Colorado

Fewer DPS teachers placed in poorest schools

Fewer Denver teachers unable to find jobs on their own were placed into the city’s highest-poverty and lowest-achieving schools for 2010-11, according to district figures.

That’s a reversal of what’s occurred for at least three years, when the poorest schools were more likely to be assigned teachers who either did not apply to be there or were not chosen for hiring by the principal.

As of Thursday, 30 percent of Denver schools receiving Title 1 dollars – federal funds designed to mitigate high-poverty rates – were given teachers for fall from what’s commonly called the “direct” or “forced” placement list. Principals generally cannot refuse to accept such teachers.

And 52 percent of schools affluent enough not to earn Title 1 dollars, a minority of Denver Public Schools, were assigned teachers who are guaranteed a job by state law but who have been unable to secure a position on their own. The job guarantee comes after three years of experience.

Click here to see the school-by-school breakdown of teacher direct-placements for 2010-11.

In contrast, in 2009-10, 63 percent of DPS’ Title 1 schools received at least one teacher from the direct-placement list while only 38 percent of non-Title 1 schools did so. In 2008-09, 57 percent of Title 1 schools received direct-placed teachers versus 44 percent of non-Title 1 schools.

And in 2007-08, three-fourths of Denver’s Title 1 schools received direct-placed teachers compared to half of the non-Title 1 schools.

“For far too long in Denver, as in other urban school districts, the highest-poverty, most-struggling schools have been disproportionately impacted by forced placement,” said Superintendent Tom Boasberg. “And that is no longer the situation in Denver.”

What impact the change might have on achievement is unclear.

Boasberg announced changes to the direct-placement policy in February, drawing concern from some teachers and applause from some parents.

He said DPS would limit the placement of teachers in high-poverty schools and prohibit it in the lowest-performing schools – those rated “red” or on probation, the lowest of four DPS school ratings.

Henry Roman, the president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said the announcement implied such teachers were to blame for the performance of those schools.

Teachers typically end up on the direct-placement list after their school enrollment drops or a program changes. They can then interview at other schools but, if they don’t land a spot and they have three or more years of experience, they go on the list.

On Wednesday, as he scanned the 2010-11 list of placements, Roman noted it largely consisted of one or two teachers sent to a school.

“I really don’t see an impact that could be big enough to say it’s impacting the schools in any negative way,” he said. “This is very minimal.”

A total of 61 teachers, some working part-time, had been placed in DPS schools as of this week. Another three teachers are still unassigned – they could work as substitutes if they have not been placed by fall. That’s 64 teachers in a district that employs more than 4,000.

Also, the numbers of direct-placed teachers in DPS has been cut in half, down from 170 in 2007-08, largely because of changes to transfer policies worked out by DPS and the teachers’ union.

Still, Boasberg’s drive to change direct-placement continues to draw national attention.

Tuesday, the national journal Education Week highlighted DPS in its story headlined “Mutual Consent Teacher Placement Gains Ground.”

Boasberg has repeatedly said the quality of direct-placed teachers is not the issue – instead, it’s the mutual desire of teacher and principal to work together.

“We … strongly believe that schools are very much mission-driven organizations that thrive when there is a cohesive culture that everyone in the building fully buys into and supports,” he said.

The goal, he said, is “zero” direct placements, a goal likely to be aided by the recent passage of Senate Bill 191, the controversial measure that overhauls principal and teacher evaluation.

Part of the law, which is being phased in through 2014, states experienced teachers “unable to secure a mutual consent assignment at a school … after twelve months or two hiring cycles” will be placed on unpaid leave.

It’s a big change from the current law, which puts the onus on districts to find jobs for teachers with more than three years of experience.

Roman, with the teachers’ union, said it’s unclear how many teachers might be affected by the change. He worries teachers may become more reluctant to switch schools or chance tougher assignments.

“And I don’t think that is good because, at the end of the day, you always want to encourage teachers to go to hard-to-serve schools,” he said.

An Ed News analysis of direct placements in DPS between 2007 and 2009 found 49 teachers were on that list more than once, including five teachers who were placed three times in three years.

Denver’s 25 “red” schools, its lowest-performing, had not been assigned direct-placements as of Thursday, though figures provided by the districts changed over several days.

For example, the district’s first response to an Open Records Act request by Ed News listed a part-time art teacher placed at Gilpin K-8. Shayne Spalten, DPS’ head of human resources, said that was an error.

In 2009-10, 20 percent of direct-placed teachers were placed in “red” schools, those listed as “on probation” for failing to meet standards on the district’s School Performance Framework.

In addition to a direct-placement spreadsheet, DPS provided a separate listing of 24 experienced teachers sent to schools to relieve what are expected to be large class sizes this fall.

That includes two teachers offered to North and West high schools, both “red” schools. Principals at the schools were told they qualified for class-size relief but that it must come in the form of those teachers.

Spalten said those teachers are not considered direct placements because the principals could have refused to accept them and because the assignments are for one-year-only. In addition, the positions are funded by the district rather than the school.

On the other hand, she noted, the positions aren’t necessarily mutual-consent hires either. Those are school-funded and continuing, rather than temporary, positions.

Roman said DPS’ definition of “mutual consent” sounds more like principal consent. For example, he asked, why not allow teachers on the direct-placement list to interview at all schools, including red schools?

Spalten said they’re free to do so. If an experienced and unassigned teacher interviews at a red school, and the principal wants to make that hire, that’s mutual consent and that’s what DPS wants.

What Boasberg’s policy change prohibits, she said, is the placement of a teacher, without the principal’s consent, at a red school.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at [email protected] or 303-478-4573.

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community. 

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.