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, but lake-area education officials aren’t sold on the idea.

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, but lake-area education officials aren’t sold on the idea.

“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 for the November ballot after a successful petition drive for 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,” Casas said. She 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 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 do that.

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.

The proposed amendment is not garnering any favor from lake area superintendents. Morgan County R-II, Eldon R-I and School of the Osage's top administrators are opposed to the amendment and are among a growing number of educators and education-related organizations who are Voicing their concerns about what the amendment means for the future.

The Missouri Association of School Administrators, the Missouri Association of Elementary School Principals, the Missouri Association of Secondary School Principals and the Missouri Association of Rural Education has joined with several other education groups including all three teachers organizations (NEA, MSTA, and AFT) to form the Campaign to Protect Our Local Schools.

School of the Osage Superintendent Brent Depeé said his stance is Amendment 3 is a poorly drafted proposal.

"I believe will have a lot of unintended consequences and I am opposed to the addition of more standardized tests," Depeé said. "Bottom line, I’m opposed to anything that takes away from local control and this Amendment would do just that."

Although Eldon Superintendent Matt Davis didn't expand on his reasoning, he said he does not support the amendment.

Basing teacher pay on student performance is one of the main items causing concern for Morgan County R-2 Superintendent Dr. Joyce Ryerson.

Among other points, the amendment would "require teachers to be dismissed, retained, demoted, promoted and paid primarily using quantifiable student performance data as part of the evaluation system."

According to Ryerson, that statement lends itself to requiring some type of assessment. To develop and hold standardized tests in every subject and level could cost the district and state quite a bit of money, said Ryerson.

The current MAP testing alone costs MCR2 about $1.80 per student. That is not the total cost — much of the price tag is subsidized by the state, she said.

The amendment would allow the state to come up a solution that would be standard for all districts or for each district to come up with their own standards that would have to be approved by the state education department.

But either way, said Ryerson, there will be cost to develop and implement the program.

A lot of subjects and grade levels are left out of current standardized testing, such as fine arts, practical arts, music and kindergarten through second grades. It is unclear how pay would be determined for teachers in those areas right now as there is no existing standard measurement for student performance in those areas. It could also be difficult to determine what is adequate growth for special needs children.

However student performance is measured, there would also be questions about how that data would play out in teacher pay, she said - whether they would all receive a base pay and then get more or less depending on how their students scored during a certain time period or whether it would be solely based on performance.

The currents salary schedule is based on years of experience and college hours and degrees beyond the basic bachelors degree.

"It's ambiguous to me. A school is not like an industry where you can look at the quality of product and there's some cut and dried measure. Children aren't like that. They come to us in all different shapes and sizes with varying abilities," Ryerson commented. "The great thing about society is that people are unique. How does a one-size-fits-all type of approach account for that?"

As for the part of the amendment that applies to tenure contracts, Ryerson said she doesn't believe tenure has that big of an impact on the district anyway. The amendment proposes to eliminate tenure and instead allow districts to offer contracts of up to three years or not use a contract system.

"Tenure has been around long time. Currently a teacher has to have worked five years in our district to be tenured," she said. "But I think people often have a misperception about tenure — that if a teacher is tenured you can't get rid of them. That's not true. You can still build a case to release a tenured teacher. You have to dot your i's and cross your t's and go through certain hoops to justify why you should not continue to employ them in the district. But I have myself over the last few years been able to release tenured teachers. It is not impossible."

Ryerson said she personally has no strong personal attachment to tenure as she never attained tenure while working as a teacher.

But she does say that a stable staff is often a factor in student performance over time.

"When you're comparing districts on MAP, what you do find is that they have consistency. When you know from year to year that Teacher A will teach this so Teacher B always has a clear starting point. There can be a benefit to having people long term — whether that is through tenure or three year contracts."


The official ballot title reads:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:

• require teachers to be evaluated by a standards based performance evaluation system for which each local school district must receive state approval to continue receiving state and local funding;

• require teachers to be dismissed, retained, demoted, promoted and paid primarily using quantifiable student performance data as part of the evaluation system;

• require teachers to enter into contracts of three years or fewer with public school districts; and

• prohibit teachers from organizing or collectively bargaining regarding the design and implementation of the teacher evaluation system?