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Originally published Friday, August 27, 2010 at 2:26 PM

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Time for Seattle Public Schools and teachers to partner in steps toward reform

Seattle Public Schools is proposing a contract to the teachers union that is a major step toward substantive reform. The Seattle Education Association members should join the district as a partner and approve the proposal Thursday

SEATTLE Public Schools is right to push for a better, more honest way of evaluating teachers, even at the risk of a strike.

Tense contract negotiations between the district and the Seattle Education Association underscore the enormous opportunity at stake. Both sides agree the current system used to judge teachers is weak and unreliable. Ineffective teachers are ignored or shuffled to other schools to become other parents' nightmare. Excellent teachers languish in a system that has no means to recognize or reward them.

The union leadership called for a few tweaks. But the district proposed a revamped system using student growth, as measured by test scores. Supporters of the status quo have tried to downplay the other forms of appraisal that would be used. They include student growth measurements selected by the teacher, principal observations of instruction and peer reviews. Also, student input at the high-school level.

A coalition of 28 community groups representing a diverse cross-section of Seattle — including the King County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the League of Education Voters, El Centro de la Raza and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle — supports the district's proposal.

A side-by-side comparison of the proposals, done by the National Council on Teacher Quality, found the district moved the farthest away from the current factory-model system to one connecting teacher quality and student achievement.

The shift is a major step forward in an arena resistant to change. Credit the district for rolling it out on a voluntary basis for current teachers, becoming mandatory for new hires.

As negotiations continue, the public is understandably nervous about the start of school on Sept. 8. District officials must make their case aggressively until Thursday, when teachers vote on the contract.

We hope they will vote to take this step. Efforts to raise academic achievement for all students will never go anywhere until teacher effectiveness is addressed. An agreement between the district and its union would place the promise of a quality education for all children within reach.

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