Teacher Evaluations and Student Growth

August 27, 2014
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The new school year marks the first year of full implementation of the state’s new Teacher Excellence and Support System, a state-wide, mandatory teacher evaluation system intended to standardize comprehensive teacher evaluations and support. School districts piloted the program last year, but this will be the first year of mandatory implementation, as well as the first year of standard student assessments based on the common core, or the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) assessments. The new standard evaluation systems have been somewhat controversial, as they tie, to some degree, teacher evaluations to student growth and test scores. Many think this is unfair, but Arkansas, as well as 42 other states and the District of Columbia, agreed to implement evaluation systems that tie evaluations to student growth measurements as a condition to receiving certain waivers from No Child Left Behind.

Just last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced, while speaking to teachers at a Washington D.C. area middle school, that the U.S. Department of Education would be issuing guidance to states in the coming weeks that would allow some states to request a delay of using student test results as a component of mandatory teacher evaluations by one year. This would give schools and teachers an additional year to adjust to new student assessments and evaluation systems. Some states, such as Tennessee, have already announced they will not seek a delay. There have been no announcements from the Arkansas Department of Education, as of today, on whether or not Arkansas will request a delay.

Below is the video of Secretary Duncan’s announcement:

Source: U.S. Department of Education

College Resources for Arkansas Students

August 20, 2014
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Open Education Database (OEDb.org) recently contacted me regarding an online comprehensive college resource guide they’ve put together for Arkansas. OEDb.org is a website that compiles information about online college offerings by state, and also contains a comprehensive listing of free online classes and lectures in a variety of subjects, such as business, education, liberal arts, and math, among others. The free classes, of course, are not for-credit, but some appear to be offered from top brick-and-mortar universities throughout the country, and could serve as added resources for students who need a little help in certain subject areas. They could also be useful for adults who are simply seeking self-enrichment or are interested in learning more about particular subjects.

In addition, OEDb.org has published annual online college rankings since 2006. According to their website, these rankings are based on eight different metrics, including the number of full-time faculty vs. part-time faculty, institutional financial aid rate, acceptance rate, retention rate, graduation rate, years accredited, default rates, and job placement rates. With so many online education options today, these rankings could be helpful for students when searching for the right online education program.

The link for the Arkansas online college guide is here. It lists information, such as tuition and fees, years accredited, and student population for all public, private, and for-profit colleges in the state that have online course offerings. Though school just started this week, it’s never too early for high school juniors and seniors to start researching college options.

 

Note: The author of this blog was not compensated for any information contained in the blog post. The author is in no way affiliated with OEDb.org and has not verified any information that may be contained on the OEDb.org website. 

The Battle Over Common Core Continues

July 25, 2014
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The State of Louisiana is in the news once again, and it’s certainly not a glowing endorsement of the current status of the state’s public education system. Not one, but two lawsuits have been filed this week alone regarding the State’s implementation of the common core state standards. Initially, forty-five states plus the District of Columbia voluntarily adopted the common core state standards, with Louisiana being one of them. Most states began implementation of the standards several years ago, with the plan to have the standards fully implemented by the 2013-2014 school year and to implement new common assessments in the 2014-2015 school year. Louisiana state education officials have been working diligently over the past few years to fully implement these standards and prepare schools, teachers, and students for the implementation of the common assessments scheduled to begin this upcoming school year. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R), a presidential hopeful in 2016, supported the common core initially, but recently, changed his position amid new found opposition from many extreme conservatives.

Last spring, several conservative members of the Louisiana Legislature introduced measures to weaken or repeal Louisiana’s adoption of the common core state standards and assessments. These measures fell short, and on June 18 of this year, Governor Jindal took matters into his own hands by issuing two executive orders in an attempt to prohibit the use of the common assessments for the 2014-2015 school year and directing the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to authorize other assessments, less than two months before the beginning of the school year. Louisiana Education Superintendent, John White, and the BESE are at odds with Jindal over the issue, and White has stated that Louisiana will move forward with the common core and assessments regardless of Jindal’s opposition.

On Monday, July 21, seventeen state legislators, those behind the effort to repeal the adoption of the standards this past spring, filed a lawsuit arguing that the adoption and implementation of the common core violated the state’s Administrative Procedures Act, which requires public comment on state policy and rule changes. The very next day, common core supporters, including teachers, parents, and the charter school organization, Choice Foundation, filed a lawsuit against Governor Jindal and members of his administration, alleging that Jindal’s executive orders violate the Louisiana Constitution, which grants exclusive authority to the Legislature and BESE to set and implement education policy. The Plaintiffs argue that Jindal’s actions have usurped the constitutional and legislative authority of the legislature and BESE and have caused confusion and anxiety among school administrators, teachers, parents, and students. The Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent Jindal’s executive orders from taking effect. A preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for August 4.

Note: For a timeline of Arkansas’s implementation of the common core state standards and common assessments, please seek this link

Special Session Starts Today

June 30, 2014
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I’ve written briefly about the problems with teacher health insurance in Arkansas in the past here, here, and here. Last fall, Governor Beebe called a special session in order to find a solution to the projected 50% increase in premiums for teachers that was slated to begin this past January. A short-term solution was implemented, and public school employees saw a much smaller premium increase than originally feared. For the most part, this was only a one-year solution, and again teachers and other public school employees were scheduled to face a premium increase as high as 35% for the 2015 plan year.

Governor Beebe has called a second special session, scheduled to begin today, in order to find a more long-term solution. A legislative task force has been at work on this issue, and they’ve found a solution that will reduce the 35% premium increase to an average of only 3%. This is only an average. Some public school employees may see an increase in premiums of more than 3%, while some may see their premiums decrease. In order to accomplish this, the task force is proposing:

  • Transferring $4.6 million per year from school district funding to the public school employee health insurance plan;
  • Making part-time public school employees ineligible for coverage;
  • Making spouses of public school and state employees ineligible for coverage if they are offered health insurance through their employment; and
  • Limiting coverage for certain weight loss procedures.

No bills have been filed as of the time of this original post, but I’ll update here as they are.

 

UPDATE:

As expected, all bills passed with flying colors. Here are the bills that have been submitted to the Governor for signature:

HB1003

HB1004

SB3

SB4

 

Why Inappropriate Relationships Between Teachers and Students are Still Prohibited.

June 25, 2014
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I’ve received a few questions lately from school administrators and educators concerning the current state of the law with regards to student-teacher relationships. Specifically, I’ve been asked if criminal charges can be filed against a teacher who has a sexual relationship with a student over the age of 18. If you remember, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down a statute criminalizing such behavior in 2012, and since that time, there’s been a lot of misconception about what that decision really meant and how the Arkansas General Assembly addressed the issue. I thought this would be a good time to address these questions and clear up any misunderstandings that may still exist.

In 2012, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a decision, namely Paschal v. State, 2012 Ark. 127, in which the Court ruled that a state statute that criminalized a teacher’s consensual sexual relationship with a student under the age of 21 was unconstitutional as applied. Mr. Paschal was a high school teacher that had a sexual relationship with an 18 year old student. He was convicted of four counts of second-degree sexual assault pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 5-14-125(a)(6), which provided at the time that “[a] person commits sexual assault in the second degree if the person [i]s a teacher in a public school in grade kindergarten through twelve (K-12) and engages in sexual contact with another person who is [a] student enrolled in the public school and [l]ess than twenty-one (21) years of age.” Paschal challenged the constitutionality of this statute, arguing that because the student was an adult at all times during the sexual relationship and because the relationship was consensual, which the State did not dispute, the statute infringed upon his fundamental right to have a private, consensual, sexual relationship with another adult. The Arkansas Supreme Court agreed, affirming that there is a fundamental right to privacy that protects all private, consensual, noncommercial acts of sexual intimacy between two adults. The Court distinguished this statute from another that criminalized a clergy member’s use of his or her position of authority and trust over an individual to engage in a sexual relationship with that individual. The Court upheld the constitutionality of that statute in the case of Talbert v. State, 367 Ark. 262, 239 S.W.3d 504 (2006),  in which the Court explained that the statute did not criminalize the defendant’s right to have a consensual, sexual relationship with another individual, but rather, it criminalized the defendant’s use of his position of authority and trust over the individual to engage in an unwanted sexual relationship. This was a key difference, and as the Court in Paschal pointed out, though it found Paschal’s conduct to be reprehensible, the Court could only analyze the statute as written. Paschal’s second-degree sexual assault convictions were dismissed.

After this case was handed down, many educators and parents felt that they were somewhat helpless in preventing teachers from having sexual relationships with adult students. This, however, wasn’t really the case. School districts have always had the authority to discipline or terminate teachers for inappropriate relationships with students. Paschal didn’t change this. In addition, such a relationship violates the Code of Ethics for Arkansas Educators, and teachers can face licensure suspension or termination for this conduct. Paschal dealt with criminal sanctions only, and in no way was meant to condone sexual relationships between teachers and students.

In 2013, the Arkansas General Assembly modified the statute at issue in Paschal through Act 1086 of 2013 to mirror the statute that was upheld in Talbert. Section 5-14-125(a)(6) of the Arkansas Code now provides that “[a] teacher, principal, athletic coach, or counselor in a public or private school in a grade kindergarten through twelve (K-12)” commits sexual assault in the second degree if he or she is “in a position of trust or authority, and uses his or her position of trust or authority over the victim to engage in sexual contact with a victim who is [a] student enrolled in the public or private school” and is “[l]ess than twenty-one (21) years of age.” This modification, based on the Court’s opinions in Talbert and Paschal, presumably brings the statute into compliance with the constitution, and again provides a mechanism for prosecuting teachers who have sex with their students. In theory, a purely consensual relationship between a teacher and an adult student is still protected, but it then becomes an question of fact for the jury in a criminal trial as to whether the relationship was, indeed, purely consensual or was the result of the teacher’s abuse of his trust and authority to influence the student. I’m no criminal lawyer, but I think it’s a pretty heavy burden in almost any case to persuade jurors that a teacher-student sexual relationship is not, at least in some way, the result of the teacher’s authority and influence over the student. I believe any prosecutor in this state could confidently file charges against any teacher pursuant to this new statute who has a sexual relationship with a student.

To be clear, teacher-student relationships are still criminal, are still prohibited (or should be) by school district administration, and are still highly unethical.

 

An Overview of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act

May 20, 2014
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This time each year, I often get questions from readers and clients regarding the requirements of the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act (TFDA). As teachers, many of my readers and clients want to know exactly how the TFDA protects them, so I’ve decided to do a brief overview of what the TFDA requires and a summary of the steps teachers can take when faced with a possible suspension or termination.

First of all, just to clarify, the TFDA applies to all individuals employed by a school district who are required to hold a teaching license as a condition of their employment, except for superintendents and assistant superintendents. This, of course, includes more than classroom teachers. Principals, counselors, and specialists are all protected under the TFDA as well. For simplicity in this post, I’ll use the term “teachers” as inclusive of all those protected.

Second, a teacher’s contract is automatically renewed on the same terms and for the same salary, except for adjustments pursuant to the school district’s salary schedule, each year unless the teacher is notified in writing by May 1 that the superintendent is recommending nonrenewal of the teacher’s contract after the school year. A teacher has until 10 days after the end of the school year to notify the school district of his/her intent to resign, and at any point, the parties can agree to different terms for a new contract.

In general, school districts have the ability to reassign teachers, modify job descriptions, do away with certain positions, and create new positions, all depending on the changing needs of the district. Teachers are not entitled by law to the same job every year. They are entitled to notification and the opportunity to be heard before the school board. What a school district cannot do is force a teacher into a different job or contract terms after the May 1 deadline has passed.

Third, a teacher can only be terminated during the school year for one of several reasons: (1) a reduction in force; (2) incompetent performance; (3) conduct that materially interferes with the continued performance of his/her duties; (4) repeated or material neglect of duty; or (5) other just and reasonable cause. These are broad categories, and almost any alleged teacher misconduct can be classified in at least one of these categories. The teacher must be notified of the recommendation and alleged grounds of termination in writing.

Fourth, a teacher can be immediately suspended if cause for termination exists and the superintendent believes immediate suspension is necessary. The superintendent must then notify the teacher within 2 days of the suspension in writing, again stating the grounds for termination and suspension. If a superintendent believes there are grounds for terminating a teacher during the school year, then the teacher will almost always be suspended pending the proceedings.

Once a teacher receives written notice of nonrenewal, suspension, or termination, the teacher can either accept the superintendent’s recommendation and resign, or he/she may request a hearing before the school board. When a teacher is suspended, the school district must continue to pay the teacher his/her salary until the school board either sustains the suspension or terminates the teacher. At no point can a teacher be suspended without pay before the school board has a chance to review the suspension. The teacher has 30 days from the date he/she received the written notice to request a hearing. On the date of the hearing, the teacher can request that the hearing be either open or closed to the public. The only grounds that the school board may consider in determining whether to suspend or terminate a teacher are those listed by the superintendent in the original written notice provided to the teacher. If the school board votes to suspend or terminate the teacher, the teacher may then choose to appeal the decision to circuit court.

This is only a brief summary, and does not address every situation. However, I hope that this information can equip teachers with the information necessary to make the right decision when faced with a notice of suspension or termination.