COLUMBIA - A South Carolina Republican lawmaker who may run for public schools chief is introducing his own plan for evaluating and paying teachers, even as dozens of schools are already testing Superintendent Mick Zais' proposal for evaluating educators.
The minimum wage in the state would go to at least $10 per hour under a bill authored by state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg.
Cobb-Hunter also wants to make Jan. 17 each year "Eartha Kitt Day" in South Carolina. The late actress, singer and entertainer was born in the town of North, South Carolina, a small community in Orangeburg County, on Jan. 17, 1927.
School districts would have to include on their websites a "report-a-bully" form where students could go online to anonymously report acts of harassment, intimidation, or bullying of a student in a school.
Sponsored by Charleston Republican Rep. Chip Limehouse, the bill, at a minimum, would include information about the date, location, and circumstances of the incident, along with the identity of the person who committed the incident.
Schools would have to promptly investigate the allegations. The frequency of acts reported wold also have to be reported.
Party primaries would be thrown out and nominating conventions would be used to pick candidates for top offices under a bill backed by state Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms.
The bill would include, but not be limited to, offices of governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. senator, congressman, circuit solicitor, and members of the state House and Senate.
Any child age 12 or younger convicted of or pleading guilty to mistreatment of animals must be given appropriate psychiatric or psychological treatment, under a bill filed by state Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley County.
For a list of pre-filed bills in the S.C General Assembly go to: www.scstatehouse.gov. Pre-filed legislation is under both the House and Senate headings.
Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island, pre-filed a bill Tuesday for the upcoming legislative session that's aimed at rewarding excellent teachers and providing others targeted training.
Read more about the teacher evaluations that are being tested in 14 Charleston County schools this year in News on 1A.
Evaluating educators based on performance is a required part of the state's exemption from the all-or-nothing provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Forty-nine schools in 13 districts statewide are testing Zais' plan this school year. The federal Education Department approved it in March, disappointing educator groups that said it was unreliable and developed their own.
The state Board of Education must approve a plan before it goes statewide, and that hasn't happened yet. The state also has asked for an extension on when it would use the new evaluations; it wants to wait until the 2016-17 school year.
Patrick's bill would go into effect at the start of the 2014-15 school year.
"This sets the stage for having discussions outside the state school board," said Patrick, who confirmed Tuesday he is considering a run for superintendent. "I want to find a way to push this across the finish line."
One of the most divisive components of the new evaluations is the use of students' growth as measured by test scores. Both Zais' plan and Patrick's proposal include that, but Patrick's evaluation would rely more heavily on students' test scores.
The state has proposed that 30 percent of teachers' evaluations would be based on students' scores, but Patrick has proposed that that figure be 50 percent. Charleston County is testing a separate, new evaluation system in 14 of its schools this year as part of a federal grant, and students' growth scores will make up 35 percent of their reviews.
The evaluations include other factors, and some of those are classroom observations, school-wide growth and student surveys.
Although some education advocacy groups are pushing back against using students' growth in their evaluations, nearly 20 Charleston County teachers held a press conference outside of downtown Sanders-Clyde Creative Arts on Tuesday to say they supported Patrick's proposal.
The group was organized by StudentsFirst, a national education reform group that launched in South Carolina earlier this year. Amanda Hobson, who teaches downtown and is a StudentsFirst teacher fellow, said they want to make sure every student has an excellent teacher, and this proposal would help make that happen.
"It provides a solution," she said. "It's all about the kids."
Teachers should be expected to make at least one year's growth with their students, and she felt confident that the evaluations would be fair. She said she felt frustrated by those fighting this change.
"That's the status quo," she said. "We've done that, and it hasn't worked."
Patrick, chairman of a House education subcommittee, described his bill as "providing a statewide framework" for evaluating teacher effectiveness, while providing districts with flexibility. His proposal would not give teachers an A through F letter grade, but rather judge them on a scale of highly effective to ineffective.
The controversial letter grading system was dropped from the 2013-14 testing period.
Zais had said the letter grade was a way to clearly communicate to teachers how they're performing. But educators called it degrading, and the state Board of Education sided with them. Board leaders made clear last year they would not approve a statewide model with that provision.
Patrick said he was unsure how much his bill would cost. Money may be shifted from elsewhere to pay excellent teachers higher salaries and provide the necessary training, he said.
Kathy Maness of the Palmetto State Teachers Association said legislators should leave the issue alone.
"That's why we have a state Board of Education. The General Assembly is not a super school board," she said.
The state Association of School Administrators is piloting its own method this school year for evaluating student progress.
Its director, Molly Spearman, said legislators should be very cautious about putting an evaluation system into law without knowing how it will work.
"We know we have to do a new teacher and principal evaluation system that includes student growth. We're supportive of that. But this affects hiring and firing," she said. "Legally, in fairness to all the teachers and principals, we better be sure the model we're putting in and implementing has been tried."
Patrick's proposal brought criticism from state Rep. Mike Anthony, D-Union, who's seeking the Democratic nomination for superintendent in 2014.
"It's disappointing to see another grandstanding politician with zero experience in education try to dictate how we evaluate our teachers," said Anthony, a retired teacher and coach.
Patrick, a U.S. Air Force veteran and former U.S. Secret Service agent, said his proposal is about strengthening teachers' effectiveness. He expects to decide after the holidays whether to seek the Republican nomination for superintendent.
He said the job has more to do with leadership skills than classroom experience.
"You don't hire a surgeon to run a hospital," he said. "What I believe we need are leaders in education not beholden to a system that's not shown the results we need to see."
Zais has not officially announced whether he'll seek a second term. The other Democratic hopeful is Montrio Belton, of Fort Mill.
Post and Courier reporter Diette Courrégé Casey contributed to this story.
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