teacher talent

State: New York City’s top-rated teachers less likely to serve black and Hispanic students

New York City teachers who received the highest ratings on their performance evaluations are unevenly distributed within the city school system and less likely to serve black and Hispanic students, state education officials said this week.

The trends were among several findings from an analysis of teacher evaluation data released this week by the State Education Department. Officials said that they hoped the data would nudge districts like New York City to revamp their teacher placement policies with a greater focus on recruiting and retaining top teachers in the most challenging schools.

“Effectiveness matters,” Senior Deputy Commissioner Ken Wagner said at the state Board of Regents meeting on Tuesday. “It has real impact on real kids in real classrooms.”

Chalkbeat reported its own analysis of teacher evaluation ratings from the 2013-14 school year last week, looking specifically at teachers working in struggling schools in the city’s Renewal Schools program, where high-needs students are overrepresented. The schools had twice as many teachers rated “ineffective” and “developing” as the city average, Chalkbeat’s report found.

The state’s analysis focused on a narrower measure of teacher performance, but found that similar disparities exist when sorted by student demographics. The city’s black students, for instance, were more than two times as likely to have a teacher rated “ineffective” or “developing” as white students.


“From an equitable access standpoint, that gap in access to effective teachers will catch some attention,” said Tim Daly, president of TNTP, an education nonprofit that works with districts on teacher recruitment and retention policies.

The state’s data is based on the 2012-13 ratings of about 40,000 math and English teachers in fourth through eighth grade throughout the state. The ratings were calculated using an “enhanced growth model,” which is designed to measure a teacher’s impact on student learning, controlling for outside variables such as a student’s socioeconomic status, special learning needs, previous years test scores, and attendance. Ratings were calculated for teachers in both district and charter schools.

The analysis found that city teachers, though unevenly distributed within the district, were three times more likely to earn “highly effective” ratings than other poor districts in the state, and twice as likely compared to affluent districts. In charter schools, Hispanic and black students were more likely have a higher-rated teacher, especially in math.

The measure on which these growth scores depend, however — standardized state tests — are under intense scrutiny.

An increasing number of parents are keeping their children from taking the tests this week, in part because they view them as unreliable indicators of student performance, while the state teachers union has encouraged test refusals as a way to undermine the evaluation system. This year the scores count for 20 percent of a district teacher’s evaluation, although changes to the evaluation system mean they could count for up to half next year.

The opt-out movement has startled state officials, who have warned that too many test refusals could damage their data-collecting abilities.

“A lack of full participation in New York State assessments hinders the State’s ability to collect complete data about students and educators, and subsequently could impact the analysis of equity issues,” officials wrote in a memo.

In city district schools, 17 percent of math teachers with lower growth ratings taught black students, 13 percent taught Hispanic students, 7 percent taught white students and 3 percent taught Asian students, according to state data. For English, 12 percent of lower-rated teachers taught black students, 9 percent taught Hispanic students, 5 percent taught white students and 4 percent taught Asian students.

One-third of black students and 39 percent of Hispanic students in charters were taught by a “highly effective” math teacher, compared to 10 percent and 14 percent of those student groups in New York City schools, according to the analysis. Hispanic charter school students had roughly the same share of top-rated English teachers.

Sean Corcoran, an economist at New York University, said that was consistent with other test-based charter school research, but student gains could be due to longer school days, stricter discipline policies, or any number of factors — not necessarily superior teachers.

“That’s one of the fundamental problems with test score based measures of teacher effectiveness,” Corcoran said. “It’s difficult to separate the teacher’s effectiveness from other factors, including those at the school and classroom level.”

Leo Casey, executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute and a former vice president for the United Federation of Teachers, said the department’s report left out important caveats. Growth models, for instance, are prone to volatility and bias toward teachers in high-poverty schools, limitations he said should have been noted more prominently.

But additional data provided by the state shows that racial and socioeconomic gaps in teacher equity were actually exacerbated when classroom observations and locally-selected assessments were factored into evaluation ratings. This could in part be explained by bias toward teachers in high-poverty in observations, which has been detected by researchers.

Daly said the findings should not be so quickly dismissed, particularly because it involves a large sample size.

“I’d say [the] best conclusion is that while there can be noise in this stuff at the micro level, on a statewide level it’s probably a good signal,” Daly said.

Daly’s organization, TNTP, advocates for higher pay and merit bonuses for recruiting and retaining top teachers and a quick firing trigger for weeding out the subpar ones. But Casey said that compensation and staff replacement aren’t enough to stem the churn of teachers who cycle through high-poverty schools.

“We are already replacing teachers as they leave of their own volition, and it makes no difference, because we are not addressing the reasons why they are not succeeding as teachers,” Casey said in an email.

On this, Daly and Casey found common ground. It was TNTP that concluded, in an influential 2012 research paper, that better working conditions at high-poverty schools, strong leaders who provide constructive feedback, and a few words of encouragement here and there significantly increased the likelihood of effective teachers staying.

The city already has some policies in place designed to improve teacher quality in struggling schools.

The new teachers contract allows for the promotion of effective teachers to higher-paid leadership positions. Chancellor Carmen Fariña also has the ability to give $5,000 bonuses to teachers working in “hard-to-staff” schools who have been rated developing or better, although a spokeswoman would not say if any payments have been authorized yet.

The spokeswoman, Devora Kaye, said the caliber of applicants seeking teaching positions in the city has gone up significantly in the last decade. In 2014, she said the city received 16,000 applications for certified teachers.

“In contrast to a decade ago, now every DOE hire must get state teacher certification, which requires completing rigorous coursework and testing,” Kaye said.

Human Resources

A minimum salary for Colorado teachers? State officials may ask lawmakers to consider it.

A teacher reads to her students at the Cole Arts and Science Academy in Denver. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

As part of a broad plan to increase the volume of high-quality teachers in Colorado, state officials are considering asking lawmakers to take the bold step of establishing a minimum teacher salary requirement tied to the cost of living.

Officials from the state departments of education and higher education are finalizing a list of recommendations to address challenges to Colorado’s teacher workforce. Pressing for the legislation on teacher salaries is one of dozens of recommendations included in a draft report.

The report, assembled at the request of the legislature, also proposes a marketing campaign and scholarships to attract new teachers to rural areas.

Representatives from the Colorado Department of Education said they would not discuss the recommendations until they’re final. However, the department earlier this month briefed the State Board of Education on their proposed recommendations in advance of the Dec. 1 deadline for it to be finalized.

The impending report — based on thousands of responses from educators, students and other Colorado residents in online surveys and town halls across the state — is a sort of first step for the state legislature to tackle a problem years in the making. Since 2010, Colorado has seen a 24 percent drop in the number of college students graduating from the state’s traditional teacher colleges. There’s also been a 23 percent drop in enrollment in those programs.

Residency programs, which place graduate students in a classroom for a full year with an experienced teacher, and other alternative licensure programs have seen a 40 percent increase in enrollment. But those programs produce far fewer teachers and can’t keep up with demand.

Colorado faces a shortage of teachers in certain subjects, regions and schools, and circumstances vary. Math and science teachers are in short supply: Only 192 college students in 2016 graduated with credentials to teach those subjects. The same year, 751 students left with a degree to teach elementary school.

And rural schools have had an especially hard time finding and keeping teachers.

Here’s a look at what the state departments are considering recommending, based on the presentation from education department officials to the state board:

Provide more and better training to new — and veteran — teachers.

Colorado schools are already required to offer some sort of induction program for new teachers. This training, which lasts between two and three years, is supposed to supplement what they learned during college.

For the last two years, the state education department has been pushing school districts to update their programs. The recommendations in the report could kick things up a notch.

The education departments are asking for updated induction requirements to be written into statute and more money to be provided to districts to pay for the training.

The draft report also calls for more more sustained training for veteran teachers, including competitive grant programs.

An additional suggestion is to create a program to train teachers expressly to teach in rural classrooms.

Increase teacher compensation and benefits.

This will be a hard pill to swallow. According to the presentation to the state board, the education departments want to call on lawmakers to set a minimum salary for teachers based on the school district’s cost of living.

The presentation to the board lacked specifics on how lawmakers and school districts could accomplish this. One board member, Colorado Springs Republican Steve Durham, called it a “mistake” to include such a recommendation.

Keeping up with the rising cost of living is a challenge. A new report shows new teachers in the state’s three largest school districts couldn’t afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

“We hope the report itself is going to talk a lot the cost of living — that’s what we heard from our stakeholders across the field,” Colleen O’Neil, the education department’s executive director of educator talent told the state board. “They literally were not able to meet the cost of living because their salaries did not compensate them fairly enough to find housing.”

Other suggestions the report might highlight to improve teacher compensation include loan forgiveness, housing incentives and creating a differentiated pay scale for teachers — something teachers unions staunchly oppose.

Help schools better plan for hiring and send teachers where they’re needed.

One short-term solution the state is considering recommending is allocating more resources to help schools plan for teacher turnover. This includes providing incentives for teachers to notify school leaders about their plans to leave the classroom earlier.

The education departments are also suggesting the state increase the number of programs that can help teachers get licensed in more than one subject at a time. Other ideas include offering scholarships to potential teachers to complete licensing requirements for content areas that are lacking viable candidates — likely math and science — and providing transportation and technology stipends for rural teachers.

Make the teaching profession more attractive.

Teachers “feel they’re not treated like professionals,” O’Neil told the board. So the education departments want the legislature to allow them to partner with private entities to launch a marketing campaign to lift the profile of teaching as a career in the state.

The education departments also hope the legislature considers creating more opportunities for middle and high school students to consider teaching as a viable career path. This could include reinvigorating the state’s Educators Rising program, a program for high school students interested in teaching.

student teaching

Building a teacher pipeline: How one Aurora school has become a training ground for aspiring teachers

Paraprofessional Sonia Guzman, a student of a teaching program, works with students at Elkhart Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Students at Aurora’s Elkhart Elementary School are getting assistance from three aspiring teachers helping out in classrooms this year, part of a new partnership aimed at building a bigger and more diverse teacher pipeline.

The teachers-to-be, students at the University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education, get training and a paid job while they’re in college. Elkhart principal Ron Schumacher gets paraprofessionals with long-term goals and a possibility that they’ll be better prepared to be Aurora teachers.

For Schumacher, it’s part of a plan to not only help his school, but also others in Aurora Public Schools increase teacher retention.

“Because of the nature of our school demographics, it’s a coin flip with a new teacher,” Schumacher said. “If I lose 50 percent of my teachers over time, I’m being highly inefficient. If these ladies know what they’re getting into and I can have them prepared to be a more effective first-year teacher, there’s more likelihood that I’ll keep them in my school in the long term.”

Elkhart has about 590 students enrolled this year. According to state data from last year, more than 95 percent of the students who attend the school qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. The school, which operates with an International Baccalaureate program, has outperformed the district average on some state tests.

The three paraprofessionals hired by the school this year are part of the teaching program at UNC’s Lowry campus, which has long required students to work in a school for the four years they work on their degree.

Students get paid for their work in schools, allowing them to earn some money while going to college. Students from the program had worked in Aurora schools in the past, but not usually three students at once at the same school, and not as part of a formal partnership.

The teaching program has a high number of students of color and first-generation college students, which Rosanne Fulton, the program director, said is another draw for partnering with schools in the metro area.

Schumacher said every principal and education leader has the responsibility to help expose students to more teachers who can relate to them.

One of this year’s paraprofessionals is Andy Washington, an 18-year-old who attended Elkhart for a few years when she was a child.

“Getting to know the kids on a personal level, I thought I was going to be scared, but they’re cool,” Washington said.

Another paraprofessional, 20-year-old Sonia Guzman, said kids are opening up to them.

“They ask you what college is like,” Guzman said.

Schumacher said there are challenges to hiring the students, including figuring out how to make use of the students during the morning or early afternoon while being able to release them before school is done for the day so they can make it to their college classes.

Schumacher said he and his district director are working to figure out the best ways to work around those problems so they can share lessons learned with other Aurora principals.

“We’re using some people differently and tapping into volunteers a little differently, but if it’s a priority for you, there are ways of accommodating their schedules,” he said.

At Elkhart, full-time interventionists work with students in kindergarten through third grade who need extra help learning to read.

But the school doesn’t have the budget to hire the same professionals to work with older students. The three student paraprofessionals are helping bridge that gap, learning from the interventionists so they can work with fourth and fifth grade students.

Recently, the three started getting groups of students that they pull out during class to give them extra work on reading skills.

One exercise they worked on with fourth grade students recently was helping them identify if words had an “oi” or “oy” spelling based on their sounds. Students sounded out their syllables and used flashcards to group similar words.

Districts across the country have looked at similar approaches to help attract and prepare teachers for their own schools. In Denver, bond money voters approved last year is helping pay to expand a program this year where paraprofessionals can apply for a one-year program to become teachers while they continue working.

In the partnership at Elkhart, students paraprofessionals take longer than that, but in their first and second year are already learning how to write lessons during their afternoon classes and then working with teachers at the school to deliver the lessons and then reflect on how well they worked. Students say the model helps them feel supported.

“It’s really helping me to become more confident,” said Stephanie Richards, 26, the third paraprofessional. “I know I’m a lot more prepared.”

Schumacher said the model could also work in the future with students from other teaching schools or programs. It’s a small but important part, he said, toward helping larger efforts to attract and retain teachers, and also diversify the ranks.

“You’re doing something for the next generation of folks coming in,” he said.