This installment of Reflections is based on an OP-ED column by Dr. Feinsod, published by the Asbury Park Press on January 23.
Every child should know a “Miss Ann Sloan.” Miss Sloan was my fifth grade teacher and the person who inspired me to enter the field of education. She connected with each child and set high standards in academics and behavior.
Just about everyone, I’m sure, will recall being taught by an excellent educator like Miss Sloan. And everyone—students, parents and school officials—has likely experienced a teacher who is not effective; one who needs focused attention or, perhaps, even a new career.
If we are sincere about our primary mission to improve student achievement, we must ensure that the people who teach our students, and the process of teaching, are top grade. But that’s not how educator evaluation worked in all schools in the past. Too many times, school districts had to settle for less than stellar performance. I should note that the majority of teachers with whom I have worked were caring, dedicated professionals. My concern is with those who are not in the aforementioned category.
That’s why New Jersey’s new educator evaluation system, AchieveNJ, represents one of the most essential educational policy goals for our public schools. It focuses on student achievement and the practices educators use to help students learn.
This year’s implementation of the new evaluation system has not been without its challenges. For local school boards, critical concerns are resources and financial flexibility.
For example, New Jersey school districts abide by several limits on spending growth. One is an administrative spending restriction—a separate control from the more familiar 2 percent tax levy cap and superintendent salary cap. Established in 2004, the administrative spending limit controls what school districts can spend on functions such as teacher and principal evaluation.
The NJSBA does not advocate greater administrative spending. However, it is worth noting that New Jersey’s public school districts have the 4th lowest rate of administrative spending among the 50 states, according to a July 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Education. And although the new evaluation process is technically an administrative function, it is directly linked to classroom instruction. Relaxing the administrative spending restriction for the purpose of implementing the new evaluation process would certainly help local school boards facilitate its success.
NJSBA will continue to seek the financial resources and flexibility needed to ensure the success of AchieveNJ. That’s because we cannot lose sight of the need for accountability among the educators we place in our classrooms.
Every child should have a teacher who meets the standards of Miss Sloan. We believe that the long-overdue changes in the evaluation process being implemented today will bring us closer to the reality we want for our students.
These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at [email protected].