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 nmitchell@ednewscolorado.org or 303-478-4573.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede