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.

Votes are in

Memphis educators vote to begin negotiations on new contract with district

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
A teacher training last year on Expeditionary Learning, a new curriculum for English language arts introduced in Shelby County Schools in 2017.

Shelby County Schools teachers have decided it’s time to go back to the bargaining table with district officials to hammer out a new agreement.

Sixty percent of the district’s 7,000 educators, or more than 4,300, voted to allow the two teacher groups that represent them to start negotiating with district officials about pay, insurance, and working conditions. That’s well above the 51 percent that was legally required to begin talks.

It will be the first time the groups have negotiated with the Memphis school district since 2015, and the first since the city’s teacher group split into two. Last year’s organizing efforts didn’t get enough votes to begin negotiations, known as “collaborative conferencing” in Tennessee.

The last agreement, or memorandum of understanding, expired in March. The memorandums are legally binding and can cover such things as salaries, grievance procedures, insurance, and working conditions. But under state law, the agreements can’t address evaluations or personnel decisions such as layoffs or tenure.

Tikeila Rucker, president of the United Education Association of Shelby County, said she hopes talks with the district start by February. She says that it could take up to a year to reach an agreement, although she’s hopeful that it will be sooner.

“We’re creating a survey now to share with the teachers throughout the district so we’ll know what things teachers want to see,” Rucker said. They’ll ask teachers for input on items that can be negotiated, including wages, insurance, grievance procedures, and working conditions.

From earlier teacher feedback, Rucker said educators are concerned about rising insurance costs, and classroom conditions such as class size. They also want raises based on years of service restored, as well as extra pay for advanced degrees, she said.

Dorsey Hopson, Shelby County Schools superintendent, has tried for several years to implement a merit pay system for teachers based on evaluations that include student test scores. That would mean only teachers with high evaluation scores would be eligible for raises. But because of numerous testing problems, Hopson hasn’t yet done that. Instead, for the last three years, all educators have received 3 percent raises.

Keith Williams, executive director of Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, said the salary increases that teachers have received in recent years amounted to bonuses and so-called cost-of-living increases that haven’t kept pace with the cost of living.

“We need to have continuity of pay and a way to predict our earnings,” he said in advocating for the return of step pay increases.

Additionally, he said teachers want to restore time for daily planning periods. And they want a “quality curriculum” that they’re trained to teach and is ready to go on the first day of school.

Teachers have complained that the English curriculum, Expeditionary Learning, doesn’t allow them to tailor content for their students. The new math curriculum, Eureka Math, had a bumpy rollout. Some materials arrived late, teacher training was behind schedule, and for some, the program didn’t start until 12 weeks into the school year.

Williams believes negotiations may start in January and is hopeful that a new three-year contract will be in place by April. Meanwhile, he plans regular updates with teachers to allow them to have input.

Union leaders are waiting for the official certified vote numbers that are expected to be released Tuesday. Williams said that almost 60 percent of the teachers supported his group. That means they’ll have more seats at the negotiating table.

But once negotiations begin, Rucker said, “the two associations will work as one team to advocate and collaborate on behalf of teachers.”

Exiting

Tennessee schools chief Candice McQueen leaving for job at national education nonprofit

PHOTO: TN.Gov

Tennessee’s education chief is leaving state government to lead a nonprofit organization focused on attracting, developing, and keeping high-quality educators.

Candice McQueen, 44, will step down in early January to become the CEO of National Institute for Excellence in Teaching.

Gov. Bill Haslam, whose administration will end on Jan. 19, announced the impending departure of his education commissioner on Thursday.

He plans to name an interim commissioner, according to an email from McQueen to her staff at the education department.

“While I am excited about this new opportunity, it is hard to leave this team,” she wrote. “You are laser-focused on doing the right thing for Tennessee’s students every single day – and I take heart in knowing you will continue this good work in the months and years to come. I look forward to continuing to support your work even as I move into this new role with NIET.”

A former teacher and university dean, McQueen has been one of Haslam’s highest-profile cabinet members since joining the administration in 2015 to replace Kevin Huffman, a lawyer who was an executive at Teach For America.

Her tenure has been highlighted by overhauling the state’s requirements for student learning, increasing transparency about how Tennessee students are doing, and launching a major initiative to improve reading skills in a state that struggles with literacy.

But much of the good work has been overshadowed by repeated technical failures in Tennessee’s switch to a computerized standardized test — even forcing McQueen to cancel testing for most students in her second year at the helm. The assessment program continued to struggle this spring, marred by days of technical glitches.

Haslam, who has consistently praised McQueen’s leadership throughout the rocky testing ride, said Tennessee’s education system has improved under her watch.

“Candice has worked relentlessly since day one for Tennessee’s students and teachers, and under her leadership, Tennessee earned its first ‘A’ rating for the standards and the rigor of the state’s assessment after receiving an ‘F’ rating a decade ago,” Haslam said in a statement. “Candice has raised the bar for both teachers and students across the state, enabling them to rise to their greatest potential. I am grateful for her service.”

McQueen said being education commissioner has been “the honor of a lifetime” and that her new job will allow her to “continue to be an advocate for Tennessee’s teachers and work to make sure every child is in a class led by an excellent teacher every day.”

At the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, she’ll work with states, districts, and schools to improve the effectiveness of teachers and will operate out of the organization’s new office in Nashville. The institute’s work impacts more than 250,000 educators and 2.5 million students.

“Candice McQueen understands that highly effective teachers can truly transform the lives of our children, our classrooms, our communities and our futures,” said Lowell Milken, chairman of the institute, which has existing offices in Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and Santa Monica, Calif.

In an interview with Chalkbeat, McQueen said numerous organizations had approached her about jobs this year as Tennessee prepared to transition to a new administration under Gov.-elect Bill Lee. She called leading the institute “an extraordinary opportunity that I felt was a great fit” because of its focus on supporting, leading, and compensating teachers.

“It’s work that I believe is the heart and soul of student improvement,” she said.

McQueen’s entire career has focused on strengthening teacher effectiveness and support systems for teachers. Before joining Haslam’s administration, the Tennessee native was an award-winning teacher; then faculty member, department chair, and dean of Lipscomb University’s College of Education in Nashville. As dean from 2008 to 2015, Lipscomb became one of the highest-rated teacher preparation programs in Tennessee and the nation. There, McQueen also doubled the size and reach of the college’s graduate programs with new master’s degrees and certificates, the university’s first doctoral program, and additional online and off-campus offerings.

As Haslam’s education commissioner the last four years, McQueen stayed the course on Tennessee’s 2010 overhaul of K-12 education, which was highlighted by raising academic standards; measuring student improvement through testing; and holding students, teachers, schools, and districts accountable for the results.

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen has been commissioner of education for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam since 2015.

One of the plan’s most controversial components was teacher evaluations that are tied to student growth on state tests — a strategy that McQueen has stood by and credited in part for Tennessee’s gains on national tests.

Since 2011, Tennessee has seen record-high graduation rates, college-going rates, and ACT scores and steadily moved up in state rankings on the Nation’s Report Card.

Several new studies say Tennessee teachers are getting better under the evaluation system, although other research paints a less encouraging picture.

Her choice to lead the national teaching institute quickly garnered praise from education leaders across the country.

“The students of Tennessee have benefited from Candice McQueen’s leadership, including bold efforts to ensure students have access to advanced career pathways to lead to success in college and careers, and a solid foundation in reading,” said Carissa Moffat Miller, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Louisiana Education Superintendent John White said McQueen brings ideal skills to her new job.

“She is not just a veteran educator who has worked in higher education and K-12 education alike, but she is also a visionary leader with a unique understanding of both quality classroom teaching and the systems necessary to make quality teaching possible for millions of students,” White said.

Read more reaction to the news of McQueen’s planned exit.