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.

First Person

First Person: Why my education nonprofit is bucking the coastal trend and setting up shop in Oklahoma

PHOTO: Creative Commons

“Oklahoma?! Why are you expanding to Oklahoma?!”

The response when I told some people that Generation Citizen, the nonprofit I run, was expanding to central Texas and Oklahoma, quickly became predictable. They could understand Texas, probably because our headquarters will be in the blue-dot-in-sea-of-red Austin. But Oklahoma?

My answer: Generation Citizen is expanding to Oklahoma City because no one would expect us to expand to Oklahoma City.

Our nonprofit is dedicated to empowering young people to become engaged citizens by reviving civics education in schools. We help middle and high school students learn about local politics by guiding them as they take action on issues they care about, like funding for teen jobs or state resources for teenage moms.

I founded the organization after graduating from Brown University in Rhode Island in 2009. Since then, we’ve expanded our programming to Boston, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area. All are urban areas with wide swaths of low-income young people, unequal schools, and disparate power dynamics. Our work is needed in those areas.

At the same time, all of these areas have predominantly liberal populations. In fact, according to The Economist, they are among the 10 most liberal cities in the country.

Generation Citizen is a non-partisan organization. We do not wish to convince young people to support a particular candidate or party — we just want them to engage politically, period. But the fact that we are preparing low-income young people in liberal urban centers to become politically active complicates this narrative.

So despite the fact that we could work with many more students in our existing cities, we made a conscious decision to expand to a more politically diverse region. A city that had real Republicans.

As we started talking about expansion, I realized the extent to which the dialogue about political and geographic diversity was a rarity in national nonprofit circles. While several large education organizations, like Teach for America and City Year, have done an admirable job of in working in conservative and rural regions across the country, a lot of other organizations follow a more predictable path, sticking largely to cities on the east and west coasts and sometimes, if folks feel crazy, an Atlanta or Miami.

There is nothing wrong with these decisions (and we were originally following this trajectory). A big reason for the coastal-focused expansion strategy is the availability of financial resources. Nonprofits want to raise money locally to sustain themselves, and those cities are home to a lot of people and foundations who can fund nonprofits.

But a more problematic reason seems related to our increasing ideological self-segregation. Nonprofits lean toward expanding to places that are comfortable, places that their leaders visit, places where people tend to hold similar values and political views.

One of the fault lines in our democracy is our inability to talk to people who disagree with us (highlighted daily by this presidential election). And non-profits may be exacerbating this reality.

This schism actually became more apparent to me when our board of directors started having conversations about expansion. Oklahoma City had come to the top of my proposed list because of my personal and professional contacts there. But I quickly realized that no one on my board lived more than five miles from an ocean, and save a board member from Oklahoma, none had stepped foot in the state.

“Are we sure we want to expand there? Why not a gateway city?” (I still don’t know what a gateway city is.)

“We can hire a Republican to run the site, but they can’t be a Trump supporter.”

“Are we sure that we can raise enough money to operate there?”

It wasn’t just my board. Whenever I talked to friends about our plans, they’d offer the same resistance.

The stereotypes I heard were twofold: Oklahoma was full of bigoted conservatives, and it was an incredibly boring location. (The dullness narrative got an unquestionable boost this year when star basketball player Kevin Durant left the hometown Thunder. It became quite clear that a main rationale for his leaving the team was Oklahoma City itself.)

But as I met with folks about Generation Citizen’s work, I met citizen after citizen who was excited about our mission. The state is facing tremendous budget challenges, and its voter participation rates amongst the worst in the country. Given these realities, there seemed to be widespread recognition that a program like ours could actually be helpful.

I did not talk about national politics with most people I met. Indeed, we might disagree on whom to support. But we did agree on the importance of educating young people to be politically active, shared concerns about public school budget cuts, and bonded over excitement for the Thunder’s playoff chances.

Still, the actual expansion to Oklahoma will be a challenge for our organization. Despite our local ties, we are coming in from the outside, and we do have the perception of being a progressively minded organization. What will happen if one of our classes wants to advocate for open carry at schools in response to a shooting? How will my board handle working in a site where they wouldn’t ordinarily visit?

I am excited to tackle all of these challenges. And I would push other similarly sized non-profits to think about working in a more diverse set of areas. It is not possible to be a national organization and avoid entire swaths of the country. But more importantly, given these tenuous political times, it feels important to interact with people who may not hold our beliefs.

Nonprofits can’t fix our national dialogue alone. But by expanding where we work, we might help improve the conversation.

honor system

Meet Derek Voiles, the Morristown educator who is Tennessee’s newest Teacher of the Year

PHOTO: Tennessee Department of Education
Derek Voiles, Tennessee's 2016-17 Teacher of the Year

Derek Voiles, a seventh-grade English language arts teacher in Morristown, is Tennessee’s 2016-17 Teacher of the Year, the State Department of Education announced Thursday.

One of nine finalists for this year’s award, Voiles teaches at Lincoln Heights Middle in Hamblen County Schools in East Tennessee. He received the top teacher honor at a banquet in Nashville.

Voiles, who has been teaching for six years, has long shared his teaching practices publicly — on Twitter, through a blog he wrote with a colleague, and as a state ambassador for the Common Core standards. In recent years, according to a state news release, his classroom became a hub as teachers from across his district observed his teaching in hopes of replicating his practices, which often improved the performance of students far behind their peers.

“All students are capable of achieving great things, and all students deserve a teacher who believes this and will do whatever it takes to make it happen,” Voiles said in the release. He is also a doctoral candidate at East Tennessee State University.

Now, Voiles will gain an even wider stage, as Tennessee’s representative to the National Teacher of the Year program. He will also share insight from the classroom as part of committees and working groups with the Tennessee Department of Education.

All nine Teacher of the Year finalists, representing each of the state’s regions, will serve on the Commissioner Candice McQueen’s Teacher Advisory Council during the 2016-17 school year.

The department also recognized two division winners from Middle and West Tennessee. Cord Martin, a music education and enrichment teacher at Whitthorne Middle School in Maury County, was recognized for his innovative teaching strategies and connecting content to contemporary culture. Christy McManus, a fifth-grade English language arts and social studies teacher at Chester County Middle School in Henderson was honored for equipping her students with the end goal in mind: a college-ready twelfth grader.

Voiles follows Cathy Whitehead, a third-grade teacher from Chester County, who served as Tennessee’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year. Whitehead teaches at West Chester Elementary School in Henderson in West Tennessee.