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TEACHER EVALUATIONS | editorial

Bargain, or face the ballot

A PROPOSED ballot initiative about teacher seniority has come along at a delicate time for public education in Massachusetts. Even as state and local education officials are working through more rigorous ways of evaluating teachers, the education-reform group Stand for Children is mounting a ballot initiative to ensure that performance in the classroom trumps seniority when it comes to staffing decisions.

If the initiative passes in November, it would counter the “last in, first out’’ layoff provisions in some school districts and the so-called “bumping’’ of young, talented teachers by veteran teachers. These are worthy goals. But it’s not clear yet if the state would benefit from a rancorous fight over a ballot initiative, especially in light of the good work already being done by state and local education officials in the area of teacher evaluation. Last summer, the state Board of Education adopted new evaluation regulations for teachers and tougher measures to rid schools of ineffective teachers. By 2014, all school districts will be required to implement the new regulations.

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The Massachusetts Teachers Association - the state’s largest teachers union - played a positive role in the development of the new regulations. It took an especially brave stand by accepting and promoting the idea that a teacher’s effectiveness should depend, in part, on how students perform on standardized tests. That signaled a new era of cooperation. To the MTA, the ballot initiative feels like a slap in the face.

State education secretary Paul Reville is urging the public to allow some time for principals and teachers to implement the new evaluation regulations, which include sensible measures such as unannounced visits to classrooms by teacher evaluators.

Over the next several months, it should become apparent in collective bargaining sessions across the state if teachers’ unions are willing to accept the new evaluation regulations and allow them to be used sensibly for staffing decisions. If the unions see the wisdom of this approach, there should be no need for an expensive and divisive ballot initiative. If they reject the reforms, that will be the time for education-minded lawmakers and voters to make their presence felt.

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