existing language is silent as to whether districts are free to determine the weight of each performance variable.
Whether an overhaul of the state's evaluation system happens via SB 5, the budget bill, or some other piece of legislation matters far less than whether Ohio ensures there is strong, clear language that prevents districts from falling back into their old habits....
For example, what if a district gives evaluations a weight of just 15 percent, and then bases the majority of decisions about pay and layoffs on “level of licensure,” “highly qualified” status, and “other criteria”? That district’s salary structure and layoff decisions would closely resemble the existing system. Further, what happens in instances where each of these “performance” factors may contradict one another? A young teacher without a master’s degree – and therefore on a lower tier of licensure – may be more effective according to his/her evaluation than a “highly qualified” and credentialed peer, but which one would be laid off first or paid more?
In sum, the language around teacher “performance” is still murky and threatens to undermine many of SB 5’s best provisions: ending LIFO, ending automatic pay increases, attempting to install a system of merit, and streamlining the dismissal process for ineffective teachers. Whether an overhaul of the state’s evaluation system happens via SB 5, the budget bill, or some other piece of legislation matters far less than whether Ohio ensures there is strong, clear language that prevents districts from falling back into their old habits of rewarding seniority and credentials above all else.
blog comments powered by Disqus