Bill Overhauling Teacher Evaluation Passes Texas Senate With Unfounded Claims of Teacher Support

Something happened on the floor of the Texas Senate today that your Hotline writer cannot recall ever seeing in more than 25 years of watching the Senate in action. A bill was brought up on the floor and misrepresented as one having the support of teacher groups at the very time that teacher groups were still in the middle of ongoing negotiations with the Senate author to address major continuing objections to the bill.

The bill in question is SB 4, by Sen. Florence Shapiro, the Republican from Plano who chairs the Senate Education Committee. For several weeks, Texas AFT and the other major statewide teacher organizations have been advancing proposals to address concerns with SB 4 that caused all four groups to oppose the bill when it was originally heard in the Senate Education Committee. The version of the bill approved by the Senate today partially addressed some of those concerns, but crucial issues had yet to be resolved. In fact, as of mid-day today, the four teacher groups were readying for delivery to Senate Education Committee staff new language proposing essential amendments to the bill; the groups had been advised that there was still time to discuss new language because the bill would not come up until after the Senate has dealt with the budget (see next item below). These ongoing negotiations were short-circuited, without any advance notice, by Sen. Shapiro’s motion to bring up the bill for a vote around 1 pm.

That’s not all. In laying out the bill and in response to questions from fellow senators, Sen. Shapiro made a series of unfounded assertions about teacher groups’ support for the bill. For example, noting that AFT President Randi Weingarten had testified before the Senate Education Committee on SB 4, Shapiro said Weingarten had “testified in support of the bill.” The fact is that Weingarten did not endorse SB 4 but rather testified “on” the bill, affirming that teachers want better evaluation systems while citing several concerns with SB 4.

Asserting that changes made in the bill since it was heard in committee addressed many issues raised by teacher groups, Shapiro said she understood that “with these changes they’re fine with the bill.” Yet spokespersons for Texas AFT and the other teacher groups in negotiating sessions with the senator’s staff had outlined major unresolved problems with the bill.

For one thing, SB 4 as passed by the Senate today does not rule out the use of “black box” methodologies like the unsubstantiated value-added evaluation system in Houston ISD, which fails to give fair notice to teachers of the specific criteria and formulas by which their work will be evaluated.  SB 4 also does not require the commissioner of education to arrange local trials of proposed evaluation methodologies before adopting a new statewide appraisal model; the bill merely says the commissioner “may” do so.

SB 4 as passed today mandates that the new state appraisal system must base 30 to 50 percent of a teacher’s appraisal on metrics of a teacher’s effectiveness that include annual improvement of the teacher’s students’ achievement. Texas AFT repeatedly has made the point, in testimony and in subsequent negotiations over SB 4, that this mandate puts the cart before the horse, prematurely imposing a new statewide evaluation standard before any local trials have been conducted to determine the best options for measuring a teacher’s work. While the bill now says that performance of a teacher’s students on standardized tests cannot be the “primary indicator” for determining teacher effectiveness, this standard still would allow students’ scores on standardized state tests, not designed for purposes of teacher evaluation, to be given undue weight in appraisals.