Teachers to Sound Off on Education Policy

May 20, 2013

Rhode Island’s two teachers’ unions are holding a forum for teachers to discuss their dissatisfaction with new policies in the state’s public schools.

Teachers have complained about the pace of changes under State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, and they are particularly concerned about new annual teacher evaluations, which include test scores as one measure of teacher effectiveness. The teachers have asked the state to slow down implementation of the evaluations, saying they are time consuming and need adjustment.

Gist has already backed away from her original proposal calling for student test scores to account for 51 percent of the teacher evaluations. Test scores are still factored in, but they are one of several factors including classroom observations and progress toward goals set by schools and teachers. It is unclear, at least to me, precisely how much the test scores account for in the final version of the evaluation system.

The State Department of Education gave school districts an initial year when the evaluations were used in partial form, and this is the first year of full implementation. Providence received an extra reprieve, getting another year before they move teachers to the full evaluation.

The forum on teacher concerns precedes a vote at the State Board of Education on extending Gist’s contract. Governor Lincoln Chafee and Board Chair Eva-Marie Mancuso have said they support Gist, but some other members of the board, including representatives from organized labor have sounded more cautious.

Business leaders recently sent a letter urging the board to retain Gist, saying she has ushered in a slate of reforms and has public education headed in the right direction. Teachers, however, do not seem to share that enthusiasm. A recent poll conducted by teachers’ unions showed widespread dissatisfaction in Gist’s leadership and low morale among public school teachers.