What’s next on tiered licensure plan?

Diane Hardin, principal at Parma’s Maxine Johnson Elementary School, comes from a family of public school teachers — and she could envision her 14-year-old daughter wanting to follow the family tradition.

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Parma grade school principal Diane Hardin was among dozens of educators and parents who spoke out against the tiered licensure plan Tuesday.

But Hardin says the proposed tiered teacher licensing rule again shows disrespect to teachers and politicizes education. “I find myself fighting the impulse to tell (her), ‘Please don’t go into education in Idaho,’” Hardin said Tuesday, during a crowded and raucous public hearing on the plan.

Some 250 people — including educators, administrators and parents — packed the cafeteria at Meridian’s Mountain View High School for the State Board of Education’s third public hearing on the plan. No one testified in favor of the proposal. Even Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, a House Education Committee member, used his testimony to suggest technical changes.

Opponent after opponent urged the State Board to start over, scrapping the plan entirely. ”There are just too many variables for the state to start another initiative,” Weiser School District Superintendent Wil Overgaard said. “Slow down and get it right.”

The State Board will take the next 30 to 60 days reviewing public comments and will decide how to adjust the plan, State Board member Rod Lewis said after the three-hour hearing. He still expects a plan to come before the 2015 Legislature, but he expects some adjustments.

On Tuesday, the criticisms ran the gamut:

  • Use of standardized tests. Educators criticized tying teacher pay and professional advancement to standardized test scores — especially the new version of the ISAT, which has been rewritten and aligned to the Idaho Core Standards. After a field test last spring, the ISAT will be used for the first time this spring as a school and student accountability measure.
  • Teacher evaluations. The tiered licensure plan hinges on two yardsticks: student growth and teacher evaluations, conducted by two local evaluators. Speaker after speaker criticized the idea of linking teacher pay to the evaluations. Mark Jones, a Boise principal, said principals should not be given the authority to influence teacher pay or licensure — comments that drew loud applause from the crowd.
  • Special needs students. If pay is tied, in part, to student growth, teachers may have little incentive to work with special education students, English language learners and students from poorer households.
  • Funding. Tiered licensure, and the teacher pay raises that would be linked to it, carries a projected price tag of $200 million. The tiered licensure plan is an administrative rule — which one of the Legislature’s education committees could approve, without a full vote of the House or Senate. And a rule does not come with appropriations attached to it. “I don’t see $200 million coming,” said Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise.

This drew a response from Lewis — a member of Gov. Butch Otter’s education task force, which included tiered licensure among its 20 far-reaching recommendations from 14 months ago. Lewis said the tiered licensure plan and the teacher career ladder are intertwined. “We are not interested in moving one forward without the other.”

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State Board of Education member Rod Lewis tried to allay fears about the plan — saying no teacher would lose a license because of lagging student growth or marginal evaluations.

The career ladder proposal would raise starting teacher pay from $31,750 to $40,000. Pay for teachers in the second, professional tier, would range from $47,000 to $51,000. At the top of the scale, master teachers would receive $54,000 to $58,000.

Lewis couched the plan as a compromise. Legislators will want some accountability measures attached to a career ladder, he said, but support is building for a boost in teacher salaries.

“I think this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to significantly increase teacher pay,” he said, drawing catcalls and snickers from some in the audience.

Lewis hopes to get a rule ready for the 2015 session, because legislators seem ready to move. “We do have considerable concern that, if we delay, that momentum will be lost,” he said after Tuesday’s hearing.

However, Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr urged the State Board not to rush to the Statehouse next winter. The task force’s working groups have until next year to work, and have funding in hand, and should use that time to craft a plan teachers can support.

“We cannot afford to lose more teachers,” she said. “And this plan won’t do it.”