State Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, is pushing for legislation that would make major changes to how teachers are tenured and evaluated.
Earlier this year, Dieckhaus introduced House Bill 1526 which includes a number of changes to teacher contracting and evaluations. According to a bill summary, Dieckhaus' legislation would make it so that a teacher who completed a one-year contract may be granted a contract for a period of two to four years. A teacher who receives two successive annual evaluations of "ineffective," according to the summary, will not be kept at a particular district.
Additionally, the bill would alter the allowable causes for termination. It would remove "unfit mental and physical condition, immoral conduct, and incompetency" and replace it with "unsatisfactory performance based on an evaluation on specified teaching standards and performance measures and specified immoral conduct."
"The first part deals with the permanent contract status that we currently have in the statute," Dieckhaus said in a telephone interview. "And instead replaces it with a multiyear contract system ranging from two to four years. Under the new system, teachers would be evaluated multiple times each year. And that's significantly important so that teachers get feedback more often."
The bill would also mandate that 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation would be measured using what Dieckhaus describes as "student growth." Asked about the specifics of that measurement, Dieckhaus said he is working with some of the different education groups "to try to find a way that would give quite a bit of flexibility to the local districts.
"The school district would still be able to define what its in-class room evaluation looks like that are traditional," Dieckhaus said. "That would count for 50 percent of the teacher's overall evaluation. The other 50 percent would be measured using student growth, which essentially is an objective measurement of what is happening with each student while they're in a specific teacher's classroom."
The bill also would strip out language in the statute mandating minimal salary requirements for teachers with masters' degrees. It also would make performance - not seniority - a deciding factor in whether to lay off a teacher in a district with financial constraints.
"Essentially when school districts are going through a reduction in force situation, right now the statute mandates that the last teacher hired has to be the first person dismissed," Dieckhaus said. "There's no emphasis based on a teacher's performance level. And in some cases we're taking quality teachers outside of the classroom and leaving ineffective teachers in the classroom when we do that. So the bill would now require that the decision not be based on seniority. Instead, it would be based on performance."
Dieckhaus' bill received a hearing earlier this month in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee. But the measure has encountered opposition from some education groups.
For example, Missouri State Teachers Association Political Action Manager Krista Meyer said in a statement that "Tenure does not have to be eliminated in order for teachers to be effectively evaluated.
"This bill completely alters the evaluation system of every school district in the state by requiring that at least 50 percent of the evaluations of teachers and principals be based on student achievement on state assessments," Meyer said. "This takes away the ability for school districts to craft their own teacher and principal evaluations, which would best serve the students of the school district."
Otto Fajen, a lobbyist for the Missouri chapter of the National Education Association, said his group doesn't necessarily oppose making sure each school district has a good system for evaluating teachers. But he said Dieckhaus' bill isn't the way to deal with the problem.
"They have some nice words at one point on that subject matter, but then they go off into a whole bunch of requirements," Fajen said. "There really isn't understanding of how to do what they do or if what they are asking is good policy in terms of mandates on evaluations. So we would oppose imposing what we suspect is going to be unworkable in evaluations and a strong intrusion on local school districts develop evaluations systems."
"We do think it's hightime for the state to insist that every school district have a high-quality evaluation system," Fajen added. "It's their job to evaluate teachers to help them improve or help them out of the profession. And so, we're all on the same page of that overall goal."
Fajen also said that Missouri's tenure laws aren't as strong as other states. He said Missouri waits about five years before granting any "due process protection."
"That's an outlier," Fajen said. "There's only three other states I believe that have a tenure law that's about five years. The norm in about half of the states is a three-year period before they have that protection."
In response, Dieckhaus said it was "interesting" some of the teachers' organizations argue that the bill "is how mandating and far-reaching it goes into a local school district's ability to make decisions.
"I think that our current statute does that and that this would offer a lot more freedoms," Dieckhaus said. "The only piece in here that is an additional mandate or a change is the piece should benefit good teachers the most - and that's including student growth measures in a teacher's evaluation, which is an objective piece of the evaluation system."
Dieckhaus' bill came about around the same time a ballot initiative was being developed that would curtail teacher tenure. Dieckhaus said he hasn't examined the proposal, but Fajen noted that the initiative is a constitutional amendment as opposed to a statute change. That means any changes would need a public vote as opposed to a legislative fix.
In any case, Dieckhaus is hoping the Legislature has the final word on the issue.
"I hope that we can deal with this in the Legislature," Dieckhaus said. "I think it's time that we really start looking at our education system and say ‘Hey, there are things here that served a purpose years ago, but they're outdated now.' They're not helping us compete at a global level, which is what we need to be doing. Missouri is always kind of middle of the pack whenever we are compared to other states and the United States as a whole is headed in the wrong direction on the global scale. So I'm hoping that the Legislature, my colleagues, see this and they're willing to step up to make some needed changes."