White looks at teacher evaluations

John White
John White

State Superintendent of Education John White said Friday he is open to changes in how public school teachers are evaluated, including a possible delay in when educators will face major consequences.

“I would look at a bill that included that kind of tweak or extension,” White said in an interview.

“But there is not a bill right now that does that,” he added.

The views of White, and by extension Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration, have set off alarms from groups that are often allies of White and Jindal in the push for public school changes.

Brigitte Nieland, who tracks education issues for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, denounced the possibility that the timetable for teacher job reviews could be pushed back and said other groups are concerned too.

“We are going to oppose any effort to delay,” Nieland said.

She also disputed White’s complaint that some interest groups are taking an “absolutist” position against any changes in how teachers are rated.

“And damn right they are absolutist,” Nieland said of LABI’s views.

“Those are hard, hard-fought wins,” she said of laws that made sweeping changes in teacher job performance.

Public school teachers are undergoing new job reviews this year, with 50 percent of the rating linked to the growth of student achievement.

The other half will stem from classroom observations by principals and others.

Teachers rated as “ineffective” this year and during the 2013-14 school year could lose their jobs.

But a proposal backed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers would delay the most serious consequences of any poor job reviews for one year, officials said.

The legislation says the new reviews would start counting with the 2013-14 school year, which would put off any dismissals because of back-to-back poor job checks and assistance until the 2014-15 school year.

“Under the bill, this year would not be consequential,” said Steve Monaghan, president of the LFT.

The measure would also require details of the evaluations to be approved by the House and Senate education committees by March of each year.

White said he would categorically oppose that part of the bill, which is sponsored by state Rep. Gene Reynolds, D-Minden.

Reynolds did not return a call for comment on Friday.

The bill, which was initially set for a hearing in the House Education Committee last week, is set for discussion on Wednesday.

Backers contend the new reviews are ending years of rubber-stamp evaluations in which nearly every teacher in the state won favorable ratings.

Critics contend it is unfair to link the job checks to the growth of student achievement.

White also said he is bothered by officials of teacher unions, who want the new reviews scrapped, and criticism by others “that you should absolutely make no changes.”

“I find the politics on both sides disappointing,” White said. “It is not an issue of politics.”

Nieland said the new reviews, which stem largely from a 2010 law, have already undergone multiple trial runs.

“When is it ever going to really have consequences and when is it going to be meaningful?” she asked.