It is more than a little discouraging to find that the state has flunked in recruiting and retaining quality teachers under the last two surveys done by the National Council on Teacher Quality.  The findings were released last week and made headlines across the state.

Montana was not alone in receiving such criticism. Based in Washington, D.C., the nonpartisan study group also gave Alaska, California, Mississippi and Missouri low marks. Except for California, it appears the low marks affect rural, poorer states.

However, these types of reports have to be taken with a grain of salt. As Dennis Parman, state deputy superintendent of schools, notes, there is no one-size-fits all policy when it comes to hiring and retaining teachers in Montana and nationally. The same can be said of the much-touted No Child Left Behind act, which may have helped metropolitan schools, but was ineffective in rural states such as Montana.

Nonetheless, the study reinforces the feeling that as a state we are not doing enough to keep our best teachers and that we feel hamstrung by policies when it comes to showing ineffective teachers the door. Like any institution, some employees excel, some need improvement.

Butte Schools Superintendent Linda Reksten says the local school district does vigiliant 

monitoring of both tenured and nontenured teachers. Early last fall, School District No. 1 implemented a strict set of guidelines aimed at improving teacher performance.

“We evaluate teachers in 12 different areas,” Reksten told The Standard. “We’ve beefed this up quite a bit. It is tied to an online progam so that if an administrator does a walk-through in a classroom, the teacher can be notified of their performance within minutes; they get immediate 

feedback.”

The policy also gets teachers to develop a plan for self improvement.

“Like doctors who have been out of medical school for a long period of time, teachers can’t stay static, they need to continue grow and learn,” Reksten said.

The report is really a 60,000-foot overview of education and not an indictment on the local level. Study groups such as these look at the numbers but don’t make visits to local districts.

“That’s the problem with these types of studies,” Reksten said. “I’ve said ever since I arrived here that the quality of teaching in School District No. 1 is much better than what it was in California. I have not seen horribly bad teaching in our schools.”

In the category of delivering well-

prepared teachers, the report listed 11 weaknesses. It includes not adequately preparing elementary teachers to teach the Common Core Standards that have been adopted by most states.

However, Montana just adopted the Commor Core Standards last year, and schools are in the process of transitioning toward those goals. The standards are for English literacy and mathematics. 

The upshot is that these studies tend to over generalize and not speak to the specifics of how teachers are teaching in individual classrooms. 

“I think there’s an enoumus reason to be proud in what’s going on in our schools,” Reksten said. “And I invite the taxpayer, who funds these schools, to stop in and see what’s going on. All they have to do is call an administrator and they’ll let them sit in on a class. They would be amazed.”


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