House panel halts proposal that bases teacher pay on student grades

House panel halts proposal that
bases teacher pay on student grades


by Matt Long

Former Washington, D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee speaks before a House Education panel Tuesday

Lawmakers delayed a vote Tuesday on a bill that would have allowed school districts to begin paying teachers based at least partially on student performance.

The House K-12 Education Subcommittee voted to adjourn debate on the proposal after it became clear it did not have enough votes to pass. At least one supporter does not expect the bill to come up again this year.

The vote came a few hours after former Washington, D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee spoke in favor of legislation that she said would reward high quality teachers. Rhee, who now leads the national education reform nonprofit StudentsFirst, pushed for the state to end its current practice of paying teachers based on seniority and instead rely on evaluations that include student improvement over the course of a year.

“One of the things that has become increasingly clear in the last few years is that the number one ‘in school’ factor that determines a student’s achievement level… is the quality of teacher in front of them every single day,” Rhee told members of the subcommittee.

Rhee argued that rewarding higher quality teachers would also make districts more likely to retain them in the future. While she enjoyed the support of some conservatives on the committee, the panel’s Democrats and moderate Republicans remained skeptical that the idea would work.

State Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, said a student’s poverty level and parents are more likely to determine classroom performance than a strong teacher. “I would argue we cannot put (student growth) solely on the backs of educators,” the former school district official told Rhee.

Rhee responded that educators could not control issues like poverty or parents’ education level, but could work to put the best teachers in the classroom.

But state education groups overwhelmingly opposed the idea. South Carolina Education Association executive director Roger Smith argued a high error rate on the proposed evaluation models (36 percent) meant that ten years of student test data would be needed before a reliably accurate portrayal of a teacher’s quality could be determined.

It’s unclear what the House’s action means for a state Department of Education (SCDE) pilot program that is already underway. U.S. Department of Education regulations require that South Carolina have a statewide system for teacher evaluation in place by 2014. SCDE is currently using teacher evaluation formulas that include student growth as 30 percent of a teacher’s final grade (the bill discussed Tuesday would have instead used 50 percent). 47 schools in 12 districts are participating in the project’s second year.

The South Carolina Association of School Administrators is piloting an additional program in Charleston County.

Kathy Maness of the Palmetto State Teacher Association told the panel that she feared this additional proposal would create confusion among teachers and school administrators. She urged lawmakers to wait for the two other programs to finish before acting.

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