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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Advocate touts education reform

BY SUZANNE PEREZ TOBIAS
The Wichita Eagle

Much about the way Kansas educates, certifies, prepares, pays and evaluates teachers "just doesn't make sense," an education reform advocate told local leaders Thursday.

Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, spoke to local educators and others at a breakfast hosted by the Kansas Policy Institute.

In discussions about education reform, she said, "The top of everyone's list — the very top — is to get effective, qualified teachers in front of those students. That's No. 1."

But few states, she said, have policies or systems in place to reward effective teachers or weed out bad ones.

In a recent report, Jacobs' group graded states based on how well they identify and retain effective teachers, expand the teaching pool and get rid of ineffective teachers. The average score was a D; Kansas earned a D-minus, she said.

Her group supports evaluating teachers in part on how well their students perform, such as on standardized tests. It does not support granting tenure "just for time served," she said.

In most states, including Kansas, teachers earn tenure after about three years in the classroom, and not based on how students perform. The decision to grant tenure is "virtually automatic," Jacobs added, and tenured teachers are evaluated only every three years.

"We award tenure in this country very quickly, with very little data," she said. "Two years ... tells you very, very little about how effective that teacher is going to be."

Jacobs emphasized, however, that student scores or other measures of performance should be "only one data point" for measuring and evaluating teachers.

Barb Fuller, a retired teacher and member of the Wichita school board, attended the meeting and said that Jacobs "made some very good points."

"I do think, as a board, we need to be very knowledgeable of the (teacher) evaluation system, and be able to see the connection points in the data," she said.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com.

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