Building Better Teachers

Nearly all Indiana educators rated effective again

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

In the second year of what was intended to be a tough new system of evaluating educators, the results were the same: hardly any were rated ineffective and nearly all were certified as doing their jobs effectively.

Less than 0.5 percent of educators were rated “ineffective” during the 2013-14 school year, which could place them at risk of being fired, according to data posted on the Indiana Department of Education website in advance of a presentation at Wednesday’s Indiana State Board of Education meeting.

That’s about the same percentage as the prior year.

A slightly greater share of educators — about 2 percent— were rated in the second lowest of four categories, called “improvement necessary.” The percentage of educators in the top category rated “highly effective,” dropped to 26 percent from 35 percent, but nearly all of those who fell were rated in the next highest category, or “effective.”

The ratings are based on an evaluation system put in place during the past three years that was expected to make it harder for teachers to earn top scores.

It hasn’t, and that could lead the Indiana State Board of Education to ask districts to count student test scores as a bigger factor in the evaluation system in the future.

The overhaul was intended to formalize a process that was hit-and-miss in the past: some teachers were evaluated as infrequently as every three years, sometimes based on a single classroom visit from the principal. In most cases, those evaluations did not affect educator raises, and teachers were rarely fired for poor performance.

In most districts, the new system includes several observations and specially trained evaluators reporting strengths and weaknesses on a variety of skills. The 2013-14 data includes more school districts than last year and, for the first time, charter schools. The law’s implementation schedule left out charters and districts still under old labor contracts in the first year.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has advocated for improved teacher evaluation systems, but differed with Republican leaders and some of her fellow state board members about the details. In particular, Ritz favors more flexibility for local school districts to devise their own systems, including allowing local decisions about how much to factor in student test scores.

But so far the new system has produced little change.

An Indiana Department of Education study of a sample of school districts conducted under Ritz’s predecessor, Tony Bennett, prior to the 2011 change in state law, showed very similar results were produced by the old system: 99 percent of educators were rated effective.

Indiana’s law applies to anyone who carries a state certificate, which includes counselors, principals, superintendents and others besides teachers.

Changes are in the works, however. Claire Fiddian-Green, co-director of Gov. Mike Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation, said the state board wants to clarify the rules. The board soon will share best practices and new guidelines that Fiddian-Green hopes will make the system work better.

She cited the number of F schools — about 4 percent of schools in Indiana last year — as out of step with less than 1 percent of teachers rated ineffective.

“I do think that calls into mind whether the models, especially the local models, are being implemented with fidelity when it comes to the law,” she said

Unlike other states, Indiana gives local school districts tremendous flexibility to develop their own systems to judge performance. While districts must ultimately assign each educator a 1 to 4 rating, how they get there varies widely. Because of those variations, it can be hard to determine how well school districts follow the state evaluation law.

For example, state law says student gains should be a “significant” factor in an educator’s rating, but it leaves it to schools to figure out how much weight that translates to. Fiddian-Green said the clarifications, set to come before the state board in February, could set a range of percentages for just how much student test scores should factor in.

“It would be too far for me to say that there was a question of the validity of the data,” Fiddian-Green said. “I think it’s more that this is a new system and we’re working out the kinks.”

But Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teacher Association, said the results are encouraging.

“I think statewide, by and large most of our teachers in the profession are doing a really good job,” she said.

For the first time, the state released separate totals for teachers, superintendents and principals. Democratic House leader Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said looking at the performance of administrators as well as teachers is a good idea.

“One thing we’re starting to hear is that we shouldn’t be blaming our teachers for everything we perceive as wrong with education,” Pelath said. “And I’m starting  to hear that come from my friends across the aisle.”

Those results showed superintendents got the best ratings of all, with 41 percent rated highly effective and just 0.22 ineffective. Two-thirds of all superintendents were rated in the top two categories.

Teachers had fewer in the top category (35 percent) but more rated in the top two categories (89 percent) and 0.34 rated ineffective.

Principals had the most rated ineffective, but the percentage was still tiny, 0.58 percent, and 86 percent of principals were rated in the top two categories.

Under Indiana’s law, effectiveness is rated on a 1 to 4 scale. Factors that go into the ratings of teachers include observations by administrators or other trained evaluators, student test score gains and other factors that vary by school or depend on the subject taught.

Sanctions for those rated in the lowest categories are serious. An ineffective rating, a 1 on the scale, can be cause to fire an educator immediately. Those who are rated in the next lowest category, a 2 or in need of improvement, can be dismissed if they fail to raise their ratings to effective (3) or highly effective (4) after two years.

Included with the latest results are two additional sets of data: one looking at the connection between educator quality and school A to F ratings and another looking at the possible effects of educator quality on teacher retention.

There appears to be a strong connection between educator effectiveness and school grades. Schools with A grades have far more highly effective teachers on average (more than 40 percent) than schools rated F (about 15 percent).

The reverse is also true. Although the numbers are small, the percentage of educators rated in the two lowest categories was more than five times high at F schools (more than 5 percent) than at A schools (1 percent).

A-rated schools were far more likely to keep their teachers employed in the same school or school district (85 percent retained) than F rated schools (64 percent).

Meredith pointed out that in charter schools rated D or F, more teachers were rated ineffective than in traditional school districts rated D or F. In traditional schools rated D or F, ineffective teachers made up less than 1 percent of all teachers. But in charter schools rated D or F more than 10 percent of teachers were rated ineffective.

“Why would you keep someone who’s doing that poorly of a job?” Meredith said. “As a parent, if there was an ineffective person in a school system and they are listed on that chart, I would be upset … to see charter schools be so high is a little frightening to me.”

Meredith said she was also concerned that evaluations could be increasingly based more on student test scores. Those scores, she said, are a snapshot of a student’s performance at one point in time, whereas teacher evaluation data now is mostly based on an entire year of observation in addition to more objective measures.

Tosha Salyers, spokesperson with the Institute for Quality Education, said it’s more fair that teachers are being evaluated with objective data. The Institute advocates for changes in education policy, favoring ideas like greater scrutiny on educator performance and wider school choice offerings.

Salyers said when she was a teacher, performance evaluations were too subjective and did little to help her improve.

“We think there’s still work to be done,” Salyers said. “The legislation is fairly new, and we think that the more schools become comfortable with it that the results will do what they should do: inform teachers’ practice. What we hope is that it’s a tool being used as not a punitive thing, but as a way to help teachers grow.”

 

Educator diversity

Aurora Public Schools’ principals more racially diverse this year, but district still lagging behind

File photo of kindergarten students at Laredo Elementary in Aurora.

In the most diverse city in Colorado, school district officials have struggled to hire and retain principals of color.

The issue isn’t unique to Aurora Public Schools. But one change made three years ago to how Aurora hires principals is now slowly increasing diversity among school leaders, officials say.

The revamped hiring process wasn’t aimed at increasing diversity, but rather at increasing quality and minimizing biased or preferential hiring decisions, officials say.

“Systems that are more likely to have bias are less likely to have diversity,” said John Youngquist, Aurora’s chief academic officer. “Systems that are engaging these kinds of processes that allow people to demonstrate behaviors they’ve practiced over time are ones that allow those high quality candidates to get to the top. I know is this is a practice that increases the level of diversity.”

This fall, 10 percent of Aurora principals are black, and 14 percent are Hispanic, up from 9 percent that were black and 7 percent that were Hispanic last year.

It’s an improvement, but the numbers still represent a gap with the diversity in the district and in the city. Eighteen percent of Aurora Public Schools students are black and more than 50 percent are Hispanic. The city of Aurora has similar demographics, according to the most recent U.S. Census estimates.

State data tracking both principals and assistant principals by race showed the Aurora district had lower percentages of school leaders who were black or Hispanic in 2016 than in 2013. Numbers for the current school year are not yet available.

This year, the numbers of teachers who are not white are smaller and farther from representing the student or community demographics than they are for principals.

Research has shown that students of color benefit from having teachers of color. Having diverse and highly qualified principals helps leaders in turn attract and hire high quality and diverse teachers, Youngquist said.

Aurora superintendent Rico Munn said that increasing diversity is a priority but said he isn’t sure how many educators of color Aurora schools should aspire to have.

“For our workforce to mirror the community, I don’t know that there’s enough educators in the state,” Munn said.

Elizabeth Meyer, associate professor of education and associate dean for undergraduate and teacher education at CU Boulder, said all districts should be striving to see an upward trend in the numbers, not necessarily trying to reach a certain percentage as a goal.

She said that issues in diversifying teachers and principal pools are similar, but that teachers of color who are supported can be the ones who can then go on and become principals.

“We’re already limited because teaching demographics are overwhelmingly white women,” Meyer said. “We do need to find ways to make teaching a more desirable profession, especially for people of color.”

Meyer said that while there are nationwide and statewide issues to be addressed, districts need to incentivize teachers by paying higher wages, create environments that are inclusive for teachers already in the district and have visible leaders of color.

“It’s not enough to just want to recruit people in,” Meyer said. “Retention is the other part of the problem.”

When Youngquist’s office led the change in how the Aurora district hires principals, the focus was to increase the quality of school leaders and remove bias that could allow a person to be invited into the process “just with a tap on the shoulder,” he said.

The new process requires a team of district leaders and other principals to observe candidates as they are asked to model practices through scenarios and demonstrations of situations they’re likely to confront as principals.

Yolanda Greer, principal of Aurora’s Vista Peak Exploratory was one of the first to go through that new hiring process three years ago.

Yolanda Greer, principal of Vista Peak Exploratory in Aurora.

“I will tell you at the end of it I certainly felt like I had been through a triathalon of some sorts,” Greer said. “But I do recall saying at every point, ‘I’m so impressed. I’m so appreciative that APS is taking the thoughtfulness that went behind creating this process to make sure we have leaders that are prepared.’ It made me want to be here even more.”

Speaking at a community meeting last month, Munn said the neighboring districts of Denver and Cherry Creek can offer more money, so Aurora must focus on other appeals to hire and retain diverse educators.

“We have to think about what’s the right atmosphere or what’s the right way that we can recruit or retain people in a way that makes them want to be part of what we’re doing here in APS,” Munn said. “Our ultimate winning advantage there is that we have a strong connection to the community. We also demonstrate to potential staff members that we are a district that has momentum. We are a district where there is opportunity. We are a district that can truly impact the community that we serve.”

Greer said she felt that draw to Aurora long before she applied for the principal position.

“I think because there was a public perception that Aurora was an underdog,” Greer said. “It’s a great opportunity to not only impact the school but the district and community.”

Though Aurora district officials are happy with how the principal process is playing out, they started working with a Virginia-based consultant last year to look at all hiring practices in the district. Munn said part of that work will include looking at whether the district is doing enough to increase diversity.

Like most school districts, Aurora has sent officials to recruit new educators from Historically Black Colleges and Hispanic Serving Institutions.

One thing that Greer said is in a district’s control is allowing a culture where issues of inequity can be discussed. In Aurora, she said she feels comfortable raising issues of student equity if she sees them.

For her, seeing other people of color in leadership positions in the district, including the superintendent, also made her feel welcome.

“In Aurora when I walk into leadership meetings, there’s a lot of people that look like me, so there’s that connectivity,” Greer said. “There’s open conversations and people listen.”

Earlier this year, Greer was reminded of the impact that leaders of color can have when her elementary students were asked to dress up for the job they hoped to have when they grew up.

Several of the students came to school dressed as their principal, Greer said.

“I want to make sure students of color can see someone that looks like them,” she said. “When they can see me in the specific role in education and they can say, ‘Wow, that can be something admirable and I want to aspire to that,’ it’s a big deal.”

deep cuts

New York City teachers don’t get paid maternity leave. Their paychecks prove it.

PHOTO: Emily James/Courtesy photo
Brooklyn high school teacher Emily James with her children.

Susan Hibdon opened her front door and saw nothing but white.

It was a day that would go down in tabloid headline history after schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña declared it “absolutely a beautiful day,” despite a forecast calling for 10 inches of snow. For Hibdon, a Brooklyn high school teacher, it was memorable for a different reason. It was exactly six weeks after she had given birth, which meant it was time to go back to the classroom.

She kissed her infant goodbye and headed into the wet February weather.

“If you want to pay your rent, you have to go right back to work,” she said. “That’s not just bad for the mother who just gave birth. That’s bad for everybody.”

New York City teachers have no paid maternity or family leave, a policy that takes a toll on teachers’ paychecks and creates deep gender inequity in an education workforce that is about 77 percent women.

Hibdon and fellow teacher and mother Emily James recently launched an online petition calling on the United Federation of Teachers to negotiate for paid leave, which is not included in any of the city’s contracts with unionized workers. Almost 78,000 people have signed on, and the women will present their request at the union’s executive board meeting on Monday.

“I think the irony of it sticks out to many people: These are women who are paid to raise children and they aren’t paid to raise their own children,” Hibdon said.

As it stands now, teachers who want to take paid time off after having a baby must use their sick days. The policy only applies to birth mothers, putting a strain on those who become parents through adoption or surrogacy, and fathers who want to take a leading role in the earliest moments of parenthood.

“We talk so much about parents being active in their child’s education,” said Rosie Frascella, a teacher who has also pushed for paid leave policies. “Well, let’s let teachers be active in their child’s education.”

For teachers, the policy packs a financial blow on multiple levels.

If a mother wants paid time off after giving birth, the only option is to use sick days. Women are limited to six weeks of sick time after a vaginal birth, and eight weeks after a C-section.

Teachers earn one sick day per school month. In order to save up for an eight-week leave, a teacher would have to work about four years without using any sick days.

Many women haven’t accrued that many days, so they can “borrow” sick days they haven’t yet earned. Teachers run into problems, though, if they actually get sick — or their children do — since they can only borrow up to 20 sick days. Once they hit that number, any additional time off is unpaid. And if a teacher leaves the education department, she must repay any sick days she borrowed.

Hidbon learned that the hard way. She has three children — and precious few sick days in the bank. Hidbon remembers a time that she completely lost her voice, but still had to go to work.

“No one could hear me. I had to conduct my entire class writing notes on the board,” she said. “I’m supposed to be teaching and I can’t do my job because of the way the system is set up — and my students are getting the short end of the stick.”

The crunch for sick time could lead to a financial blow later in a woman’s career. Teachers are allowed to accrue up to 200 sick days, and receive a payout for unused time when they retire. The city could not provide numbers for how many sick days men versus women retire with. But it makes sense that men would rack up far more since women with children are more likely to get stuck with a negative balance.

James, a Brookyln high school teacher and co-starter of the online petition, still has a negative balance of 16 sick days — almost three years after giving birth. The problem is compounded by the fact that women are more likely to take time off when a child is sick or there are other family obligations, a pattern that is seen in professions across the board.

“There were many times when I was so sick at work the kids were like, ‘Why are you here? Miss, go home,’” she said. “But it costs a lot of money to stay home.”

Even when women don’t have to borrow sick days, they can still lose financially. The city only allows women to use up to eight weeks of their banked time. Any additional days off are entirely unpaid.

Amy Arundell, a former director of personnel for the UFT, said many mothers stay home longer because of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides job protections for 12 weeks of leave.

“The people who don’t take 12 [weeks] obviously have real financial commitments” that make taking unpaid time off impossible, she said.

Women who take that time get hit with a double-punch to their salaries. Because of the way summer pay is calculated, unpaid time off results in a smaller summer paycheck, too. Arundell said the hit is usually equivalent to one paycheck.

Same sex-couples and those who become parents through surrogacy or adoption face many of the same financial setbacks, since only birth mothers are allowed to use sick time after having a baby.

After years on a waiting list, Seth Rader and his wife had only weeks’ notice that their adoptive baby was on the way. Since his wife was in grad school, the couple decided Rader would stay home with their new son — even though Rader, a Manhattan high school teacher, is the primary breadwinner at home.

“In a lot of ways, I’m much more bonded with him as a father, and him to me,” Rader said. “Are we really in a place where we want to discourage fathers from taking that role?”

At the time, the couple were saving for a down payment to buy a place of their own. After the expense of Rader taking off from work, they still are.

“I think all of this has to be affecting the sustainability of teaching,” he said. “If we create a system where people can’t imagine being teachers and parents at the same time, then that’s a loss.”

When it comes to the push for family leave, teachers have been left behind even as strides are made elsewhere. New York State recently passed a mandatory paid leave policy that will cover private employees. Last winter, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a paid leave act for city employees.

But that benefit isn’t extended to workers with unions, like the United Federation of Teachers. Currently, no union in New York City has paid maternity leave, according to a city spokeswoman.

Teachers across the city are fighting to change that. The petition started by Hibdon and James calls on UFT President Michael Mulgrew to “fight for our teaching mothers.”

“They’re supposed to really care about what teachers are struggling with and they’re our voice,” James said. “I just wish that they would take this seriously.”

Both the city and the United Federation of Teachers say they have held talks to extend similar benefits to teachers. In an emailed statement, Mulgrew called family leave “an important issue for the UFT and its members.”

“In our talks so far, the city has failed to come up with a meaningful proposal,” he said.

In an article published in the UFT journal, which ran shortly after the city passed its parental leave policy, the union pointed out that gaining that benefit came at the cost of a scheduled raise for managers and fewer leave days for veteran employees.

According to the article, Mulgrew said he “looked forward to negotiations with the de Blasio administration for an appropriate way to expand parental benefits for UFT members.”