Weak teachers fail in New Haven, but not many

New Haven’s unionized teachers gave up job security for better pay and benefits, writes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

With a stronger evaluation system, tenure no longer mattered and weak teachers could be pushed out.

Roughly half of a teacher’s evaluation would depend on the performance of his or her students — including on standardized tests and other measures of learning.

Teachers were protected by a transparent process, and by accountability for principals. But if outside evaluators agreed with administrators that a teacher was failing, the teacher would be out at the end of the school year.

Last year, the school district pushed out 34 teachers, about 2 percent of the total in the district. The union not only didn’t object, but acknowledged that many of them didn’t really belong in the classroom.

Fifty more teachers out of 1,800 in the district have been warned their teaching must improve or they’ll be fired.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. of New Haven says that the breakthrough isn’t so much that poor teachers are being eased out, but that feedback is making everyone perform better — principals included. “Most everybody picked up their game in the district,” he said.

Two percent of teachers were fired. That doesn’t sound like a very tough system. Maybe over time it will make a difference. Am I too bloodthirsty?

Update: Kristof fell for the latest edu-fad, writes Rick Hess, who’s seen many miracles turn out to be not so miraculous after all.

Complex formulas used to rate teachers

“Value-added” formulas used to evaluate teachers are incredibly complex, reports the Wall Street Journal. The goal is to analyze how much of students’ improvement is due to good teaching by analyzing each student’s previous performance.

For the first time this year, teachers in Rhode Island and Florida will see their evaluations linked to the complex metric. Louisiana and New Jersey will pilot the formulas this year and roll them out next school year. At least a dozen other states and school districts will spend the year finalizing their teacher-rating formulas.

Few people understand the models, said Janice Poda, strategic-initiatives director for the Council of Chief State School Officers. “States have to trust the vendor is designing a system that is fair and, right now, a lot of the state officials simply don’t have the information they need.”

In New York City, principals now use value-added data to make teacher tenure decisions. Last year, only 3 percent of teachers were denied tenure, though many more were deferred.

At Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, principal Gregory Hodge uses the value-added results to alter instruction, move teachers to new classroom assignments and pair weak students with the highest performing teachers. Mr. Hodge said the data for teachers generally aligns with his classroom observations. “It’s confirming what an experienced principal knows,” he said.

Evaluations have helped low performers improve — or leave, reports the New Haven Independent.

After the first year of grading teachers and principals on student performance, 34 low-ranked teachers left voluntarily. The teachers’ union has no complaints.

The new system graded 1,846 classroom teachers into five ratings, from 1 (“needs improvement”) to 5 (“exemplary”). Teachers’ scores came from classroom observations and goals they set for their kids, based largely on growth on student test scores.

Overall, 75 teachers were flagged as poor performers in November or in March. Of those, 39 percent rose out of the “needs improvement” category by the end of the year. Another 20 percent didn’t improve their rating but got to keep their jobs. The final 41 percent resigned or retired in the face of termination.

Three quarters of the city’s teachers were rated “effective,” “strong” or “exemplary.” The 36 “exemplary” teachers will be offered the chance to lead their own “professional learning communities,” funded by a private grant.

One of 44 principals received a low evaluation and left the district. Fourteen percent of principals were rated “developing,” 39 percent “effective,” 34 percent “strong” and 11 percent “exemplary.”

New Haven promises college aid

New Haven’s public school students will get free college tuition at any public college or university in Connecticut, if they maintain a 3.0 grade point average and 90 percent attendance. Graduates will get $2,500 a year to attend an in-state private college. Students will have to maintain a 2.5 grade point average in college to continue receiving the money.

Yale University is providing most of the $4.5 million a year needed to fund the New Haven Promise. It’s open to city students who’ve attended public school — district-run or charter — since ninth grade or earlier.

Only 200 of the 1,000 graduates last year would have qualified, city officials said. About 83 percent of New Haven graduates go on to college, but more than 70 percent dropout after two years.

(Mayor John) DeStefano said the program was intended to curb a citywide high school dropout rate of 38 percent and cultivate a college-going culture, as well as to provide an economic incentive for families to move to New Haven. Students will qualify for the financial aid on a sliding scale, with those who started in city schools at kindergarten receiving the most, 100 percent of their tuition. Students who arrived in the ninth grade will receive 65 percent.

In Syracuse, New York, enrollment in city schools has grown since 2008, when Syracuse University and the Say Yes to Education foundation began offering free college tuition to public high school students. However, the graduation rate hasn’t improved.

George A. Weiss, a Wall Street financier who founded Say Yes to Education in 1987, said the foundation had paid college tuition for more than 350 students in predominantly poor schools in Hartford; Philadelphia; Cambridge, Mass.; and Harlem in New York City. He said academic enrichment programs, counseling and other services had supplemented the tuition assistance.

“You can’t just give them an offer of money,” Mr. Weiss said. “They still have their day-to-day issues, and you have to help them.”

All college scholarship programs have learned this lesson:  Disadvantaged students need mentors, tutors and counselors to get them on the college track and keep them on track. A scholarship offer isn’t enough.

I also predict students with only 90 percent attendance aren’t going to need more than one semester of college tuition.

Update:  Why isn’t Yale offering scholarships to Yale? Chad Aldeman wants to know.

New Haven contract isn't a model

New Haven’s widely praised new teacher contract isn’t all that great, editorializes the Washington Post.

The editorial cites Thomas W. Carroll, president of the Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability, who  complained in the Huffington Post that the “contract preserves tenure, prevents good teachers from getting paid more than bad teachers, lets a minority of teachers block work rules to allow innovative programs and makes no commitments to close any specific bad schools.”

Instead of the “uncharted waters” and “new territory” proclaimed by (Education Secretary Arne) Duncan, New Haven is pretty much business as usual.

The Post suggests the real leader in teacher contract reform is D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who is fighting “the stranglehold of seniority” and trying to reward the best teachers.

Unionized reform

New Haven’s new teachers’ contract, lauded as a reform model, is “loaded with union giveaways that will hamper reform, not advance it,” argues the New York Post.

While the contract allows performance pay for teachers, the bonuses must be paid to the entire school, which puts less pressure on individual teachers to raise student scores, the Post complains.

New Haven is taking the baby step of allowing district schools to be converted into charter schools . . . (The contract) mandates unionization, guarantees no layoffs, preserves grievance procedures and keeps in place full transfer rights of staff.

. . . Even worse, the New Haven contract requires the approval of 75 percent of teachers in a school to opt out of the master contract’s work rules (66 percent in a failing school slated for “turnaround”). This means that a minority of teachers could block important changes such as a longer school year or school day. Plus, the contract includes a bizarre provision that allows the New Haven union to veto work-rule reforms even if 100 percent of the teachers in that school approve of them.

Awarding performance bonuses to an entire school’s staff encourages teamwork and makes it possible to reward teachers who teach untested subjects and support staff.  However, New Haven won’t have effective charters if the new schools have to employ teachers by seniority and can’t write their own work rules.

Rhode Island Commissioner Deborah Gist has told superintendents to eliminate seniority hiring when contracts come up for renewal this year.  The unions are not on board. Via Teacher Beat.