Building Better Teachers

Hopson to meet again with teacher evaluation committee

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has overseen Shelby County Schools since the 2013 merger of Memphis City Schools and the legacy Shelby County district.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson will reconvene a group of teachers and administrators to discuss the district’s revised teacher evaluation.

The committee stopped meeting when teachers couldn’t agree to two sticking points – the requirement for teachers to demonstrate all 69 objectives during an observation and the absence of an appeals process to dispute an observation score, according to a teacher on the committee. Administrators made the changes without the committee’s approval, said Margaret Box, a kindergarten teacher at Cordova Elementary who served on the committee.

Hundreds of teachers have complained to Hopson and board members that the new requirements will make it virtually impossible for any teacher to earn a level five, the highest level possible.

Administrators have said that observations have lead to inflated scores of teachers at chronically-underperforming schools while teachers have described the process as arbitrary and unfair.

“We felt like we didn’t get to finish the conversation,” said Box, adding that the group of 10 teachers worked hard during the eight month period and the committee and the administration agreed on seven of the nine revisions.  “We’re very hopeful and we’re glad he’s reached out. We think this is a positive move.”

Hopson sent an e-mail to teachers on the committee late last week asking to meet with him on Sept. 16. He hinted in a letter to teachers last month that he would meet with the teachers again to hear their concerns.

“I would like to thank those of you who collaborated on the development of the new TEM4.0,” Hopson wrote.  I know that teams of teachers met more than a dozen times dating back to early spring, and I believe this strong feedback helped us take a real leap forward with this year’s rubric. I’m looking forward to my next meeting with teachers regarding TEM4.0 next month, and I’m interested in hearing more from you on this as we move through the rest of the school year.”

Meanwhile, a previously-arranged forum between Hopson and teachers throughout the district scheduled for this week appears to have been called off.  Hopson told teachers in an Aug. 22 letter that he would meet with them on Thursday to hear their concerns about the revised evaluation. But in an e-mail Tuesday, the communications office said Hopson did not have any meetings scheduled with teachers this week.

The district’s administrators have maintained the final version of the Teacher Evaluation Model, or TEM 4, is a direct reflection of teacher feedback on several issues including a reduction in the total number of observations, allowing teachers to provide an evaluation of their work and how walk-throughs or random classroom visits from administrators would be conducted.

The office did not immediately respond to Chalkbeat’s inquiry about Hopson’s meeting with the committee made up administrators and a group of 10 teachers scheduled for Sept. 16.

Officials believe the changes are a significant step forward in giving teachers clear and meaningful feedback to help students achieve ambitious learning goals.

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at [email protected] 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/

help wanted

Colorado education officials hope these three ideas will reverse the state teacher shortage

Education Commissioner Katy Anthes and Executive Director of the Department of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed take questions on the state's teacher shortage. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Colorado education leaders are zeroing in on three broad ways to curb the state’s teacher shortage: increasing compensation, improving preparation and training, and “lifting the profession.”

While specific strategies are still being fleshed out, those three themes were highlighted Wednesday at a press conference held by Katy Anthes, the state’s education commissioner, and Kim Hunter Reed, the executive director of the department of higher education.

“We have a lot of work to do to talk about the profession that makes all other professions possible,” Hunter Reed said.

Anthes and Hunter Reed spoke to reporters as the two departments are wrapping up a series of forums across the state to gather input on how to best the shortage, which is especially pronounced in rural Colorado and in high school math and science classrooms.

The departments are tasked with creating a strategic plan to present to state lawmakers by December. The department heads said the plan will provide a mix of approaches that lawmakers, local school districts and communities can deploy based on individual needs.

One suggestion that has been a crowd favorite at the town halls is a statewide base-salary for teachers, officials said.

Share your solutions on the teacher shortage
There are three more town halls to address the teacher shortage:
  • 4:30 p.m., Aug. 23 at Las Animas Elementary School
  • 4:30 p.m., Aug. 30 at Vilas School in Collingwood
  • 5 p.m., Sept. 6 at Monte Vista High School.

However, neither Anthes nor Hunter Reed would commit to making such a recommendation to the legislature. Such a mandate would likely require an extensive influx of cash to schools, or at the least drastic cuts to other school-based programs at the local level. The latter scenario would infuriate superintendents in smaller school districts who are already feeling the squeeze to increase the required minimum wages for other workers.

“The answer doesn’t have to be to raise the entire school finance formula,” Anthes said, adding that changes to compensation could include loan forgiveness and block grants.

Both stressed that it would take more than new state laws to boost the number of new teachers and keep current teachers in the profession. That’s especially true, they said, when it comes to reframing the public conception of educators.

“You can’t legislate value and professionalism,” Hunter Reed said.

“We need to lift the profession of educators,” Anthes said. “I do think teaching is harder than rocket science.”

More specific ideas the departments are considering include developing new training at the college level, increasing awareness of alternative ways to become a teacher and providing educators better access to affordable housing.

“It’s a lot of little things that we hope add up,” Anthes said.

By the numbers

NYC announces it will subsidize hiring from Absent Teacher Reserve — and sheds light on who is in the pool

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman

Ever since the city announced a new policy for placing teachers without permanent positions into schools, Chalkbeat and others have been asking questions about just who is in the pool, known as the Absent Teacher Reserve.

Now we have some answers.

The education department released figures on Friday that show a quarter of teachers currently in the the pool were also there five years ago, and a third ended up in the ATR because of disciplinary or legal issues. The average salary for teachers this past year was $94,000, according to the data.

The city also said it would extend budget incentives for schools that hire educators from the ATR, a change to its initial announcement. Principals have raised concerns about the cost of hiring from the ATR, since its members tend to be more senior, and therefore more expensive, than new teachers.

The ATR is comprised of teachers who don’t have regular positions, either because their jobs were eliminated or because of disciplinary issues. It cost almost $152 million in the last school year — far more than previously estimated — and currently stands at 822 teachers.

In July, the city announced a plan to cut the pool in half by placing teachers into vacancies still open after the new school year begins — even potentially over principals’ objection.

Critics have argued that the city’s new placement policy could place ineffective teachers in the neediest classrooms. StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis called the move “shockingly irresponsible” in a statement.

“There are reasons why no principal has chosen to hire them and this policy is bad for kids, plain and simple,” she said.

But Randy Asher, the former principal of Brooklyn Technical High School who is now responsible for helping to shrink the pool, called the new policy “a common sense approach to treating ATR teachers like all other teachers,” since they now have the opportunity to be evaluated by a school principal.

Here’s what the latest numbers tell us about who is in the pool.

How did educators end up in the Absent Teacher Reserve?

Most of the educators in the ATR were placed there because their schools had closed (38 percent) or due to budget cuts (30 percent.)

Another 32 percent entered the pool because of a legal or disciplinary case.

How effective are they?

A majority — 74 percent — received an evaluation rating of “highly effective,” “effective” or “satisfactory” in 2015-16, the most current year available. Current ratings for teachers citywide were not immediately available, but in 2014-15, 93 percent of teachers overall were rated effective or highly effective, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Twelve percent of teachers in the pool received an “ineffective” or “unsatisfactory” rating in 2015-16, and about 7 percent received a “developing” rating, one step up from ineffective.

Some teachers in the ATR say evaluations can be unfair since teachers are often placed in classrooms outside of the subjects they are equipped to teach and because they are bounced between classrooms.

Asked whether teachers with poor ratings would be placed in classrooms, Asher said “all” teachers in the ATR have traditionally been placed in school assignments.

“They’re in schools, no matter what. It’s a question of what is their role in the school, and how are they supported and evaluated,” he said. “Obviously we will look at each individual teacher and each individual assignment on a case-by-case basis.”

How experienced are they?

Teachers in the ATR have an average of 18 years of experience with the education department, and earn an average salary of $94,000. By comparison, the base salary for a New York City teacher as of May 2017 was $54,000.

How long have they been in the pool?

Almost half the educators who are currently in the pool were also there two years ago. A quarter were in the ATR five years ago. That doesn’t mean that teachers have remained in the ATR for that entire time. They could have been hired for a time, and returned to the pool.

Still, the figures could be fuel for those who argue educators in the ATR either aren’t seriously looking for permanent jobs — or that the educators in the pool are simply undesirable hires.

How will schools pay for them?

Teachers in the ATR have argued that their higher salaries are one reason principals avoid hiring them — a concern that principals voiced in a recent Chalkbeat report.

“This is part of the injustice of the ATR placement,” said Scott Conti, principal of New Design High School in Manhattan. “Schools might not want them and they will cost schools more in the future, taking away from other budget priorities.”

Under the policy announced Friday, the education department will subsidize the cost of ATRs who are permanently hired, paying 50 percent of their salaries next school year and 25 percent the following school year.

Where have they worked previously?

This question is important because the answer gives a sense of where educators in the ATR are likely to be placed this fall. The education department’s original policy called for an educator to be placed within the same district they left, but the change announced in July allowed for placement anywhere within the same borough.

Almost half of ATR members, as of June 2016-17, came from high schools. That isn’t surprising: Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein targeted large high schools for closure, breaking them up into smaller schools as part of a turnaround strategy.

Of the school districts serving K- 8 students, District 19 in Brooklyn’s East New York and District 24 in Queens had among the most educators in the ATR. Each had 26.

What subjects do they teach?

The largest share of teachers in the ATR — 27 percent — are licensed to teach in early childhood or elementary school grades. Another 11 percent are licensed social studies teachers, 9 percent are math teachers and 8 percent are English teachers.

Questions have been raised in the past about whether the teachers in the pool had skills that were too narrow or out of date. A 2010 Chalkbeat story found that a quarter of teachers then in the pool were licensed to teach relatively obscure classes like swimming, jewelry-making and accounting.