LINCOLN — Teachers and school administrators from most of the state lined up together Monday to oppose a bill mandating annual evaluations for all Nebraska teachers.
Both groups said the current law works to ensure that students have quality teachers, while preserving local control.
Legislative Bill 809 is "chasing nonexistent problems," said Jerry Hoffman of the Nebraska State Education Association, which represents some 28,000 teachers.
But the lawmaker who introduced the bill argued that it is needed to improve students' academic achievement.
And Omaha Education Association President Chris Proulx spoke for the measure, saying the teacher evaluation process should be one the public can support.
"I do believe the intent (of the bill) is to make sure teachers are being evaluated in a more effective manner," he said.
Justin Wayne, an Omaha Public Schools board member, said in a letter to lawmakers that good teachers are key to helping children learn.
"To ensure that every child learns from the most effective teachers possible, the state districts and schools must be able to gauge teachers' performance fairly and accurately," he said.
The proposal, offered by State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha, would require evaluations annually for permanent teachers and once a semester for probationary teachers.
The evaluations would have to include a minimum of 90 minutes of classroom observation done by a school administrator.
Current state law largely leaves it to local school districts to decide on a teacher evaluation process. Districts must submit their evaluation plans to the State Board of Education.
The only specific requirements apply to probationary teachers outside of the Lincoln and Omaha school districts.
Wayne said that under the current system, many teachers go three to five years without an evaluation.
He also raised concerns about inconsistencies in evaluations from district to district. In some, classroom observations are done by teachers, while others use administrators.
Nancy Biggs, associate superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools, said administrators already do annual evaluations of all teachers in that district.
LB 809 would require more classroom observation time, which she said is unnecessary.
"It worries me that we're trying to legislate what I would call a personnel problem, people not fulfilling their responsibilities, by a bill that causes the rest of the state to change practice," Biggs said.
Lincoln developed its teacher evaluation system through collective bargaining with the teachers union, she said.
Teachers have tried to collectively bargain with OPS over evaluations but have been rebuffed, Proulx told legislators.
He said he favors annual evaluations for all teachers but wants the classroom observations done by administrators. Teachers now do many observations in OPS.
Questions about how to ensure that students have good teachers have been a national concern.
Nebraska's State Board of Education approved guidelines last fall to help school districts in evaluating teacher and principal performance.
The guidelines were developed by a 40-member committee of teachers, school administrators, college professors, school board members and parents.
The Education Committee took no action on LB 809.
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