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January 12, 2012 at 12:21 PM

Lawmakers propose charter schools, revamped teacher evaluations

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a pair of education reform bills Thursday which are sure to set off intense debate in the Legislature this session.

The bills, if passed, would allow a limited number of charter schools into the state and continue an overhaul of the way public school teachers and principals are evaluated.

Charters are public but independent schools that are allowed to use unusual techniques — including hiring non-union employees. Research generally shows that while they sometimes are incredibly successful at closing the achievement gap between rich and poor students, they often perform the same as or worse than regular public schools.

Charters are currently allowed in 42 states and their use is expanding, but they have been rejected by Washington voters in statewide votes in 1996, 2000 and 2004.

The evaluations are an effort to increase accountability in education by keeping a careful eye on which instructors are successful. Their use is being revamped statewide, but the details of the overhaul are still up for debate. The legislation introduced Thursday would introduce performance into hiring decisions and allow teachers who receive poor evaluations to lose their tenure status.

Some education advocates, including many in Seattle, think putting too much emphasis on sometimes-subjective evaluations is unfair.

Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-Seattle) and Sen. Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island) announced the proposals at a noon news conference.

“I know that this elicits a lot of emotion in people,” Pettigrew said at the conference. “But when it’s done for the right reason, when it’s done for kids and the most vulnerable, when it’s our obligation as leaders…it’s well worth the fight.”

Reps. Bruce Dammeier (R-Puyallup) and Glenn Anderson (R-Fall City) as well as Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Bellevue) are co-sponsoring the bills.

Comments | More in Education, Government | Topics: charter schools, education reform, Eric Pettigrew

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