a closer look

De Blasio defends city's tenure process in wake of California decision

Mayor Bill de Blasio defended New York’s tenure system on Wednesday, calling it an effective way to recruit and retain teachers one day after a California judge struck down a slate of laws related to job protections for teachers in that state.

“The tenure system, done right, is a valuable piece of the way we educate because what it’s going to allow us to do is get quality teachers, get them to stay in our school system,” de Blasio said at a press conference on Wednesday.

The comments come after a preliminary decision in Vergara v. California ruled that the state’s tenure law discriminates against poor and minority students, who get saddled with the most ineffective teachers whose jobs are protected under the law. Buoyed by the ruling, some advocates have already expressed interest in pursuing legal action against New York’s tenure law, which includes similar protections to those that teachers receive in California.

De Blasio said he had not reviewed the case, which has received national attention because of the implications it could have for other states with powerful labor laws. But he defended New York City as already having a “very aggressive process” in place to usher weak teachers out of the city school system.

Part of that process is a tenure review that in New York City has grown increasingly rigorous in recent years. Research from Stanford and the University of Virginia, released Wednesday, found that the city’s tenure review process has recently been effective at easing out ineffective teachers before they received tenure.

Five years ago, the city established a rubric to evaluate teachers up for tenure, a step that shifted the review process from the relatively pro forma exercise it had been for decades before. Tenure approval rates fall dramatically. Between 2007 and 2013, the percent of eligible teachers who received tenure fell from 97 percent to 53 percent.

Most of those teachers weren’t denied tenure, but instead had their decisions delayed: between 2008 and 2012, teachers whose probationary period was extended grew from less than 5 percent to over 40 percent of eligible teachers.

ercentage of New York City teachers who had tenure denied or extended, 2006-2013
Percentage of New York City teachers who had tenure denied or extended, 2006-2013

Researchers found that teachers who had their tenure decision delayed were 50 percent more likely to leave their school for another school the next year, and 66 percent more likely to leave the system altogether. And the teachers who replaced them typically scored better in their tenure reviews and showed some evidence of doing more to improve student test scores, they found.

Those teachers were more likely to work in schools with higher proportions of black students, the study found, which means the city’s tenure process has been “helpful to kids in those schools,” said the University of Virginia’s James Wyckoff, one of paper’s authors.

That is one difference between California’s tenure process and what happens in New York City, Wyckoff said. Whereas the judge viewed tenure in California as coming at the expense of students, Wyckoff said, “I think the approach the city is taking is that it wants to make sure teachers who receive tenure are effective.”

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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.

Another error

Missing student data means 900 Tennessee teachers could see their growth scores change

PHOTO: TN.gov

Tennessee’s testing problems continue. This time the issue is missing students.

Students’ test scores are used to evaluate teachers, and the failure of a data processing vendor to include scores for thousands of students may have skewed results for some teachers, officials said.

The scores, known as TVAAS, are based on how students improved under a teacher’s watch. The scores affect a teacher’s overall evaluation and in some districts, like Shelby County Schools, determine if a teacher gets a raise.

The error affects 1,700 teachers statewide, or about 9 percent of the 19,000 Tennessee teachers who receive scores. About 900 of those teachers had five or more students missing from their score, which could change their result.

The latest glitch follows a series of mishaps, including test scanning errors, which also affect teacher evaluations. A delay earlier this summer from the Tennessee Department of Education’s testing vendor, Questar, set off a chain of events that resulted in the missing student scores.

To calculate a teacher’s growth score, students and their test scores are assigned to a teacher. About 3 percent of the 1.5 million student-teacher assignments statewide had to be manually submitted in Excel files after Questar experienced software issues and fell behind on releasing raw scores to districts.

RANDA Solutions, a data processing vendor for the state, failed to input all of those Excel files, leading to the teachers’ scores being calculated without their full roster of students, said Sara Gast, a state spokeswoman. The error will not affect school or district TVAAS scores. (District-level TVAAS scores were released in September.)

Gast did not immediately confirm when the state will finalize those teachers’ scores with corrected student rosters. The state sent letters to districts last week informing them of the error and at least one Memphis teacher was told she had more than 80 of her 120 students missing from her score.

In the past, the process for matching students to the right teachers began at the end of the year, “which does not leave much room for adjustments in the case of unexpected delays,” Gast said in an email. The state had already planned to open the process earlier this year. Teachers can begin to verify their rosters next week, she said.