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.

Price of entry

Becoming a Colorado teacher could soon require fewer transcripts, more training on English learners

Stephanie Wujek teaches science at Wiggins Middle School , on April 5, 2017 in Wiggins, Colorado. Rural areas are having a hard time finding teachers in areas like math and science. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

The rules for becoming a teacher in Colorado are about to change — and officials hope the moves will help attract more math teachers and better prepare educators to work with students learning English.

The changes, which the Colorado Department of Education proposed this week, would also cut down on the paperwork needed to enter the profession and make it easier for teachers licensed in other states to re-enter the classroom after they move to Colorado.

The package of changes also includes a slimmed-down teacher evaluation rubric, the first major revision to the rules under Colorado’s 2010 teacher effectiveness law.

Among the proposed changes:

  • Less paperwork for new teachers. Applicants for a teaching license would no longer have to provide transcripts for every school they attended, only the transcripts for the school that granted them their highest degree. (Many colleges hold transcripts hostage for unpaid debt, even minor ones like unpaid parking tickets.
  • Less paperwork for teachers coming from other states. Experienced, licensed teachers from outside Colorado would no longer need to provide transcripts or prove that their teacher preparation program met Colorado standards.
  • More flexibility about previous teaching experience. Licensed teachers from other states would no longer need to have previously worked under a full-time contract to qualify for a Colorado license.
  • A new credential limited to middle-school math. Right now, Colorado only has a secondary math endorsement, which requires competency in trigonometry and calculus. That’s a barrier for teachers moving from other states with a math endorsement limited to middle school, and some see it as a roadblock for those who feel comfortable with algebra but not higher-level math.
  • Additional pathways for counselors and nurses to get licensed to work in schools.

Two bills making their way through the Colorado General Assembly this session would remove another barrier for out-of-state teachers. To qualify for a Colorado license today, teachers must have had three years of continuous teaching experience. If those bills are signed into law, applicants would only need three years of experience in the previous seven years.

Together, the proposals indicate how Colorado officials are working to make it a little easier to become a teacher in the state, which is facing a shortage in math teachers, counselors, and school nurses, among other specialties, as well as a shortage in many rural districts.

Colleen O’Neil, executive director of educator talent for the Colorado Department of Education, said many of the proposed changes came out of listening sessions focused on the state’s teacher shortage held around the state.  

The changes still don’t mean that if you’re a teacher anywhere in the country, you can easily become a teacher in Colorado. Just six states have full reciprocity, meaning anyone with a license from another state can teach with no additional requirements, according to the Education Commission of the States. Teachers whose licenses and endorsements don’t have a direct equivalent in Colorado would still need to apply for an interim license and then work to meet the standards of the appropriate Colorado license or endorsement.

The rule changes also add some requirements. Among those changes:

  • Prospective teachers will need more training on how to work with students learning English. Most significantly, all educator preparation programs would have to include six semester hours or 90 clock hours of training.
  • So will teachers renewing their licenses. They will need 45 clock hours, though the requirement wouldn’t kick in until the first full five-year cycle after the teacher’s most recent renewal. A teacher who just got her license renewed this year would have nine years to complete that additional training, as the requirement wouldn’t apply until the next renewal cycle. Superintendents in districts where less than 2 percent of the students are English language learners could apply for a waiver.

Colorado’s educator preparation rules already call for specialized training for teaching English language learners, but the rule change makes the requirements more explicit.

“We’re the sixth-largest state for English language learners,” O’Neil said. “We want to make sure our educators are equipped to teach all our learners.”

The rule changes would also “streamline,” in O’Neil’s words, the teacher evaluation process. Here’s what would change:

  • The five teacher quality standards would become four. “Reflection” and “leadership” are combined into “professionalism.”
  • The underlying elements of those standards would be reduced, too. Twenty-seven elements would become 17.

Fifty school districts and one charter collaborative have been testing the new evaluation system this year in a pilot program. O’Neil said most of the feedback has been positive, and the rest of the feedback has been to urge officials to winnow down the standards even further. That’s not a change she would support, O’Neil said.

“The reality is that teaching actually is rocket science,” she said. “There are a lot of practices and elements that go into good teaching.”

The state is accepting additional public comment on the rules until April 20, and a public hearing will be held in May. The new rules are expected to be adopted this summer.

Submit written feedback online or send an email to the State Board of Education at state.board@cde.state.co.us.

bias in the classroom

‘Disciplinarians first and teachers second’: black male teachers say they face an extra burden

PHOTO: The Laradon School
A teacher and a student at The Laradon School in Denver work together with tactile teaching tools.

As a first-year teacher, Pierce Bond took on a remarkable responsibility: helping other teachers by disciplining or counseling misbehaving students.

That left him to make tough choices, like whether to disrupt his own class mid-lesson to handle problems in the school’s detention room. “Sometimes you have to make that decision,” he told an interviewer. “Do I stop whatever I’m doing now to go deal with this situation?”

The burden was placed on him because he is one of small share of black men in the teaching profession, posits a study published this month in The Urban Review, a peer-reviewed journal. The study relies on interview 27 black male teachers in Boston’s public schools — including Bond, who like others, was identified by a pseudonym — and found several experiences like his.

“Participants perceived that their peers and school administrators positioned them to serve primarily as disciplinarians first and teachers second,” write authors Travis Bristol of Boston University and Marcelle Mentor of the College of New Rochelle.

The paper acknowledges that interviewees were a small, non-random sample of teachers in one district, and their results might not apply elsewhere. But other researchers and policymakers, including former Secretary of Education John King, have acknowledged the phenomenon, which may contribute to schools’ difficulties recruiting and retaining teachers of color.

“Children of color and white children need to see different types of people standing in front of them and teaching them,” said Bristol. “After we recruit [teachers of color], we have to be mindful about how they are positioned in their building and draw on the things they are doing that are successful.”

In the study, which draws from Bristol’s dissertation on the experiences of black male teachers, a number of them described a similar experience: colleagues assuming that they were better able to deal with perceived behavioral issues, particularly among black boys.

One veteran teacher, Adebayo Adjayi, described how older students were regularly sent into his early elementary classroom, making his regular teaching role significantly more difficult.

“Adjayi recognized that his classroom became the school’s disciplinary room, a holding area, and he had become the school disciplinarian,” the researchers write. “Without considering the type of environment that would most support [the school’s] students who were deemed misbehaving, the fifth graders were placed in the same classroom as the prekindergartners.”

Christopher Brooks, a high school teacher, explained how seemingly small favors for colleagues began to add up. “He first said yes to one teacher who asked him, ‘Can you just talk to so-and-so because he’s not giving up his phone?’ and then to another colleague who asked, ‘Can I leave Shawn in here? He can’t seem to sit still.’ By that time, it had become the unspoken norm that Brooks would attend to his colleagues’ misbehaving students,” the study says.

Brooks says this played a role in how he arranged his day, since he knew he needed to be prepared to receive additional students some periods or solve a problem during lunch.

Other teachers told the researchers the the extra responsibilities don’t bother them.

“I understand it because I know how to speak the kids’ language,” said Okonkwo Sutton, a first-year charter school teacher. “I’ve had a very similar childhood and background as many of them.”  

Some of those interviewed questioned the assumptions behind the idea that they should serve as disciplinarians. Peter Baldwin, a novice teacher, described how a colleague suggested he would be able to help one struggling student by talking “man to man.”

“I don’t think he was just gonna respond to me better than others because I’m me, or because I’m a male or because I’m black,” Baldwin said. “I think because I sort of invested time … we’ve built a relationship.”

There’s little if any research on how this additional work or stress affects black male teachers’ job satisfaction, retention, or performance. But there is evidence that teachers of color leave the classroom at a higher rate and are less satisfied with their jobs than white teachers.

At a national level, the numbers are striking: only 2 percent of teachers are black men. Meanwhile, research has repeatedly linked black teachers to better outcomes — test scores, high school graduation rates, behavior — for black students, and that’s led to national pushes to diversify the predominantly white teaching profession, as well as local programs like NYC Men Teach.

The study emphasizes that the findings don’t apply to all black male teachers, and doesn’t try to quantify the experience of being treated as disciplinarians. But the authors suggest that treating black male teachers that way could be unfair to them, their colleagues, and their students.

“School administrators should work to develop more expansive roles for black male teachers and become more cognizant of how black male teachers are implicitly and explicitly positioned in their schools,” the paper says. “Equally important, administrators should work to develop the capacity of all teachers to support and engage all students.”