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Ballot Question on Teacher Performance: Good Purpose, Wrong Approach

Posted on June 1, 2012

(Editor’s note: The following article was written by Richard C. Lord, President & CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, and Linda Noonan, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.)

EducationEducation reform in Massachusetts, carried forward with great success over two decades with strong employer support, is now at risk over a matter of timing. An initiative petition headed for this November’s ballot mandating that public schools make performance, not seniority, the first consideration in assessing, retaining and assigning teachers represents a worthy purpose being advanced by potentially disastrous means.

We agree with the question’s proponents that effective leaders and teachers in every school and classroom are the key to closing unacceptable achievement gaps, and that new state regulations don’t go far enough in connecting evaluation ratings to opportunities and consequences. Yet, we are concerned that Massachusetts faces a lose-lose situation: if the ballot question is voted down, necessary reform will be set back while a successful campaign could so poison the atmosphere that fixing the system becomes impossible.

Proponents of the initiative insist that they would prefer to achieve their ends through the legislative process. The teachers’ unions have accepted the principle of student performance as a factor in evaluation, a big step, and are feeling their way forward. It appears that no one really wants this costly and destructive battle – yet both sides are girding for a fight.
The initiative process should be a last resort. A legislated solution – one approach would be to amend the current statute to make student achievement central to teacher evaluation, reduce the weighting of seniority, and require principals’ consent to teacher placements – would surely be more amenable to successful implementation and effect. We urge the contending forces to constructive engagement in order to reach, or at least approach, a negotiated agreement that offers the Legislature a basis for action in the few remaining months of its session.