You can give a student fancy computers, buy her new textbooks, put her in state-of-the-art school buildings. None of it matters without a good teacher. So it's disturbing that many school systems do such a half-hearted job of rating teachers, weeding out incompetents and keeping a watchful eye on large-scale teacher performance problems.
The extent of Anne Arundel's laxity became apparent last week, as a committee of educators presented its plan for a new teacher rating system. It's about time; the current standards were approved the year Jimmy Carter was elected president.
Unfortunately, the proposed system reflects the same lack of enthusiasm for rigorous teacher evaluation that exists now. It ignores student success as one sign of teacher competence. As far as frequency of evaluation is concerned, it doesn't even comply with state regulations, which say new teachers should be evaluated each year for three years and veteran teachers reviewed at least twice every five years. Committee members said they didn't know about the state requirements, which makes one wonder about their competence.
Is teacher incompetence a problem in Anne Arundel County? We don't know, and neither does anyone else. School officials keep no record of how many teachers are fired or cited for not meeting standards, and they seem to have no interest in finding out. Why they are not more interested is puzzling. You would think they would want to know of systemic teacher problems so they can look for solutions. As school board member Joseph Foster noted, "You can't manage a problem if you don't know the extent of it."
The teacher evaluation committee is scheduled to present a revised proposal to the school board this week. The new plan should recommend evaluations at least as frequent as the state regulations require. It should set strenuous standards for knowledge of subject matter and classroom management skills. It should include student performance as one measure of teacher success. It should insist school officials start keeping track of failing or struggling teachers. And it should suggest ways to weed out bad teachers -- a process which usually takes two years -- more quickly.
The school system can't provide quality education if it doesn't ensure the quality of educators.