the quiet city

Cautionary evaluation petition attracts principals, but not in NYC

Across the state, hundreds of principals have signed onto a petition urging the state to proceed cautiously with new teacher evaluations.

Only two of them currently run New York City schools.

The petition is attached to a position paper arguing that the state’s evaluation regulations — which require a portion of teachers’ ratings to be based on their students’ test scores —  are unsupported by research, prone to errors, and too expensive at a time of budget cuts. Nearly three quarters of principals on Long Island, where the paper originated, have signed on, as well as hundreds of principals from districts across the state and even the country.

Sean Feeney, a Long Island principal who helped write the position paper earlier this month in his capacity as president of the Nassau County High School Principals Association, said toughening teacher evaluations is a worthy goal, but the state’s requirements aren’t the best way to accomplish it.

“We’ve got a ship that’s sailed on a dangerous course through uncharted waters and we’re not prepared — and somehow that’s okay and we have to go full-steam ahead,” he said. “We’re betting people’s careers on something that does not work. It’s unconscionable.”

Feeney speculated that city principals are less shocked by the state’s evaluation requirements because the city has already tried to develop “value-added” evaluations of some teachers using student test scores.

“The city’s been living with this for a while,” he said.

Plus, he said about city principals, “I think they’re a little more nervous” about jeopardizing their jobs by speaking out.

One of the principals who signed the petition, P.S. 257’s Brian Devale, has been an outspoken defender of teachers unions in the past, lobbying to keep “last in, first out” seniority layoff rules in place even when some of his colleagues were advocating to end them.

The second city principal to sign, M.S. 324’s Janet Heller, actually went to bat against the seniority layoff rules last year. She told GothamSchools today that she signed the petition because she thought the city’s approach to incorporating test scores into teacher evaluations was superior to the state’s.

A third city educator who signed the petition, Donald Freeman, retired as the principal of Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School and went on to coordinate the New York Performance Standards Consortium, which advocates against all high-stakes testing.

A spokeswoman for the principals union, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, said CSA had not observed city principals showing interest in the cause.

“What we’re witnessing here is a grassroots movement that individuals have signed onto,”  Antoinette Isable-Jones wrote in an email. “Those individuals are understandably frustrated.”

Feeney, a founding teacher at Manhattan Village Academy before moving to Long Island, said advocacy groups and professional organizations based in the city are working to promote the position paper. Already, dozens of city teachers have signed on, as well as a handful of activists include Class Size matters’ Leonie Haimson and Diane Ravitch.

But he said the petition has a shot of affecting state policy only if many principals sign on, and not just from Long Island, which he said state officials tended to view as “a thorn in their side.”

“The principal’s voice is an important one,” Feeney said. “We welcome all signatories … but we certainly put the signing on of a principal at a premium.”

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.