Improvement #5: Strengthen Teacher Evaluation Clauses

The content of teacher evaluations should be left to the sole discretion of school administrators.

School boards and administrators are responsible for the education of children. This obligation is inconsistent with protecting the employment of poorly performing or behaving teachers. Accordingly, school districts must take steps to ensure that the process of teacher evaluation serves the primary consideration of delivering quality education to students while avoiding any potential harm that may result from unqualified or otherwise unfit personnel remaining in the classroom.

The teacher evaluation plays an important part in a school's ability to effectively educate its students. School officials must be able to evaluate the competency and performance of each teacher in order to judge how well he uses his skills to help students learn and achieve.

Because each evaluation is part of a continuum that builds over time, a proper teacher evaluation must go beyond the mere "performance" of an instructor standing in a classroom lecturing and address a teacher's overall ability to establish and maintain a positive learning environment for students. School boards and administrators must keep this focus in mind as they bargain contract language that affects these evaluations.

ANALYSIS

Collective bargaining agreements in Michigan, with few exceptions, place more restrictions on school administrators' rights to evaluate their teachers than do any statutory requirements. NEA President Bob Chase recently acknowledged that, "the heart of education is this: the daily engagement between teacher and pupil, and the commitment that both parties bring to the task.90" Yet unions such as the MEA often demand uniformity in the teacher evaluation process-a cookie-cutter approach that ignores the differences in goals, objectives, standards, and style between elementary and secondary teaching.

Collective bargaining agreements in Michigan, with few exceptions, place more restrictions on school administrators' rights to evaluate their teachers than do any statutory requirements. For example, the way a school conducts an evaluation today may affect how that evaluation can be used in future decision making. If an evaluator fails to immediately identify and address a teacher's known problems or deficiencies during the course of an evaluation, then that evaluator may be prevented by contract from bringing up these problems or deficiencies during future evaluations or discipline proceedings.

Problems arise when teacher evaluators, for whatever reason, choose not to honestly confront poorly performing teachers during the evaluation process. For example, a school official may sometimes be tempted to rate an unsatisfactory teacher as satisfactory because the official believes that poor teacher evaluations reflect negatively on his own job performance. He may also fear that giving an unsatisfactory review to a teacher with problems may only compound those problems.

Awarding a satisfactory rating to unsatisfactory teacher conduct or performance may, however, result in worse problems down the road. Administrators who later want to address that particular conduct may find themselves prevented from doing so by the pattern of past evaluations or the terms of the bargaining agreement.

Some collective bargaining agreements allow for grievances regarding the content of teacher evaluations. Such provisions expose districts and administrators to costly and time-consuming arbitration proceedings. One principal in Manhattan, New York

. . . has spent close to 100 hours out of the [school] building over the past two years in grievance sessions at the district office, at the Board of Education, and at arbitration sessions. Although every one of [the principal's] negative evaluations has eventually been upheld, he still must go through the process for another year before this one employee might have to face formal disciplinary charges-a process that can take several more years.91

RECOMMENDATIONS

1. School board members and administrators should use the five points established under the Michigan Teacher Tenure Act when evaluating a teacher's competency.

Unsatisfactory performance in any one of these five points is sufficient to determine that a particular teacher is not competent:

  1. knowledge of the subject;
     

  2. ability to impart the subject;
     

  3. manner and efficiency of discipline over students;
     

  4. rapport with parents, students, and other faculty; and
     

  5. physical and mental ability to withstand the strain of teaching.92

The course of action pursued by the school district with regard to a poorly performing teacher must be based on the extent or severity of the poor performance.

2. School boards should remove from their collective bargaining agreements any language that provides for grievances over the content of a teacher evaluation.

The content of teacher evaluations should be left to the sole discretion of school administrators, not to arbitrators in lengthy and expensive grievance proceedings. By making evaluation content a grievable matter, school boards wind up placing the judgment of arbitrators, who do not work with or see the teachers being evaluated, above the judgment of the school administrators, whose responsibility it is to observe and evaluate the teachers' abilities.

3. School board members and administrators should take advantage of professional seminars sponsored by the Michigan Negotiators Association to learn more about the statutes governing teacher evaluations, which evaluation procedures are most effective, and how to bargain appropriate language to make the most of this vital process.