Denver judge tosses teachers’ mutual consent lawsuit

A Denver District Court judge Friday dismissed a lawsuit alleging Denver Public Schools violated portions of the state’s teacher effectiveness law.

The union, in an early morning statement, vowed to appeal the decision.

The lawsuit, filed by five former Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, claimed Denver Public Schools officials misused a provision of the 2010 law that set up Colorado’s teacher evaluation system. The DCTA was supported in the legal effort by the statewide union, the Colorado Education Association.

Known as mutual consent, the challenged provision requires both principal and teacher agreement for placement of a teacher in a school.

Plaintiffs claimed the statute allowed DPS to fire teachers without due process. And that’s what DPS did in at least five instances, the suit alleged.

Judge Michael A. Martinez, in his 14-page order of dismissal, disagreed and threw out the lawsuit at the request of DPS.

“This Court has previously found that the contested provisions of S.B. 191 do not facially violate the Due Process Clause,” Martinez wrote in his opinion. “Nothing about the circumstances under which Defendants implemented alters this analysis or conclusion.”

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the ruling will allow the school district to move forward with its mission of having a quality teacher in every classroom.

“Forced placement of teachers into schools where they do not want to go or where the school does not want to have them is wrong — wrong for students, wrong for teachers, and wrong for schools,” he said in a Saturday afternoon statement. “Our most important objective as a school system is to have the best teacher in every classroom for every child. We welcome the court’s rejection of CEA’s claim that the Colorado legislature is somehow prohibited by the U.S. and state constitutions from ending forced placement.”

CEA President Kerrie Dallman framed the court’s decision differently, saying in an early morning statement: DPS schools are losing valuable resources in its veteran teachers.

“CEA members are highly disappointed by the Denver District Court ruling that Denver Public School’s release of hundreds of veteran teachers did not violate the Colorado Constitution nor subvert the intent of Senate Bill 191,” Dallman said. “Denver students have clearly suffered by the inappropriate release of veteran teachers with good to excellent teaching evaluations. CEA will appeal the ruling and remains dedicated to ensuring qualified teachers remain in the classroom to provide our public school students with the best possible education.”

Education reform groups celebrated the decision.

“This was always about giving educators the right to decide who gets the privilege of teaching next to them,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, in a statement issued by the Great Teachers and Leaders Law Coalition. “I look forward to working with educators across the state to fully implement this important legislation.”

Johnston was a prime sponsor of the bill the teacher evaluation system created by Senate Bill 10-191. Prior to passage of that law, a district could unilaterally place a teacher in a school, regardless of the wishes of the principal or other teachers. Ending that practice has been a key goal for education reform groups.

Scott Laband, president of the business group Colorado Succeeds, said the court’s decision means better classrooms for students.

“As business leaders, our members understand the monumental importance of being able to evaluate and choose their employees,” he said in a statement. “That’s why the state should continue empowering school leaders to make decisions that are in the best interests of their students instead of stifling their ability to manage teachers in their building.”

The judge’s decision represents a double defeat for the union in its battle against the mutual consent provision. Earlier this spring a bill that would have amended that part of the law died in the legislature.

District court decision

Training teachers

More literacy coaches to bolster Tennessee’s drive to boost student reading

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

More than half of its school districts signed on last year when Tennessee created a network of literacy coaches to help classroom teachers improve their students’ reading.

Now entering the program’s second year, another 16 districts are joining up. That means two-thirds of Tennessee districts will have instructional supports in place aimed at addressing the state’s lackluster reading levels.

Tennessee has a reading problem. Less than half of its students in grades 3-8 were considered proficient in 2015, the last year for which test scores are available. In Memphis, the numbers are even more stunning. Less than a third of Shelby County Schools’ third-graders are reading on grade level.

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Gov. Bill Haslam speaks during the statewide launch of Read to be Ready in 2016.

The state wants to get 75 percent of third-graders proficient by 2025. (New scores coming out this fall will help track progress.)

The coaching network is a major component of Tennessee’s Read to be Ready drive, launched in 2016 by Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. The focus is helping teachers improve literacy instruction for the state’s youngest students.

So far, some 200 coaches have worked directly with more than 3,000 teachers in 83 districts, including all four urban districts. This fall, 99 out of the state’s 146 school systems will participate.

About 92 percent of classroom teachers report that coaching is improving their teaching, even as many coaches say they are stretched too thin, according to a state report released Wednesday. Inadequate planning time for teachers is another barrier to success, the report notes.

To join the coaching network, districts must commit to funding a reading coach who will support about 15 teachers. New districts signing up this year are:

  • Scott County Schools
  • Smith County School System
  • Pickett County Schools
  • Jackson County Schools
  • Macon County Schools
  • Clay County Schools
  • Sumner County Schools
  • Dyer County Schools
  • Wayne County Schools
  • Bedford County Schools
  • Benton County Schools
  • Alamo City School
  • Polk County Schools
  • Kingsport City Schools
  • Oak Ridge Schools
  • Dayton City School

A complete list of participating districts can be found here.

Getting there

With new contract, first-year teachers in Detroit could soon make more than peers in Grosse Pointe and other suburbs

PHOTO: Detroit Public Schools Community District
First-year teachers in Detroit could soon earn more than their peers in neighboring districts. The gray bar in this chart shows where starting salaries were in Detroit last year. The green one shows how the contract could change that.

For years, Detroit’s main school district has paid some of the lowest starting teacher salaries in the region but Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says that’s about to change.

The teachers contract approved by the Detroit school board Tuesday night doesn’t include enough of a pay increase to bring city teachers back to where they were in 2011 when a state-appointed emergency manager ordered a 10 percent pay cut.

But data compiled by the Detroit district show that the new agreement, which will boost teacher wages by more than 7 percent, would pay enough that starting teachers could soon earn more than their peers in Dearborn, Grosse Pointe and other nearby districts.

“It doesn’t begin to address the injustice [of pay cuts and frozen wages] but this is a first step,” Vitti told the board as it met at Osborn High School Tuesday.

The new contract was approved last month by members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers union. Now that the school board has signed off, the contract will go to a state financial review board for final approval.

Vitti, who hopes the higher salaries will make it easier for the district to fill more than 400 vacant teaching positions, showed the board a series of charts and graphs that illustrated some effects of the new contract.

Among the charts he flashed on a screen was one that compared starting teacher salaries in Detroit to other districts, before and after the new contract. Another slide showed how salaries would change for teachers at every level of the pay scale. A third warned that the city’s main district could be careening toward a “cliff” if it doesn’t recruit enough young teachers to replace the district’s predominantly senior educators as they begin to retire.

See the charts — and additional details about the contract — below. The last page spells out other steps Vitti says he plans to take to address the teacher shortage.