Bowen testifies for educator effectiveness bill

AUGUSTA – Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen made the case today before the Legislature’s Education Committee for legislation to improve and support teacher development and evaluation.

LD 1858, An Act To Ensure Effective Teaching and School Leadership, focuses on teacher and principal evaluation and professional development. It would set standards for evaluation systems that would then be developed locally. It also allows the Department to collect and report data about teacher and principal preparation programs, as well as provide alternative pathways for experienced professionals to become teachers.

The legislation is the second of four bills that are part of Gov. Paul R. LePage’s education agenda to be heard by the committee. The first, heard Tuesday, addressed enhancements to career and technical education. The remaining two will be heard Thursday and include proposals to increase school choice options for families and students. The package of legislation was first announced in early February.

“No other bill you’ve heard has the potential to effectively impact education in Maine in the way that this bill does,” Bowen told committee members. “I say this because this bill goes to the very heart of what we know has the greatest impact on learning: the effectiveness of teachers and school leaders.”

Consistent with the ESEA flexibility package put forward by the U.S. Department of Education, the bill would require school districts to develop or adopt and then implement teacher and principal evaluation systems consistent with criteria to be established by the Department through rulemaking.

The Department would begin working with stakeholders to develop guidelines this year, with the goal of having final rules adopted a year from now. Districts would develop or adopt evaluation systems during the 2013-2014 school year, pilot them during the 2014-2015 school year, and fully implement them during the 2015-2016 school year at the latest.

These systems would require: use of multiple measures of effectiveness, including student achievement and growth as a significant factor; that evaluations be conducted regularly; and that evaluations provide specific, timely and relevant feedback to teachers and principals that would be used to direct and support professional growth.

Bowen addressed directly concerns about the bill, saying that while some portray the legislation as a way to remove teachers, its real purpose is to help all teachers and principals improve.

“As someone who was evaluated a number of times over the course of my teaching career, I can tell you that the vast majority of those evaluations, though generally well-intended, did very little to help me get better,” Bowen said.

He noted that in meetings with the Maine Education Association, officials there told him that the teachers they represent sometimes go years without any kind of evaluation, and are sometimes subject to perfunctory evaluations.

“Teachers and school leaders want to be evaluated and want to be given feedback that helps them improve their practice,” he said. “This legislation requires that.”

Bowen said the legislation is in line with the strategic plan he unveiled in January, which “puts the student at the center of all our efforts…It is the teaching and learning that goes on in our classrooms, we argued, that should be our core area of focus.  None of that teaching and learning happens, though, unless we also pay attention to the second focus area, great teachers and leaders.  The best curriculum and learning materials in the world are of no use to us unless we have effective educators in our schools.  Supporting great teaching and school leadership is what this bill is all about.”

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