Day in court

Legislative power key issue in arguments over teacher evaluation law

Differing views of the legislature’s powers over labor and contracts law were at the center of oral arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit that challenges one part of Colorado’s landmark 2010 teacher evaluation law.

“The Colorado legislature has plenary power to modify these teacher employment rights,” lawyer Eric Hall, representing the Denver Public Schools, argued to a three-judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals.

But Philip Hostak, a National Education Association lawyer from Washington, D.C., countered, “plainly there are” limits on legislative power to change contract law.

The two were pitching their arguments in the case of Masters v. DPS, filed in January 2014 by five former teachers and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. The suit claimed district officials misused the mutual-consent provision of the evaluation law, violating both contract and due process sections of the Colorado Constitution.

One part of the evaluation law, known as Senate Bill 10-191, requires mutual consent of a teacher and principal for assignment of a teacher to a school. Before the law was passed, non-probationary teachers would be assigned to a school solely by decision of district administration.

Under SB 10-191, teachers who aren’t placed go on a district waiting list and ultimately lost employment rights if not placed within a certain period of time.

Denver District Judge Michael Martinez dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims – and the case – in June 2014, prompting the union to take the case to the Court of Appeals last December.

On legislative power, while Hall stressed the General Assembly’s powers, Hostak argued there are limits on the legislature’s power to impair contracts.

The two also offered different interpretations of a 1991 bill that changed teacher employment law and removed the word “tenure” from those laws. Removal of the word was unimportant, Hostak argued, rhetorically asking the law changed a non-probationary teacher’s property right. “The answer to that is a resounding no.”

But Hall argued the 1991 law “got rid of any idea of tenure.”

The lawyers also had different views on the effect of SB 10-191’s mutual consent provision. Hall argued that “displacement and dismissal are two different things.” Given the legislature’s constitutional duty to supervise schools, changing mutual consent “is entirely consistent with the legislature’s power.”

But, Hostak maintained, “the end result is the same” and teachers are deprived of due process rights.

The DCTA is asking the appeals panel to send the case back to district court for trial. Whatever the panel rules, that decision likely will be appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.

The CEA fought hard against the new evaluation law during the 2010 legislative session, but the mutual consent provision is the only part of the law being challenged in court. The law’s major provisions – requiring annual evaluations, basing half of annual evaluations in students’ academic growth and loss of non-probationary status for teachers rated partially effective or ineffective for two consecutive years – are being implemented in all state school districts.

Tuesday’s hearing marks the second DCTA-DPS conflict in the Court of Appeals this summer. In June a different three-judge panel ruled that the district violated the 2008 Innovation Schools Act by not getting staff consent for creation of some innovation schools in 2011 and 2012 (see story).

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.