Teacher Effectiveness

California and Tennessee teacher tenure laws are nothing alike, TEA attorney says

The tenure laws in Tennessee are much different than the ones that were struck down in California Tuesday, a lawyer with the Tennessee Education Assocation said.

After reviewing a California judge’s ruling against the state’s teacher tenure laws, Tennessee Education Association’s general counsel Rick Colbert said the two states have little in common when it comes to granting and maintaining tenure status and that a similar ruling in Tennessee is unlikely.

“In California, I can understand why the plaintiffs found the tenure law was an impediment to receiving a quality teacher in the classroom,” Colbert said. “California’s process for granting tenure takes place after less than two years and the process of dismissing a teacher is entirely different from Tennessee’s.”

The preliminary ruling in the lawsuit Vergara v. California strikes down a slate of that state’s laws around teacher tenure and firing. The judge in the case, Rolf Treu, said data showing that poor and non-white students in California are more often taught by low-performing teachers convinced him that the laws violate the state’s constitution. The distribution of teacher quality “shocks the conscience,” Treu said in his ruling.

Colbert said the California tenure law requires that a teacher facing dismissal receives a “trial-like hearing” that involves a discovery period, more than one hearing officer and depositions. If a teacher prevails in the hearing, the school district must pay the teacher’s attorney’s fees.

In 2011, Tennessee legislators changed the state’s tenure law extending the probationary period from three to five years.  In order to receive tenure, a teacher in the last two years of the probationary period must receive evaluation scores in the highest two categories.  A teacher can also lose tenure status if he or she receives an evaluation score in the lowest two categories for two consecutive years.

The California lawsuit was brought by nine families with the support of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who began supporting education issues after he was unsettled by how difficult it was for his own children’s schools to fire teachers. Its backers include national critics of teachers unions, including Michelle Rhee of StudentsFirst, a non-profit working to motivate teachers, parents, students and citizens to advocate for positive changes in education.

 Critics of the court’s ruling say that tenure protects teachers from capricious administrators and helps make teaching an attractive profession. “Today’s ruling would make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in our classrooms and ignores all research that shows experience is a key factor in effective teaching,” said Dennis van Roekel, president of the nation’s largest teachers union, said in response to the ruling.

The state of California and its teachers unions are gearing up to appeal, guaranteeing a long legal fight before the issue of teacher tenure in California is resolved. Still, their first-round success has Vergara supporters weighing whether to take on teacher tenure laws in other states.

“We monitor what happens in other states,” said Carolyn Crowder, executive director for Tennessee Education Association.  “There’s a misconception that K-12 tenure is the same as on the college level.  K-12 tenure provides due process for a teacher, they need due process.  If people need to improve there needs to be a process in place to show they’ve had that opportunity. In tenure for a teacher in Tennessee means they aren’t on probation anymore.  Every state is different and there have been a lot of changes across the country.  We’re interested in making sure tenure policies are implemented fairly.”

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013. Follow us on Twitter: @TajuanaCheshier@chalkbeattn. Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chalkbeattn. Sign up for our newsletter for regular updates on Tennessee education news: http://tn.chalkbeat.org/newsletter/

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.

 

Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.

Another error

Missing student data means 900 Tennessee teachers could see their growth scores change

PHOTO: TN.gov

Tennessee’s testing problems continue. This time the issue is missing students.

Students’ test scores are used to evaluate teachers, and the failure of a data processing vendor to include scores for thousands of students may have skewed results for some teachers, officials said.

The scores, known as TVAAS, are based on how students improved under a teacher’s watch. The scores affect a teacher’s overall evaluation and in some districts, like Shelby County Schools, determine if a teacher gets a raise.

The error affects 1,700 teachers statewide, or about 9 percent of the 19,000 Tennessee teachers who receive scores. About 900 of those teachers had five or more students missing from their score, which could change their result.

The latest glitch follows a series of mishaps, including test scanning errors, which also affect teacher evaluations. A delay earlier this summer from the Tennessee Department of Education’s testing vendor, Questar, set off a chain of events that resulted in the missing student scores.

To calculate a teacher’s growth score, students and their test scores are assigned to a teacher. About 3 percent of the 1.5 million student-teacher assignments statewide had to be manually submitted in Excel files after Questar experienced software issues and fell behind on releasing raw scores to districts.

RANDA Solutions, a data processing vendor for the state, failed to input all of those Excel files, leading to the teachers’ scores being calculated without their full roster of students, said Sara Gast, a state spokeswoman. The error will not affect school or district TVAAS scores. (District-level TVAAS scores were released in September.)

Gast did not immediately confirm when the state will finalize those teachers’ scores with corrected student rosters. The state sent letters to districts last week informing them of the error and at least one Memphis teacher was told she had more than 80 of her 120 students missing from her score.

In the past, the process for matching students to the right teachers began at the end of the year, “which does not leave much room for adjustments in the case of unexpected delays,” Gast said in an email. The state had already planned to open the process earlier this year. Teachers can begin to verify their rosters next week, she said.