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Honing in on teacher quality: DPS

A national teacher quality group is calling Denver Public Schools’ teacher management system “meaningless” and district officials agree.

Staff from the New Teacher Project on Thursday presented their Denver-specific findings from a larger national report completed last year.

“Teachers absolutely do not receive effective feedback,” Joan Schunck, a senior policy advisor, told DPS school board members.

While that finding was not unusual among the dozen districts across the country studied by the New Teacher Project, Schunck said, “the challenge seems to be particularly acute in Denver.”

School board members, distracted by debate on a different teacher topic, the direct or “forced” placement of unassigned veteran teachers, did not discuss the report.

But Denver Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg later said he agrees with the gist of the report.

“The New Teacher Project emphasizes the central theme of the Denver Plan, which is that high-quality teachers are the most important factor in our students’ education,” he said, referring to the district’s strategic reform plan.

“And our policies and practices are fundamentally misaligned with this central goal of retaining, recruiting, rewarding and developing high quality teachers.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded DPS and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association a $10 million grant to improve teacher effectiveness. A pilot teacher observation, coaching and evaluation project is expected to roll out next spring in a limited number of schools.

Click here to see a four-page executive summary and the 51-slide report by the New Teacher Project.

Among key findings:

— Less than half of brand-new teachers say they clearly understand what is required of them to earn tenure or non-probationary status. But 97 percent are at least “somewhat confident” they will.

— They’re right – DPS chose not to renew the contracts of just 3 percent of probationary teachers for performance concerns between 2003 and 2008.

— Once they’re earned tenure, teachers are virtually guaranteed jobs – only 1 percent of evaluations between 2005 and 2008 result in a rating of “unsatisfactory.” That’s 32 unsatisfactory ratings out of 2,387.

— Yet 30 percent of teachers and 70 percent of principals say there is a tenured teacher in their school who should be dismissed for poor instructional performance.

— Teachers lack confidence in the district’s ability to gauge their performance – only 38 percent agree the district’s evaluation process accurately assesses their performance.

— Principals think it’s too hard to dismiss ineffective teachers – 81 percent of administrators say the time, effort and resources required to dismiss tenured teachers for poor performance is too high.

— Of the 32 tenured teachers who entered remediation after receiving an unsatisfactory rating, only 7 successfully completed the process. Five didn’t finish and 20 failed to show adequate improvement so most resigned or retired.

Altogether, the findings describe a teacher-management system that is flawed from start to finish.

“Clearly right now, the first few years … are kind of a hazy mess,” Schunck said.

Data from DPS was included in the New Teacher Project’s national report, The Widget Effect, released last year. In addition, the group has released a report on Pueblo District 60’s teacher management system.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at or 303-478-4573.

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