PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Teacher evaluations are at the center of billionaire Bill Gates’ effort to improve public education in America.

And now, the State Department of Education may have saved his grant to Pittsburgh Public Schools by approving its evaluation system and performance ranges for teachers.

“I’m really pleased that the work our teachers and our principal is affirmed,” said Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane said. “There are thousands of hours that have gone into this.”

The district and its teachers agreed on an evaluation system, but not the so-called performance ranges – specifically what would be a failing grade for a teacher.

In the past year’s evaluations, 4 percent of the teachers received an unsatisfactory rating. That means they will now be put on a support plan to improve. A second unsatisfactory grade may result in their firing.

“If a teacher does get two consecutive unsatisfactory ratings, that would be our intent,” said Lane. “But our intent is to not have them get the two unsatisfactory ratings.”

The teachers union has maintained that the standard is too strict and that qualified teachers may end up losing their jobs. Union President Nina Esposito Visgitis said the union is “bot surprised and disappointed” by the state ruling, saying they would meet with Lane Wednesday to discuss the matter.

The Gates Foundation did not return calls asking for a comment on whether its grant is now secure.

“I certainly hope so,” said Carey Harris. “I certainly hope so.”

Harris of the watchdog group A-Plus Schools says the ruling sends the right message.

“That Pittsburghers and the state are still willing to do the hard work and overcome many obstacles and disagreements to put the interests of children first,” Harris said. “I hope that’s the message Gates gets.”

Reluctant to call this a victory for the district, Dr. Lane says it is a victory for the children and that under the evaluation system and performance ranges, education will get better.

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