Ratings Reduction

Fariña floats possible evaluations fix that would require UFT reversal

The city schools chief has floated an idea to simplify the complex new teacher evaluation system, but carrying it out would require a major concession from the teachers union.

When the union and city were negotiating teacher evaluations in recent years, one of the many sticking points was how many factors teachers should be rated on when their classes are observed.

The union wanted teachers to be scored on all 22 components of a teacher-effectiveness rubric, while the city pushed for just seven of the rubric components. Ultimately, the state intervened last year and insisted on 22 components.

Now, well into the city’s first year under the new system, many principals report feeling swamped by all their rating duties, and some teachers wonder how fairly they will be rated on all those measures.

Enter new Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, a former principal committed to lifting unnecessary burdens from school leaders. At a private meeting with administrators in January, she raised the idea of greatly reducing the number of rubric components that principals and other evaluators have to rate teachers on, according to several people at the meeting.

To get state approval for that change for next school year, the United Federation of Teachers would need to sign off on it. That would mark a significant reversal for the union — but perhaps a palatable trade-off as it seeks billions in back pay and raises in the ongoing contract negotiations with the city.

Meanwhile, the change would undoubtedly cheer school leaders who have struggled to observe each of their teachers multiple times this year and rate them on the nearly two dozen components as required by the new system.

“I’m way behind,” said William Frackelton, principal of Soundview Academy for Culture and Scholarship in the Bronx, who supports the 22-component rubric in theory. “But in practice, how manageable is it? It’s a beast.”

At a meeting in late January with district superintendents and school-support network leaders, Fariña spoke about the need to support overburdened principals, according to several attendees. She suggested one way to do that would be to pare down the 22 instructional components that principals must observe and rate.

“She said, ‘That’s too many, we need to get it down,’” said Alan Dichter, a network leader. He added that he took Fariña’s comment as an “intention,” not a firm commitment.

The component question has not gone away since that meeting. At a conference for new principals Saturday, a veteran principal leading a workshop on evaluations said there could be fewer components in the future, but that the city is still discussing the matter with the teachers union, according to a principal who attended the workshop.

“Something good is cooking,” said the attendee, who requested anonymity because she had not been authorized to discuss the private training.

The state education commissioner imposed the new evaluation system last summer after a long city-union tussle over the details. Under it, 60 percent of teachers’ ratings come from subjective measures, including observations by administrators.

To rate teachers’ performance, principals or other evaluators must use a rubric known as the Danielson Framework. The rubric is divided into four “domains” of teaching: planning; classroom environment, which includes managing student behavior; instruction; and professional duties, such as communicating with parents and keeping records. Those domains are then broken down into 22 narrower components, such as cultivating a respectful classroom culture and sparking rich class discussions.

In its written submission for the state arbitration hearing, the UFT argued that the full 22 components are “essential” to measure the complexity of teaching. What it didn’t say, but what many read into the UFT’s position paper, was that requiring all 22 components could protect low-rated teachers from consequences that include firing: More components mean more potential points a teacher could contest if given a poor rating.

The city education department argued that teachers could be fairly rated using just seven Danielson components. It pointed to research that shows complex rubrics can overwhelm evaluators, leading them to rate disparate components similarly. It also noted that the city had used seven components during an evaluation pilot program. It cited evidence that the pilot ratings were accurate and that 93 percent of school leaders in the program said the seven components provided enough data to make fair assessments.

State Education Commissioner John King sided with the union on the issue of components, ruling that the Danielson rubric was “validated and was designed to be used in its entirety.”

As a result, New York City principals must rate teachers annually on all 22 components, for which they can use both observations and other evidence, such as teacher-created lessons and tests.

Many principals and other administrators have struggled to observe each teacher the required number of times, document their ratings and evidence, and give teachers feedback.

Frackelton, the Bronx principal, and an assistant principal must observe and rate 30 teachers. He said some school leaders respond to that pressure by filling in “cookie-cutter” explanations of their ratings on multiple teachers’ forms. He said he avoids using such stock language only by working on the forms until 10 p.m. some nights and on Saturdays.

“It’s really a lot of work to do it well,” he said.

The schools in the city’s evaluation pilot program did not expect to jump from seven to 22 rubric components when the official system launched this year, said Thandi Center, New York City director for the New Teacher Center, which was one of the city’s lead partners in the pilot. She said many principals have complained the new system “isn’t doable,” and teachers have expressed concern about the “credibility” of their ratings.

“I just think it’s untenable to introduce 22 components and expect it to be done well consistently,” Center said.

Phil Weinberg, the education department’s new deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, acknowledged principals’ concerns about the evaluations in a letter last week. He offered them advice for “reducing evaluator burden” and announced a survey and “listening tour” next month where the city will collect feedback from principals about evaluations. He also urged principals struggling to rate all their teachers before the June deadline to contact their support networks “immediately.”

If the city and union were to agree on an evaluation change for next year, they would have to jointly submit a request to the state.

If they ask to rate teachers on fewer rubric components, they would need to prove that all four domains will still be assessed and that the “integrity of the rubric” is preserved, said Julia Rafal-Baer, executive director of the state education department’s Office of Teacher and Leader Effectiveness.

She noted that some districts have approved evaluation plans that guarantee all Danielson domains will be assessed, but not all 22 components will be rated. For example, Webster Central School District’s plan says any observed components can be rated, but only seven specific components absolutely must be rated.

Rafal-Baer added that it would be “interesting” if the city teachers union agreed to fewer components, since the UFT “really felt very strongly about having all 22 components” when it pitched its evaluation plan last year to the state.

The union is currently pushing for more than $3 billion in back pay in contract negotiations with the city, along with a pay hike for the future. Teacher evaluations are part of those negotiations, and the UFT could potentially use a component-number change as a bargaining chip.

A UFT spokesperson declined to comment, citing the union’s policy to avoid public negotiations.

A city Department of Education spokesman declined to comment on Fariña’s remarks or possible evaluation changes, saying the city’s focus is on “improving classroom instruction.”

“Through meaningful observations and feedback under the evaluation system, it’s our goal to help educators hone their craft,” said the spokesman, Devon Puglia.

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 leaders to widen school improvement strategies. They 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.