If your job is to make widgets, your supervisor will evaluate your job performance principally on how well you make widgets and how many.
But if you are a Nevada public school teacher, not so much. There is a bill wending its way through the halls of the Legislature in Carson City that would reduce the importance of the one thing teacher and administrator evaluations should be based on: pupil achievement growth — the only truly objective and measurable criteria.
When the law establishing educator evaluations was first passed in 2011 fully 50 percent of evaluations were based on pupil growth. At some point it was reduced to 40 percent and now Senate Bill 475 proposes to reduce that to only 20 percent.
The bill would require that “instructional practice,” whatever that means, must account for 60 percent of the evaluation and “professional responsibilities” account for the other 20 percent.
Not that evaluations are all that rigorous already. According to the Nevada Department of Education, in the 2017-2018 school year only 25 out of nearly 20,000 teachers in Nevada were evaluated as “ineffective.” That’s 0.1 percent. Another 1.3 percent were pegged as “developing,” while 80 percent were rated “effective” and only 16.7 percent were rated “highly effective.” The rest were exempt from being evaluated.
The scores varied wildly from county to county. More than half the teachers in Storey and Eureka were rated “highly effective,” while less than 5 percent were awarded that rating in Lander and Pershing. In 12 counties there were no “ineffective” teachers.
SB475 further neuters the ability to weed out under-performing teachers. Existing law allows a school district not to renew the contract of a probationary teacher or certain administrators whose performance is found to be developing or ineffective. It also requires post-probationary employees who are rated developing or ineffective for two years in a row to serve an additional probationary period.
SB475 would allow the contract cancellation of a probationary employee only if rated ineffective, and it removes the requirement for a post-probationary employees rated as developing to serve an additional probationary period.
As if this weren’t bad enough, Nevada Policy Research Institute policy director Robert Fellner reports that the state teachers union recently voted to seek to have student achievement growth to account for only 10 percent of evaluations.
My how times change. Back in 2011 the Nevada State Education Association lauded the bill that established teacher evaluation criteria and set up an oversight panel called the Teachers and Leaders Council.
In its 2011 Legislative Report Card, the union stated, “This creates a council to develop the new educator evaluation that will be based on a 4-tier structure highly effective, effective, minimally effective, and ineffective. Another provision in the bill includes that 50% of an educator’s evaluation will be based on student achievement data. NSEA is in complete support of the Teachers & Leaders Council and pushed hard to get this bill passed and signed by the Governor.”
The bill was part of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s push that session to improve education in Nevada, which perennially ranks near the bottom of states for education performance.
Of course the union complained that funding was inadequate then as it does now, even though since 1960 Nevada has nearly tripled inflation-adjusted per pupil education spending from $3,556 to $9,165 in 2015, according to NPRI. During that time college preparedness scores have flatlined.
Fellner argues that such union efforts water down accountability. “This highlights why collective bargaining for teachers is so harmful: it perverts the democratic process such that the union’s interests dictate public policy, rather than student learning and well-being,” he writes, adding that researchers at the University of Texas recently found “unionization has a powerful negative influence on educational outcomes.”
Lawmakers expect as many as half of the bills introduced this session could die for lack of action this week. Let’s hope SB475 is one. If not we encourage lawmakers to put the children first, as the teacher unions like to say, and nix this bill. Failing that we encourage Gov. Steve Sisolak to live up to his stated standards of transparency and accountability and veto the bill should it land on his desk.
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/