ch-ch-changes

City unveils new steps designed to make path to tenure tougher

For more than 6,000 teachers, the path to tenure this year will be different and, the city hopes, tougher.

City education officials announced a new rubric today that will guide principals as they make tenure recommendations this year. The “effectiveness framework” places teachers in one of four categories: highly effective, effective, developing, and ineffective, based on students’ tests scores, classroom observations, parent feedback, and other factors. No single element is meant to be weighed more heavily than the others and principals still have the ability to pick and choose what goes into their final decision.

Principals will be encouraged to give tenure only to teachers they believe are effective or highly effective, city officials said today. Teachers who are “developing” will have their probation extended, giving them another year in which to improve. This extension can occur again and again until a principal makes a final decision or the teacher leaves the job.

In the past, granting tenure meant checking a series of boxes in an online form. Was the teacher dressed appropriately? Check. Did she have good classroom management? Check. Principals who wanted to deny tenure had to offer a brief justification, but granting it didn’t require a principal to give her rationale for doing so.

This year, school leaders will have to write a few paragraphs explaining their decisions. City officials said today that they expect the new rubric will lead to higher rates of tenure denial and probation extension, which have increased in the last several years, but have not set a goal to meet.

At a meeting with reporters at Tweed Courthouse today, Deputy Chancellor John White called the new rubric “a culture shift.”

“This is a culture shift away from guesswork and toward rigorous decisions based on evidence,” he said. “If we’re going to offer someone a lifetime job, we had better be sure that that teacher is going to be effective for a long time.”

Chief Schools Officer Eric Nadelstern said the city is hoping that the pressure on principals to boost their students’ performance will lead them to take the new rubric seriously.

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said that if the new rubric is a culture shift, it’s a long time coming.

“Every time the DOE needs a cheap headline, they make some pronouncement about teacher tenure, conveniently ignoring the fact that the process for granting tenure has always been within the DOE and the Chancellor’s control,” he said. “We’ll be reviewing this latest process with the hope that it can help solve the system’s real problem — the huge numbers of teachers who leave of their own accord before their probationary period ends.”

The city is also trying to make tenure harder to earn by giving principals hiring incentives if they deny it. Principals looking to fill a position vacated by a teacher who has been denied tenure will be freed from the city’s hiring freeze and will be able to hire teachers who are new to the city’s schools.

The memo that the city is sending to school support networks and principals explaining the changes is below, followed by the rubric that will guide tenure decisions.

Teacher Tenure Decision-Making 2010-11

We know that the most significant factor in a student’s performance is the quality of his or her teacher. Yet, currently, we have few ways to recognize outstanding teaching. Unlike professions where mastery is rewarded with accolades, growth opportunities, and additional compensation, teaching is still organized like a factory model – with teachers rewarded primarily for longevity, regardless of effectiveness.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the tenure decision-making process. For too long, we have granted the same tenure distinction to our most effective teachers as we have to our least effective. Along the way, we have forgotten that tenure is actually a high honor: a commitment for life, awarded to those who have demonstrated they can perform at a high level for the duration of a career. Our current approach demeans the teaching profession and does nothing to help our kids.

Last month, Mayor Bloomberg laid out a new vision for how tenure is granted to teachers. From now on, only teachers who demonstrate significant professional skill and meaningful, positive impact on student learning will receive lifetime employment. The City will transform the awarding of tenure from a right, granted practically by default, to an honor bestowed upon our outstanding teachers. We will reconceive how tenure decisions are made and introduce a set of tools intended to establish tenure as a distinction to be earned. Improvements include: (1) introduction of a 4-point effectiveness framework for use in decision-making; (2) expanded performance data for probationary teachers; (3) streamlined decision-making; and (4) a set of hiring policies aligned to our tenure objectives.

More broadly, this new approach is intended to help schools build a culture where teachers receive regular feedback and support for their professional growth; and to establish the tenure decision as a milestone in every teacher’s development. The DOE will ask that schools take this opportunity to implement what many successful principals already do as standard practice: meet personally with each tenure-eligible teacher to review his or her work well in advance of the tenure decision. These conversations provide needed support for teachers up for tenure and an opportunity to personally acknowledge strong performance.

This memorandum provides further information about the tools and policies that will apply to the teachers in your school who are up for tenure this year.

TENURE POLICY AND IMPLEMENTATION

1. 4-point Effectiveness Framework

For the first time, a 4-point effectiveness framework will be used to aid in making tenure decisions. The framework measures teacher practice along multiple dimensions – impact on student learning, instructional practice, and professional contributions – and requires multiple measures of each over more than two academic years in order to demonstrate effectiveness. Additionally, special consideration will be given to gains demonstrated with special populations, including Special Education students, English Language Learners, and students who are over-age and under-credited. A copy of the framework is attached to this document.

2. Expanded Data

The Tenure Notification System (TNS) will provide principals with centrally available data on their probationary teachers, including the following indicators:

§  previous U-rating

§  poor attendance

§  particularly strong or weak teacher data report indicators

§  ATR status

§  limited time teaching at their current school (less than 1 school year)

§  probation previously extended

To assist superintendents, additional data will be available to manage tenure decisions, including:

§  duration of principal tenure in building

§  school QR scores

§  school PR scores

3. Clear Steps for Tenure Decision-Making

In January, principals will be asked to enter an early (preliminary) recommendation using the 4-point framework for probationary teachers whose tenure decisions are due in May and June.

When principals enter final recommendations in TNS, they will (1) provide feedback using the 4-point framework and (2) using a new Tenure Recommendation Form, they will be required to provide a rationale for their tenure recommendation, explaining the evidence they’ve collected which led to the recommendation of granting or denying tenure, or offering an extension of probation. As in the past, principals will enter their final recommendations in the Tenure Notification System (TNS), and Superintendents will review principal recommendations and issue final decisions.

4. Improve Hiring Policies

In an effort to ensure that tenure recommendations are made based on a teachers’ ability to positively impact their students’ educational outcomes and their contributions to the school, the following incentives have been put in place:

§  In the past, principals may have resisted denying or extending tenure because of a fear of creating a vacancy that could not be filled with a newly hired teacher of their choice. This year, principals who deny tenure (or discontinue prior to denial) can backfill the position with a teacher new to the system, provided that (1) the school has the FY 2011 budget to afford a teacher in the position and (2) there is not a layoff condition making implementation impossible under legal and contractual rules.*

§  If schools are compelled to excess teachers for whom they have recently granted tenure, networks and then clusters are responsible for identifying an appropriate placement for that teacher.

NEXT STEPS:

  • Principals can access a current list of probationary teachers with upcoming tenure decisions via TNS and will be able to produce one-touch data reports for those teachers through TNS starting in January
  • As outlined above, principals will be asked to make preliminary recommendations of effectiveness using the attached 4-point framework (for teachers whose tenure decisions are due in May and June starting in January.)
  • Schools should work directly with their CFN to implement the policies described in this memo.
  • Training materials will be available beginning in mid-December.

*This applies only to vacancies in the same grade and subject as the one held by the denied employee.

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”