Future of Teaching

Changes to teacher pay and promotion on the table for IPS

In March, more than 150 IPS teachers assembled teacher compensation plans for a fictional school district from a variety of policy options as part of a TeachPlus event. (Scott Elliott)

The Indianapolis Public School Board is considering undertaking a two-year process to overhaul how it evaluates, pays and promotes teachers.

The broad concepts of how it might work were presented to the board at a retreat this morning at Cold Spring School by board member Caitlin Hannon and Deputy Superintendent Wanda Legrand. The plan, called Project Elevate, is still being developed but initial estimates suggested it could involve up to three consultants and cost $2.5 million.

The hope is that IPS will get philanthropic help to cover some, if not most, of that cost, however. Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said he would recommend the board pay for the $274,000 first phase, which would be undertaken this summer.

The name Project Elevate is meant to suggest it will “elevate” teaching in the district. That money would pay for outside support on two immediate needs: reworking a broken teacher evaluation system that Ferebee described as “convoluted” and preparing to negotiate at least the first steps in a new pay model for teachers.

“I feel strongly about this,” Ferebee said. “If you don’t develop teachers they won’t get better.”

Ferebee has been critical of IPS’s evaluation results — more than 93 percent of teachers who were rated were certified as effective — saying the process did a poor job identifying where teachers need to improve. That has made it difficult to determine what sorts of training to offer and to identify which teachers need what training, he said.

“We can’t plan effective professional development because (evaluations said) everybody doesn’t have a need to grow,” he said.

Hannon and Legrand proposed hiring IUPUI to help redesign the evaluation system. Among the goals would be more teacher input in how the process works.

“Teachers felt it was something that was done to them instead of with them,” Ferebee said of the process IPS followed this year.

On teacher pay, Ferebee and several board members have said in recent months they want to restructure the district’s compensation system so that teachers receive raises more regularly, perhaps with additional performance-based rewards.

But those desires come with challenges.

Even a modest 2 percent pay raise for all teachers, Ferebee said, would add as much as $4 million in annual spending for IPS, a figure that could be difficult to sustain, even before the idea of extra incentive pay is considered.

To make raises and incentives more affordable, IPS will face a bigger challenge: redesigning the pay system and reallocating funds to support the new approach. The board also can’t go it alone. Negotiations on a new labor contract with the teachers union, which will make its own proposals for how teachers should be evaluated and paid, begin in August.

To prepare for those talks, Project Elevate proposes IPS bring in a consultant Hannon worked with in March in her role as execute director of TeachPlus, an organization that aims to get teachers involved in policy making.

Nearly 150 IPS educators came to a Teach Plus-sponsored event run by Education Resource Strategies, a Boston-based non-profit that consults with school districts to help them better utilize their resources, that was something of a crash course in budget making.

For that exercise, teachers in small groups were given cards with a series of policy choices — such as maintaining the union-backed “step” system of annual raises based on experience or new ideas like paying bonuses to the highest rated teachers — with price tags attached. Each group had to mix and match the policy options to assemble a compensation plan that fit within the fictional district’s budget over 10 years.

It proved an eye-opening challenge for many of the groups. ERS would reprise elements of that activity with the board to help them think through ways they might propose to restructure teacher pay.

“I want us to be well equipped when we enter the bargaining table this summer,” Ferebee said.

The long term goal would be to refine the compensation plan in the 2015-16 school year and bring in a third consultant, North Carolina-based Public Impact, to plan for better use of technology in the classroom and to craft new roles for teachers, including teacher leader positions with higher pay. Its program is called Opportunity Culture.

Public Impact is the group that worked with The Mind Trust to craft its controversial 2011 report that recommended radical changes in IPS to reduce administrative spending and redirect money and decision-making authority to schools.

Simultaneously, IPS would work toward a new, student-based approach to budgeting, under which schools would get more per-pupil aid for students with greater challenges and more autonomy for how to use those funds.

“We would put ourselves in a place, in 2016-17, to have 18 to 24 schools that have explicit teacher leadership opportunities or autonomy,” Hannon said. “I’m hopeful that the district is willing to make the initial investment.”

If so, Hannon said she would lead an effort to seek foundation grants to pay for as much of the cost of the second and third phases of process as possible.

“I think there is a huge opportunity for fundraising,” she said.

The combination of better evaluation, performance incentives, changes in the budgeting process and new teacher advancement opportunities could help IPS better compete for talent, Ferebee said.

Right now, he said, the district is handicapped by its starting pay of $35,600, which is below the county average of about $38,000 and even further behind the $40,000 and above that some districts pay new teachers.

“We’re in the same city competing with those school corporations,” he said.

Board members Sam Odle and Diane Arnold were among those who said they would be inclined to support the process Legrand and Hannon described.

“I see it as an investment,” Arnold said. “We are not going to get better if we don’t do these things.”

Hannon said discussion of Project Elevate will continue at the board’s education subcommittee meeting on June 17.

teacher prep

Three of Tennessee’s largest teacher training programs improve on state report card

PHOTO: Nic Garcia

Three of Tennessee’s 10 largest teacher training programs increased their scores on a state report card that seeks to capture how well new teachers are being prepared for the classroom based on state goals.

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville became the first public university to achieve a top score under the State Board of Education’s new grading system, now in its second year. And Middle Tennessee State University and East Tennessee State University also improved their scores.

But most of Tennessee’s 39 programs scored the same in 2017 as in 2016. Those included the University of Memphis and Austin Peay State University.

And more than 40 percent landed in the bottom tiers, including the state’s largest, Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, along with other sizable ones like the University of Tennessee’s programs in Chattanooga and Martin.

The report card, released on Thursday, is designed to give a snapshot of the effectiveness of the state’s teacher preparation programs, a front-burner issue in Tennessee since a 2016 report said that most of them aren’t adequately equipping teachers to be effective in the classroom. Teacher quality is important because years of research show that teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling.

State officials say the top-tier score by UT-Knoxville is significant — not only because it’s a public school but because it was the state’s sixth largest training program in 2017. “As one of the state’s flagship public institutions, UTK is setting the bar for how to effectively train teachers at scale,” said Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the State Board. She cited the school’s “model internship program” and “close partnerships with local districts.”

In the previous year’s report card, the top scores only went to small nontraditional programs like Memphis Teacher Residency and Teach For America and private universities such as Lipscomb in Nashville and Union in Jackson.

That demographic recently prompted a call to action by Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. He told state lawmakers last month that it’s time to put traditional programs at public institutions under a microscope, especially since those colleges and universities produce 90 percent of the state’s new teachers.

“Sometimes an undue amount of discussion happens around alternative new teacher programs like Teach For America or the New Teacher Project …,” he said. “If we’re going to move the needle (on teacher training), it’s going to happen at the campus of a college or university.”

Tennessee has graded programs that train teachers since 2009 but redesigned its report card in 2016 to provide a clearer picture of their effectiveness for stakeholders ranging from aspiring teachers to hiring principals. The criteria includes a program’s ability to recruit a strong, racially diverse group of teachers-in-training; produce teachers for high-need areas such as special education and secondary math and science; and its candidates’ placement and retention in Tennessee public schools. Another metric is how effective those teachers are in classrooms based on their evaluations, including state test scores that show student growth.

Not everybody is satisfied with the report card’s design, though.

“It’s a real challenge to capture in one report the complexity of preparing our candidates to be teachers, especially when you’re comparing very different programs across the state,” said Lisa Zagumny, dean of the College of Education at Tennessee Tech, which increased its points in 2017 but not enough to improve its overall score.

She said Tech got dinged over student growth scores, but that only a third of its graduates went on to teach in tested subjects. “And yet our observation scores are very high,” added Associate Dean Julie Baker. “We know we’re doing something right because our candidates who go on to teach are being scored very high by their principals.”

Racial diversity is another challenge for Tech, which is located in the Upper Cumberland region. “The diversity we serve is rural, first-generation college students who are typically lower socioeconomically,” said Zagumny.

Tennessee is seeking to recruit a more racially diverse teacher force because of research showing the impact of having teachers who represent the student population they are serving. Of candidates who completed Tennessee’s programs in 2016, only 14 percent were people of color, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population.

Morrison said this year’s report card includes a new “highlights page” in an effort to allow programs to share a narrative about the work they’re doing. 

You can search for schools below, find the new 2017 scores, and compare them with the previous year. A 1 is the lowest performance category and a 4 is the highest. You can sort the list based on performance and size. This is the state’s first report card based on three years of data.

SED VS. NYSUT

With changes coming to New York’s teacher evaluations, union and state officials prepare to clash

PHOTO: Monica Disare
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia at Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Education High School.

New York’s education policymakers got a lesson Monday in how treacherous it will to be revamp the state’s highly controversial teacher-evaluation system.

Just minutes after the state education commissioner laid out a detailed plan for coming up with a redesigned system by fall of 2019, a state teachers-union official rebuffed it. Arguing that teachers cannot wait another year for fixes to a rating system they say is fatally flawed, the union will ask lawmakers to change the underlying evaluation law this year, the official said.

In fact, she said, the union won’t even ask its members to take a department survey meant to gather feedback on the current system, which rates teachers based on classroom observations and other measures of what students are learning.

“First and foremost, the teachers that we represent believe that the time to fix [teacher evaluation] is this year,” said Jolene DiBrango, executive vice president of the New York State United Teachers, in a conversation with reporters after the state outlined its plan. “Now is the time — we’ve been talking about this for years.”

Even as state policymakers face political opposition from the teachers union — which has long opposed using state test scores to judge teachers, as was required by a 2015 state law — they are likely to run into practical challenges as well.

Any effort to come up with statewide alternative assessments to use in evaluations could prove too costly at a time of fiscal uncertainty for the state. And major changes to the system could require reopening the evaluation law, which sparked a fierce backlash when it was passed. So far, lawmakers have not indicated that doing so is a priority, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo may want to avoid such drama during an election year.

“We have lived in a very toxic landscape,” Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said Monday during the Regents’ monthly meeting, where state officials laid out their redesign plan. “I think that we have to be so mindful and so strategic and so intentional in our plan.”

The 2015 law — which Cuomo aggressively pushed for after calling the previous evaluation system “baloney” — weakened the role of local districts and teachers unions in crafting teacher ratings, instead shifting more authority to the state. That opened the door for ratings that relied much more heavily on student test scores — a move fiercely opposed by the unions, which worked to fuel the state’s massive parent-led boycott of the state exams.

In response to the backlash, the Board of Regents placed a moratorium on the use of grades 3-8 math and English tests in teacher evaluations until 2019. Instead, districts must find different measures of teacher effectiveness.

But now, the teachers union wants to repeal the state law entirely, and return evaluations back to local districts. Doing so would allow educators to help design systems that take into account unique conditions in each district — and to likely greatly reduce or eliminate the role of test scores in teacher ratings.

“We believe local control is the key,” DiBrango said. “What will work in one school district will not work in another.”

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia did not rule out returning control of evaluations back to districts. But the lengthy redesign plan she laid Monday seemed aimed at improving the statewide system.

The state will form two redesign workgroups, state officials said. One will concentrate on the components of evaluations, including whether there should be classroom observations, tests, or other ways to judge teachers — and how much weight to give each part. The other group will focus on how student learning is measured, which may include developing new tests.

The education department will also continue to collect feedback from teachers through a survey, which 9,000 educators have already completed. However, DiBrango said the union will not encourage any additional teachers to take the survey in part because they were not consulted about the survey questions, which she said leads teachers into choosing among predetermined ways to evaluate them.

“We have not encouraged our teachers to necessarily take the survey if they don’t want to,” DiBrango said. “They have free will, so certainly some will take it and some will choose not to.”

As the union and the education department pursue their competing plans, the legislature could prove to be a serious roadblock.

Cuomo and state lawmakers have indicated that their top focus this legislative session is beating back funding cuts from Washington — not revisiting a deeply controversial law that is technically on hold until the moratorium ends next year.

On Monday, Elia suggested that her department may be able to make certain adjustments to the evaluation system without changing the law. Still, any major changes would likely require a new law. However, the department’s plan to present its redesign proposal by spring 2019 would give lawmakers little time to debate the proposed changes before the end of their legislative session.

Even if department officials could get lawmakers on board, a new evaluation system — with new tests — could prove too costly to adopt.

Officials recently said they would not join a federal program to create alternative state assessments because it would cost too much. On Monday, Elia said any new tests tied to teacher evaluations wouldn’t necessarily have to be given to as many students as the annual state exams, so they may be less costly.

Still, Regent Judith Chin, who chairs the board’s workgroup that focuses on standards and assessments, questioned whether the state could feasibly create a whole new set of tests to use for teacher ratings that would be ready for the 2019 school year.

“Is it realistic that we could build that capacity in a short period of time?” Chin asked.