White trying to balance teacher accountability procedures

State Superintendent of Education John White said Tuesday he is trying to strike a balance between diehard critics of Louisiana’s new teacher evaluations and purists fearful that the annual job reviews will be weakened.

“I am for a high-trust system, but I am also for a system that starts with accountability,” White said.

The superintendent made his comments on the heels of his statements last week that he wants to give already influential local school principals still more authority over exactly how the state’s roughly 50,000 public school teachers are evaluated.

Teacher unions say such a move would merely foist an unworkable system onto local educators.

“What we are looking at is a flawed evaluation system,” said Joyce Haynes, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators.

Others contend that, if principals have too much authority, the state risks returning to the much-ridiculed days when 99 percent of teachers were rated satisfactory in a state long known for low public school academic achievement.

“I do know there are some people of the opinion that we are passing the buck and returning to the system of old,” said Brigitte Nieland, who tracks public school issues for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

White says both views are off target.

“What a shame it is that there are those out there that want to kill the system that don’t like accountability, and some have more faith in bureaucrats to judge the teachers than the principals,” White said.

Under the old rules, most teachers got job reviews every three years, which were based on classroom observations by principals and others.

Under the new rules, those job checks take place every year, half of the review is linked to the growth of student achievement and those rated as “ineffective” for two consecutive years can face firings.

But while student data is part of the mix, local school principals enjoy wide discretion over final teacher ratings.

That includes where teachers are classified in the three highest rungs: highly effective, effective/proficient and effective/emerging.

Only those who fall in the bottom 10 percent statewide — ineffective — are essentially off the table.

Principals are now required to make at least two classroom observations before rating teachers.

White said he plans to recommend next month that principals gain more flexibility on those visits, including shorter, more frequent stays.

In the long run, he said, principals should oversee the reviews of all teachers, including the lowest scorers.

“Over time you really need to give the local administrators total authority over this or they won’t be able to use it as a tool to help their teachers,” White said in an interview last week.

“Principals should be the ones that run their school buildings,” White said. “We need to trust them.”

Andrea Martin, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Principals, said her group wants to make sure local educators are equipped to handle the teacher checks.

“They don’t want to make a mistake with someone’s vocation,” said Martin, a former principal who lives in Winnfield.

Haynes said inexperienced principals are ill-equipped for the task.

“The traditional administrators understand what needs to happen,” she said. “But new leaders, I am not so sure.”

Nieland, whose group has backed a wide range of education overhaul measures, said she wants to watch carefully and “make sure the rigor is not watered down at the local level.”

Local school districts this week are getting data from the state on how students fared versus how they were expected to do.

Statewide results are expected to be released in September.

White said he hopes to ensure rigor statewide by showing taxpayers how students fared and how teachers were rated. “What we are trying to do is create a system where principals have discretion but there are strong guidelines,” he said.