Teachers’ groups disagree on changes

While two unions are vehemently opposed to the new teacher evaluations, a third teachers’ group is embracing the overhaul and instructing educators on how it works.

“Not all teachers are opposed to this,” said Polly Broussard, interim executive director of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, which goes by the acronym A+PEL.

Broussard and others call their group a professional organization, not a teachers’ union like the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators.

“We don’t use the techniques that they do,” said Kelli Bottger, director of government relations and communications for the group.

Months of training sessions for teachers on what the changes mean is just one of the issues that separate A+PEL from the two teacher unions.

A+PEL backed the 2010 evaluation law, which is being used for the first time to rate teachers in the current school year.

The LFT and LAE opposed the measure.

Some union leaders argue that it is part of a push by Gov. Bobby Jindal, state Superintendent of Education John White and their allies to destroy public education in Louisiana.

Leaders of both groups blasted changes to the reviews that White recommended, and which the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved on Jan. 16.

A+PEL leaders praised the modifications, some of which stemmed from suggestions offered by the group after surveys of what it says is a roughly 7,000-member organization.

Teacher union officials say the reviews are flawed. Some have hinted at a legal challenge.

A+PEL officials estimate that they have led training sessions for about 2,000 teachers in the past year in a bid to shed light on the new job reviews.

Part of the aim, officials said, is to quell fears among some of the state’s 55,000 teachers that the new job reviews will lead to their dismissal.

“Teachers are concerned because they don’t have enough information,” said Keith Courville, director of professional development and university programs for the group.

The state used to rely on classroom observations, mostly by principals every one to three years to rate teacher performance.

But critics said that, since more than 98 percent of educators got satisfactory marks, the reviews meant little and student achievement suffered.

“It wasn’t much,” Courville said of the earlier reviews.

The new system requires teachers to undergo annual reviews.

Half of the job check will be linked to the growth of student achievement. The other half will be based on classroom observations.

In the past much of that focused on whether the teacher was meeting expectations, sometimes with the help of a checklist. “The new observations are all focused on the students,” Courville said.

A+PEL officials said they have held about 30 training sessions for teachers in the past 12 months. Audiences ranged from five to 180 teachers.

Officials of the group say the meetings are not limited to A+PEL members, which means that some of the questions and comments come from critics of the overhaul.

A+PEL donated $25,000 to train teachers in Tensas and Concordia parishes, where 30 percent of teachers were rated as ineffective — the lowest ranking possible — in trial runs.

The aid is meant to help prepare teachers for new, nationwide classroom standards set to take effect next year. By doing so teachers will have a better chance of getting high marks on their evaluations, Bottger said.

State education leaders initially said that, once all the evaluations are in, about 10 percent would get the top ranking, 10 percent at the bottom and 80 percent in the middle.

The changes approved by BESE earlier this month will allow teachers in the 80th percentile to land the top rating, or “highly effective.”

Those expected at the bottom end — possibly about 5,000 teachers — remain the same. In addition, teachers that fall between the 21st and 79th percentile — they would all be rated as “effective” — will be able to get additional feedback from principals on their strengths and weaknesses.