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May 30

Teach Great Initiative: Improving Public Education or Attacking Missouri’s Teachers?

by Mike Ferguson

(St. Charles, MO) – Among the most crucial decisions that affect the education of children is who to place and leave in the classroom.

A proposed ballot measure in Missouri could change how local school districts make that decision.

It’s called the “Teach Great Initiative” and supporters hope to have it on the ballot later this year. They have turned in the signatures from their petition drive, which are now being reviewed by the Secretary of State’s office.

The Initiative is a proposed amendment to the state constitution.

Kate Casas is the Executive Director of the Children’s Education Council of Missouri, which supports the idea. On “Missouri Viewpoints”, she explains what the measure would change if approved by voters.

MWSnap183“It requires that teachers be evaluated, in part, on student academic progress…Second, it would protect the right [of] teachers to collectively bargain for their salaries and benefits. Third, it would ensure that when layoff decisions are made, those evaluations are used and, fourth, it would allow for up to three year contracts.”

In other words, it would outlaw what critics call the last-in, last-out approach to layoffs that favor seniority over merit. It would also eliminate public school teacher tenure as we know it in Missouri, limiting every teacher contract to that three years or less.

Carl Peterson is on the Board of Directors of Missouri Public School Advocates, which opposes the measure. He believes the requirement to evaluate teachers based on student performance is unfair.

MWSnap184“It just makes it almost impossible for you to evaluate based upon somebody’s test grade. Let’s face it; test grades boil down to how well the student performs, not how well the teacher [does].”

Peterson is the former president of the Ferguson-Florissant School Board. Casas is a former teacher in the St. Louis Public School system.

Among the most contentious debates surrounding the initiative is the one limiting teacher contracts. Generally, a public school teacher becomes tenured after five consecutive years of employment in the same district now. The American Federation of Teachers – Missouri describes that as being “considered a ‘permanent teacher’ and is employed pursuant to an indefinite contract that continues from year to year.”

Teacher tenure is often criticized as providing job security for teachers solely based on seniority, not based on who are the most effective in the classroom. Casas believes the “permanent teacher” status needs to end in the state.

“There’s really no profession where anybody has an indefinite contract, and so we think three years is a really fair amount of time to be able to evaluate how well teachers are performing.”

Peterson thinks the criticism of tenure is overblown.

“Nobody signs a contract where you can’t get rid of an employee for cause. That has always been there.”

He says the effort distracts from more pressing education issues like class size, funding and access to preschool education.

Supporters of the initiative say they turned in over 275,000 signatures earlier this month. The final confirmation of the signatures and the qualification of the proposed amendment for the statewide ballot could come as late as August.

On the web:

“Teach Great Initiative” website: http://www.teachgreat.org/

Children’s Education Council of Missouri: http://www.cec-mo.org/

Missouri Public School Advocates: http://mopublicschooladvocates.org/

AFT-MO’s Tenure Description: http://mo.aft.org/resources/know-your-rights-part-1-states-teacher-tenure-law

Permanent link to this article: http://missouriviewpoints.com/teach-great-initiative-improving-public-education-or-attacking-missouris-teachers/