Fewer Denver teachers unable to find jobs on their own were placed into the city’s highest-poverty and lowest-achieving schools for 2010-11, according to district figures.

That’s a reversal of what’s occurred for at least three years, when the poorest schools were more likely to be assigned teachers who either did not apply to be there or were not chosen for hiring by the principal.

As of Thursday, 30 percent of Denver schools receiving Title 1 dollars – federal funds designed to mitigate high-poverty rates – were given teachers for fall from what’s commonly called the “direct” or “forced” placement list. Principals generally cannot refuse to accept such teachers.

And 52 percent of schools affluent enough not to earn Title 1 dollars, a minority of Denver Public Schools, were assigned teachers who are guaranteed a job by state law but who have been unable to secure a position on their own. The job guarantee comes after three years of experience.

Click here to see the school-by-school breakdown of teacher direct-placements for 2010-11.

In contrast, in 2009-10, 63 percent of DPS’ Title 1 schools received at least one teacher from the direct-placement list while only 38 percent of non-Title 1 schools did so. In 2008-09, 57 percent of Title 1 schools received direct-placed teachers versus 44 percent of non-Title 1 schools.

And in 2007-08, three-fourths of Denver’s Title 1 schools received direct-placed teachers compared to half of the non-Title 1 schools.

“For far too long in Denver, as in other urban school districts, the highest-poverty, most-struggling schools have been disproportionately impacted by forced placement,” said Superintendent Tom Boasberg. “And that is no longer the situation in Denver.”

What impact the change might have on achievement is unclear.

Boasberg announced changes to the direct-placement policy in February, drawing concern from some teachers and applause from some parents.

He said DPS would limit the placement of teachers in high-poverty schools and prohibit it in the lowest-performing schools – those rated “red” or on probation, the lowest of four DPS school ratings.

Henry Roman, the president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said the announcement implied such teachers were to blame for the performance of those schools.

Teachers typically end up on the direct-placement list after their school enrollment drops or a program changes. They can then interview at other schools but, if they don’t land a spot and they have three or more years of experience, they go on the list.

On Wednesday, as he scanned the 2010-11 list of placements, Roman noted it largely consisted of one or two teachers sent to a school.

“I really don’t see an impact that could be big enough to say it’s impacting the schools in any negative way,” he said. “This is very minimal.”

A total of 61 teachers, some working part-time, had been placed in DPS schools as of this week. Another three teachers are still unassigned – they could work as substitutes if they have not been placed by fall. That’s 64 teachers in a district that employs more than 4,000.

Also, the numbers of direct-placed teachers in DPS has been cut in half, down from 170 in 2007-08, largely because of changes to transfer policies worked out by DPS and the teachers’ union.

Still, Boasberg’s drive to change direct-placement continues to draw national attention.

Tuesday, the national journal Education Week highlighted DPS in its story headlined “Mutual Consent Teacher Placement Gains Ground.”

Boasberg has repeatedly said the quality of direct-placed teachers is not the issue – instead, it’s the mutual desire of teacher and principal to work together.

“We … strongly believe that schools are very much mission-driven organizations that thrive when there is a cohesive culture that everyone in the building fully buys into and supports,” he said.

The goal, he said, is “zero” direct placements, a goal likely to be aided by the recent passage of Senate Bill 191, the controversial measure that overhauls principal and teacher evaluation.

Part of the law, which is being phased in through 2014, states experienced teachers “unable to secure a mutual consent assignment at a school … after twelve months or two hiring cycles” will be placed on unpaid leave.

It’s a big change from the current law, which puts the onus on districts to find jobs for teachers with more than three years of experience.

Roman, with the teachers’ union, said it’s unclear how many teachers might be affected by the change. He worries teachers may become more reluctant to switch schools or chance tougher assignments.

“And I don’t think that is good because, at the end of the day, you always want to encourage teachers to go to hard-to-serve schools,” he said.

An Ed News analysis of direct placements in DPS between 2007 and 2009 found 49 teachers were on that list more than once, including five teachers who were placed three times in three years.

Denver’s 25 “red” schools, its lowest-performing, had not been assigned direct-placements as of Thursday, though figures provided by the districts changed over several days.

For example, the district’s first response to an Open Records Act request by Ed News listed a part-time art teacher placed at Gilpin K-8. Shayne Spalten, DPS’ head of human resources, said that was an error.

In 2009-10, 20 percent of direct-placed teachers were placed in “red” schools, those listed as “on probation” for failing to meet standards on the district’s School Performance Framework.

In addition to a direct-placement spreadsheet, DPS provided a separate listing of 24 experienced teachers sent to schools to relieve what are expected to be large class sizes this fall.

That includes two teachers offered to North and West high schools, both “red” schools. Principals at the schools were told they qualified for class-size relief but that it must come in the form of those teachers.

Spalten said those teachers are not considered direct placements because the principals could have refused to accept them and because the assignments are for one-year-only. In addition, the positions are funded by the district rather than the school.

On the other hand, she noted, the positions aren’t necessarily mutual-consent hires either. Those are school-funded and continuing, rather than temporary, positions.

Roman said DPS’ definition of “mutual consent” sounds more like principal consent. For example, he asked, why not allow teachers on the direct-placement list to interview at all schools, including red schools?

Spalten said they’re free to do so. If an experienced and unassigned teacher interviews at a red school, and the principal wants to make that hire, that’s mutual consent and that’s what DPS wants.

What Boasberg’s policy change prohibits, she said, is the placement of a teacher, without the principal’s consent, at a red school.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at nmitchell@ednewscolorado.org or 303-478-4573.