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.

Human Resources

A minimum salary for Colorado teachers? State officials may ask lawmakers to consider it.

A teacher reads to her students at the Cole Arts and Science Academy in Denver. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

As part of a broad plan to increase the volume of high-quality teachers in Colorado, state officials are considering asking lawmakers to take the bold step of establishing a minimum teacher salary requirement tied to the cost of living.

Officials from the state departments of education and higher education are finalizing a list of recommendations to address challenges to Colorado’s teacher workforce. Pressing for the legislation on teacher salaries is one of dozens of recommendations included in a draft report.

The report, assembled at the request of the legislature, also proposes a marketing campaign and scholarships to attract new teachers to rural areas.

Representatives from the Colorado Department of Education said they would not discuss the recommendations until they’re final. However, the department earlier this month briefed the State Board of Education on their proposed recommendations in advance of the Dec. 1 deadline for it to be finalized.

The impending report — based on thousands of responses from educators, students and other Colorado residents in online surveys and town halls across the state — is a sort of first step for the state legislature to tackle a problem years in the making. Since 2010, Colorado has seen a 24 percent drop in the number of college students graduating from the state’s traditional teacher colleges. There’s also been a 23 percent drop in enrollment in those programs.

Residency programs, which place graduate students in a classroom for a full year with an experienced teacher, and other alternative licensure programs have seen a 40 percent increase in enrollment. But those programs produce far fewer teachers and can’t keep up with demand.

Colorado faces a shortage of teachers in certain subjects, regions and schools, and circumstances vary. Math and science teachers are in short supply: Only 192 college students in 2016 graduated with credentials to teach those subjects. The same year, 751 students left with a degree to teach elementary school.

And rural schools have had an especially hard time finding and keeping teachers.

Here’s a look at what the state departments are considering recommending, based on the presentation from education department officials to the state board:

Provide more and better training to new — and veteran — teachers.

Colorado schools are already required to offer some sort of induction program for new teachers. This training, which lasts between two and three years, is supposed to supplement what they learned during college.

For the last two years, the state education department has been pushing school districts to update their programs. The recommendations in the report could kick things up a notch.

The education departments are asking for updated induction requirements to be written into statute and more money to be provided to districts to pay for the training.

The draft report also calls for more more sustained training for veteran teachers, including competitive grant programs.

An additional suggestion is to create a program to train teachers expressly to teach in rural classrooms.

Increase teacher compensation and benefits.

This will be a hard pill to swallow. According to the presentation to the state board, the education departments want to call on lawmakers to set a minimum salary for teachers based on the school district’s cost of living.

The presentation to the board lacked specifics on how lawmakers and school districts could accomplish this. One board member, Colorado Springs Republican Steve Durham, called it a “mistake” to include such a recommendation.

Keeping up with the rising cost of living is a challenge. A new report shows new teachers in the state’s three largest school districts couldn’t afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

“We hope the report itself is going to talk a lot the cost of living — that’s what we heard from our stakeholders across the field,” Colleen O’Neil, the education department’s executive director of educator talent told the state board. “They literally were not able to meet the cost of living because their salaries did not compensate them fairly enough to find housing.”

Other suggestions the report might highlight to improve teacher compensation include loan forgiveness, housing incentives and creating a differentiated pay scale for teachers — something teachers unions staunchly oppose.

Help schools better plan for hiring and send teachers where they’re needed.

One short-term solution the state is considering recommending is allocating more resources to help schools plan for teacher turnover. This includes providing incentives for teachers to notify school leaders about their plans to leave the classroom earlier.

The education departments are also suggesting the state increase the number of programs that can help teachers get licensed in more than one subject at a time. Other ideas include offering scholarships to potential teachers to complete licensing requirements for content areas that are lacking viable candidates — likely math and science — and providing transportation and technology stipends for rural teachers.

Make the teaching profession more attractive.

Teachers “feel they’re not treated like professionals,” O’Neil told the board. So the education departments want the legislature to allow them to partner with private entities to launch a marketing campaign to lift the profile of teaching as a career in the state.

The education departments also hope the legislature considers creating more opportunities for middle and high school students to consider teaching as a viable career path. This could include reinvigorating the state’s Educators Rising program, a program for high school students interested in teaching.

student teaching

Building a teacher pipeline: How one Aurora school has become a training ground for aspiring teachers

Paraprofessional Sonia Guzman, a student of a teaching program, works with students at Elkhart Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Students at Aurora’s Elkhart Elementary School are getting assistance from three aspiring teachers helping out in classrooms this year, part of a new partnership aimed at building a bigger and more diverse teacher pipeline.

The teachers-to-be, students at the University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education, get training and a paid job while they’re in college. Elkhart principal Ron Schumacher gets paraprofessionals with long-term goals and a possibility that they’ll be better prepared to be Aurora teachers.

For Schumacher, it’s part of a plan to not only help his school, but also others in Aurora Public Schools increase teacher retention.

“Because of the nature of our school demographics, it’s a coin flip with a new teacher,” Schumacher said. “If I lose 50 percent of my teachers over time, I’m being highly inefficient. If these ladies know what they’re getting into and I can have them prepared to be a more effective first-year teacher, there’s more likelihood that I’ll keep them in my school in the long term.”

Elkhart has about 590 students enrolled this year. According to state data from last year, more than 95 percent of the students who attend the school qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. The school, which operates with an International Baccalaureate program, has outperformed the district average on some state tests.

The three paraprofessionals hired by the school this year are part of the teaching program at UNC’s Lowry campus, which has long required students to work in a school for the four years they work on their degree.

Students get paid for their work in schools, allowing them to earn some money while going to college. Students from the program had worked in Aurora schools in the past, but not usually three students at once at the same school, and not as part of a formal partnership.

The teaching program has a high number of students of color and first-generation college students, which Rosanne Fulton, the program director, said is another draw for partnering with schools in the metro area.

Schumacher said every principal and education leader has the responsibility to help expose students to more teachers who can relate to them.

One of this year’s paraprofessionals is Andy Washington, an 18-year-old who attended Elkhart for a few years when she was a child.

“Getting to know the kids on a personal level, I thought I was going to be scared, but they’re cool,” Washington said.

Another paraprofessional, 20-year-old Sonia Guzman, said kids are opening up to them.

“They ask you what college is like,” Guzman said.

Schumacher said there are challenges to hiring the students, including figuring out how to make use of the students during the morning or early afternoon while being able to release them before school is done for the day so they can make it to their college classes.

Schumacher said he and his district director are working to figure out the best ways to work around those problems so they can share lessons learned with other Aurora principals.

“We’re using some people differently and tapping into volunteers a little differently, but if it’s a priority for you, there are ways of accommodating their schedules,” he said.

At Elkhart, full-time interventionists work with students in kindergarten through third grade who need extra help learning to read.

But the school doesn’t have the budget to hire the same professionals to work with older students. The three student paraprofessionals are helping bridge that gap, learning from the interventionists so they can work with fourth and fifth grade students.

Recently, the three started getting groups of students that they pull out during class to give them extra work on reading skills.

One exercise they worked on with fourth grade students recently was helping them identify if words had an “oi” or “oy” spelling based on their sounds. Students sounded out their syllables and used flashcards to group similar words.

Districts across the country have looked at similar approaches to help attract and prepare teachers for their own schools. In Denver, bond money voters approved last year is helping pay to expand a program this year where paraprofessionals can apply for a one-year program to become teachers while they continue working.

In the partnership at Elkhart, students paraprofessionals take longer than that, but in their first and second year are already learning how to write lessons during their afternoon classes and then working with teachers at the school to deliver the lessons and then reflect on how well they worked. Students say the model helps them feel supported.

“It’s really helping me to become more confident,” said Stephanie Richards, 26, the third paraprofessional. “I know I’m a lot more prepared.”

Schumacher said the model could also work in the future with students from other teaching schools or programs. It’s a small but important part, he said, toward helping larger efforts to attract and retain teachers, and also diversify the ranks.

“You’re doing something for the next generation of folks coming in,” he said.