Future of Teaching

Johnston: SB191 delay not needed

Sen. Mike Johnston, author of Colorado’s landmark educator evaluation law, says “It’s premature to change any timelines now” in rolling out of the new system for rating principals and teachers.

Sen. Mike Johnston
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, speaks to state educator effectiveness council on Friday.

Johnston met Friday with the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, the appointed body responsible for making recommendations about the design of the system to the State Board of Education and the Colorado Department of Education.

As the council has continued its work, some members have become worried about whether a sustainable system can be put in place under the timelines set in Senate Bill 10-191.

“Our feeling is the only thing worse than change that’s not fast enough is change that’s so fast it can’t incrementally build on itself, and it craters,” Matt Smith, an aerospace executive who chairs the council, told Johnston. “We want to go fast … but not so fast that the quality of the product and the sustainability of the outcome is compromised.”

SB 10-191 timeline
  • 2011-12 – Elements of system piloted for principals
  • 2012-13 – Pilot testing for teachers and principals
  • 2013-14 – All districts to use the state system or an approved local system; evaluation results won’t affect tenure status
  • 2014-15 – Ratings of partially effective or ineffective will begin to affect tenure status
  • 2016-17 – First year a teacher could lose tenure (“non-probationary status”)

Key provisions of the law

  • Annual evaluations of principals and teachers
  • 50% of evaluations based on student academic growth
  • Teachers lose tenure if rated less than effective for 2 consecutive years
  • Loss of tenure does not mean automatic loss of job
  • Assignment to a school requires mutual teacher-principal consent

Teacher ratings

  • Highly effective
  • Effective
  • Partially effective
  • Ineffective

Concern about the timetable have been circulating in some education quarters and bubbled to the surface at a council meeting in late September. Johnston was asked to meet with the group to air out the issue.

Elements of the system currently are being tested in selected districts, but all districts are supposed to roll out the state system – or an approved local equivalent – starting in the fall of 2013. Evaluations of less than effective in 2013-14 won’t count against a teacher’s non-probationary status, commonly called tenure.

Johnston said he believes the current timetable is viable because of the two pilot-test years and because evaluations in 2013-14 won’t start the tenure-loss clock for ineffective teachers. He said next year is “in essence, a third pilot year.”

He also said there will be plenty of opportunities to fine-tune the system along the way: “The new evaluation system will have challenges, and it will have weaknesses. … No one believes that version 1.0 is going to be final. … The only way to start is by starting.”

Johnston was asked what happens if the system clearly isn’t ready to go next June, when the second year of pilot testing ends.

“We could find a way to turn the ship,” Johnston said, saying the State Board could be asked to suspend the regulations that drive the system, perhaps buttressed by an executive order from the governor. Then the 2014 legislature could decide what to do, he said. Johnston told EdNews Colorado later he doesn’t see the need for tinkering with SB 10-191 during the upcoming 2013 legislative session.

“That allays some of our concerns,” said council member Joanne Baxter, a former Moffat County school board member.

Baxter had said earlier that she’s particularly concerned about implementing the half of the evaluation that’s based on academic growth of students. Growth will be measured not only by performance on TCAP tests but also on district, classroom and other assessments that will vary.

“It’s the growth standard that’s of great concern … the timeline doesn’t allow us the time to implement that,” Moffat said.

“Clearly we knew that the growth standard was going to be the hard part,” Johnston said but again expressed confidence that the pieces would fall in place under the current timetable.

Impact of new tests

Johnston also was asked about the implications of Colorado changing testing programs in the middle of implementing the evaluation system. The current TCAP reading, writing and math tests are scheduled to be replaced by national tests being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, starting in the spring of 2015.

He said he believes the Colorado Growth Model, the data system used by the state to calculate student academic growth based on multiple years of TCAP scores, can accommodate the switch.

Of more concern to legislators and the public, Johnston said, will be the inevitable drop in percentages of proficient students after the new test is launched. “There’s always going to be a year in which that happens,” he said.

What’s next

The council currently is developing recommendations for how to evaluate what are called “other licensed personnel” such as counselors, school nurses, school psychologists, social workers and various kinds of therapists. The recommendations are due in January to the State Board of Education, which decide what regulations to issue on the evaluation of those professionals.

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.

a closer look

Fact-check: Weighing 7 claims from Betsy DeVos’s latest speech, from Common Core to PISA scores

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

In a speech Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made the case for giving up on the type of school improvement efforts favored by Presidents Obama and George W. Bush. In its place, she argued, the federal government should encourage tech-infused innovation and school choice.

Looking to weigh her claims? Here’s a closer look at a few.

1. DeVos: “The most recent Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, report, with which you are all familiar, has the U.S. ranked 23rd in reading, 25th in science and 40th in math. And, you know this too: it’s not for a lack of funding. The fact is the United States spends more per pupil than most other developed countries, many of which perform better than us in the same surveys.”

This stats are accurate, but may not be fair. The U.S. does spend more per pupil, in raw dollars, than most other countries. But international comparisons of these sorts are complicated, and American spending is similar to countries with similarly sized economies.

As we’ve written previously, it’s also misleading to say that more money wouldn’t help American schools. A number of studies have found precisely the opposite, including a recent one showing how cuts to schools during the Great Recession lowered student test scores and graduation rates.

2. DeVos appeared to refer to Common Core as “federal standards,” saying, “Federally mandated assessments. Federal money. Federal standards. All originated in Washington, and none solved the problem.”

That’s off the mark. As advocates for the Common Core never tire of pointing out, the creation of the standards was driven by state leaders through the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, with the support of several private organizations, most prominently the Gates Foundation. (Gates is a funder of Chalkbeat.) As DeVos notes earlier in the speech, he Obama administration did incentivize states to adopt the standards, though, and Secretary Arne Duncan was a vocal champion.

3. DeVos: “At the U.S. Department of Education, Common Core is dead.”

This is true, in a sense — the Every Student Succeeds Act, which passed before DeVos became secretary, prohibits the federal government from pushing states to adopt specific standards. But DeVos doesn’t control what academic standards states adopt, and most states are still using use some version of the Common Core.

4. DeVos: “Throughout both initiatives, the result was a further damaged classroom dynamic between teacher and student, as the focus shifted from comprehension to test-passing. This sadly has taken root, with the American Federation of Teachers recently finding that 60 percent of its teachers reported having moderate to no influence over the content and skills taught in their own classrooms. Let that sink in. Most teachers feel they have little – if any — say in their own classrooms.”

The statistic DeVos pulled from this poll is accurate, though her framing may be more negative than the results suggest. It asked teachers to rate how much control they had over “setting content, topics, and skills to be taught.” The most common answer was “a great deal” (at about 40 percent of teachers), and another 30 percent or so chose moderate control. Twenty percent said minor, and only 10 percent said they had no control.

5. DeVos: “To a casual observer, a classroom today looks scarcely different than what one looked like when I entered the public policy debate thirty years ago. Worse, most classrooms today look remarkably similar to those of 1938 when AEI was founded.”

This statement is misleading but has a grain of truth. We examined a similar claim when the TV program produced by the XQ prize argued that schools haven’t changed in 100 years. In short, DeVos is right that many basic trappings of school — a building, a teacher at the front of the class, a focus on math, reading, science, and social studies — have remained consistent. But this glosses over some substantial changes since 1938: the end of legally mandated race-based segregation, the rise of standards for special education students, and the expanded use of testing, among others.

6. DeVos: “While we’ve changed some aspects of education, the results we all work for and desire haven’t been achieved. The bottom line is simple: federal education reform efforts have not worked as hoped.”

This is a big assertion, and it’s always tricky to judge whether something in education “worked.” As DeVos pointed out, a federal study showed the federal school turnaround program didn’t help students. She also highlighted relatively flat international test scores, and others have pointed to flat national scores in recent years.

That said, there were substantial gains in math in fourth and eighth grade, particularly in the early 2000s.

But raw trend data like this can’t isolate the effects of specific policies, particularly when other unrelated changes — like the Great Recession — can also make a big difference. Studies on No Child Left Behind have shown positive results in math, but little or no effect in reading. An analysis of Race to the Top was inconclusive.

One bright spot: a program that paid performance bonuses through the federal Teacher Incentive Fund led to small test score bumps, according to a recent study by DeVos’s Department of Education.

7. In response to a question about school performance in Detroit, DeVos said she shouldn’t be credited — or blamed — for the results in the city. “You’re giving me a whole lot of credit to suggest that whatever happened in Detroit was as a result of what I did,” she said. “We have been long-term supporters of continued reform and choice in Michigan.”

This one is up for debate, though it’s clear DeVos has long been a major player in Detroit’s education scene. She has supported charter schools, which educate about half the public school students in that city, and been a major donor to Republican politicians and causes in the state. She started an influential advocacy group in the state called Great Lakes Education Project.

She was also a key opponent of a commission that would more tightly oversee Detroit charter schools, which ultimately failed amid GOP opposition. It’s clear she has had an impact in the city, but that doesn’t mean she’s gotten everything she’s wanted: in 2000, Michigan voters rejected a DeVos-funded effort to fund vouchers for private schools. She also hasn’t gotten her wish that Detroit have a traditional school district eliminated entirely.