Metro

Mass. drops teacher licensing plan

Unions balked at making evaluations key part of criteria

Massachusetts education officials, following mounting opposition from teachers and administrators, abruptly rescinded a proposal Friday that called for making educator licenses contingent on solid performance evaluations.

Had the proposal gone through, Massachusetts would have been one of a handful of states to include performance evaluations as a criteria for renewing licenses of teachers, administrators, or other educators.

Mitchell Chester, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said that “99.99 percent” of all feedback was in opposition to the idea. The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said its members sent more than 45,000 e-mails to the department criticizing the proposal.

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“We got very clear feedback, and quite frankly I agree with the feedback — we should keep local evaluations separate from licensure,” Chester said in an interview Friday evening.

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The proposal, which could have affected educators with “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” job ratings, was part of a broader effort to overhaul the state’s licensing system. But educators and state officials said it was consuming the entire debate, jeopardizing any possibility of making changes to a system long criticized as time-consuming and cumbersome, and unfriendly to midcareer professionals hoping to jump into education.

The announcement came after the department was preparing to hold two forums next week that were expected to draw hundreds of teachers and administrators outraged over the proposal. The forums were the latest in a series of meetings held since October.

Chester said he hopes that, with the proposal dropped, those forums could focus on other changes that need to be made.

Shortly after the announcement, the teachers association declared victory, posting a message on its website that stated, “We did it.”

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Barbara Madeloni, the union’s president, later told the Globe the proposal was a “serious overreach” by the state and applauded her members for galvanizing.

But others expressed disappointment that the department pulled the proposal while the forums were still planned.

“It’s disrespectful to stakeholders who haven’t weighed in,” said Linda Noonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, which has pushed for more rigorous evaluations of educators. “Everyone should have their say.”

The state began floating the idea of linking licenses to evaluations last month when it released “draft policy options” for overhauling the licensing system. Chester said he decided to explore the idea because the state’s 1993 Education Reform Act called for creating a “performance-based” system, and incorporating evaluations seemed like a potentially good fit.

At least three states consider evaluations as part of licensing educators, according to the Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan research organization in Colorado. Rhode Island, for instance, will not renew some certifications if an applicant has received a certain number of ineffective ratings, the commission said. Delaware and Louisiana also have measures.

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While the Massachusetts proposal lacked specifics, it probably would have affected just a small portion of educators, based on evaluation data the state released Thursday. Of 71,700 educators evaluated during the last school year, just 4.8 percent received a “needs improvement” rating, while just half of a percent garnered unsatisfactory ratings.

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But hundreds of teachers and administrators immediately panned the proposal, characterizing it as unnecessarily punitive and too risky. First, they said, the state is still rolling out a revamped evaluation system, which will eventually include student test scores in judging the performance of teachers and administrators.

Furthermore, teachers unions criticize the evaluations as being a subjective measure and therefore inappropriate to include in a licensing process long based on objective criteria, such as educational credentials, experience, and training.

“It really puts control into the hands of someone who can arbitrarily decide whether you can work or not,” said Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union.

William Lupini, the Brookline school superintendent who is president of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, questioned why it took the state so long to drop the proposal.

“The idea of tying your license to your evaluation suggests people can’t improve or go somewhere else and have a good experience,” Lupini said. “I’m a little concerned it was allowed to be out there for such a long period of time and upset so many people and diverted our attention away from important issues of licensure.”

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Source: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.