Bills introduced to professionalize teaching standards

Two bills introduced this session, deserving of Chamber support, will significantly professionalize the teaching profession, raising the standards in the classroom. The current system includes two aspects that keep poor performing teachers in the classroom, hurting the academic growth of students – automatic tenure and a broken termination and suspension appeals process. Senate bills 132 (McGaha) and 122 (Winters) make great strides in correcting these antiquated policies out of line with logical employment procedures.

Tenure Reform

SB 122 (Winters) raises the bar on teacher tenure to promote accountability in the classroom. Currently, teachers receive a continuing contract, also called tenure, after teaching four consecutive years in the same district. To receive tenure, a teacher is simply required to “assume their duties” on the first day of the fifth year of service. This automatic tenure award would be eliminated with SB 122. The bill requires teachers to apply for tenure through a portfolio of evidence showing quantifiable student academic growth and professional development. The portfolio is reviewed by a committee of education professionals and a recommendation is made to the district superintendent on whether or not to grant tenure. The superintendent makes the final call on tenure. If a teacher is denied on their first attempt they may apply once more before they are no longer allowed to be employed as a teacher in that district.

Tenure should be considered an honor that symbolizes professional accomplishment and not a job for life. A quality teacher can propel a child into a successful future, while sub-par teacher can have a negative impact on a student for life. A reformed tenure system will help ensure we have quality teachers in every classroom, increasing the quality of education, and, therefore, the future workforce. Additionally, it’s been estimated that a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000.

Chamber members have shared their support for professionalizing teaching and are ready for real reforms to promote accountability in our schools. Other states are moving forward on legitimate reforms and even President Obama and Arne Duncan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Education are pushing for reform. Recently, the administration announced a proposal for another round of Race to the Top funding, and funds would only go to states who are ready for improving teacher quality. While it is still the case that the vast majority of states – 39 in all – still award tenure virtually automatically, the landscape is clearly changing. In 2009, not a single state awarded tenure based primarily on teacher effectiveness; now eight states require that the performance of a teacher’s students be central to deciding whether that teacher is awarded tenure.

Kentucky should join these states and set the bar high for our education system by enacting tenure reform. Contact your state senator today at 1-800-372-7181 and tell them to support SB 122, teacher tenure reform.

Tribunal Reform

SB 132 (McGaha) passed the Senate Education Committee this week. The bill would reform the system by which teachers are given due process to appeal termination, suspension or reprimand. The current system to review cases of misconduct and inadequate job performance for school employees is both complicated and inefficient. Superintendents are reluctant to suspend or fire an employee no matter what the employee’s indiscretion, due to the cost, complexity and likelihood that their decision will be overturned.

Currently, when disciplinary action is taken against a teacher or public school employee, they can appeal the action via tribunal. The tribunal is set up similarly to an actual court proceeding, though instead of one judge, the issue is heard before a panel; one lay person, one teacher and one superintendent from a different district. The tribunal hears the facts of the case and then has the opportunity to uphold the disciplinary action taken by the school system, overturn it in its entirety or take alternative action.

SB 132 would make the process more consistent by requiring the same thorough case-review training for all tribunal jurors. It would also delineate between types of cases; ensuring that cases of professional misconduct (i.e. – insubordination or immoral character) would be handled by a hearing officer appointed by the commissioner of education, while cases of poor teacher performance would be handled by an administrator and teacher with teacher evaluation training and an unspecified third person. Though the tribunal process would not change significantly for performance-based cases, the tribunal participants would receive improved training and would no longer be able to create alternative disciplinary actions, only overturn or uphold the school system’s action.

The Chamber joins the Kentucky School Boards Association, Kentucky Association of School Administrators and the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents in supporting the legislation. The Kentucky Education Association opposed the bill. The bill will now move to the full Senate for a vote. Contact your state senator today at 1-800-372-7181 and tell them to support SB 132.

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