the scarlet letter

More U-ratings given out as evaluation overhaul looms ahead

For at least the sixth straight year, principals rated more teachers as unsatisfactory.

Last year, 2,118 teachers received unsatisfactory ratings, setting them along a path that could lead to termination. That number, making up 2.7 percent of all teachers, was 16 percent higher than in 2010 and more than twice the number of U-ratings handed out five years ago. In the 2005-2006 school year, just 981 teachers received unsatisfactory ratings.

About 80 percent of the teachers who received unsatisfactory ratings were tenured, according to Department of Education data. And about a quarter — 511 — received the scarlet rating last year as well.

The numbers suggest that principals are responding to the city’s sustained push to usher more weak teachers out of the system, and the city says 86 of the U-rated teachers have already resigned, including 41 who were denied tenure. But they hardly reflect a sea change in the way that principals rate teachers.

For that, the city is counting on a new teacher evaluation system that will do away with the binary satisfactory/unsatisfactory rating choice altogether. State law now requires districts to enact evaluation systems that use student test scores as a component and sort teachers into four categories from “highly effective” down to “ineffective.”

After the city instituted a similar evaluation rubric last year solely teachers up for tenure, the number of teachers receiving tenure fell dramatically. Nearly 40 percent of teachers up for tenure in 2011 had their probationary periods extended. And a Department of Education official said last month that a pilot version of the new system in about 20 schools yielded an 18 percent “ineffective” rating rate.

The new evaluation system is supposed to go into effect in September. But some components require union approval and union officials say that no negotiations are yet underway.

The vast majority of teachers, more than 97 percent, received satisfactory ratings last year, and in a statement, UFT President Michael Mulgrew focused on them.

“The number of U-ratings confirms that principals know what the UFT and parents already know: We have one of the best workforces in the country,” he said.

More than 40 percent received the low rating because of their instructional practices. Principals cited poor attendance in 15 percent of the ratings and classroom management problems in another 15 percent.

Training teachers

More literacy coaches to bolster Tennessee’s drive to boost student reading

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

More than half of its school districts signed on last year when Tennessee created a network of literacy coaches to help classroom teachers improve their students’ reading.

Now entering the program’s second year, another 16 districts are joining up. That means two-thirds of Tennessee districts will have instructional supports in place aimed at addressing the state’s lackluster reading levels.

Tennessee has a reading problem. Less than half of its students in grades 3-8 were considered proficient in 2015, the last year for which test scores are available. In Memphis, the numbers are even more stunning. Less than a third of Shelby County Schools’ third-graders are reading on grade level.

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Gov. Bill Haslam speaks during the statewide launch of Read to be Ready in 2016.

The state wants to get 75 percent of third-graders proficient by 2025. (New scores coming out this fall will help track progress.)

The coaching network is a major component of Tennessee’s Read to be Ready drive, launched in 2016 by Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. The focus is helping teachers improve literacy instruction for the state’s youngest students.

So far, some 200 coaches have worked directly with more than 3,000 teachers in 83 districts, including all four urban districts. This fall, 99 out of the state’s 146 school systems will participate.

About 92 percent of classroom teachers report that coaching is improving their teaching, even as many coaches say they are stretched too thin, according to a state report released Wednesday. Inadequate planning time for teachers is another barrier to success, the report notes.

To join the coaching network, districts must commit to funding a reading coach who will support about 15 teachers. New districts signing up this year are:

  • Scott County Schools
  • Smith County School System
  • Pickett County Schools
  • Jackson County Schools
  • Macon County Schools
  • Clay County Schools
  • Sumner County Schools
  • Dyer County Schools
  • Wayne County Schools
  • Bedford County Schools
  • Benton County Schools
  • Alamo City School
  • Polk County Schools
  • Kingsport City Schools
  • Oak Ridge Schools
  • Dayton City School

A complete list of participating districts can be found here.

Getting there

With new contract, first-year teachers in Detroit could soon make more than peers in Grosse Pointe and other suburbs

PHOTO: Detroit Public Schools Community District
First-year teachers in Detroit could soon earn more than their peers in neighboring districts. The gray bar in this chart shows where starting salaries were in Detroit last year. The green one shows how the contract could change that.

For years, Detroit’s main school district has paid some of the lowest starting teacher salaries in the region but Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says that’s about to change.

The teachers contract approved by the Detroit school board Tuesday night doesn’t include enough of a pay increase to bring city teachers back to where they were in 2011 when a state-appointed emergency manager ordered a 10 percent pay cut.

But data compiled by the Detroit district show that the new agreement, which will boost teacher wages by more than 7 percent, would pay enough that starting teachers could soon earn more than their peers in Dearborn, Grosse Pointe and other nearby districts.

“It doesn’t begin to address the injustice [of pay cuts and frozen wages] but this is a first step,” Vitti told the board as it met at Osborn High School Tuesday.

The new contract was approved last month by members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers union. Now that the school board has signed off, the contract will go to a state financial review board for final approval.

Vitti, who hopes the higher salaries will make it easier for the district to fill more than 400 vacant teaching positions, showed the board a series of charts and graphs that illustrated some effects of the new contract.

Among the charts he flashed on a screen was one that compared starting teacher salaries in Detroit to other districts, before and after the new contract. Another slide showed how salaries would change for teachers at every level of the pay scale. A third warned that the city’s main district could be careening toward a “cliff” if it doesn’t recruit enough young teachers to replace the district’s predominantly senior educators as they begin to retire.

See the charts — and additional details about the contract — below. The last page spells out other steps Vitti says he plans to take to address the teacher shortage.