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Last-minute change to evaluations reduces classroom observations

PHOTO: Geoff Decker

The city has agreed to a last-minute change to its teacher evaluation system that could reduce the number of required classroom observations for tens of thousands of teachers this year.

Teachers who have been rated “effective” now have the option to be observed four times, down from six last year, with each visit lasting as little as 15 minutes — an option similar to what’s being offered to “highly effective” teachers this year. The agreement means that many administrators will be required to spend less time in classrooms.

“It gives the principal the choice to limit paperwork, and free up more time to work with teachers who are struggling and less time with effective teachers,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, who formally agreed to the deal on Tuesday.

It’s unclear how many teachers will now have the choice to reduce the number of observations because officials have not yet said how many city teachers received “effective” and “highly effective” ratings last year. But if the city follows statewide trends, the number could be significant. In the 2012-13 school year, 94 percent of teachers statewide, excluding New York City, received one of the top two ratings.

The change is the latest in a series of tweaks to the city’s new teacher evaluation system, which debuted last year. It also represents another way evaluations have evolved from what State Education Commissioner John King imposed, nearly two years ago, into the city’s vision.

The system that King created, after the city and teachers union could not agree on one on their own, increased the number of required classroom observations across the board. The system offered teachers the option to have six unannounced, shorter observations or three informal observations and one formal, full-class-period observation. Both the city and teachers union had asked King to require fewer required observations.

But at schools where many teachers opted to receive the six observations, many principals complained that they were being made to spend as much time with top-performing teachers as with the struggling ones.

“Workload is one of the most important issues for our members as it is for teachers,” said CSA President Ernest Logan said.

The new UFT contract already created a new option allowing “highly effective” teachers to be observed in three short observations. The CSA pushed for a similar reduction for “effective” teachers, and first announced to its members that a deal was in place last week. A final deal couldn’t be inked without the teachers union, which formally signed off on Tuesday, a UFT spokeswoman said.

The deal comes after the school year has begun, and the next step for schools is giving teachers their new choices—presenting challenges for some schools that have already begun to plan teacher observations. CSA officials, who are still fighting the de Blasio administration over retroactive pay for some of its members, expressed frustration that the Department of Education didn’t immediately notify schools since the change have implications for early-year planning.

“We have stressed how important this is that the DOE get this out,” said CSA Vice President Mark Cannizzaro. “Hopefully that’s going to happen very soon.”

On Tuesday, some educators echoed that sentiment.

“How soon will we have full details, as many of us have completed our individual conferences?” Mitchell Poska, an assistant principal at Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School in Brooklyn, posted on CSA’s Facebook page.

A spokeswoman for the department did not immediately comment on the deal.

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.