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Op-ed: Despite claim, Utah teachers don’t get jobs for life

By Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh

First Published Jul 11 2014 05:20 pm • Last Updated Jul 11 2014 05:20 pm

Utah public school teachers and administrators face an uphill climb as they prepare for evaluations being implemented in response to a law passed by the Utah Legislature in 2012 (Senate Bill 64). The legislation, crafted in collaboration with the Utah State Board of Education, the state superintendent, the Utah School Boards Association and the Utah Education Association, had nearly unanimous support from the legislative body.

Given the substantive way this law changes how Utah teachers are evaluated and dismissed, I was astonished to see a recent commentary ("This teacher/legislator says it’s time to end tenure," June 22), penned by a legislator, speaking about the need to eliminate tenure in Utah. I was also shocked by a presentation given at the June Legislative Education Task Force meeting, based on outdated data, that criticized "onerous" educator dismissal laws. I have to be honest, the inaccurate and misleading information contained in both the editorial and the presentation is extremely concerning.

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So, let me share some facts about teacher evaluation in Utah:

First, Utah public school teachers do not have tenure. There is no such thing as a guaranteed teaching job for life!

Second, the 2012 law calls for an educator evaluation system with the goal to improve instructional effectiveness and student outcomes while being fair and reliable. It provides for continual improvement of employee performance while maintaining a fair dismissal process.

Third, the law has streamlined dismissal procedures, requiring that the process from notice of deficiency to remediation or termination must not exceed 120 workdays. In reality, it typically takes much less time. New ("provisional") teachers are "at-will" employees for three years, meaning they can be dismissed for any reason without requiring the usual dismissal procedures.

Teacher evaluations based on the new law are comprehensive and rigorous. Evaluations must have three components: classroom observations based upon rigorous teaching standards, evidence of student growth, and parent and student input. As I have visited with administrators, comments on new observation protocols are very encouraging. Principals tell me they appreciate that frequent classroom observations provide opportunities for conversations about instruction and they are seeing positive results in classroom outcomes.

Utah teachers support fair and reasonable evaluations. These teachers deserve our support and respect. Unfortunately, a vocal minority who espouse a "bad teacher" narrative negatively impact the morale of the many outstanding public educators in our state. It is time for those who continuously demean teachers with misinformation and generalizations to stop. The blatant ignorance about the complexity and rigor of the teaching profession and the laws affecting our Utah teachers is appalling, especially when it comes from those in positions of authority.

Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh is president of the Utah Education Association.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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