teachable moment (with video)

A teacher evaluation panel dissolves early after dissent

A panel discussion that featured officials on each side of the teacher evaluation stand-off was halted abruptly last night after a disagreement escalated. The disruption did not stem from the teachers union and Department of Education official on the panel, but from a small group of audience members protesting the event itself.

“Okay, I’m going to cut it off,” said moderator Evan Stone, following a crescendo of interruptions that built up for nearly five minutes. Stone is a founder of Educators 4 Excellence, which hosted the event. “Clearly, we’ve broken a lot of norms of respectability.”

The interruptions came from at least three people in an audience of more than 100, most of them teachers. They began in response to Stone’s handling of the panel and then escalated into an airing of grievances that targeted Educators 4 Excellence and its teacher evaluation recommendations, released yesterday, which the protesters said did not reflect their views.

“I am a teacher and I have never been asked what I thought,” yelled out Stuart Kramer Kaplan, one of the protesters.

(Click here for video of the exchange.)

Educators 4 Excellence is an advocacy group of teachers who hold shared views on education policy, many of which — like the group’s position against seniority-based layoffs — challenge traditional teachers union orthodoxy. Led by Teach For America alumni who are no longer in the classroom, the group has quickly gained a high profile with the support of national philanthropists, including the Gates Foundation.

The group organized the panel as part of its efforts to influence the teacher evaluation debate. Panelists included Shael Polakow-Suransky,  the senior deputy chancellor at the Department of Education, and Leo Casey, the vice president of the United Federation of Teachers. Their respective organizations have not been able to hammer out an agreement on details of a teacher evaluation system. The panel also included a teacher, principal, and education consultant.

Earlier in the day, E4E released its own set of recommendations, which served as a major talking point for much of the evening.

For at least the first 90 minutes, those efforts created a productive dialogue. Polakow-Suransky and Casey engaged in a polite and wide-ranging conversation about best practices for improving instructional performance.

They reached consensus on the urgency for establishing new evaluation guidelines as well as the importance of more frequent classroom observations by school leaders and colleagues.

Polakow-Suransky stopped short of endorsing a recommendation by Educators 4 Excellence that teachers should be observed by outside consultants. He said that the estimated costs would reach upwards of $75 million annually. The cost of consulting contracts is a major target of City Council members pushing to avoid teacher layoffs by suggesting other cuts.

Towards the end of the evening, a brief dispute between Polakow-Suransky and Casey seemed to trigger the outbursts.

After Casey argued for keeping lawyers out of negotiations, Polakow-Suransky swiped back, reminding him that hours earlier the UFT filed a temporary restraining order to prevent the DOE from moving forward with any closure or co-location plans. (We’ll have more on the restraining order later today.)

“One arrives at litigation when the education process breaks down,” replied Casey.

Kramer and Michael Friedman, a union chapter leader, then intervened and went on to criticize the research methods of E4E.

“They didn’t ask us for our opinions. The leadership just came up with a position without any other teachers,” Friedman said.

Two research surveys were sent to E4E members by the policy team, according to Stone.

With the floor now unintentionally open to public comment, many audience members jumped to the defense of E4E and the panel.

“You have to leave. You have to go,” said one man, to applause.

After the panel broke, organizers downplayed it as an isolated incident. Others said they were shocked.

“I thought it was totally inappropriate,” said Emily Bisso, a teacher at Ocean Hill Collegiate, a Brooklyn school within the Uncommon Schools network.

A group of young charter school teachers said that they had mixed feelings about the panel, but agreed that it ended on a low note.

“I guarantee that was just pent-up frustration,” said Miatta Massaley, a teacher at  Harlem Success Academy 5 charter school. “It was inappropriate how they went about it, but they had legitimate concerns.”

“That’s exactly the opposite of what we teach our kids,” said Jarell Lee, a teacher at the Excellence Boys Charter School in Bedford Stuyvesant. “We teach them that there are better strategies to handle situations where they feel frustrated.”

Correction: The originally published version of this article characterized the majority of the audience as being charter school teachers. The report was based on interviews with teachers who identified as charter school teachers. According to a survey conducted by people who RSVP’d for the event, the characterization is not accurate. Ten charter school teachers attended the event, according to the survey, out of a total of 117 people.


New York City school workforce grows, driven by 40 percent rise in teaching assistants

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
A teaching assistant worked with a pre-K student in East Harlem in 2014.

New York City’s public-school workforce grew 8 percent over the past decade, according to a new report, driven largely by the rising number of teaching assistants who work with preschool students and students with disabilities — two populations whose numbers have risen even as overall student enrollment declined.

The education department employed about 131,200 people this June — an increase of 10,200 workers since July 2007, according to an analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office released Tuesday. The expansion comes even as student enrollment in district-run schools fell by 1.5 percent, or some 15,300 students, during that same period, the report notes.

While the number of teachers remained basically flat during that time, the department added nearly 8,600 additional teaching assistants, or “paraprofessionals,” as they’re known within the school system — an increase of over 40 percent.

“This is a story about the use of paraprofessionals — that’s the main thing,” said Yolanda Smith, a senior IBO analyst who prepared the report.

The majority of the paraprofessionals who were added during that period work with students with disabilities. Teachers union officials attributed the increase to a citywide effort since 2012 to place more students with disabilities in classrooms alongside their general-education peers, often with the support of a paraprofessional. (An education department spokesman said students are assigned paraprofessionals based on their unique needs.)

Nearly 2,000 of the paraprofessionals hired over the past decade work in pre-kindergarten classrooms, which are required to have both an assistant and a teacher. The number of assistants spiked after 2014, when Mayor Bill de Blasio rapidly expanded the city’s pre-K program.

Full-time paraprofessionals with a high school degree earn a starting salary of around $22,000. While the number of paraprofessionals focused on special-education and preschool students grew during this period, those assigned to general-education classrooms declined by roughly 1,100.

At the same time, the ranks of other school workers expanded 22 percent during this 10-year period. Those more than 2,200 additional employees include nurses, occupational and physical therapists, and “parent coordinators,” who answer families’ questions and help organize school events.

The number of teachers, principals, and assistant principals barely budged over that period, adding just over 500 additional workers. Union officials noted that there was a teacher hiring freeze from 2009 to 2014, but said that in recent years any new hires were essentially balanced out by teachers who retired or chose to leave the system.

Education department spokesman Will Mantell said in a statement: “We’re focused on recruiting and retaining talented staff that meet the needs of New York City students and families.”

Human Resources

A minimum salary for Colorado teachers? State officials may ask lawmakers to consider it.

A teacher reads to her students at the Cole Arts and Science Academy in Denver. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

As part of a broad plan to increase the volume of high-quality teachers in Colorado, state officials are considering asking lawmakers to take the bold step of establishing a minimum teacher salary requirement tied to the cost of living.

Officials from the state departments of education and higher education are finalizing a list of recommendations to address challenges to Colorado’s teacher workforce. Pressing for the legislation on teacher salaries is one of dozens of recommendations included in a draft report.

The report, assembled at the request of the legislature, also proposes a marketing campaign and scholarships to attract new teachers to rural areas.

Representatives from the Colorado Department of Education said they would not discuss the recommendations until they’re final. However, the department earlier this month briefed the State Board of Education on their proposed recommendations in advance of the Dec. 1 deadline for it to be finalized.

The impending report — based on thousands of responses from educators, students and other Colorado residents in online surveys and town halls across the state — is a sort of first step for the state legislature to tackle a problem years in the making. Since 2010, Colorado has seen a 24 percent drop in the number of college students graduating from the state’s traditional teacher colleges. There’s also been a 23 percent drop in enrollment in those programs.

Residency programs, which place graduate students in a classroom for a full year with an experienced teacher, and other alternative licensure programs have seen a 40 percent increase in enrollment. But those programs produce far fewer teachers and can’t keep up with demand.

Colorado faces a shortage of teachers in certain subjects, regions and schools, and circumstances vary. Math and science teachers are in short supply: Only 192 college students in 2016 graduated with credentials to teach those subjects. The same year, 751 students left with a degree to teach elementary school.

And rural schools have had an especially hard time finding and keeping teachers.

Here’s a look at what the state departments are considering recommending, based on the presentation from education department officials to the state board:

Provide more and better training to new — and veteran — teachers.

Colorado schools are already required to offer some sort of induction program for new teachers. This training, which lasts between two and three years, is supposed to supplement what they learned during college.

For the last two years, the state education department has been pushing school districts to update their programs. The recommendations in the report could kick things up a notch.

The education departments are asking for updated induction requirements to be written into statute and more money to be provided to districts to pay for the training.

The draft report also calls for more more sustained training for veteran teachers, including competitive grant programs.

An additional suggestion is to create a program to train teachers expressly to teach in rural classrooms.

Increase teacher compensation and benefits.

This will be a hard pill to swallow. According to the presentation to the state board, the education departments want to call on lawmakers to set a minimum salary for teachers based on the school district’s cost of living.

The presentation to the board lacked specifics on how lawmakers and school districts could accomplish this. One board member, Colorado Springs Republican Steve Durham, called it a “mistake” to include such a recommendation.

Keeping up with the rising cost of living is a challenge. A new report shows new teachers in the state’s three largest school districts couldn’t afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

“We hope the report itself is going to talk a lot the cost of living — that’s what we heard from our stakeholders across the field,” Colleen O’Neil, the education department’s executive director of educator talent told the state board. “They literally were not able to meet the cost of living because their salaries did not compensate them fairly enough to find housing.”

Other suggestions the report might highlight to improve teacher compensation include loan forgiveness, housing incentives and creating a differentiated pay scale for teachers — something teachers unions staunchly oppose.

Help schools better plan for hiring and send teachers where they’re needed.

One short-term solution the state is considering recommending is allocating more resources to help schools plan for teacher turnover. This includes providing incentives for teachers to notify school leaders about their plans to leave the classroom earlier.

The education departments are also suggesting the state increase the number of programs that can help teachers get licensed in more than one subject at a time. Other ideas include offering scholarships to potential teachers to complete licensing requirements for content areas that are lacking viable candidates — likely math and science — and providing transportation and technology stipends for rural teachers.

Make the teaching profession more attractive.

Teachers “feel they’re not treated like professionals,” O’Neil told the board. So the education departments want the legislature to allow them to partner with private entities to launch a marketing campaign to lift the profile of teaching as a career in the state.

The education departments also hope the legislature considers creating more opportunities for middle and high school students to consider teaching as a viable career path. This could include reinvigorating the state’s Educators Rising program, a program for high school students interested in teaching.