Education

Teachers back Wolf on furlough bill

Wolf
Wolf AP

Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a piece of legislation passed earlier this month that would’ve put teachers’ job security in the hands of the state, the governor’s spokesman Jeff Sheridan said.

It was something lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Benner Township) urged the governor not to do, but an action backed by some Centre County area teachers.

At least one teacher said she thought the bill was made as more of a cost-cutting mechanism than an idea to provide schools with the best teachers.

And other educators said there are bigger issues to address.

A report from the state House of Representatives said the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act “would end the practice of seniority-based layoffs in Pennsylvania and instead require teacher performance to guide furlough and reinstatement decisions.”

“This is common sense ,” Corman said. “We should have a system in place that protects the most highly effective teachers. If the governor is genuinely concerned about providing our children with quality public education, then he should join us in moving to protect excellent teachers. It’s in the best interest of our students.”

But the governor, according to Sheridan, doesn’t think it’s about removing underperforming teachers, but rather how school districts should handle mass layoffs.

“This is not the type of policy we should be discussing,” Sheridan said in an emailed statement. “We should all be focused on ensuring schools are appropriately funded and students are learning the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century.”

A priority many educators said they think should be discussed in Harrisburg is school funding instead of cutting.

With Gov. Wolf’s veto, lawmakers can get back to work on what Pennsylvanians really want — funding our schools and supporting what really helps kids learn.

Jerry Oleksiak, Pennsylvania State Education Association president

“With Gov. Wolf’s veto, lawmakers can get back to work on what Pennsylvanians really want — funding our schools and supporting what really helps kids learn,” Pennsylvania State Education Association President Jerry Oleksiak said.

In a statement, Corman and state Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, called on Wolf to rethink his veto plan.

“We urge the governor to reconsider his pledge to veto House Bill 805, which protects good teachers and allows our school districts the flexibility to make personnel decisions that meet the needs of our local communities. Gov. Wolf continuously claims to want to help strengthen schools and protect students. Now is the time for his actions to reflect those words.”

Wolf and state Department of Education Secretary Pedro Rivera traveled across the commonwealth to meet with teachers, administrators, parents, lawmakers and others at stake.

Bald Eagle Area Education Association President Diane Lucas said she thought the bill was made with the intent to save money by cutting more experienced teachers who are paid more than others.

“I feel the bill (was) only going to be used as a cost-cutting bill,” she said. “HB 805 may seem fair to some because there are people who believe we are given a fair rating on our annual evaluation. That is so far from the truth.”

It’s a similar response from Oleksiak who said the bill would’ve allowed school districts to furlough employees for economic reasons, and base those decisions on the “untested and unreliable results of Pennsylvania’s new educator evaluation system” — a system, in its second year that “relies too heavily on standardized test results.”

Those results, Oleksiak said, were never designed as an evaluation tool, and “provide a very limited picture of student achievement.”

“Legislators need to focus on funding our schools, instead of trying to punish teachers for years of hard work and well-earned experience in the classroom,” Oleksiak said.

15 percent of teacher evaluations are based on the state score of the school where they teach

Lucas said 15 percent of total teacher evaluations are based on a score given to the school by the state based on some student test scores.

Lucas teaches social studies to juniors and seniors.

She said the school’s score is based on test scores of students who she hasn’t taught yet.

“How can I be rated on based off of people I barely pass in the hallway?” Lucas asked. “Now they (wanted) to possibly furlough me for that rating. I think the real lowdown on this bill is that they (wanted) to furlough the highest paid teachers and save more money.”

Lucas said she thinks experienced teachers should be given credit for the work they’ve done in those years.

“Elementary teachers have had to completely revamp the math and reading programs in recent years; they will be sharing that knowledge with the new teachers,” Lucas said. “The more experienced teachers may have had a lower rating through the transition period of programs. The new teachers’ score may be higher because they have been given the ins and outs, as well as students who have advanced their skills from the new programs.”

State College Area Education Association President and high school science teacher Eugene Ruocchio said he believes there needs to be a method of teacher evaluations that mimic how teachers approach student learning.

Ruocchio said the framework for evaluation — the (Charlotte) Danielson Model — “is good for teaching,” but that the person it’s named for “will attest that it was never intended to be used for purposes of evaluation.”

As a science teacher, I like using the Danielson Model to predicting the weather. There are times when it doesn’t work. Many variables need to be considered when predicting the weather, and the same is true when evaluating quality teaching. This is not different than an educator’s approach with evaluating students.

Gene Ruocchio, State College Area Education Association president

“As a science teacher, I like using the Danielson Model to predict the weather,” Ruocchio said. “There are times when it doesn’t work. Many variables need to be considered when predicting the weather, and the same is true when evaluating quality teaching. This is not different than an educator’s approach with evaluating students.”

As teachers, Ruocchio said, they use numerous types of instructional strategies, assessments types and evaluation measures to help students learn and succeed.

“The same mindset should be used for educators,” he said.

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo

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