Leading reform

Education sector has published a survey of teachers and their attitudes towards a number of issues, including their unions. Their top findings should come as little surprise to anyone who has been following the education policy debate in Ohio. Their report is titled "Trending Towards Reform", it might more appropriately be titled, "Leading Reform".

1. Teachers want the union to protect them.

Since 2007, teachers have demonstrated strong and significant increases in their support for unions. In 2007, 24 percent of union members were involved and engaged in their local union; in 2011, 38 percent were. This isn’t surprising— with layoffs looming and constant policy changes, teachers are seeking security and turning to the one place they know they can find it: the union. Eighty-one percent of teachers say that without a union, teachers would be vulnerable to school politics or administrators who abuse their power.

In Ohio, this level of engagement has been even higher, due in large part to the significant budget implemented by the Governor, and of course the roll back of SB5 which sought to all but eliminate collective bargaining for public employees.

2. But the union should also engage in reform.

Teachers want more from their unions than traditional “bread and butter” basics. For example, among teachers who say their union does not currently negotiate evaluation, 75 percent say the union should play this role. Are teachers more supportive of union involvement because they view evaluation as important and in need of overhaul? Perhaps. Or teachers may want unions more involved in the negotiation process because they are concerned about the seemingly inevitable changes that are coming to evaluation.

Our experience has been that it is because of the latter. Indeed, education associations have been deeply involved in education reform. Around half of Ohio's school districts have engaged in some form of Race to the Top which requires association support, not to mention the reforms that teachers unions in Cincinnati and of course, Cleveland have embarked upon.

3. Teacher evaluation is improving—but still not good enough.

Compared to 2007, teachers’ overall assessment of their most recent formal evaluation improved. They are more likely to say that their evaluation was useful and effective by seven percentage points, and less likely to say it was just a formality by nine. Still, 35 percent continue to describe their evaluation as “well-intentioned but not particularly helpful” to their teaching practice. While the numbers show a notable improvement over the four years, it’s clear that evaluation must improve further.

This section of the survey is perhaps the most misleading. Evaluation systems such as the one being attempted to be implemented in Ohio are not yet off the ground, so attitudes towards their acceptance are yet to be determined.

As you can see from the results above, only 16% of survey respondents had student test scores used as part of their evaluation - that number is going to climb rapidly over the next few years, and along with it, we suspect, the number of teachers reporting a fair evaluation will fall.

4. Teachers show strong support for some pay proposals.

Teachers are most in favor of pay reforms based on factors they can control, such as their school and the subject they teach. The less control teachers feel they have over performance measures, like student test scores, the less likely they will support proposals that tie pay to performance. In fact, only 35 percent favor financial incentives for teachers whose students routinely score higher than similar students on standardized tests. A much larger proportion (57 percent) support higher pay for teachers who consistently receive outstanding evaluations by their principals, indicating a pay-for-performance plan that may be more agreeable to teachers.

This is a response that corporate education reformers simply do not understand, and will no accept. Teachers are not looking for pay schemes that a Wall Street day trader would enjoy.

5. Tenure is a must—but shouldn’t prevent ineffective teachers from being dismissed.

Teachers want to keep tenure—only one-third would consider trading tenure for a $5,000 pay bonus. But they are ready and willing to make changes to tenure-related dismissal policies to ensure that tenure is not, as AFT president Randi Weingarten said, “a shield for incompetence.” Seventy-five percent of teachers think the union should play a role in simplifying the process of removing ineffective teachers instead of leaving it to district and school administrators, compared to 63 percent of teachers in 2007.

This has been said by teachers over and over again, and yet opponents of teachers and their unions continue to deny it. The charge that teachers and their unions want to protect ineffective teachers is simply false, but what they don't want is a process whereby a capricious administration can dismiss teachers without reasonable cause.

The entire survey and it's findings can be found below.

Trending Toward Reform

Common Core Cooperation?

Terry Ryan of the Fordham Institute had a sit down with the new Ohio Superintendent Stan Heffner and discussed the development of Ohio's common core academic standards. Heffner revealed to Ryan that he believed teachers input would be crucial to success

Heffner argued to me (and previously had written in a February 2011 paper for the Council of Chief State Schools Officers) that the successful implementation of the Common Core, in any state, will come down to teacher involvement and ultimate buy-in. He believes that teachers should be involved in the implementation process in five significant ways:
  • They must have a significant presence in the development of the new common assessments.
  • They will have to change their instructional practices in critical ways if the Common Core is to ultimately lead to higher levels of student achievement.
  • They will need model curricula – either generated by states themselves or by SBAC or PARCC in partnership with states – to help them understand and embrace the rigor and expectations of the Common Core standards.
  • They must be involved in the development of the model curricula.
  • They will need significant amounts of professional development in order to change their established practices and culture in favor of a new design that the Common Core standards and common assessments will demand.

We can only hope that cooperation breaks out, so that Ohio education policy can take a turn for the better.

A Teacher's Open Letter to John Kasich

Elementary music teacher Kelly Riley asked us to publish her letter to the Governor and his response. Great letter, not so great response.

Dear Mr. Kasich,

I do not teach a tested subject area. I am an elementary music teacher with nearly 350 students that I work with once every 3 days for 50 minutes. I recommend that I be assessed on how I benefit my school community. My students present musical performances at least once per year for their families and the entire student body. My fourth grade students are successful recorder players, my fifth grade students produce a CD of their original compositions each year, nearly all of my students sing tunefully and beautifully, and every single one of them is an appreciative consumer of many different musical genres and a respectful audience member. I serve as a staff liaison to my building PTO, I am my school’s technology coordinator, I sit on our Intervention Assistance Team, I coordinate the afternoon car pickup, I monitor the cafeteria for 30 minutes each day, I volunteered on my district’s levy committee, I have mentored student teachers, and I regularly present professional development for my colleagues. I also hold master’s degree in literacy and a license to teach reading, and I frequently integrate other subjects and technology into my music curriculum, which helps my students perform to the best of their abilities on standardized tests.

How would you quantify all that I do for my school community? I would love to use all of the above information to negotiate my salary. I could certainly argue that I’m worth quite a lot because of my education, experience, and the myriad of essential roles I play. I was going to begin my “Idea” with stating that the average salary for an American with a master’s degree is about $65,000 (with eight years of experience and an MA I make $57,113), but that really isn’t the point. I didn’t choose a teaching career for the money; I just want to be respected for all that I do for my kids.

I’ve been teaching elementary music in central Ohio for eight years, and since January, I have been extremely disheartened by the way my colleagues and I have been treated by many of the legislators of Ohio, including you, Mr. Kasich. You say in the YouTube video that you’d like to see teachers paid $100,000 and that what we do “is so critically important.” I laughed out loud at those comments, because that is in direct opposition to all of the news coming out of the Statehouse since you’ve taken office.

SB5 is disrespectful in that teachers must be evaluated on their students’ achievement on standardized tests. Teachers have very little control over a child’s life outside the 7 hours they spend at school 180 days a year. What is a teacher to do if a child is hungry or tired or sick on the single day of the test? And when the teachers and other union members banded together to attempt to put SB5 to a referendum vote, you added the pieces on teacher evaluation to the budget bill. That’s not only disrespectful to teachers, that is disrespectful to the democratic process. I demand that my students be respectful and thoughtful to others. You’re setting a terrible example for Ohio’s youth. Effectively taking away the teachers’ collective bargaining rights undermines the hard work we put into obtaining advanced degrees and countless hours of professional development required to maintain our teaching licenses. Teachers are not stupid; in fact, many teachers are more educated than our elected officials. How is it that you can run a state with only a bachelor’s degree, but teachers are required to obtain a master’s degree by their twelfth year of teaching (ORC 3301-24-08 B)?

Not only am I an angry teacher, I am also a taxpayer and voter. I choose to live in the community where I work so that I can support the school issues that affect my students and my working conditions. I am HAPPY to pay more in taxes to create a strong and desirable community. I have always felt that PAYING TAXES IS A PRIVILEGE because it benefits everyone in the community, especially those who may not have the means to help themselves. And yet, you propose cutting taxes when Ohio is in the red, and cater to business interests. I have yet to see data that validates these policies.

I am looking forward to the opportunity to perform my civic duty and exercise my right to vote you out of office.


Kelly Riley

A Canned Response

As you know, a couple of months ago I asked Ohio’s teachers for their help in building a better system for rewarding educators for the difficult and important work they do. You’re getting this e-mail today because you were one of more than 1,200 people who joined in this process and shared with me an idea, suggestion or concern. Thank you for taking the time to do that and helping to shape this important effort.

As part of this process, I tasked my staff and Ohio’s Teacher Liaison, Sarah Dove, a 4th grade teacher from the Gahanna-Jefferson school district, to collect information, conduct listening roundtables across the state, and learn more directly from teachers about how to create a system of teacher evaluation and compensation that enhances our ability to increase achievement among Ohio’s students.

More recently, this week I had the opportunity to sit down myself with a small group of teachers who sent me e-mails and showed interest in getting involved in the process to determine how teacher evaluations will be shaped in Ohio. I learned a lot. For example, there are some great school districts that have already created innovative systems of teacher evaluation that work for both educators and the kids we all want to help succeed. Additionally, I learned just how very important it is to communicate our intention to assess teachers by using a wide variety of measures. One idea that particularly interested me provided teachers a choice as to which measures best evaluate their abilities as an educator. These substantive contributions, and yours, will help all involved as we work to develop a more fair and effective system of evaluation.

The Ohio Department of Education has created a website that includes information about the benefits of teacher evaluation, a blog from Ohio’s Teacher Liaison that will keep you up to date on our progress and, most importantly, a link where you can continue to submit your ideas and encourage your fellow teachers to get involved in the process. You can visit that website by clicking here:

As we work toward creating a manageable system for evaluating, rewarding and encouraging teachers, I feel it’s important that you recognize my firm belief in developing an evaluation process fair to educators and best for those we all are here to help – our children.

Please continue to stay involved, encourage your colleagues to participate by submitting their own ideas, and together, we can continue our work to make Ohio great again.


John R. Kasich

Governor of Ohio

Guest Post: Thoughts about teacher evaluation

A guest post by Robert Barkley, Jr., Retired Executive Director, Ohio Education Association, Author: Quality in Education: A Primer for Collaborative Visionary Educational Leaders and Leadership In Education: A Handbook for School Superintendents and Teacher Union Presidents, Worthington, Ohio –

Thoughts about teacher evaluation

As it often has over the 50+ years I’ve been involved in public education, teacher evaluation is once again getting considerable attention.

And as is too often the case, many who are discussing it have little idea what they’re talking about – to put it mildly.

First, there can be no meaningful discussion of this topic unless and until the parties come to a clear and shared agreement as to what are the purpose and corollary objectives of education in the first place. Without doing so any process of evaluation establishes the educational purpose and objectives extraneously and inappropriately. Thus, in almost all cases, the discussion of teacher evaluation is entirely off base and counterproductive to say the least.

For example, I have concluded, after extensive study and discussions over many years that the fundamental purpose of education is: The purpose of education is to preserve and nurture an abiding enthusiasm for learning and an unending curiosity, and to first and foremost guide students to make sense out of their current reality.

Now one can argue with this conclusion, but the point is that for any evaluation of teacher performance, or the performance of any other worker, to be of serious consequence, such a statement of purpose must be firmly established and shared by all those evolved. Rarely have I come upon a district or school that has satisfactorily completed this first step of leading to any worthwhile evaluation system.

Second, most psychologists that I have studied I think would agree that most workers, and teachers in particular, want to do a good job. In fact, it has been long established that those who enter teaching have this intrinsic and altruistic drive to do well to an even greater extent than do those entering many other professions.

And if one accepts that premise, then top-down, punitive, and competitive evaluation will have greater negative consequences than positive ones. If that is the case, then a system of non-threatening feedback will be the most productive approach to set in place.

Over these many years the best of such approaches is one labeled “360-degree feedback.” In this system, once purpose is established an appropriate context determined, everyone in the system is provided feedback as to his or her performance from all directions. This would mean that each teacher would be provided feedback from students, colleagues, parents, support personnel, and supervisors. Each employee in that system would receive the same such feedback. This means that every principal would receive feedback from the entire faculty.

And let me emphasize the “non-threatening” part of such a system. This means that the feedback you receive is yours and yours alone. No one else would see it unless you choose to share it. The theory in all this is of course that, given a natural desire to do well and improve, we will all make appropriate changes and seek guidance when necessary.

Some would say this is a naïve and utopian approach. I have been involved in such a system. It works. And as one can easily see, there is no place for merit pay in such and system and it naturally encourages teamwork and collaboration, which are the hallmark of all successful enterprises.