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Education

Backers Of Teacher Tenure Amendment Pull Back, But Foes Plan To Fight On

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Even though a campaign to institute tougher evaluation and tenure rules for Missouri teachers is stopping its efforts, opponents of a constitutional amendment on the November ballot say they’re going ahead with their efforts to defeat it.

“We’re going to be campaigning full steam ahead,” Mike Sherman, spokesman for the group Protect Our Local Schools, said in an interview Wednesday. “We still need everyone in the state to vote no.”

The proposal, on the ballot as Amendment 3,  would:

  • change how Missouri teachers are evaluated,
  • limit the length of their contracts
  • and revise rules about how school boards could hire, fire and retain teachers.

It went on the ballot after a petition drive funded by Rex Sinquefield, who has donated about $1.6 million to the campaign.

The amendment has been pushed by a group known as Teach Great, which said it would promote greater accountability and higher student achievement by making sure the best teachers were in Missouri classrooms. Opponents have run a campaign that included a broad spectrum of statewide education groups, from teachers to administrators to school boards.

On Tuesday, Kate Casas, spokeswoman for Teach Great, released a statement saying that while the group will continue to make sure the amendment stays on the ballot in the face of a court challenge, “It has become clear that now is not the time to further pursue the Teach Great initiative. 

“While we still believe in this measure wholeheartedly and will continue to work to reward and protect good teachers, support struggling teachers and make it easier for schools to hire more great teachers, we will not be moving forward with Amendment 3 this year.”

Instead, the statement continued, “Over the next several months, we will be focusing on strengthening our grassroots base by talking directly to voters and by hosting a listening tour that will cover every corner of the state eliciting feedback from Missourians from all political persuasions by facilitating inclusive discussions posing the basic question: What can we do to improve our state?”

It added:

“Missourians have settled for mediocrity for too long.  Our hope is to challenge people from all over the state to figure out together how we can do better.”

In an interview Wednesday, Casas said the decision to suspend the campaign was based on more than just polling, which she said showed voters to be closely divided.

She noted that there are no high-profile races on the ballot in November, so there were questions about whether people who support the amendment’s goals would turn out on Election Day.

Noting that Missourians consistently call education their top priority, Casas said efforts now would focus on talking with residents throughout the state to get their views and show them how the changes the amendment would bring could improve the state’s schools.

“That is one thing we will work to better communicate,” she said, “how this amendment would work, if we ever try to do it again. We learned from this.”

She said she could not speak for whether Sinquefield would continue to support the effort.

Opponents of the measure have been stressing what they call a one-size-fits-all approach that the amendment would bring.  Bullet points on its website say it “would take away local control of our schools from teachers, parents and school districts, and hand it over to Jefferson City politicians.”

They also said it would require more testing to generate the data that would be used to evaluate teachers, and those tests would increase costs for schools.

Sherman, the opponents’ spokesman, backed up that claim by noting, “You can’t individualize lesson plans for your students if all that matters is their test scores.”

He noted the broad-based support that Protect Our Local Schools has put together.

“We have the whole education community on our side,” he said. “It has to be hard to run an education campaign when you don’t have anyone in the education community on your side….

“I haven’t talked to one school board member, one administrator, one principal who thinks this would give them more local control. They’re there every day. They know how it will work.”

Casas called the opponents “well-organized, powerful, well-funded groups. We certainly expected them to be a formidable foe.”

But, she said, their view of how the amendment would work is a “misguided analysis.”

“If you read the actual amendment language,” she said, “and the implications of how that would work, it is very clear that boards end up with far more control over assessment and contract than they have today.”

A challenge to the amendment that lost at the circuit court level is scheduled to be heard in a state appellate court next week. So, Sherman said, his group plans to continue working to defeat the measure.

“Until this thing is off the ballot, which it probably won’t be, we’re going to campaign as hard as we can against it.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said it had no reaction to Teach Great’s decision to back off its campaign and had no position on Amendment 3.

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