on tape

For 20 percent of city teachers, observations come after a film screening

A video still shot of Danielle Lerro's English language arts class at I.S. 303 in the South Bronx. Lerro and Assistant Principal Monica Brady will be discussing how video can enhance the classroom observation process at a Feb. 25 event hosted by Chalkbeat New York and New America NYC.

As one of just two people certified to do classroom observations at I.S. 303, Assistant Principal Monica Brady’s workload is getting pretty backed up.

She and the principal together must observe the South Bronx middle school’s 29 teachers 174 times as part of their new teacher evaluation plans.

“I’m fairly behind on getting mine all done,” Brady said. “There’s just not enough hours in the day.”

But Brady has a plan to catch up. All of the teachers at I.S. 303 allowed administrators to film their lessons, so she can watch the tapes later rather than see them teach in person.

It’s a tool that 20 percent of city teachers opted into this year, the first under new evaluation rules that require many more observations than in the past. Brady and Danielle Lerro, one of her teachers, will be discussing how they use video in observations at a panel discussion that we’re co-hosting Feb. 25 with New America NYC. (RSVP for a free seat here.)

New York City is one of just 10 districts in the state to offer the video option for teachers, according to the State Education Department. City officials said one in five teachers authorized their administrators to film their classes.

The option was made available in the city’s evaluation plan imposed last year by State Education Commissioner John King, who has encouraged the use of video as a way to provide good feedback to teachers about their instruction. State law requires subjective measures such as observations to count for 60 percent of each teacher’s evaluation, and King required city administrators to rate teachers on all 22 elements of the Danielson Framework for Teaching.

King also gave teachers a choice between having one pre-announced period-length observation and three shorter ones, or at least six shorter and less formal observations.

At I.S. 303, all teachers chose the second option. But they soon saw that pulling it off would be logistically complicated.

“We realized it was really impossible to expect them to get into the classroom six times over the course of the year,” said Lerro, an eighth-grade English language arts teacher.

The United Federation of Teachers supports the observation-by-video option as long as teachers sign off on it beforehand. The union also prefers that teachers give consent when their classes are used to provide feedback, not inform an observation.

Brady and Lerro said using video as part of classroom observations, even for high-stakes evaluative purposes, is promising for more reasons than just saving time. I.S. 303 has taped dozens of hours of instruction in recent years to help teachers reflect on their own work and improve.

“When you’re viewing yourself, that can be really helpful,” Lerro said.

Brady said she’s able to pick up on more, because she can watch the tapes multiple times and notice different aspects of the class and the teacher’s instruction each time.

And having an objective record of a class is helpful when administrators and teachers debrief afterwards, she said, because their impressions of the class can often differ.

“You and I can see things very differently,” Brady said of how real-time perceptions inside a classroom differ. One person could see evidence of high engagement, something that the Danielson Framework demands, in a class where students eagerly raise their hands and shout out answers, she said. But another person might see the same class and think that the teacher struggled with classroom management.

Lerro said one reason that using video has worked at I.S. 303 is because teachers and administrators have a strong relationship already. And she said that since the school had been using video for its professional development for years, opting into using it for high-stakes teacher evaluations was not a big concern.

“People felt comfortable because they felt real trust with the administration,” Lerro said. “They know that the evaluations are being used to really make us better.”

And Brady said the time-saving appeal of using video instead of observing classes in person does result in some loss. “The best of both worlds,” she said, would be if administrators were present in the classroom for the observation and taped it at the same time, enabling both the administrator and teacher to use the footage to confirm or revise their first impressions about how the lesson went.

And Brady said video can be limiting for another reason: While videotaped lessons allow observers to see clearly what the teacher is doing, the camera’s placement in the back of the classroom makes it hard to tell how students are reacting.

“You can’t see if they’re having an ‘Aha!’ moment,” she said.

Election Forum

Tennesseans are about to get their first good look at candidates for governor on education

PHOTO: TN.gov
Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen speaks as his successor, Gov. Bill Haslam, listens during a 2017 forum hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. Tennesseans will elect their next governor in November.

For almost 16 years, two Tennessee governors from two different political parties have worked off mostly the same playbook when it comes to K-12 education.

This year, voters will choose a new governor who will determine if that playbook stays intact — or takes a different direction from the administrations of Bill Haslam, a Republican leaving office next January, and Phil Bredesen, the Democrat who preceded him.

Voters will get to hear from all but one of the major candidates Tuesday evening during the first gubernatorial forum televised statewide. Organizers say the spotlight on education is fitting since, based on one poll, it’s considered one of the top three issues facing Tennessee’s next governor. Both K-12 and higher education are on the table.

Candidates participating are:

  • Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet and former Tennessee state senator;
  • Randy Boyd, a Republican from Knoxville and former commissioner of Economic and Community Development and a Republican from Knoxville;
  • Karl Dean, a Democrat and former mayor of Nashville;
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat from Ripley and minority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Rep. Beth Harwell, a Republican from Nashville and speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Bill Lee, a Republican businessman from Williamson County

The seventh major candidate, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Republican from Gallatin, is in the midst of a congressional session in Washington, D.C.

The next governor will help decide whether Tennessee will stay the course under its massive overhaul of K-12 education initiated under Bredesen’s watch. The work was jump-started by the state’s $500 million federal Race to the Top award, for which Tennessee agreed to adopt the Common Core academic standards for math and English; incorporate students’ scores from standardized tests in annual teacher evaluations; and establish a state-run turnaround district to intervene in low-performing schools at an unprecedented level.

Tennessee has since enjoyed steady student growth and watched its national rankings rise, but the transition hasn’t been pain-free. Pushback on its heavy-handed turnaround district led to changes in school improvement strategies. Leaders also ordered new academic standards due to political backlash over the Common Core (though the revised standards are still basically grounded in Common Core).

A major issue now is whether the next governor and legislature will retain Tennessee’s across-the-board system of accountability for students, teachers, schools and districts. Snafus and outright failures with TNReady, the new standardized test that serves as the lynchpin, have prompted some calls to make the assessment just a diagnostic tool or scrap it altogether. Haslam and his leadership team have stood firm.

“We as Tennesseans made the right call — the tough call — on the policies we’ve pursued,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told Chalkbeat recently. “Nearly every other state has compromised in some way on some of these core foundational components of policy work, and we have not.”

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, an advocacy group that works closely with Tennessee’s Department of Education, is a co-host of Tuesday’s forum. Known as SCORE, the group has sought to shape the election-year conversation with priorities that include teacher quality, improving literacy, and developing school leaders — all outgrowths of learnings during Tennessee’s Race to the Top era.

SCORE President David Mansouri said the goal is to maintain the momentum of historic gains in student achievement from the last decade. “The next administration’s education policy decisions will be crucial in determining whether Tennessee students continue to progress faster than students in other states and whether they graduate ready for postsecondary success,” he said Monday.

The one-hour forum will delve into a range of issues. College and career readiness, education equity, and school funding will be among the topics broached before each candidate is allowed a one-minute closing statement, according to David Plazas, a Tennessean editor who will help moderate the discussion.

“It will be really exciting,” Plazas promised. “We’re hoping the candidates are prepared to talk substantively on the issues and to avoid slogans.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. CT at Nashville’s Belmont University. Along with SCORE, it’s being co-hosted by USA TODAY NETWORK and Nashville’s NewsChannel 5. You can livestream the event here and learn more about attending or watching here.

Tennessee’s primary election is set for Aug. 2, with the general election on Nov. 6.

teacher prep

Tennessee’s mediocre teacher training programs prompt ‘interventions’ with university presidents

PHOTO: Austin Peay
Austin Peay State University in Clarksville is among four Tennessee schools that have undergone "interventions" with state officials over the quality of their teacher training programs.

Armed with sobering data about the performance of teacher training programs in Tennessee, state officials are holding meetings with top brass at universities where they say programs have grown out of touch with the needs of K-12 classrooms.

About 40 programs in Tennessee feed the state’s teacher pipeline with about 4,000 new teachers annually. The largest are based at colleges and universities.

But those same traditional programs generally aren’t attracting enough high-quality candidates or producing enough effective or diverse teachers. Not a single public university in Tennessee scored in the top fifth of teacher training programs under a state report card issued in 2016. And the outlook isn’t expected to improve much under the 2017 report card being released early next month, officials say.

“This data is sobering. It tells us that higher education must do better,” said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “I worry our higher education faculty in colleges of education get disconnected from what a K-12 classroom looks like.”

Krause outlined the challenges to state lawmakers during a presentation on Tuesday with Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Their first “intervention meetings” were with the presidents and education deans at four universities: Austin Peay, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee-Martin, and Tennessee Tech. Similar meetings are scheduled this spring with leadership of private colleges and universities across the state.

Krause described the first meetings as “very productive” — and illuminating. “In many cases, the presidents just didn’t know” about their programs’ shortcomings, he said.

Teacher quality is considered a driving factor in students’ success, making the quality of teacher preparation programs a front-burner issue in Tennessee.  A 2016 report said only a handful of the state’s programs are consistently preparing teachers to improve student achievement based on Tennessee’s TVAAS measure. The State Board’s new grading system also highlighted weaknesses based on racial diversity, candidates’ ACT scores, and whether they are producing teachers for high-need areas such as special education.

Reading instruction is another big challenge. In a state where only a third of students are considered proficient in reading, new teachers are arriving in classrooms ill-prepared to instruct students on Tennessee’s new reading standards. The state is working with higher education institutions so their faculty can take the same professional development on literacy that working teachers are taking.

But for the most part, the State Board has limited levers for improving the quality of teacher prep. The biggest hammer comes every seven years when each program undergoes a comprehensive review for licensure. (In 2014, the state raised its standards and revised its measures for effectiveness to include data such as placement, retention and employer satisfaction.)

Chancellor Keith Carver

Tennessee-Martin Chancellor Keith Carver said his school took its last state report card to heart. As a result of its overall score of 2 out of a possible 4, the university hired an assessment coordinator to help guide decisions based on data. “It’s a really good baseline for improving,” he said of the report card. “We’ve got some work to do in our diversity profile.”

Tennessee’s teacher candidates are overwhelmingly white and female. Of those who completed Tennessee’s programs in 2016, only 14 percent identified themselves as non-white, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population.

“Colleges of education will not stumble into diversity. There has to be a very intentional effort,” Krause said.

View the full presentation from Tuesday’s legislative hearing below.