the rating game

Report: Low-rated teachers more often work with poor students

A new report by the advocacy group StudentsFirstNY found that low-rated teachers work more often in high-poverty schools. The group presented its findings outside City Hall.

The poorer a school’s students are, the more likely they are to be taught by low-rated teachers.

That’s the conclusion of a new report by the education advocacy group StudentsFirstNY. The group, which is critical of the city’s current teacher evaluation system, looked at ratings given to 65,527 teachers during the 2011-2012 school year and found that the low-rated teachers disproportionately worked in schools with high concentrations of poor students.

At schools with relatively few poor students, 1.14 percent of teachers received low ratings last year, according to the report. But at schools where more than 85 percent of students are considered poor, 3.9 percent did.

The inequities were even more pronounced when comparing schools with different demographics. At schools where fewer than a quarter of students are black or Hispanic, just 1.06 percent of teachers got low ratings. At schools where almost all students are black or Hispanic, that figure was 4.13 percent.

The report says the findings support StudentsFirstNY’s position that new teacher evaluations are needed in New York State.

The group has panned the current evaluation system, in which teachers can score either “unsatisfactory” or “satisfactory,” though it used ratings issued under the system for the new report. It is among those pressing the teachers union to make concessions so the city can adopt new evaluations by Jan. 17 and avoid losing $250 million in state aid.

“This report highlights the utter failure of New York City schools to provide quality teachers to those students who need them most,” said Executive Director Micah Lasher, who left the Bloomberg administration last year to start StudentsFirstNY. “A successful deal to implement a meaningful teacher evaluation system is a necessary first step toward righting that wrong.”

The report makes 10 recommendations, mostly aimed at making it easier for schools to hire, fire, and reward teachers more easily.

According to a coalition formed to counter StudentsFirstNY’s influence in the city’s mayoral race, New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, blame for the skew in teacher ratings across schools lies elsewhere.

“The inequitable distribution of quality teachers is the result of Mayor Bloomberg’s refusal to provide adequate support and professional development to teachers,” said Zakiyah Ansari, a spokeswoman, in a statement. “Teacher evaluations and paying for test score performance will not solve the problem.”

Indeed, a new evaluation system that complies with the current state law would not allow the city to act on the report’s findings. It would not allow districts to remove low-scoring teachers any faster: Teachers will still have to have two straight low ratings to face termination. It also won’t redistribute teachers among schools — although a feature of the “value-added” algorithm that will be used to generate part of each rating might make it look like that has happened.

At a press conference outside City Hall this morning to unveil the report, Lasher said that while new evaluations are not a panacea, they are a necessary first step if the city wants to tackle inequities in the way teachers are distributed among schools.

“First we need to get a clear and robust picture [of teacher quality] in all schools,” he said. “New evaluations give more texture and feedback.”

The number of unsatisfactory ratings handed out each year has increased under Mayor Bloomberg, who has aggressively sought to replace the city’s lowest-performing educators. U-rated teachers were more than four times more likely to leave the school system after receiving their ratings last year than teachers rated satisfactory, according to city data.

StudentsFirstNY’s complete “Unsatisfactory” report is below:

SFNY Unsatisfactory Report by

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.


Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.