educator effectiveness

Jeffco Public Schools diverging from state law on timeline for evaluating teachers

PHOTO: Denver Post file

Jeffco Public Schools is not following a timeline laid out in state law to gauge teacher performance, calling it a flawed process for taking action against ineffective teachers.

Colorado’s second-largest school district, however, says it believes its practice of waiting longer to finalize teacher evaluations so it can consider the latest state test results is in line with the intent of the state’s educator effectiveness law, known as Senate Bill 191.

The law, which was passed in 2010, changed the way teachers earn job protections. Instead of earning non-probationary status, often referred to as tenure, after three years of employment, the law says teachers must have three consecutive years of effective ratings. Teachers who earn two consecutive ineffective ratings can be stripped of that status.

Jeffco Public Schools leaders said the district “has not, and likely will not, revoke non-probationary status due solely to” Senate Bill 191. No Jeffco teachers lost non-probationary status in 2015-16, the first year that consequence went into effect under the law.

District officials say the law relies on a “cumbersome” multi-year teacher rating system. Spokeswoman Diana Wilson said Jeffco aims to quickly help its struggling teachers improve; 94 of its nearly 5,000 teachers were on a performance improvement plan in 2016-17.

Senate Bill 191 requires that at least 50 percent of a teacher’s yearly evaluation be based on student academic growth. Results from state standardized English and math tests must be part of the measurement of that growth for teachers who teach tested subjects and grades.

But for the past several years, those results haven’t been available until the late summer. The law says teacher evaluations must be completed two weeks before the end of the school year.

“This is one of the more ridiculous elements of” Senate Bill 191, Wilson said.

In an effort to use the most timely and relevant data in evaluating teachers, Wilson said Jeffco adjusted its evaluation cycle. The district delays finalizing its evaluations until the fall so it can use the most up-to-date state test results available, she said.

“We think that’s a more accurate measure,” Wilson said.

Other districts, such as Denver Public Schools, use scores from previous years’ tests as one measure of student growth. Most districts also use other measures, as well, which could include school ratings, results from different tests and individual teacher goals.

Although Jeffco is not following the timeline of the law, Wilson said it’s following the intent.

“We felt the spirit of the law is to fairly evaluate our teachers and have quality teaching for our kids,” Wilson said. She said the district understands what the law requires, “but doing the right thing seemed more important than worrying about the possible consequences.”

Another state law passed in 2013 directs the Colorado Department of Education to monitor compliance. If a district’s teacher evaluation system falls short of expectations, it says the department can, “as a last resort,” require the district adopt the state’s system.

After Chalkbeat spoke to the state department about the requirements of the law and whether Jeffco was complying, Wilson said Jeffco officials got a call from state officials wanting to discuss the district’s approach to the law.

Mary Bivens, director of educator development at the state education department, told Chalkbeat that if a district isn’t complying, state officials “would first ensure district understanding of what they may need to adjust to be in full compliance with legislation and support districts as appropriate” before taking further action. Bivens did not directly address whether Jeffco is out of compliance with the law.

Detroit week in review

Week in review: The state’s year-round scramble to fill teaching jobs

PHOTO: DPSCD
Miss Michigan Heather Heather Kendrick spent the day with students at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Science in Detroit

While much of the media attention has been focused this year on the severe teacher shortage in the main Detroit district, our story this week looks at how district and charter schools throughout the region are now scrambling year-round to fill vacant teaching jobs — an instability driven by liberal school choice laws, a decentralized school system and a shrinking pool of available teachers.

The teacher shortage has also made it difficult for schools to find substitutes as many are filling in on long-term assignments while schools try to fill vacancies. Two bills proposed in a state senate committee would make it easier for schools to hire retirees and reduce the requirements for certifying subs.  

Also, don’t forget to reserve your seat for Wednesday’s State of the Schools address. The event will be one of the first times in recent years when the leader of the city’s main district — Nikolai Vitti — will appear on the same stage as the leaders of the city’s two largest charter school authorizers. For those who can’t make it, we will carry it live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

Have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

STATE OF THE SCHOOLS: The State of the Schools address will pair Vitti with the leaders of the schools he’s publicly vowed to put out of business, even as schools advocates say city kids could benefit if the leaders of the city’s fractured school system worked together to solve common problems.

LOOKING FOR TEACHERS: The city’s teacher shortage mirrors similar challenges across the country but the problem in Detroit is exacerbated by liberal school choice policies that have forced schools to compete with each other for students and teachers.

Hiring efforts continue at Detroit’s main school district, which is planning another job fair. Head Start centers are also looking for teachers. Three new teachers talk about the challenges, rewards and obstacles of the classroom.

WHOSE MONEY IS IT? The state Senate sent a bill to the House that would allow charters to receive a portion of property tax hikes approved by voters. Those funds have historically gone only to traditional district schools.

UNITED THEY STAND: Teachers in this southwest Detroit charter school voted to join a union, but nationally, union membership for teachers has been falling for two decades.

COLLEGE AND CAREERS: A national foundation based in Michigan granted $450,000 to a major Detroit business coalition to help more students finish college.

High school seniors across the state will be encouraged to apply to at least one college this month. The main Detroit district meanwhile showed off a technical center that prepares youngsters and adults for careers in construction, plumbing and carpentry and other fields.  

STEPS TO IMPROVEMENT: A prominent news publisher explains why he told lawmakers he believes eliminating the state board of education is the right thing to do. An advocate urged Michigan to look to other states for K-12 solutions. And one local newspaper says the governor is on the right track to improving education in Michigan.

This think tank believes businesses should be more engaged in education debates.

LISTEN TO US: The newly elected president of a state teachers union says teachers just want to be heard when policy is being made. She wrote in a Detroit newspaper that it takes passion and determination to succeed in today’s classrooms.

A PIONEER: Funeral services for a trailblazing African American educator have been scheduled for Saturday.

Also, the mother-in-law of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died in her west Michigan home.

FARM-TO-SCHOOL:  A state program that provides extra money to school districts for locally grown produce has expanded to include more schools.

BETTER THAN AN APPLE: Nominate your favorite educator for Michigan Teacher of the Year before the 11:59 deadline tonight.

An Ann Arbor schools leader has been named the 2018 Michigan Superintendent of the Year by a state group of school administrators.

MYSTERY SMELL: The odor from a failed light bulb forced a Detroit high school to dismiss students early this week.

EXTRA CREDIT: Miss Michigan encouraged students at one Detroit school to consider the arts as they follow their dreams. The city schools foundation honored two philanthropic leaders as champions for education.

And high school students were inspired by a former college football player. 

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.

 

Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.