A supporter of a Missouri constitutional amendment being put before voters in November that would change the way teachers are evaluated as well as limit tenure says the proposal is designed to improve education in the state.

A supporter of a Missouri constitutional amendment being put before voters in November that would change the way teachers are evaluated as well as limit tenure says the proposal is designed to improve education in the state.
“In Missouri, we’re really comfortable hanging out in the middle. We’re 25th, 26th, 27th in educational outcomes,” said Kate Casas, spokesperson for Teach Great, which sponsors the initiative. “I think Missouri can do a lot better, and this is one way that we can do that.”
Teach Great is an organization that has been financed by retired investor and political activist Rex Sinquefield, who had tried unsuccessfully to advance similar ideas in the Legislature.
The measure, known as Constitutional Amendment 3, was certified by the secretary of state’s office earlier this month for the November ballot after receiving enough petition signatures.
If approved, the amendment would require public school districts starting in July 2015 to adopt evaluation standards that rely on "quantifiable student performance data" to guide decisions on promoting, demoting, firing and paying personnel.
“Once you have an evaluation that is sound and objective, I think it only makes sense to make personnel decisions based on that evaluation,” said Casas during a visit with The Rolla Daily News Tuesday afternoon. Casas has been traveling around the state, speaking about the amendment.
Casas, who taught fourth grade in the St. Louis Public Schools for three years, said she helped craft this proposal.
Casas said Tennessee, which implemented a similar evaluation system as the Missouri proposal, is a “shining example” of how the change in evaluation system has had a positive effect on educational outcomes.
“And it’s not like Tennessee has gone and fired dozens and thousands of teachers,” Casas said, but noted that a small percentage were counseled into other professions there.
Under Missouri’s measure, local school districts would have the ability to create their own assessments in which teachers would be evaluated or use whatever state model is created, according to Casas.
Schools wouldn’t need a Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test for every subject, but schools could use that as their assessment if they wanted, she noted.
Any evaluation assessment that a local district creates would have to be reviewed and approved by the state education department, Casas said.
Current teacher evaluations are “really subjective,” Casas said. “They’re based on one formal observation and a couple of informal observations.” She said the only real objective measure is a teacher’s attendance, but the rest is mostly based on an administrator’s feelings.
“Maybe 30 years ago that was the best we could do, but we have got more sophisticated with data collection and analysis and coming up with new strategies and solutions and suggestions for improvements,” she said. “We feel strongly that we should be using that.”
Casas said about 50 percent of the evaluation would be based on the assessment while the rest of the evaluation would be other measures that local school districts use, such as principal observation, student/parent surveys and professionalism.
While those who oppose the measure have cited that passing the amendment could mean an increase in costs, Casas pointed to the auditor’s fiscal note about the initiative.
The auditor’s note reads in part: “Significant potential costs may be incurred by the state and/or the districts if new/additional evaluation instruments must be developed to satisfy the proposal’s performance evaluation requirements.”
Casas said, “If they chose to rewrite every assessment and create a new assessment for every single grade and class, there would be cost to that.” However, she said the measure doesn’t require them to.
Teacher tenure
Another part of the amendment would limit future teaching contracts to three years, curbing the current tenure system.
Currently, Missouri state statutes allow teachers to be awarded indefinite contracts, often referred to as tenure, after a probationary period of five years. Casas said local school districts have no control over that because they have to follow state law.
“What this will do is let local school boards decide whether they want their teachers to not have contracts, or have one-, two- or three-year contracts,” Casas said. “This is taxpayer money, so we think three years is an appropriate amount of time to be able look and see, are these contracts a good use of taxpayer money?”
The Teach Great website also notes that local districts would have more control at layoffs, as the proposal would eliminate the Last in First Out (LIFO) policy, where the last teachers hired are the first ones to be let go, regardless of their performance.
Casas emphasized that any teacher who currently has tenure would not lose it. It also won’t affect teachers who are in the middle of current contracts as of July 2015, if the amendment passes.
Initiative petition
To make the ballot, Missouri initiative petitions must get enough registered voters' signatures to equal 8 percent of the votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election in at least six of the state's eight congressional districts. Sufficient signatures were obtained in every district except Districts 4 and 8.
In Congressional District 4, 26,030 signatures were needed, and of the 472 total signatures in the district submitted, 337 were valid.
In Congressional District 8, 24,398 signatures were needed, and of the 543 total signatures submitted, 528 were valid.