Friday, January 13, 2012

2012 Legislative Bill Summaries

Two bills focused on education were introduced in the Washington State legislature yesterday. One centers on promoting instructional excellence, the other on transformation zones and charters. The Excellent Schools Now Coalition (of which the Alliance is a member) has endorsed the former and has not taken a position on the latter.

Summaries posted here for your convenient review...

Bill #1: A Bill to Promote and Support Instructional Excellence in Public Schools

The single biggest in-school factor affecting student success is the quality of instruction. Establishing policies that support and advance educators, based on professional evaluations of performance, will help ensure every student has the opportunity to achieve academic success and earn a family-wage job.

Washington is currently piloting an evaluation system for educators that will be completed in June 2012 and implemented statewide in the 2013-14 school year.

This legislation would put in place a system that uses the new evaluations to help determine school, classroom, and educator needs. Evaluation results would be used to identify professional development opportunities to support educators who need additional help and bolster the skills of high-performers.

By supporting educators who need additional help, and bolstering skills of high-performers, we hope to ensure improved educational achievement for every student.

Key elements of the bill include:
  • Supporting teachers and principals by aligning professional development activities with individualized needs identified in their performance evaluation. 
  • Using multiple measures of student learning in the evaluations of teachers and principals. 
  • Allowing principals to hire and place teachers based on performance and skills match, as well as seniority. 
  • Using locally bargained polices to layoff teachers and principals based on performance. 
  • Granting continuing contracts (“tenure”) based on performance. 
  • Establishing a rigorous but fair dismissal process for teachers and principals rated ineffective if they have not improved after receiving targeted, individualized, intensive professional development, coaching and support. 
To support the implementation of the evaluation system and these polices, the state should provide resources for:
  • Training principals to use the evaluation system and how to objectively evaluate teacher performance. 
  • Training teachers on the evaluation system and how to participate most effectively. 
  • Expanding principal mentorship to ensure good leadership at the school level and effective use of the evaluation system. 

Bill #2: A Bill to Close the Opportunity Gap

In Washington, students from low-income families and students of color have fewer academic and economic opportunities than the population as a whole – and the problem is getting worse. The opportunity gap is created by inequitable access to quality schools, educators and educational programs, as well as the inequitable allocation of resources across communities. Too often, a student’s zip code dictates the student’s academic and career opportunities.

No student should be forced to stay in a chronically under-performing school. Additional opportunities should be given to these students, through two proven, outcomes-based alternatives.

Establish a Transformation Zone. Build on Washington’s existing intervention authority in the lowest-performing schools by creating a Transformation Zone. This zone should oversee the supervision, development and encouragement of school improvement efforts, which includes:
  • Contracting out the management of low-performing schools– to proven learning management organizations. 
  • Requiring the use of performance contracts and revoking contracts if building managers fail to meet them. 
  • Allowing flexible use of funds to implement innovative reforms, such as strategic staffing, longer school year, longer school days and technology-based learning. 
  • Recognizing employees’ rights to collectively bargain. 
  • Attracting the best teachers by providing increased support and autonomy. 
  • Attracting high-performing principals to work in Transformation Zone schools through increased autonomy and flexibility to manage budgets, time and curriculum; and to hire, assign, reassign and dismiss staff. 
Authorize Public Charter Schools. Forty-one states allow public charter schools; Washington does not. In many of these states, non-profit charter management operators (CMOs) have succeeded where traditional public schools have not—especially at closing opportunity gaps.

In recent years, the research on charter school effectiveness has grown, enabling us to identify effective providers and practices through data. The data show that, if properly managed, charters are an effective alternative for students in chronically under-performing schools.

Washington should establish a public charter school law that learns from other states’ experiences and replicates best practices:
  • Require the majority of public charter schools to focus on serving educationally disadvantaged students. 
  • Require public oversight by, and accountability to, the State Board of Education. 
  • Recognize employees’ rights to collectively bargain. 
  • Require open student enrollment to prevent discrimination or cherry-picking 
  • Require admission by a fair, a transparent and an equitable lottery system, when demand is greater than capacity. 
  • Allow only qualified, public benefit non-profit organizations governed by boards of directors, to operate public charter schools. 
  • Limit the number of public charter school authorizers. 
  • Establish a public charter school cap. 
  • Establish a rigorous process for closing poor-performing public charter schools. 

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