RSS Feeds

Gov. Gregoire proposes education reform bills

Tuesday - 12/13/2011, 6:23pm  ET

Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday proposed changing the way Washington teachers and principals are evaluated, providing them with more feedback and potentially expanding the field of educators at risk of being fired for poor performance.

Gregoire said the evaluation system would replace one in which teachers and principals are now rated as either satisfactory or unsatisfactory with one that would have four categories: unsatisfactory, basic, proficient and distinguished.

Her plan builds upon a four-tier evaluation process that has already been tested as a pilot program in several school districts across the state under a law passed in 2010. While all school districts would have been using a multi-tiered process by the 2013-14 school year, what Gregoire is proposing is to say what exactly the tiers are and to set probation limits, said Judy Hartmann, Gregoire's K-12 policy adviser.

Gregoire said teachers need to know what they're doing well and how they need to improve.

"It will be fair. It will be clear. It will be effective," the governor said.

Under the current law passed in 2010, teachers and principals who are found "unsatisfactory" are placed on probation. And if they don't improve by the end of the academic year, they are at risk of being fired, Hartmann said. Under Gregoire's proposal, that will remain, but teachers who receive a basic rating for two consecutive years would also enter probation and have to raise their evaluations.

"We need to address this concern out there that we have bad teachers," Gregoire said. "For the most part, we have very, very good teachers. We want to make sure the public feels confident that we have everybody at the proficiency-or-above level."

Washington Education Association President Mary Lindquist said her organization supported and helped develop the pilot evaluation system, and isn't concerned with the governor's announcement.

"We think when it's fully implemented it's going to make a significant difference to the students in our classrooms," she said. "The purpose of the evaluation system is to improve instruction. That's the focus of our evaluation system."

Lindquist said the greater concern is further budget cuts to education.

"The biggest problem facing us is not tinkering with the evaluation system. The biggest problem is we don't have adequate funding for our schools," she said.

Lawmakers are working to fix a $1.4 billion shortfall to the state budget. Gregoire has proposed getting there through a combination of cuts, fund transfers and delayed payments. The cuts would include cuts to education, including shortening the school year by four days.

She has separately proposed that voters approve a temporary increase in the sales tax to offset some of the cuts.

When asked if she needed to present reform to get major business groups _ like Microsoft and Boeing _ on board with a sales tax increase, Gregoire said it was not a "quid pro quo."

"These two employers desperately need a skilled workforce," she said. "They've made that very clear to me."

Gregoire added the big businesses don't want to see dramatic cuts to K-12 or higher education.

"So don't be thinking there's some quid pro quo here," she said. "There's a common interest. We cannot shred our education system. We're going to have to invest new revenue, and yes, we must continually be reforming and doing a better job with our K-12 system."

Boeing and Microsoft both issued statements Tuesday praising Gregoire's efforts on education reform.

Microsoft General Counsel and Executive Vice President Brad Smith wrote he was "encouraged by Governor Gregoire's willingness to propose necessary improvements to our education system, and we view her proposals today as a positive step in the right direction."

"In spite of a significant budget shortfall, we are confident that continuing this vital dialogue can yield sustainable funding for education; lasting, performance-based reforms; and access to educational opportunities for all students," wrote Boeing spokeswoman Susan Bradley.

Also Tuesday, Gregoire proposed creating opportunities for struggling schools to partner with universities and to create a new office called the Office of Student Achievement that will focus on educational attainment for students from high school until graduate school.

Gregoire also wants opportunities for struggling schools to partner with universities and to create a new office called the Office of Student Achievement that will focus on educational attainment for students from high school until graduate school.

(Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)