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Evaluating teachers

Among the positive reforms that came out of the 2011 Legislature was a proposal to make student achievement data a significant factor in evaluating educators.

Such a step had long been blocked by the Nevada education establishment. But Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval was adamant in his push to promote change in the state’s struggling public school system, leading many previously recalcitrant Democratic lawmakers to finally agree to the plan.

Right now, teachers fall under a rigid, one-size-fits-all pay system, their salaries dictated almost solely by seniority and the number of advanced pedagogy classes they complete.

The goal, of course, is to evolve toward a more performance-based system of compensation — to ensure good teachers are rewarded and to weed out poor performers.

Precisely how such a system would be implemented remains to be seen. On Thursday, the governor appointed 15 people to the newly created Teacher and Leaders Council, which is charged with recommending how the state will proceed with a statewide performance evaluation program.

Their work will be forwarded to the State Board of Education, which must have a plan in place by June 1, 2013.

It’s hard not to notice that none of the 15 members of the new panel comes from the private sector or business world, where “pay for performance” is the norm. Instead, the council comprises four teachers, three administrators, two school board members, two “education policy experts,” one “teacher program” member, one superintendent’s representative, one chancellor’s representative and a lone parent.

This isn’t the fault of the governor, who didn’t exactly have a free hand. The law, as amended by lawmakers with a demonstrated suspicion of reform, instructed the governor to rubber-stamp the names of four teacher nominated by the state teachers union, three school administrators nominated by their professional organization, etc. Even the lone “parent” was nominated by the state PTA.

We’ll have to wait and see whether this institutional dominance becomes significant. But if the panelists are serious about their mission, Nevada’s public schools — and the state’s kids — will take a huge step forward.

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