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Teacher-evaluations delay is met with push-back

Thursday afternoon, Andover Republican Branden Petersen walked out of a state Senate Education Committee hearing and into the office of Gov. Mark Dayton, where he requested a meeting. The topic: That afternoon’s vote to delay the rollout of statewide teacher evaluations until the 2015-2016 school year.

Sen. Branden Petersen

It’s the second year in a row that Petersen has made the same trip across the Capitol’s marbled halls to talk to Dayton about the same issue. An issue that, back around Thanksgiving, he predicted would come up in pretty much the way that it now has.

Among the points Petersen raised — unsuccessfully — during the hearing:

  • That Senate File 2459 was not posted to the committee’s agenda the night before the hearing, so only those education advocates who happened to be on hand — or were invited by the DFL majority — got to testify.
  • That proponents of the delay did not seem to have consulted the governor, who frowned on a move last year to push back implementation, or the U.S. Department of Education, which last year warned that there would likely be consequences.
  • That the law SF 2459 would modify was passed into law in 2011, that a task force spent the ensuing two years developing a state baseline for teacher evaluations and that that model has been in existence for a year.
  • And that there was no reason the bill — which had already failed to be heard before the majority’s self-imposed deadline for inclusion on the session’s winnowed agenda — had to pass out of committee a scant hour after it was taken up.

Indeed, committee Chair Patricia Torres-Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, seemed a little skeptical herself, pressing the bill’s author, Apple Valley DFLer Greg Clausen, on the need for the delay.

Bill merges two initiatieves

On its face, the bill has plenty of merit. It would essentially merge two complementary initiatives, a new evaluation system that can be used by districts that do not have their own, and the state’s alternative compensation and teacher profession development program, Q-Comp. And it would provide funding of $455 per teacher in districts that have not adopted Q-Comp.

And in part because it is perennially underfunded and has traditionally been viewed as a merit pay scheme, Q-Comp has not proven popular. That it could be the other half of the evaluation-and-development walnut was not under consideration until administrator began tapping the funds to support evaluation.

More than identifying and weeding out “bad” teachers, many educators see the value of performance evaluations as a tool to drive professional development. Minneapolis Public Schools, now in its second year of a lauded evaluation system, this year asked for and received Q-Comp funds to support more intensive “job-embedded” training, versus the more traditional short, stand-alone workshops that are not terribly effective.

Indeed, remove the delay, Petersen told his fellow committee members, and he could get behind the bill.

A cynic would be forgiven for suspecting that without the money to both hand out tax breaks — a lynchpin DFL issue in a year when the governorship and the entire House of Representatives is up for re-election—and appropriate that funding, what comes next is renewed insistence that teacher evaluations are an unfunded mandate.

In 2011, a GOP-controlled Legislature passed a law requiring every teacher in the state to begin undergoing evaluations in which 35 percent of the outcome was based on student performance. School districts had until the 2014-2015 academic year to create their own systems in conjunction with their teacher unions, or to adopt a model system designed by a task force that spent a full two years coming up with a system that many feel is less rigorous than the law’s original proponents intended.

Model is being piloted

After protracted struggle over the incorporations of student outcomes, the task force produced a model a year ago. A number of districts are piloting the system this year. A very early look at results suggests teachers appreciate evaluations that are tied to professional development and that doing them well is resource-intensive.

But even before the task force was finished, efforts to delay implementation surfaced in the state Senate. Neither the House nor Dayton were said to be keen on backing off of the law, although the frequency of evaluations was lessened and the definition of the data on outcomes that can be used loosened.

A state commitment to the new evaluation system, which jibed with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s policy priorities, was one reason Minnesota was among the first states in the country to get a waiver from compliance with No Child Left Behind. That waiver is up for renewal right now, and Duncan has not been shy in warning other states that delays might result in “enforcement action.”

Delay could cost the state its waiver

While the issue was before the 2013 Legislature, Amy Walstien, the director of education and workforce development policy for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, wrote to the U.S. Department of Education. In essence, the response she got said that teacher evaluation was a bedrock and delay could cost the state its waiver.

Nor is it clear that evaluation is the boogey man it was even three years ago. A survey conducted last spring by the education advocacy group MinnCAN found that 90 percent of teachers surveyed were in favor of evaluations that were performed in conjunction with professional development. Four in five thought that the data ought to factor into tenure.

MinnCAN leaders last fall toured 19 districts in greater Minnesota that are getting great results with challenged populations. Most, they found, had been successfully evaluating teachers for years, according to Executive Director Daniel Sellers.

“We have to be realistic and transparent about what additional funds are necessary, and not let budget negotiations stall the full rollout of our evaluation system that Minnesotan teachers, administrators and students need,” he said after the Senate hearing.

“Interconnected with evaluations, we support all teachers having access to meaningful professional development opportunities that they play a significant role in developing,” Sellers added. “We’re thankful that 2 percent of the state’s education budget is devoted to teachers’ professional development — and with last year’s historic increase in education funding, Minnesota schools are already seeing more funds invested in efforts to support struggling teachers and elevate master teachers.”

A problematic passage

There is one other problematic passage that did not come up at Thursday’s hearing. The revamped system would leave it to individual teachers to decide whether the results of the peer observations that will constitute the majority of their classroom observations will be shared with their higher-ups.

From the Education Committee the bill moves on to the Judiciary Committee, which has not yet scheduled a hearing. If it passes out of the Senate via the omnibus education bill, proponents will presumably have to contend with House Education Committee Chair Carlos Mariani, a St. Paul DFLer who has been a staunch backer of evaluations in the past.

And finally, Petersen may get his meeting with the governor, who signed the evaluation law in 2011.

Minnesota Capitol photo © Minnesota House of Representatives 

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Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/31/2014 - 12:40 pm.


    It’s pretty difficult to see the proposed delay as anything other than a stalling tactic. If it looks, sounds, walks like the proverbial duck, &c…

    That said, and no one has asked me, but I’d still argue that the premise behind that student-performance 35% figure is fatally flawed. In effect, the course of my career, if I were still teaching, and doing so in Minnesota, would be based on tests, and performances on those tests, over which I have no control whatsoever. That strikes me as patently ridiculous – by which I mean it’s a case of lawmakers writing statutes for a public policy area in which the vast majority of those lawmakers have no expertise at all, and in many cases, no real understanding.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 04/01/2014 - 04:37 pm.

      No Control…

      As a Teacher, did you give define expectations, give your students tests, check their work and assign a grade? How is this any different?

      If the Teacher has no control over ensuring that the children have learned what they need to show adequate academic improvement. Who does?

  2. Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 03/31/2014 - 02:00 pm.


    There are lots of teachers who agree with you. Plus: How do you evaluate the band teacher based on a math test? Most folks who favor evaluations seem to agree that multiple measurements and the strength of the observer are key.

    You are reminding me, though, of an idea I want to finish chasing down. Minneapolis teachers last year and this are seeing their student data privately, so as to allow everyone to get used to the idea. And what I’ve heard is that so far the result has been teachers flagging areas they want to revisit with their students and asking one another for ideas about interventions.


  3. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 04/01/2014 - 12:37 am.

    Fair, thoughtful evaluations are needed

    After more than 40 years as an urban public school teacher, administrator, PTA president and parent of 3 St Paul Public School graduates, as well as researcher for the Nat’l Gov Association, I strongly agree on the importance of periodic evaluation for everyone working education (including colleges & universities).

    The evaluations need to use multiple measures, as Beth notes. Measuring band or art teachers on the basis of how well students do on a math test makes no sense.

    There have been problems in other states with over-reliance on standardized “value added” measures – we can learn from other states.

    I’m encouraged that Minnesota’s teacher unions seem open to periodic evaluation – let’s do it right.

  4. Submitted by Denise Specht on 04/01/2014 - 07:54 am.

    Yes, let’s do this well

    Educators want meaningful feedback and professional development for improvement. The teacher development and evaluation law is an opportunity to do something transformational here. But in MN, it is destined to fail as an unfunded mandate. Educators’ commitment to this law should not be misunderstood. Unions and school administrators have been holding informational sessions across the state to help district teams write their plans to implement on September 1. Without funding, district teams are writing plans on the cheap. They are “MacGyver-ing” what they are already doing to meet the components of the law; status quo prevails. Look to other states. Initiatives done without thought, resources, support and commitment are failing. Teachers and school administrators agree – we need funding. I see two choices here. Fund the law fully and let’s do this well. Or phase-in funding and phase-in implementation and start this opportunity on the right track.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 04/01/2014 - 04:24 pm.

      Rationale and a Question

      What is your rationale that something as basic to the private sector as performance planning, performance evaluation, employee improvement plans, etc needs “extra” funding?

      This is something very simple that every private company that I have worked at does every year or quarterly without question. Some well, some poorly, but it is not challenging or unique in my opinion. I was floored when I found that MN tenured teachers rarely had their performance evaluated…

      One more silly question… Why don’t K-12 classes hand out simple “class/teacher evaluation forms” for the parents to fill out? Almost every class I have had in college or at work does this, yet this simple tool is not employed in K/12 classes as far as I can tell.

  5. Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 04/01/2014 - 02:21 pm.

    Full disclosure

    For the civilians in the room: Denise Specht is the president of Education Minnesota, which testified in favor of SF2459. 

  6. Submitted by John Appelen on 04/02/2014 - 03:21 pm.

    Teacher Handbook Initial Thoughts

    Definitely written by a Public committee. (ie long and detailed) I am guessing the Unions will love this. The process looks so daunting that it will be likely as hard or harder to terminate poor Teachers. I assume if the administrators don’t dot every i and cross every t, these will used to cause delays.

    Pg 38 explains that “std test scores” will not be used to rate performance of art, band, choir, etc teacher. Good news…

    Only subject specific teachers will be graded based on the std tests.


  7. Submitted by John Appelen on 04/02/2014 - 03:23 pm.

    Student Learning HB IT

    Goes into a great deal of detail regarding how Student Progress will be used depending on Teacher type.

    Very logical and common sense…


  8. Submitted by John Appelen on 04/02/2014 - 03:26 pm.

    Teacher Perf Rubric IT

    Overly detailed, however why would anyone resist this? Especially if they have their children or grandchildren in a MN public school?


  9. Submitted by John Appelen on 04/02/2014 - 03:33 pm.

    Handbook 1 more thought


    Page 32 says one of my dreams may be addressed. Schools may actually start asking the students how the Teacher is doing… Yippee !!!

    Personally I think the Parents should be surveyed, at least in K-8th… But any survey is better than the 0% customer feedback system we have today.

  10. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 04/03/2014 - 11:06 pm.

    Thanks for all the reporting, John Appelen

    I’m loving it!

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