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Include teachers in developing new evaluations

LAST UPDATED: 2:22 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

The state is pursuing its broad mission to improve Hawaii's public school system along several fronts, but sharpening the accountability of all parties surely is one top goal. And teachers are perhaps the most important of the parties being called to account, with plans to develop a more effective way to evaluate their work.

Proposing to overhaul teacher evaluations and make them more "performance-based" was a key element in the state's successful bid for a federal Race to the Top competitive grant — specifically, to make student academic growth a factor in the teacher's score. To their credit, the Hawaii State Teachers Association leaders have said they favor it in concept.

The ongoing dispute between the union and the state administration, unfortunately, has further complicated what already was to be a complex process. However, the HSTA, which wants to reopen talks, has an opportunity to use evaluation reform as an olive branch to help restart negotiations for contract amendments.

An olive branch is clearly needed. The state imposed its "last, best and final offer," sparking an HSTA complaint that is now before the Hawaii Labor Relations Board.

The Abercrombie administration so far has made a rational argument that its move was necessary to achieve labor savings crucial to closing a budget gap and keeping the instructional calendar intact.

But the administration also should feel motivated to normalize relations with the teachers, whose goodwill is crucial for the success of Race to the Top reforms.

Laura Goe, a national expert on reform in teacher evaluations, was visiting Hawaii last week and told a gathering of teachers and administrators that states involving teachers in the reform of their evaluations ended up with the most successful programs.

It's hard to argue with that. Teachers have a collective bargaining right, and certainly it applies to negotiating the measures and circumstances by which a teacher could be fired. A new evaluation process surely couldn't be in place without teachers helping to devise it and signing off on the final plan.

In the interest of meeting the Race to the Top criteria, the DOE needs to press ahead with developing a better evaluation system. Ronn Nozoe, DOE deputy superintendent, said that's the department's intent, even if officials aren't forthcoming with details on how they plan to proceed.

There needs to be a lot of experimentation to see what works, and it would go much more smoothly if teachers are willing participants in the early stages of development. Whatever proposal their work produces could be brought to the bargaining table at a future date.

Goe has collected varied approaches taken in other states and has posted them on her website (

In Georgia, for example, an intricate matrix of five "strands" combine to form the evaluation score: curriculum and planning, standards-based instruction, assessment of student learning, professionalism and student achievement. Clearly there is not yet a tried-and-true formula that can be replicated universally.

But just as clearly, there needs to be a better system than what exists in Hawaii. Five "duties" are assessed: designing and implementing effective teaching strategies, creating a positive and safe learning environment, using assessment data, demonstrating professionalism and reflecting on their practices.

Last year 99 percent were rated satisfactory under this system, so the exercise seems pointless.

The Georgia plan quotes research showing that "an effective teacher enhances student learning more than any other aspect of schooling that can be controlled."

Doing our best to put Hawaii schoolchildren in the hands of the most effective teachers has to be the top priority, and there's no reason we can't start now.

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