Future of Teaching

Changes to teacher pay and promotion on the table for IPS

In March, more than 150 IPS teachers assembled teacher compensation plans for a fictional school district from a variety of policy options as part of a TeachPlus event. (Scott Elliott)

The Indianapolis Public School Board is considering undertaking a two-year process to overhaul how it evaluates, pays and promotes teachers.

The broad concepts of how it might work were presented to the board at a retreat this morning at Cold Spring School by board member Caitlin Hannon and Deputy Superintendent Wanda Legrand. The plan, called Project Elevate, is still being developed but initial estimates suggested it could involve up to three consultants and cost $2.5 million.

The hope is that IPS will get philanthropic help to cover some, if not most, of that cost, however. Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said he would recommend the board pay for the $274,000 first phase, which would be undertaken this summer.

The name Project Elevate is meant to suggest it will “elevate” teaching in the district. That money would pay for outside support on two immediate needs: reworking a broken teacher evaluation system that Ferebee described as “convoluted” and preparing to negotiate at least the first steps in a new pay model for teachers.

“I feel strongly about this,” Ferebee said. “If you don’t develop teachers they won’t get better.”

Ferebee has been critical of IPS’s evaluation results — more than 93 percent of teachers who were rated were certified as effective — saying the process did a poor job identifying where teachers need to improve. That has made it difficult to determine what sorts of training to offer and to identify which teachers need what training, he said.

“We can’t plan effective professional development because (evaluations said) everybody doesn’t have a need to grow,” he said.

Hannon and Legrand proposed hiring IUPUI to help redesign the evaluation system. Among the goals would be more teacher input in how the process works.

“Teachers felt it was something that was done to them instead of with them,” Ferebee said of the process IPS followed this year.

On teacher pay, Ferebee and several board members have said in recent months they want to restructure the district’s compensation system so that teachers receive raises more regularly, perhaps with additional performance-based rewards.

But those desires come with challenges.

Even a modest 2 percent pay raise for all teachers, Ferebee said, would add as much as $4 million in annual spending for IPS, a figure that could be difficult to sustain, even before the idea of extra incentive pay is considered.

To make raises and incentives more affordable, IPS will face a bigger challenge: redesigning the pay system and reallocating funds to support the new approach. The board also can’t go it alone. Negotiations on a new labor contract with the teachers union, which will make its own proposals for how teachers should be evaluated and paid, begin in August.

To prepare for those talks, Project Elevate proposes IPS bring in a consultant Hannon worked with in March in her role as execute director of TeachPlus, an organization that aims to get teachers involved in policy making.

Nearly 150 IPS educators came to a Teach Plus-sponsored event run by Education Resource Strategies, a Boston-based non-profit that consults with school districts to help them better utilize their resources, that was something of a crash course in budget making.

For that exercise, teachers in small groups were given cards with a series of policy choices — such as maintaining the union-backed “step” system of annual raises based on experience or new ideas like paying bonuses to the highest rated teachers — with price tags attached. Each group had to mix and match the policy options to assemble a compensation plan that fit within the fictional district’s budget over 10 years.

It proved an eye-opening challenge for many of the groups. ERS would reprise elements of that activity with the board to help them think through ways they might propose to restructure teacher pay.

“I want us to be well equipped when we enter the bargaining table this summer,” Ferebee said.

The long term goal would be to refine the compensation plan in the 2015-16 school year and bring in a third consultant, North Carolina-based Public Impact, to plan for better use of technology in the classroom and to craft new roles for teachers, including teacher leader positions with higher pay. Its program is called Opportunity Culture.

Public Impact is the group that worked with The Mind Trust to craft its controversial 2011 report that recommended radical changes in IPS to reduce administrative spending and redirect money and decision-making authority to schools.

Simultaneously, IPS would work toward a new, student-based approach to budgeting, under which schools would get more per-pupil aid for students with greater challenges and more autonomy for how to use those funds.

“We would put ourselves in a place, in 2016-17, to have 18 to 24 schools that have explicit teacher leadership opportunities or autonomy,” Hannon said. “I’m hopeful that the district is willing to make the initial investment.”

If so, Hannon said she would lead an effort to seek foundation grants to pay for as much of the cost of the second and third phases of process as possible.

“I think there is a huge opportunity for fundraising,” she said.

The combination of better evaluation, performance incentives, changes in the budgeting process and new teacher advancement opportunities could help IPS better compete for talent, Ferebee said.

Right now, he said, the district is handicapped by its starting pay of $35,600, which is below the county average of about $38,000 and even further behind the $40,000 and above that some districts pay new teachers.

“We’re in the same city competing with those school corporations,” he said.

Board members Sam Odle and Diane Arnold were among those who said they would be inclined to support the process Legrand and Hannon described.

“I see it as an investment,” Arnold said. “We are not going to get better if we don’t do these things.”

Hannon said discussion of Project Elevate will continue at the board’s education subcommittee meeting on June 17.

Town Hall

Hopson promises more flexibility as Memphis school leaders clear the air with teachers on new curriculum

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson answers questions from Memphis teachers at a town hall hosted by United Education Association of Shelby County on Monday.

The Shelby County Schools superintendent told passionate teachers at a union town hall Monday that they can expect more flexibility in how they teach the district’s newest curriculums.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the teachers who score highest on their evaluations should not feel like they need to read from a script to meet district requirements, although he didn’t have an immediate answer to how that would work.

Teacher frustrations were reaching a boiling point on district curriculums introduced this school year. Although the state requirements have changed several times over the last eight years, this change was particularly bothersome to teachers because they feel they are teaching to a “script.”

“Teachers have to be given the autonomy,” Hopson said. Although he cited the need for the district to have some control as teachers are learning, “at the end of the day, if you’re a level 4 or level 5 teacher, and you know your students, there needs to be some flexibility.”

Vocal teachers at the meeting cited check-ins from central office staff as evidence of the overreach.

“I keep hearing people say it’s supplemental but we have people coming into my room making sure we’re following it to a T,” said Amy Dixon a teacher at Snowden School. “We’re expected to follow it … like a script.”

The 90-minute meeting sponsored by the United Education Association of Shelby County drew a crowd of about 100 people to talk about curriculum and what Hopson called “a culture of fear” throughout the district of making a mistake.

Hopson said his team is still working on how to strike the right balance between creativity and continuity across nearly 150 district-run schools because so many students move during the school year.

He reassured despondent teachers he would come up with a plan to meet the needs of teachers and keep curriculums consistent. He said some continuity is needed across schools because many students move a lot during the school year.

“We know we got to make sure that I’m coming from Binghampton and going over to Whitehaven it’s got to be at least somewhat aligned,” he said. “I wish we were a stable, middle-class, not the poorest city in the country, then we wouldn’t have a lot of these issues.”

Ever since Tennessee’s largest district began phasing in parts of an English curriculum called Expeditionary Learning, teachers have complained of being micromanaged, instead of being able to tailor content for their students. The same goes for the new math curriculum Eureka Math.

The district’s changes are meant to line it up with the state. Tennessee’s new language arts and math standards replaced the Common Core curriculum, but in fact, did not deviate much when the final version was released last fall. This is the third change in eight years to state education requirements.

Still, Shelby County Schools cannot fully switch to the new curriculums until they are approved by the Tennessee State Board of Education. District leaders hope both curriculums, which received high marks from a national group that measures curriculum alignment to Common Core, will be added when textbooks are vetted for the 2019-20 school year.

Some urged educators to not think of the new curriculums as “scripts,” and admitted to poorly communicating the changes to teachers.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Pam Harris-Giles

“It’s not an expectation that we stand in front of our children and read off a piece of paper,” said Pam Harris-Giles, one of the district’s instructional support directors, who helps coordinate curriculum training and professional development.

Fredricka Vaughn, a teacher at Kirby High School, said that won’t be easy without clear communication of what flexibility will look like for high-performing teachers.

“If you don’t want us to use the word script, then bring back the autonomy,” she said.

Hopson stressed that the state’s largest school district could be a model for public education if everyone can work together to make the new curriculums work.

“It’s going to take work, hard work, everyone aligned from the top, everyone rowing in the same direction.”

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.