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Amendment 3, known as the Teacher Tenure Initiative, has survived the lone legal challenge lodged against it and is slated to be on the November 2014 ballot. To the casual observer (i.e. low information voter), this amendment to the Missouri Constitution seems like a good idea. If you want to find out why it is not, in greater detail, read our previous posts here, here, here and here.  But here are three big points the public needs to understand about this amendment that I think are really good reasons to vote against it.

1.   The Amendment dictates to districts how they must write their employee contracts: they cannot be longer than 3 years, they must include a very specific employee evaluation system etc. It even dictates the terms of law suits that can be brought against the district by employees limiting their ability to receive due process. These are arbitrary measures with no data to support their effectiveness in achieving the supposed goal of improving student education. Codifying arbitrary, unproven measures into the state constitution so that the legislature cannot continue to monitor and evaluate their effectiveness in terms of meeting the goal and make adjustments based on data and experience is never a good idea. The amendment opens with the assertion that the districts owe something to the state in exchange for receiving state funds for education. This flies in the face of Article IX Section 1(a) of the state constitution regarding education which says, “A general diffusion of  knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties and the people, the general assembly shall establish and maintain free public schools for the gratuitous instruction of all persons in this state.” Gratuitous means given unearned or without recompense. This makes clear that the state has an obligation to the people for education, not the other way around. Amendment 3 turns that completely on its head.

2.   Amendment 3 will cement into place, as a constitutional obligation, the use of standardized tests in school. In fact, it will promote the increasing use of standardized tests now for the benefit of teacher evaluations not pupil education. We currently test for Language Arts, Reading and Math. There are a few End Of Course tests for specific subjects like the Constitution and biology. But we have teachers for a wide range of subjects. Are we only going to hold SOME teachers accountable for student test scores? Will we hold non-subject-related teachers accountable for students scores on tests on subjects they don’t substantively address in class? There will eventually be a push to develop tests for those teachers’ evaluations. Do we really want our kids to be spending even MORE time taking standardized tests?

3.   Previous posts have covered the idea of the extreme limitation of standardized tests to demonstrate teacher effectiveness. This is a one size fits all type of approach to evaluating our teachers. Amendment 3 will be most detrimental to teachers of our neediest students, the ones who have developmental or physical issues that make learning difficult, who receive special services by very dedicated special education teachers. There are also the teachers in our poorest districts whose students bring entire steamer trunks of social and emotional baggage into school from home and who struggle to learn as a result. These kids are not going to do well on standardized tests and this amendment will penalize their teachers the most. It’s one thing to say that schools will account for these conditions in their evaluation system, but the language of Amendment 3 does not specify that. Children, especially those who come from unsupportive homes or deep poverty mostly need a relationship with their teachers. [Check out this TED video by 40 year veteran teacher Rita Pierson who talks about the importance of relationship in teaching.] If we keep booting those teachers out the door because their kids score predictably low, we will remove one of the children’s best chances for an education.

Various groups around the state are starting to mount campaigns against Amendment 3. One of them, Protect Our Local Schools, is made up primarily of teacher unions and professional associations for education. Don’t let that put you off. They understand the limitations of standardized testing and they have no desire to see bad teachers remain in their schools. That campaign is supported by the Missouri Association of School Administrators (MASA) and in their campaign they state,

Real accountability should come from principals regularly monitoring classrooms, having experienced teachers mentor others and allowing parents more input in the process.

They acknowledge that if you have a problem with a teacher in your school, the person responsible for addressing that problem is the principal. The principal should welcome your comments about his/her teachers because they want to see more parental input to the process.

For the full language of Amendment 3 click here.

 

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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