Pennsylvania's largest teachers union has issued its strongest endorsement to date for using student test scores in evaluating teachers, and proposed a streamlined dismissal process for educators and principals.
The positions, outlined by James P. Testerman, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, are part of the union's "Solutions That Work" proposal, unveiled Monday. It also includes pitches for longtime union goals such as a focus on struggling schools, more parental involvement, and enhanced school safety.
No uniform statewide teacher-evaluation process exists. Most districts judge teacher effectiveness through classroom observations by school officials.
The Corbett administration wants to institute statewide evaluation procedures that would start by the 2012-13 school year. Education Secretary Ronald J. Tomalis said Monday that such a plan would use student performance as a primary way of judging teacher ability, adding that he welcomed the union's stand.
The union - which represents 120,000 teachers in 483 of the state's 500 school districts, plus 40,000 support staff - implicitly endorsed the idea of using student test scores to evaluate teachers when it backed the state's bid in 2010 for a federal Race to the Top grant. Using student scores in judging teacher performance was a condition of getting the money.
But Monday, Testerman said, was "the first time we have publicly said [the use of test scores] should play a role in how teachers are evaluated." The union, he said, is working with the state Department of Education and other stakeholders in a Gates Foundation-supported project that is scheduled to come up with recommendations on a new system by the end of this year.
Testerman said that the majority of professional staff was not in grades or subjects in which students were given state tests, so other evaluation tools would have to be devised. He added that in any case, "you have to do it intelligently. It's not a silver bullet, as some would say it is."
Tomalis said that "it's good to see another organization join the chorus that many of us have been talking about for years and that the Corbett administration embraces." Asked whether the union and the Corbett administration had similar views on teacher evaluation, he said: "The devil is in the details."
Testerman said that for unacceptable classroom performance, a teacher can be dismissed after two evaluations, four months apart, if he or she is given a chance to show improvement. After a school board votes to dismiss someone, he said, the grievance procedure often takes from a year to 18 months if a teacher chooses to contest it.
The union, he said, wants a change to state law that would mandate a 90-day period for both sides to make their case and an arbitrator's decision within 30 more days.
Tomalis said, "It's good to hear PSEA leadership acknowledge that we need to be able to remove teachers in the classroom that don't deserve to be in the classroom. . . . I'm glad to see them joining in that cause."