job protections

Fewer teachers losing tenure in Denver, other large Colorado districts

PHOTO: Craig F. Walker, Denver Post
A teacher works with a ninth-grade student at Abraham Lincoln High School in Denver in 2012.

Fewer teachers in Colorado’s six largest school districts are at risk of losing their job protections after back-to-back ineffective ratings, according to numbers provided by the districts.

Under a controversial state law known as Senate Bill 191, teachers who earn two consecutive ineffective ratings can lose their non-probationary status, often referred to as tenure.

Twenty-one teachers in Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest district, received their second consecutive less-than-effective rating in 2016-17. That’s down from 47 in 2015-16, which was the first year teachers could be stripped of their job protections under the law.

In Douglas County, where 24 teachers were at risk of losing non-probationary status in 2015-16 just one teacher this year is in that position, according to a district spokesperson.

In Aurora, five teachers are set to lose their status, compared to 12 the previous year, a spokesperson said. In the Cherry Creek district, where one teacher faced losing status in 2015-16, a spokesperson said no teachers will lose it this year.

Two teachers in the Adams 12 Five Star district are set to lose non-probationary status, a spokesperson said. Last year, he said, no Adams 12 teachers did.

No Jeffco Public Schools teachers lost non-probationary status last year, either. The state’s second-largest district does not yet have numbers for the 2016-17 school year because its teacher evaluations aren’t finalized until the fall. The law, however, says teacher evaluations must be completed two weeks before the end of the school year.

Of the 21 Denver Public Schools teachers who earned their second consecutive less-than-effective rating in 2016-17, three have already have resigned, district officials said.

The other 18 are currently slated to return in the fall with probationary status, which means they’ll work under one-year contracts. Probationary teachers have less job security because a school district can decline to renew their contracts for any reason allowed by law.

The contracts of nine DPS teachers who lost non-probationary status in 2015-16 and returned for the 2016-17 school year as probationary teachers were set to be non-renewed at the end of the year, said DPS spokesman Will Jones. However, three of the nine teachers resigned, leaving just six whose contracts were formally not renewed, he said.

By contrast, non-probationary teachers can only be fired if a district can prove one of several grounds, such as that a teacher was insubordinate or immoral. Non-probationary teachers can also appeal their ratings and the loss of their status.

Last year, nine DPS teachers appealed one or both of those, Jones said. Five were successful and did not end up losing their non-probationary status, he said.

Eight teachers are pursuing appeals this year, Jones said. Five of them are still in the process of appealing their ratings; if successful, they won’t have to appeal the loss of their status, he said.

Of the 18 teachers who will return in the fall with probationary status, 12 are white, five are Hispanic and one is African-American, Jones said. Overall, 73 percent of DPS teachers in 2016-17 were white, 18 percent were Hispanic and 4 percent were African-American, according to data provided to a DPS task force on African-American equity.

Six of the teachers have between 16 and 24 years of experience with DPS, Jones said. The other 12 teachers have 15 years of experience or less.

Pam Shamburg, executive director of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said the union is happy that fewer teachers are set to lose non-probationary status this year.

She sees the decrease as a sign that DPS, which uses its own teacher evaluation system rather than the state-developed model, is being more thoughtful about being fair to teachers.

“The biggest thing is to help the district work to a point where their evaluation system is realistic and authentic and not punitive,” she said. “I think they have some appetite to get there.”

Sarah Almy, executive director of talent management for DPS, said it’s not possible to draw any conclusions about why the number of teachers is down from just two years’ worth of data.

But she said the teacher evaluation system is not meant to be punitive.

“We really do want this to be a system … to support teachers in developing and growing their practice,” Almy said. “So we are hopeful that is what’s happening.”

It’s also important that teachers see the system as fair, she said. In the 2015-16 school year, Almy said DPS began using a team of highly trained peer observers to work with schools to help ensure the definition of effectiveness was consistent.

evaluating evaluation

Teaching more black or Hispanic students can hurt observation scores, study finds

Thomas Barwick | Getty Images

A teacher is observed in her first period class and get a low rating; in her second period class she gets higher marks. She’s teaching the same material in the same way — why are the results different?

A new study points to an answer: the types of students teachers instruct may influence how administrators evaluate their performance. More low-achieving, black, Hispanic, and male students lead to lower scores. And that phenomenon hurts some teachers more than others: Black teachers are more likely to teach low-performing students and students of color.

Separately, the study finds that male teachers tend to get lower ratings, though it’s not clear if that’s due to differences in actual performance or bias.

The results suggest that evaluations are one reason teachers may be deterred from working in classrooms where students lag farthest behind.

The study, conducted by Shanyce Campbell at the University of California, Irvine, analyzed teacher ratings compiled by the Measures of Effective Teaching Project, an effort funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Gates is also a supporter of Chalkbeat.)

The paper finds that for every 25 percent increase in black or Hispanic students taught, there was a dip in teacher’s rating, similar to the difference in performance between a first and second-year teacher. (Having more low-performing or male students had a slightly smaller effect.)

That’s troubling, Campbell said, because it means that teachers of color — who often most frequently work with students of color — may not be getting a fair shot.

“If evaluations are inequitable, then this further pushes them out,” Campbell said.

The findings are consistent with previous research that shows how classroom evaluations can be biased by the students teachers serve.

Cory Cain, an assistant principal and teacher at the Urban Prep charter network in Chicago, said he and his school often grapple with questions of bias when trying to evaluating teachers fairly. His school serves only boys and its students are predominantly black.

“We’re very clear that everyone is susceptible to bias. It doesn’t matter what’s your race or ethnicity,” he said.

While Cain is black, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t see how black boys are portrayed in the media, he said. And also he knows that teachers are often nervous they will do poorly on their evaluations if students are misbehaving or are struggling with the content on a given day, knowing that it can be difficult for observers to fully assess their teaching in short sessions.

The study can’t show why evaluation scores are skewed, but one potential explanation is that classrooms appear higher-functioning when students are higher-achieving, even if that’s not because of the teacher. In that sense, the results might not be due to bias itself, but to conflating student success with teacher performance.

Campbell said she hopes her findings will add nuance to the debate over the best ways to judge teachers.

One idea that the study floats to address the issue is an adjustment of evaluation scores based on the composition of the classroom, similar to what is done for value-added scores, though the idea has received some pushback, Campbell said.

“I’m not saying we throw them both out,” Campbell said of classroom observations and value-added scores. “I’m saying we need to be mindful.”

time for kids

New York City agrees to provide paid family leave to teachers

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
The United Federation of Teachers and city officials announced a new paid parental leave policy.

New York City will begin providing paid family leave to teachers, officials announced today, a victory for the United Federation of Teachers.

The city will pay full salary to birth, foster, adoptive, and surrogate parents for six weeks — covering about 120,000 union members. Combined with sick time, birth mothers will now be able to take 12 to 14 weeks of leave starting in September. The city estimates 4,000 parents annually will benefit.

The new policy is expected to cost the city $51 million. To help cover that cost, the city and the union agreed to extend their current contract for an additional two-and-a-half months past its expiration in November.

“It’s a fundamental matter of fairness to make sure that people have this opportunity,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The decision follows heavy pressure from the teacher’s union, which has campaigned for a more generous policy for teachers since the city extended six weeks of fully paid time off to its non-union workforce in 2016, covering about 20,000 managerial employees. Paid leave had become a rare point of contention between the mayor and powerful teachers union — with the union president accusing the administration of sexism during a City Council hearing. 

“All we asked for was to be treated fairly when members of our own union bring children into their families,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said Wednesday. “That wrong has finally been righted.”

The new policy also comes as the UFT braces for a Supreme Court ruling that could take a big bite out of the union’s ability to collect dues. Securing a victory on paid family leave could help demonstrate the union’s utility at a time when retaining members could become increasingly difficult.

Educators who work for the Department of Education, the city’s largest agency, previously had to use accrued sick days after having a baby — and that policy applied only to birth mothers, not educators who become parents through adoption or surrogacy.

The city has contended that the issue would be addressed during negotiations for the UFT contract. But Mulgrew has bristled at that, saying at a hearing in April that leave was “being used completely as a bargaining chip against our union.” The UFT’s membership is 77 percent female.

Top city officials have previously hinted that they planned to come up with a family leave policy, even if they have been reluctant to share details about what it could look like. “Obviously we’re not going to negotiate in public,” Carranza said last month. But, he added, “I will be very supportive of anything that helps [teachers].”

The battle for paid family leave was re-ignited by an online petition started by two Brooklyn teachers that had more than 80,000 signatures in the fall. After the teachers brought attention to the issue, the union took up the cause, sending out an “action alert” to members in November.

“We’ve chosen to dedicate our lives to helping children, so the irony is glaring that we don’t get any support when we’re having our own,” said Emily James, a Brooklyn high school teacher who was behind the viral petition. 

Even as strides in family leave have been made elsewhere, union officials said teachers were being left behind. New York state, for example, passed a mandatory paid leave policy that covered private employees as of 2018.

Taking leave under the old policy created hardship for parents. Mothers had to use sick days if they wanted paid time off after giving birth. But teachers earn only one sick day per school month worked: To save up for an eight-week leave, a teacher would have to work about four years without taking a sick day.

If a woman hasn’t accrued enough days, she can “borrow” days that she hasn’t accrued yet, up to 20 days. But if she or her children actually get sick, any days beyond the 20 must be taken unpaid. And borrowed sick days have to be repaid if the teacher leaves the education department.

This story will be updated as more details become available.