KPCW forum to tackle Utah education reform |

KPCW forum to tackle Utah education reform

Beth Fratkin, KPCW community relations director

The elections demonstrated that our country is polarized and that political consensus will be tough to accomplish on many issues. But there is one thing that all Americans should agree on — we need to reform public education. Utah is embarking on a mission accomplish the task.

On March 27, 2012, Governor Herbert signed the Public Education Employment Reform Bill into law. It requires all school districts to assess and rank career teachers and administrators according to performance, which will then be used in part to determine their salaries. Educators now are figuring out how to implement the law. Because there is little discussion of this significant new law outside of education circles, KPCW will focus on it Tuesday, December 4, in a Community Forum at the Jim Santy Auditorium.

Those in the private sector receive pay based on how well they do their jobs. Those who perform poorly may well get fired. Ideally, the expectations of both employers and employees are clear cut. They get regular performance reviews and maybe a bonus if expectations are exceeded. Regular raises are given for doing jobs well. The Utah Legislature believes educators should be rewarded for their performance too, and should be let go if performance falls short of performance standards yet to be determined.

The challenge Utahns face is how to measure that performance. The reform measure, Senate Bill 64, states that performance will be evaluated according to student growth as measured by standardized tests, surveys from parents and students, and classroom observations. Teachers will then be ranked on a scale that ranges from highly effective to not effective and they will be rewarded (or not) accordingly.

The law is somewhat ambiguous. We don’t know how much each evaluation component will be weighted. We don’t know how objective the classroom observation tools will be, how surveys will be written, or how achievable the goals for a highly effective teacher will be. But most of all, we don’t even know if student performance on standardized tests measures student intellectual growth or if it just measures a student’s ability to test well.

Will new financial incentives induce teachers to teach to the tests, inflate student grades, or bow to parental demands rather than make decisions about teaching for the good of all students? Can a few underperforming students ruin teaching careers, or will financial incentives spur innovation and progress?

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The Park City School District will have the opportunity over the next three years to tailor its evaluation program to the needs of our community. All of us have a stake in our educational system and all of us want reforms to have positive effects on students, teachers and administrators. But this won’t happen without your input. Please join KPCW for a community forum on educational reform on Tuesday, December 4, at the Jim Santy Auditorium (in the Park City Library building). There will be a social hour from 6 to 7 p.m. The program will begin at 7:00 with an introduction by Marilee Coles-Ritchie, a professor of education at Westminster College. Following that, Dr. Coles-Ritchie and Larry Warren, KPCW general manager, will moderate a roundtable panel discussion with Aaron Osmond, sponsor of Senate Bill 64, Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, president of the Utah Education Association, plus faculty, staff, and students from Park City. Audience questions and comments are encouraged, and this event will be broadcast live.

Please join us for this important event.