Teachers and Accountability

May 02, 1994

For the Maryland State Teachers Association, a proposal from state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick to link teacher recertification with satisfactory performance ratings is nothing more than another insult to beleaguered teachers. The MSTA wasted no time in launching its campaign to send the plan six feet under. But we take issue with the union's assertion that the proposal would degrade teachers by putting them "on probationary status for the rest of their careers." That is the kind of rhetoric that paints a picture of a teaching profession more interested in the status quo than in accountability and respect.

There is another side to this story, and there is more to Dr. Grasmick's plan than performance ratings.

Currently, Maryland requires that teachers renew their certificates every 10 years; veteran teachers have only to send in $10 and the renewal is automatic. The new proposal would require renewal every five years and mandate six hours of credits, or two courses, during that time, as well as satisfactory performance ratings in at least three of those years. That is hardly onerous. In what other job could professionals practice without having to worry about keeping up with developments in their field, and having only to perform satisfactorily 60 percent of the time?

The concern about unsatisfactory evaluations is overblown as well. In many jurisdictions performance evaluations are notoriously inflated; in some cases, a majority of teachers are rated as "outstanding." What meaning does a superlative rating have when virtually everyone gets one? Rather than placing an unfair burden on teachers, the real problem with this element of the plan may be that performance evaluations are so poorly done that they would never single out the incompetent teachers the proposal is designed to reach.

But let's assume the evaluation system provides a reasonably accurate assessment of a teacher's work. Wouldn't a satisfactory performance three years out of five be an eminently fair requirement? Put another way, should any child be taught by a person who could not demonstrate competence at least three years out of five? Would you want your child taught by a teacher who couldn't demonstrate competence five years out of five?

Teachers face immense pressures, and we bow to no one in our support for the importance of their job and for giving them the resources they need to accomplish it. But it strikes a sour note when teachers, or their representatives, denounce the lack of respect they get from society and then aggressively attack any proposal that would create more accountability, which is the cornerstone of respect.

A teacher's product is a student who has learned. Certification by the state of Maryland should offer some assurance to parents, students, school administrators and taxpayers that a holder of that piece of paper is up to the job.

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