"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, October 24, 2014

MTA Responds to Corporate Teacher Licensure Plan by DESE

MTA Position Statement on DESE’s Performance-based Licensure Plan

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is floating a series of dangerous proposals that would link your license to your evaluation and/or student performance measures. The MTA is strongly opposed to all of the options outlined by DESE – and to any proposal that would tie an educator’s license with the state to his or her school- and district-based evaluations or student performance measures. 

On October 20, DESE released “Design Principles and Policy Options” for a “reimagined license system.” DESE has contracted with TNTP1 and the Keystone Center2 to hold “town halls,” ostensibly to get stakeholder feedback on these options. Members who attended the first session reported that the conversations were controlled and participants were not given the option of challenging the faulty premises being promoted by DESE. Meanwhile, DESE plans to issue proposed policy changes in the spring of 2015 and to have built a “performance-based licensure system” that includes “a link between licenses and district work assignments” by October 2015.

The policy options include a number of ideas about how to change the licensure system for those entering the profession as well as for those who are already licensed and experienced teachers. Based on a preliminary analysis, the most alarming proposals are the three options for “License Renewal and Advancement for Teachers” that are the subject of this position statement.

All three options, called Models A, B and C, would link license renewal and advancement to performance as determined by different means. We urge MTA members to demand “none of the above” as an option. Here are some highlights.

Model A: One provision: “License A automatically renewed for all educators with summative performance ratings of at least Proficient each year and at least moderate student impact rating each year.” 
In other words, the Student Impact Rating – based on MCAS growth and DDM scores – could be used to deprive you of a license to teach and drive you out of public school employment forever if that rating was less than “moderate.” What happened to the state’s promise that these questionable, yet-to-be-implemented ratings would only be used to help determine the length of an educator’s growth plan? Such a provision would make the high stakes attached to mandated tests even higher. Why would DESE even consider this option at a time when educators and parents across the state are saying that there is already far too much emphasis on standardized tests? How does this benefit students?
Model B: One provision: “If educator fails to demonstrate to the state [emphasis added] progress towards growth identified in the Educator Plan, the license may be conditionally extended for one additional year if LEA [school district] or its designee(s) provides additional coaching.” 
In other words, DESE – which claims it doesn’t have enough staff to regularly answer routine licensing phone calls – could be given the job of analyzing the plans of some 80,000 educators for the purpose of determining whether they have made progress toward meeting their goals. How many millions of dollars would this cost and, cumulatively, how many thousands of hours would teachers have to spend complying with such a requirement rather than teaching students? Why should the state have any role whatsoever in reviewing or analyzing an educator’s locally developed growth plan? How does this benefit students?
Model C: One provision: “Educators may renew a license by completing (or demonstrating) any two of the following:
• Recommendation from the employing LEA for license renewal
• Satisfactory results based on Student Feedback through a survey or other means
• Successful and Effective Parent Engagement….”

There are eight bullets altogether, but the first three give an idea of the direction. Under this model, the yet-to-be-implemented student feedback systems could play a role in determining whether you keep your license. This is a perversion of the stated purpose of obtaining student feedback. Why would DESE want to further undermine the validity and usefulness of an evaluation system that is already subject to deep and sustained criticism by educators? How would students benefit?
We strongly oppose all three models under consideration by DESE. 
• Linking licensure to evaluation is wrong. No other profession links job performance with licensure. Of course, the license of any professional can be pulled for grievous offenses, but not for employment-related performance reviews. Evaluations relate to educators’ employment status, not to their licenses. Linking performance measures to licensure puts vocal and activist teachers – indeed all teachers – on notice: Be careful or you will not only lose your job, but the ability to teach in Massachusetts.

• The state’s role is to determine if an educator is qualified. The appropriate role for the state is to determine whether an aspiring educator has met the education, training and experience requirements for obtaining a license and whether a practicing educator has met the professional development requirements for renewing a license. To link licensure to job performance would further extend the state’s reach into the choices educators make in the classroom.

 Too many mandates on top of too many mandates. It is outrageous that these proposals are being made at a time when even top state education officials have acknowledged that the state and federal governments have imposed too many mandates and new initiatives on educators. State Education Secretary Matt Malone has described the current mandate madness as akin to educators “trying to drink water from a fire hose.” And yet now the state is proposing a controversial new mandate that is strongly opposed by the field – with no clear explanation of why it is so urgent to impose these burdens at this time or how students will benefit. Stop the mandates! Let us teach!

October 22, 2014

1TNTP was found by Michelle Rhee in 1997 as The New Teacher Project.

2The Keystone Center has been mostly an environmental and energy consulting firm, with Dow Chemical, Monsanto, Dupont, Duke Energy, Pacific Gas & Electric (the utility company in the movie Erin Brockovich), Coca-Cola and General Mills as clients. Keystone is becoming a player in education issues. Will it have equivalent corporate sponsors?

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