'two tiers'

Tisch: Top city schools could be exempt from new teacher evaluation system

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki

More than 100 top-ranked New York City schools could be exempt from a prescriptive teacher evaluation system approved by state lawmakers earlier this week, according to the official charged with finalizing the new system.

The schools, which include both elite screened schools and popular zoned schools, are on a statewide list that Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch told Chalkbeat may make them be eligible for a waiver because of their students’ high performance. Of 354 schools that earned the distinction last August, 103 are in New York City.

Tisch cautioned that she is still not sure how much flexibility she has under the new law, which charges the state education department and Board of Regents with filling in the details of a new plan. But if schools are allowed to develop alternative evaluation systems, it would mark a significant shift in the way teacher evaluations work citywide.

“Where this goes and how this goes I don’t know,” Tisch said, “but I just thought it should be part of the conversation.”

Tisch has already proposed exempting some high-performing districts, as reported by Capital New YorkOn Thursday, Tisch said she believes the same principles apply to individual schools.

For the last two years, city schools have used the same basic framework for evaluations, with state test scores and teacher observations each counting for a portion of a teacher’s final rating, which ranges from ineffective to highly effective. There has been some variation, though most teachers have been rated effective or better, with some schools opting to use additional city-created assessments, for example, while others tried different rubrics or peer evaluations through an experimental program.

The schools that could be exempt from the new system, according to Tisch, are the state’s “reward schools,” a designation created in 2012 when state officials sought and received a waiver of their own from some requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Eight of the 103 city schools on the list that also receive federal Title I funding for having a large share of needy students became eligible for separate grants to share ideas and work with low-performing schools. Applications for those grants were due earlier this week, according to the state education department’s web site.

Several of the city’s other reward schools have strict screening policies, or are housed in zones that pull from affluent neighborhoods. As a result, they admit and serve some of the city’s top-performing students.

They include elite specialized high schools like Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn Technical High School; citywide gifted and talented programs, like the Anderson School and the Talented and Gifted School for Young Scholars; and hugely popular zoned elementary schools like Brooklyn’s P.S. 321.

There are also many schools serving higher-need populations. More than half of the students in 25 of the elementary and middle schools, for instance, qualified for free lunch last year, according to city data. At P.S 42, in Chinatown and P.S. 172 in Sunset Park, for instance, nearly 90 percent of students receive free lunch and about 30 percent of students speak a language other than English at home.

To earn the distinction, schools had to rank in the top 20 percent of schools on state test scores for two straight years, or in the top 10 percent on student growth on the tests in 2012-13; all student subgroups had to make academic progress; and there couldn’t be “unacceptably large” achievement gaps between a school’s low-income students and their peers.

Tisch did not elaborate on exactly what those schools might do instead of implementing the state’s evaluation system. But the idea of allowing schools within a district to use different systems is certain to raise questions, and Tisch’s proposal to allow district exemptions had already sparked sharp criticism from the state teachers union.

“Now the chancellor seems to be floating a ‘yacht’ evaluation plan for some communities and non-stop testing pressure for the rest,” New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee said in a statement.

Here are New York City’s Reward Schools for the 2014-12 school year:

PS 42 BENJAMIN ALTMAN

PS 172 BEACON SCHOOL OF EXCELLENCE

PS 161 ARTHUR ASHE SCHOOL

PS 36 UNIONPORT

MOTT HALL SCHOOL

THE BRIGHTER CHOICE COMMUNITY SCHOOL

PS 176 OVINGTON MAGNET SCHOOL OF MATHEMATICS, SCIENCE, DESIGN

PS 120

PS 112 LEFFERTS PARK

PS 130 HERNANDO DE SOTO

PS 24 ANDREW JACKSON

PS 304 EARLY CHILDHOOD SCHOOL

PS 255 BARBARA REING SCHOOL

IS 227 LOUIS ARMSTRONG

IS 392

PS 235 LENOX SCHOOL

PS 124 YUNG WING

MEDGAR EVERS COLLEGE PREP SCHOOL

PS 184 SHUANG WEN

QUEENS GATEWAY TO HEALTH SCIENCE SECONDARY SCHOOL

PS/IS 113 ANTHONY J PRANZO

PS 133

PS 31 SAMUEL F DUPONT

IS 187 THE CHRISTA MCAULIFFE SCHOOL

PS 32 STATE STREET

PS 18 WINCHESTER

SCHOLARS’ ACADEMY

PS 162 JOHN GOLDEN

PS 173 FRESH MEADOW

IRWIN ALTMAN MIDDLE SCHOOL 172

PS 31 BAYSIDE

TAG YOUNG SCHOLARS

PS 191 MAYFLOWER

PS 26 RUFUS KING

PS 115 GLEN OAKS

QUEENS COLLEGE SCHOOL-MATHEMATICS, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY

PS 213 THE CARL ULLMAN SCHOOL

PS 11 PURVIS J BEHAN

PS 205 ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL

PS 46 ALLEY POND

PS 47 CHRIS GALAS

PS 159

PS 35 THE CLOVE VALLEY SCHOOL

PS 11 WILLIAM T HARRIS

NYC LAB MIDDLE SCHOOL FOR COLLABORATIVE STUDIES

MS 260 CLINTON SCHOOL WRITERS & ARTISTS

PS/IS 266

MARK TWAIN IS 239-GIFTED & TALENTED

PS 50 FRANK HANKINSON

PS 78

PS 41 CROCHERON

PS 53 BAY TERRACE

PS 1 TOTTENVILLE

PS 203 OAKLAND GARDENS

JHS 67 LOUIS PASTEUR

PS 186 CASTLEWOOD

PS 94 DAVID D PORTER

PS 195 MANHATTAN BEACH

PS 221 THE NORTH HILLS SCHOOL

MATH & SCIENCE EXPLORATORY SCHOOL

PS 144 COL JEROMUS REMSEN

NEW EXPLORATIONS SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & MATH

PS 212 MIDTOWN WEST

PS 196 GRAND CENTRAL PARKWAY

PS 188 KINGSBURY

MS 255 SALK SCHOOL OF SCIENCE

PS 5 HUGUENOT

PS 58 THE CARROLL

EAST SIDE MIDDLE SCHOOL

PS 158 BAYARD TAYLOR

PS 59 BEEKMAN HILL INTERNATIONAL

PS 40 AUGUSTUS SAINT-GAUDENS

PS 98 THE DOUGLASTON SCHOOL

PS 290 MANHATTAN NEW SCHOOL

PS 321 WILLIAM PENN

PS 199 JESSIE ISADOR STRAUS

SPECIAL MUSIC SCHOOL

PS 87 WILLIAM SHERMAN

THE ANDERSON SCHOOL

PS 6 LILLIE D BLAKE

PS 234 INDEPENDENCE SCHOOL

PS 77 LOWER LAB SCHOOL

PS 89

PS 183 ROBERT L STEVENSON

NYC LAB HS-COLLABORATIVE STUDIES

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT HIGH SCHOOL

MILLENNIUM HIGH SCHOOL

BARUCH COLLEGE CAMPUS HIGH SCHOOL

STUYVESANT HIGH SCHOOL

HS-DUAL LANGUAGE & ASIAN STUDIES

FIORELLO H LAGUARDIA HIGH SCHOOL

HS MATH SCIENCE & ENGINEERING AT CCNY

BRONX CENTER FOR SCIENCE & MATH

BRONX HIGH SCHOOL OF SCIENCE

HS AMERICAN STUDIES AT LEHMAN COLLEGE

BROOKLYN TECH HIGH SCHOOL

BEDFORD ACADEMY HIGH SCHOOL

LEON M GOLDSTEIN HIGH SCHOOL

TOWNSEND HARRIS HIGH SCHOOL

JAMAICA GATEWAY TO THE SCIENCES

QUEENS HIGH SCHOOL AT YORK COLLEGE

STATEN ISLAND TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL

Trade offs

Indianapolis is experimenting with a new kind of teacher — and it’s transforming this school

PHOTO: Teachers and coaches meet at Indianapolis Public Schools Lew Wallace School 107.
Paige Sowders (left) is one of three multi-classroom leaders who are helping teachers at School 107.

Teachers at School 107 are up against a steep tower of challenges: test scores are chronically low, student turnover is high and more than a third of kids are still learning English.

All the school’s difficulties are compounded by the struggle to hire and retain experienced teachers, said principal Jeremy Baugh, who joined School 107 two years ago. At one of the most challenging schools in Indianapolis Public Schools, many of the educators are in their first year in the classroom.

“It’s a tough learning environment,” Baugh said. “We needed to find a way to support new teachers to be highly effective right away.”

This year, Baugh and the staff of School 107 are tackling those challenges with a new teacher leadership model designed to attract experienced educators and support those who are new to the classroom. School 107 is one of six district schools piloting the opportunity culture program, which allows principals to pay experienced teachers as much as $18,000 extra each year to support other classrooms. Next year, the program will expand to 10 more schools.

The push to create opportunities for teachers to take on leadership and earn more money without leaving the classroom is gaining momentum in Indiana — where the House budget includes $1.5 million for developing educator “career pathways” — and across the country in places from Denver to Washington. The IPS program is modeled on similar efforts in North Carolina led by the education consulting firm Public Impact.

At School 107, Baugh hired three new teachers, called multi-classroom leaders, who are responsible for the performance of several classes. Each class has a dedicated, full-time teacher. But the classroom leader is there to help them plan lessons, improve their teaching and look at data on where students are struggling. And unlike traditional coaches, they also spend time in the classroom, working directly with students.

As classroom leaders, they are directly responsible for the test scores of the students in their classes, said Jesse Pratt, who is overseeing opportunity culture for the district.

“They own that data,” Pratt said. “They are invested in those kids and making sure they are successful.”

At School 107, the program is part of a focus on using data to track student performance that Baugh began rolling out when he took over last school year. It’s already starting to bear fruit: Students still struggle on state tests, but they had so much individual improvement that the school’s letter grade from the state jumped from a D to a B last year.

Paige Sowders, who works with classes in grades 3 through 6, is one of the experienced teachers the program attracted to School 107. After 9 years in the classroom, she went back to school to earn an administrator’s license. But Sowders wasn’t quite ready to leave teaching for the principal’s office, she said. She was planning to continue teaching in Washington Township. Then, she learned about the classroom leader position at School 107, and it seemed like a perfect opportunity to move up the ladder without moving out of the classroom.

“I wanted something in the middle before becoming an administrator,” she said. “I get to be a leader and work with teachers and with children.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
The multi-classroom leaders meet regularly with teachers and district coaches to review data and plan lessons.

The new approaches to teacher leadership are part of a districtwide move to give principals more freedom to set priorities and choose how to spend funding. But those decisions aren’t always easy. Since schools don’t get extra funding to hire classroom leaders, Baugh had to find money in his existing budget. That meant cutting several vacant part-time positions, including a media specialist, a gym teacher and a music teacher.

It also meant slightly increasing class sizes. Initially, that seemed fine to Baugh, but then enrollment unexpectedly ballooned at the school — going from 368 students at the start of the year to 549 in February. With so many new students, class sizes started to go up, and the school had to hire several new teachers, Baugh said.

Some of those teachers were fresh out of college when they started in January, with little experience in such challenging schools. But because the school had classroom leaders, new teachers weren’t expected to lead classes without support. Instead, they are working with leaders like Sowders, who can take the time to mentor them throughout the year.

With teachers who are just out of school, Sowders spends a lot of time focusing on basics, she said. She went over what their days would be like and how to prepare. During the first week of the semester, she went into one of the new teacher’s classes to teach English every day so he could see the model lessons. And she is working with him on improving discipline in his class by setting expectations in the first hour of class.

Ultimately, Baugh thinks the tradeoffs the school made were worth it. The extra money helped them hold on to talented staff, and they have the bandwidth to train new teachers.

“If I’m a novice teacher just learning my craft, I can’t be expected to be a super star best teacher year one,” he said. “We learn our skill.”

school turnaround lessons

Too many good teachers are quitting Tennessee’s Achievement School District, researchers say

PHOTO: Micaela Watts
Students at Cherokee Elementary, an iZone school in Memphis, engage with their teacher. Tennessee's iZones have had success recruiting teachers with high marks in the state's teacher evaluation system.

A growing question in Memphis and across Tennessee has been why local school improvement efforts seem to be outperforming the state’s 5-year-old flagship initiative.

Now, researchers charged with studying that initiative have a hypothesis: Schools in the Achievement School District have struggled to hold on to their highest-rated teachers.

For their latest report, released on Tuesday, researchers at the Tennessee Education Research Alliance at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College partnered with the University of Kentucky to examine the extent to which the ASD and local turnaround initiatives called innovation zones, or “iZones,” have been able to recruit and retain teachers with top ratings.

They found that ASD teachers left their jobs far more frequently than teachers in iZone schools in Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga.

That wasn’t a surprise the first year a school was in the ASD, given the requirement that teachers in turnaround schools must reapply for their jobs.

But even in following years, fully half of the ASD’s teachers left its schools each year. Among iZone schools, the corresponding rates were 40 percent and 23 percent, respectively.

In both initiatives, lower-rated teachers were replaced by better ones. Researchers found this to be more pronounced in iZone schools where, on Tennessee’s 5-point scale, incoming teachers scored an average of more than a half point higher than those moving to other schools or leaving the profession. In the ASD, incoming teachers averaged just over a third of a point  higher than outgoing teachers.

“The story seems to be one of general success in getting effective teachers in the door of these turnaround schools, and the iZone schools are also managing to keep and improve them,” said Vanderbilt’s Gary Henry, who co-authored the report.

Henry said disruption is a key part of school turnaround work, and that it might be necessary to lose some bad teachers before a school can thrive. But just as necessary is improving teachers already at a school — and that takes time.

“The iZone hired good teachers, kept good teachers, and their teachers improved,” he said.

Both iZones and the ASD had more difficulty recruiting good teachers for the schools they absorbed in the 2014-2015 school year. Henry said it’s not clear why that happened.

It could be because both the ASD and the Memphis iZone, the largest of the three, added high schools, and it’s typically harder to get effective high school teachers to switch schools. Or, it could be that Memphis, where nearly all of the ASD schools are located, needs more good teachers in general.

“Memphis might be reaching a ceiling on the number of effective teachers willing to move into priority schools,” he said of schools that are academically in the state’s bottom 5 percent. “They’re going to have to expand their pool in order to attract the type of talent needed to transform the lowest-performing schools.”

The researchers note that the iZone gains might not last. The one in Memphis has used teacher pay incentives to lure high-quality teachers to its schools, relying at least in part on philanthropic funds. Without those funds, it’s not clear if the iZone could be expanded or sustained.

“It’s terrific when philanthropies are able to support mechanisms proven to work,” he said, “but in the long run, it’s uncertain whether Memphis will be able to maintain these gains.”

ASD Superintendent Malika Anderson said she is heartened that more effective teachers have moved to working in historically low-performing schools. She attributed the ASD’s initial recruiting challenges to being “a big unknown,” but expressed optimism about the future.

“As we increase recruitment and retention of effective teachers in our schools, the ASD’s growing priority is to champion the efforts of local districts, community partners and the Department of Education to strengthen the pipeline and critical supports for effective teachers in all schools,” Anderson said in a statement.

This report follows a high-profile 2015 study that showed schools in Tennessee’s iZones had positive effects on student learning, while the ASD’s effects were statistically insignificant.  Henry said Vanderbilt researchers hope to examine in the future how school quality was impacted at the schools left by highly rated teachers to go to the iZone or the ASD.

You can read the full report here.