ch-ch-changes

City unveils new steps designed to make path to tenure tougher

For more than 6,000 teachers, the path to tenure this year will be different and, the city hopes, tougher.

City education officials announced a new rubric today that will guide principals as they make tenure recommendations this year. The “effectiveness framework” places teachers in one of four categories: highly effective, effective, developing, and ineffective, based on students’ tests scores, classroom observations, parent feedback, and other factors. No single element is meant to be weighed more heavily than the others and principals still have the ability to pick and choose what goes into their final decision.

Principals will be encouraged to give tenure only to teachers they believe are effective or highly effective, city officials said today. Teachers who are “developing” will have their probation extended, giving them another year in which to improve. This extension can occur again and again until a principal makes a final decision or the teacher leaves the job.

In the past, granting tenure meant checking a series of boxes in an online form. Was the teacher dressed appropriately? Check. Did she have good classroom management? Check. Principals who wanted to deny tenure had to offer a brief justification, but granting it didn’t require a principal to give her rationale for doing so.

This year, school leaders will have to write a few paragraphs explaining their decisions. City officials said today that they expect the new rubric will lead to higher rates of tenure denial and probation extension, which have increased in the last several years, but have not set a goal to meet.

At a meeting with reporters at Tweed Courthouse today, Deputy Chancellor John White called the new rubric “a culture shift.”

“This is a culture shift away from guesswork and toward rigorous decisions based on evidence,” he said. “If we’re going to offer someone a lifetime job, we had better be sure that that teacher is going to be effective for a long time.”

Chief Schools Officer Eric Nadelstern said the city is hoping that the pressure on principals to boost their students’ performance will lead them to take the new rubric seriously.

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said that if the new rubric is a culture shift, it’s a long time coming.

“Every time the DOE needs a cheap headline, they make some pronouncement about teacher tenure, conveniently ignoring the fact that the process for granting tenure has always been within the DOE and the Chancellor’s control,” he said. “We’ll be reviewing this latest process with the hope that it can help solve the system’s real problem — the huge numbers of teachers who leave of their own accord before their probationary period ends.”

The city is also trying to make tenure harder to earn by giving principals hiring incentives if they deny it. Principals looking to fill a position vacated by a teacher who has been denied tenure will be freed from the city’s hiring freeze and will be able to hire teachers who are new to the city’s schools.

The memo that the city is sending to school support networks and principals explaining the changes is below, followed by the rubric that will guide tenure decisions.

Teacher Tenure Decision-Making 2010-11

We know that the most significant factor in a student’s performance is the quality of his or her teacher. Yet, currently, we have few ways to recognize outstanding teaching. Unlike professions where mastery is rewarded with accolades, growth opportunities, and additional compensation, teaching is still organized like a factory model – with teachers rewarded primarily for longevity, regardless of effectiveness.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the tenure decision-making process. For too long, we have granted the same tenure distinction to our most effective teachers as we have to our least effective. Along the way, we have forgotten that tenure is actually a high honor: a commitment for life, awarded to those who have demonstrated they can perform at a high level for the duration of a career. Our current approach demeans the teaching profession and does nothing to help our kids.

Last month, Mayor Bloomberg laid out a new vision for how tenure is granted to teachers. From now on, only teachers who demonstrate significant professional skill and meaningful, positive impact on student learning will receive lifetime employment. The City will transform the awarding of tenure from a right, granted practically by default, to an honor bestowed upon our outstanding teachers. We will reconceive how tenure decisions are made and introduce a set of tools intended to establish tenure as a distinction to be earned. Improvements include: (1) introduction of a 4-point effectiveness framework for use in decision-making; (2) expanded performance data for probationary teachers; (3) streamlined decision-making; and (4) a set of hiring policies aligned to our tenure objectives.

More broadly, this new approach is intended to help schools build a culture where teachers receive regular feedback and support for their professional growth; and to establish the tenure decision as a milestone in every teacher’s development. The DOE will ask that schools take this opportunity to implement what many successful principals already do as standard practice: meet personally with each tenure-eligible teacher to review his or her work well in advance of the tenure decision. These conversations provide needed support for teachers up for tenure and an opportunity to personally acknowledge strong performance.

This memorandum provides further information about the tools and policies that will apply to the teachers in your school who are up for tenure this year.

TENURE POLICY AND IMPLEMENTATION

1. 4-point Effectiveness Framework

For the first time, a 4-point effectiveness framework will be used to aid in making tenure decisions. The framework measures teacher practice along multiple dimensions – impact on student learning, instructional practice, and professional contributions – and requires multiple measures of each over more than two academic years in order to demonstrate effectiveness. Additionally, special consideration will be given to gains demonstrated with special populations, including Special Education students, English Language Learners, and students who are over-age and under-credited. A copy of the framework is attached to this document.

2. Expanded Data

The Tenure Notification System (TNS) will provide principals with centrally available data on their probationary teachers, including the following indicators:

§  previous U-rating

§  poor attendance

§  particularly strong or weak teacher data report indicators

§  ATR status

§  limited time teaching at their current school (less than 1 school year)

§  probation previously extended

To assist superintendents, additional data will be available to manage tenure decisions, including:

§  duration of principal tenure in building

§  school QR scores

§  school PR scores

3. Clear Steps for Tenure Decision-Making

In January, principals will be asked to enter an early (preliminary) recommendation using the 4-point framework for probationary teachers whose tenure decisions are due in May and June.

When principals enter final recommendations in TNS, they will (1) provide feedback using the 4-point framework and (2) using a new Tenure Recommendation Form, they will be required to provide a rationale for their tenure recommendation, explaining the evidence they’ve collected which led to the recommendation of granting or denying tenure, or offering an extension of probation. As in the past, principals will enter their final recommendations in the Tenure Notification System (TNS), and Superintendents will review principal recommendations and issue final decisions.

4. Improve Hiring Policies

In an effort to ensure that tenure recommendations are made based on a teachers’ ability to positively impact their students’ educational outcomes and their contributions to the school, the following incentives have been put in place:

§  In the past, principals may have resisted denying or extending tenure because of a fear of creating a vacancy that could not be filled with a newly hired teacher of their choice. This year, principals who deny tenure (or discontinue prior to denial) can backfill the position with a teacher new to the system, provided that (1) the school has the FY 2011 budget to afford a teacher in the position and (2) there is not a layoff condition making implementation impossible under legal and contractual rules.*

§  If schools are compelled to excess teachers for whom they have recently granted tenure, networks and then clusters are responsible for identifying an appropriate placement for that teacher.

NEXT STEPS:

  • Principals can access a current list of probationary teachers with upcoming tenure decisions via TNS and will be able to produce one-touch data reports for those teachers through TNS starting in January
  • As outlined above, principals will be asked to make preliminary recommendations of effectiveness using the attached 4-point framework (for teachers whose tenure decisions are due in May and June starting in January.)
  • Schools should work directly with their CFN to implement the policies described in this memo.
  • Training materials will be available beginning in mid-December.

*This applies only to vacancies in the same grade and subject as the one held by the denied employee.

Busing Ban

As school districts push for integration, decades-old federal rule could thwart them

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
Several districts across the country want to use federal money to pay for school buses as part of their desegregation plans. A federal spending restriction could get in the way.

In Florida, officials plan to use federal money to shuttle students across vast Miami-Dade County to new science-themed magnet programs in a bid to desegregate several schools.

In South Carolina, a tiny district west of Myrtle Beach intends to spend federal funds on free busing for families who enroll at two predominantly black schools, hoping that will draw in white and Hispanic students.

And in New York, state officials want to deploy federal school-improvement money to help integrate struggling schools, believing that may be the secret to their rebirth.

But each of these fledgling integration efforts — and similar ones across the country — could be imperiled by obscure budget provisions written during the anti-busing backlash of the 1970s, which prohibit using federal funding for student transportation aimed at racial desegregation. The rules have been embedded in every education spending bill since at least 1974, as Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia pointed out in September when he tried unsuccessfully to remove the provisions from the latest appropriations bill.

The rules are “a relic of an ugly history when states and school districts across the nation resisted meaningful integration,” said Scott, the top Democrat on the House education committee, during a floor speech where he called the persistence of the rules “morally reprehensible.”

After Scott’s amendment to eliminate the provisions was blocked, advocates are now working behind the scenes to convince members of the Senate from both parties to strike the rules from the latest spending bill during negotiations. More than 40 integration advocates and experts have signed onto a letter to lawmakers calling for the anti-busing language to be removed, and members of that coalition plan to meet with lawmakers in the coming days.

Advocates are especially worried about funding for magnet programs, like those in Miami and the South Carolina district, which rely on special science or art offerings or rigorous academic courses to draw students of different races into the same school — a choice-based approach that has become the primary way districts now pursue desegregation.

This is the first year districts that receive federal magnet-school grants are allowed to spend some of that money on transportation, after Congress changed the rules as part of its education-law overhaul in 2015. Among the 32 districts that received a total of nearly $92 million in magnet grants this year, at least six plan to use some of that money for transportation, according to their applications.

Now, just as those funds are about to flow to busing — which many families insist upon before they will enroll their children in magnet schools across town — the decades-old spending restriction could cut them off, advocates warn.

That could create a major problem for districts like Miami-Dade County.

It hopes to attract students from across the district to three heavily black and Hispanic schools by launching magnet programs that focus on zoology, cybersecurity, and mobile-app development, according to its application. To pull that off, it requested $245,000 for buses next year since, as the application notes, the “most limiting factor” for many families is “the cost associated with transporting their child to the magnet school.”

The district in Lake City, South Carolina wants to pull new families from different neighborhoods into an elementary school and a middle school that suffer from sagging enrollment and intense poverty. Previous recruitment efforts that didn’t provide transportation amounted to “failed attempts,” the district said in its application.

However, if the anti-busing provisions are not removed from the next federal spending bill, they would cancel out the new rule allowing those districts to spend some of their magnet money on transportation (though districts could still use local funds to fill in the gap). As such, magnet-school representatives are pushing hard for lawmakers to remove the provisions during budget negotiations.

“We’re hoping this doesn’t see the light of day,” said John Laughner, legislative and communications manager at Magnet Schools of America, an association of magnets from across the country. He plans to discuss the issue with lawmakers next week.

Beyond magnet schools, other desegregation efforts could be undercut by the anti-busing provision, which was included in a spending bill for fiscal year 2018 that the House approved and one the Senate has yet to vote on.

At least one state — New York — listed socioeconomic and racial integration among the ways it could intervene in low-performing schools under the new federal education law. In addition, New York officials announced a grant program this week where up to 30 districts will receive federal money to develop integration plans.

Advocates fear the anti-busing rule could disrupt any of those plans that require transportation and aim to reduce racial segregation. (New York education officials said they did not want to speculate on the impact of a spending bill that hasn’t been approved.)

A Democratic Congressional aide who has studied the issue said the provision could even block federal funding for planning or public outreach around desegregation programs that involve busing, not just busing itself.

Either way, advocates say the provision could dissuade districts from using the new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, to pursue integration — even though research suggests that student achievement on tests and other measures improve when they attend less segregated schools.

“We shouldn’t have this,” said Philip Tegeler, a member of the National Coalition on School Diversity, which is leading the charge to remove the restriction. He added that the provision stemmed from mandatory desegregation busing of an earlier era: “It’s clearly an anachronism that doesn’t really fit any more with what states and districts are doing voluntarily.”

A U.S. education department spokeswoman said Secretary Betsy DeVos would be bound to enforce any funding prohibitions that Congress approves, though she noted that state and local funds are not subject to the same restrictions.

Negotiators from the House and Senate must still agree on a single spending bill, which would go before the full Congress for a vote. Until then, lawmakers have voted to temporarily extend 2017 spending levels through December. It’s possible Congress will pass another extension then, meaning a final deal — and a decision on the anti-busing language — may not arrive until early next year.

In the meantime, advocates are pressing lawmakers like Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee who helped craft ESSA, with the argument that the anti-busing provision limits the flexibility and local control the law was meant to provide districts.

Margaret Atkinson, a spokeswoman for the senator, would not say whether he is open to removing the provision, but said he would continue working to ensure ESSA “is implemented as Congress intended.”

The anti-busing language — found in two sections of the current appropriation bills — prohibits using federal funds for transportation “to overcome racial imbalance” or “to carry out a plan of racial desegregation,” or forcing students to attend any school other than the one closest to home. (A separate education law contains a similar restriction, but ESSA exempted magnet schools from it.) The provisions emerged in the early 1970s, just after the Supreme Court ruled that busing students to schools outside their own racially isolated neighborhoods was an appropriate tool for school desegregation.

At the time, many white parents raged against what they called “forced busing.” In response, the U.S. House of Representatives passed at least one law annually from 1966 to 1977 meant to curb school integration, according to historian Jason Sokol, and in 1974 the full Congress voted in favor of an anti-busing amendment to an education bill. The restrictions in the current spending bills appear to have originated around the same time.

The attacks on busing reflect how crucial free transportation is to school desegregation, said Erica Frankenberg, a professor at Pennsylvania State University who studies segregation. Busing was included in guidelines outlining how districts should comply with desegregation requirements in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and later upheld by the Supreme Court, she pointed out.

More recently, studies have shown that non-white parents are more likely to opt into magnet schools when they provide transportation, and that magnets that don’t offer busing are more likely to enroll students of a single race, Frankenberg said. Yet, many politicians remain reluctant to endorse busing for desegregation — which may reflect a deeper ambivalence, she added.

Resistance to busing, she said, “is a very politically acceptable way to be opposed to integration.”

Yes and No

In a first, New York officials reject 2 proposed charter schools, but sign off on 5 for New York City

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Charter-school advocates staged a rally outside the state capitol building 2015.

New York’s top education policymakers voted Monday to approve five new charter schools in New York City – but, for the first time, rejected two proposed charters.

The moves by the state Board of Regents sent a mixed message on charter schools. While the Regents have approved more this year than at any point since 2013, the rejections suggest they won’t rubber stamp applications – even those, like the two shot down Monday, that have earned the state education department’s blessing.

Four of the approved schools will be based in the Bronx, and one in Staten Island. (Technically, Monday’s vote is preliminary and the board must finalize its decision at Tuesday’s full-board meeting.)

A new charter high school on Staten Island plans to enroll a significant number of students with disabilities — an area of great need in a borough where a quarter of students have some disability. Students will have the opportunity to graduate with as many as 60 college credits through a partnership with St. John’s University.

The Bronx charters include a new elementary school that will serve high-functioning students on the autism spectrum, an all-boys middle school inspired by an Obama-era program aimed at uplifting young men of color, and a high school for students who have fallen behind academically.

The final Bronx school is KIPP Freedom, slated to open in 2018, which will mark the first time the national network has opened a new school in New York City in six years.

“The community has tremendous support for the charter,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa about KIPP, who suggested the school could even help reduce segregation if sited in the right location.

The two schools the board rejected would have been located in districts in Mount Vernon, in Westchester County, and Homer, in upstate New York.

Board members raised concerns about the applications, including that their curriculums were not very innovative. They also worried that the schools would drain resources from their surrounding districts, potentially forcing them to cut extracurricular programs from traditional schools.

Regent Judith Johnson, who represents the Mount Vernon district, expressed concern that the school only planned to serve students grades 6-8, while the district is moving towards a model that keeps children in the same school from kindergarten through eighth grade. She suggested waiting to see how the district’s efforts pan out.

“I would suggest this is premature,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to support this at this time.”

The vote comes as top state officials have been skeptical of charter schools and policies regulating them.

At past meetings, Regents have wondered aloud whether the schools are serving their fair share of high-needs students. And Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia have been on a warpath against a new policy that will allow some charter schools to certify their own teachers.

However, those concerns have not stopped the Regents from approving new charter schools. During a low point for approvals in 2015, when the state approved only four charters, few applications made it past the education department’s vetting process and to the board for final approval.

Since then, there has been a steady uptick in approvals. The board signed off on seven new schools last year, and is set to approve at least eight this year. (The board, which typically accepts applications in two or three rounds each year, approved three schools earlier this year.)

State education department officials on Monday also presented new ways to evaluate charter schools and decide whether they should remain open, based on proposals that the Board of Regents floated last month.

The additions to the state’s “Charter School Performance Framework” could include measures of student chronic absenteeism, the schools’ suspension rates, and the results of student and staff surveys. In previous meetings, Regents have also suggested surveying families who decide to leave charter schools.

Charter schools are already required to meet certain enrollment and retention targets, or to make “good faith efforts” to reach them. The state also considers the quality of a school’s curriculum and its outreach to families.

At Monday’s meeting, some Regents proposed adding yet another measure: whether charter schools are sharing innovative practices with the district schools.

“If the original intent [of charter schools] was to create opportunity for innovation,” said Regent Johnson, “we have to decide now, after those twenty plus years, did that happen?”