Tougher evaluation standards for Pennsylvania public school teachers are a good idea because the current standards provide little insight into the actual effectiveness of educators.
But the new standards passed last week by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Tom Corbett will need to be a work in progress, in several ways, if they ultimately are to be accurate, fair and comprehensive.
Current standards are inadequate, more like a pass/fail test than a nuanced assessment of performance. The system provides only two findings - satisfactory or unsatisfactory - and about 99 percent of teachers historically have been rated as satisfactory.
Under the new system, there will be four categories: distinguished, proficient, needs improvement or failing. Teachers will be ranked on their preparation, planning and instruction, but half of the ranking also will be based upon the performance of students not only in their specific classes, but in the entire school where they teach.
There is no empirical evidence tying student performance solely to the effectiveness of teachers. Rather, multiple variables - from home environment through a district's financial status and ability to provide adequate resources - play into the results.
Because of that, student performance as measured by standardized tests probably is weighted too heavily in the new standards. Good teachers in poor schools will be penalized and average teachers in good schools will be rewarded for factors not attributable to them.
For as-yet unexplained reasons, the governor and lawmakers excluded from the new standards teachers in charter schools.
Those schools are public schools, funded by taxpayers. The level of accountability for teachers in those schools should be equal to the level for teachers in conventional public schools.
The current Legislature and administration want more students to have access to charter schools, making the exemption from tough evaluations look oddly political.
Greater accountability is a worthy pursuit, but it must be uniform to be truly meaningful.
- The (Scranton) Times-Tribune