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Letter: Teachers say two education bills are flawed

To the editor,

Two education bills, the E-12 Omnibus Education Bill (HF934) and HF945, are currently moving through the Minnesota legislature, certain to be passed by the House and Senate. A significant amount of public debate and media attention to these bills have focused on the legislative majority's battle against the state's teacher unions. We feel an important voice in this debate has not been heard: the view of classroom teachers and their students who will bear the direct impact of these bills.

We feel HF934 and HF945, although well intended pieces of educational reform, will have a damaging impact on classroom interaction and student achievement. Here are our reasons:

• Both bills mandate bureaucratic intrusions into the teaching and learning process. Collecting and analyzing teacher "effectiveness" data and student assessment data on a range of standardized tests will overburden administrators and place stress on existing tight budgets with unforeseen costs.

• Student test scores will constitute 50 percent of teacher's evaluation criteria if the bills are passed. The evaluation process oversimplifies the complex nature of classroom instruction and assessment. Determining the "effectiveness" or "ineffectiveness" of teachers based primarily on student test scores is contrary to empirical reason, which has found such a measurement to be spurious at best. A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, for example, found such criteria to be neither "fair nor reliable" as indicators of teacher quality. Teachers are acutely aware that student test scores are often affected by forces that are beyond the reach of classroom instruction.

• Both bills do nothing to address the achievement gaps between students based on race and socio-economic differences.

• HF934 freezes special education funding which will place severe stress on school budgets and deny special education students equal educational opportunity. Likewise, the bill reduces staff development funds that are critical to enhancing quality instruction and will increase student-staff ratio for school counselors.

• Neither bill focuses on the implementation of proven, school-based strategies to increase student achievement.

We feel both bills ignore the current challenges facing public education today. Instead of confronting tough budgetary realities and the changing demographic of school populations, the bills add a new layer of state-mandated bureaucracy in the schools. Neither bill will provide the means for Minnesota students to acquire the requisite skills to successfully compete in the global economy. Both bills ignore current findings in educational research. Instead, they promote political ideology over the interests of teachers and students. Most important, HF934 and HF945 focus on oversimplified evaluative processes for both teachers and students, while ignoring the most crucial element of the teaching and learning process: increasing the academic achievement of all students. Our fear is this legislation will actually decrease teacher effectiveness and reduce student achievement.

For these reasons we feel HF934 and HF945 will actually threaten the significant educational achievements of the state's educational system. Minnesota's teachers and students deserve better.

Thomas Scott, Jon Kachelmacher, Edward Freeman, Mike O'Sullivan, Thomas Reinartz, David Bierly, LaRae Ellingson, Claire Hagen, Liz Erickson, Nathan Miller, Guillermo Moreno, Julie Endersbee

The writers are teachers at Rosemount High School.