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DPS tackling forced placement of teachers

Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg told principals Friday that he is limiting the “forced placement” of teachers in the district’s lowest-performing and highest-poverty schools.

Boasberg, in an email to principals Friday afternoon, said “it is our intention” not to place any unassigned teachers at year’s end into schools now on probation under the district’s school rating system.

He also said DPS “will seek to limit forced placements” in the district’s poorest schools, or those receiving Title 1 federal grant money based on student poverty rates.

Under Colorado law, teachers with more than three years of experience are guaranteed jobs. Those who lose their positions and can’t find new ones through the district’s hiring process end up on the direct placement list each spring.

Then DPS places them in schools with vacancies – whether or not the teacher or the schools believe it’s a good fit.

But district data shows direct placement teachers are disproportionately placed in Title 1 schools, where at least half the students qualify for federally subsidized lunches, an indicator of poverty.

While about 65 percent of DPS schools are Title 1 schools subject to direct placements, they receive about 75 percent of those teachers.

“If we are going to close our achievement gaps and dramatically increase our graduation rate … we cannot allow forced placement to continue to disproportionately impact our students in poverty,” Boasberg said in his email. 

The move would exempt 19 of DPS’ 25 schools rated “red” or on probation, the district’s lowest rating. The other six “red” schools are either closing at the end of this year or are charter schools not subject to teacher placements.

Tom Boasberg / File photo

Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg

All 19 also are Title 1 schools. In addition, another 70 of DPS’ total 140 schools are Title 1 and would receive some protection from direct placement based on Boasberg’s letter.

DPS has more than 100 Title 1 schools this year but fewer than 90 are subject to teacher placements because they’re charters or they’ve sought innovation status, meaning traditional district hiring policies don’t apply. 

“The net effect is that our non-Title 1 schools will receive a higher proportion of forced placements than in past years,” Boasberg wrote. “This is likely to result in significant limitations on hiring … We will be doing whatever is possible to minimize the impact.

“This is not in any way to undervalue the extraordinary work our non-Title schools do or the moral imperative we have of educating all our students,” he added. “It is simply a deep concern that we cannot continue to disproportionately impact our neediest students and schools.”

Henry Roman, the president of the Denver Classroom Teachers’ Association, said the teachers’ union has concerns about the change.

In an email to teachers, Roman said the DCTA has been talking with DPS about a goal of ensuring that all hiring is by “mutual consent” of teachers and schools.

“But, I would like to make it clear that we have not reached consensus on how this goal could be attained,” he wrote.

Roman said Boasberg’s action seems to assume that direct placement teachers are not good teachers when there is little evidence of that.

Experienced teachers may find themselves without jobs because of school budget issues or school closures – no fault of their own, he pointed out.

He said many factors may contribute to poor performance in struggling DPS schools, from poor leadership to high numbers of new teachers.

“We do not agree on placing blame for student low performance on teachers who are involuntarily transferred,” Roman said, “especially when these transfers are not because of teacher low performance.”

Boasberg said he’s not making a statement about the quality of direct placement teachers.

DCTA President Henry Roman

DCTA President Henry Roman

“This is not an issue about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ teachers or about trying to play the blame game,” he said. “This is about the fundamental principles of successful organizations, that there is a shared culture and a shared mission and a shared commitment to that organization …

“And when you are, by definition, forcibly putting someone in an organization who by definition either doesn’t want to be there or is not being asked to be there, it just runs contrary to that fundamental principle.”

Some national groups have urged school districts to move to “mutual consent” hiring practices and districts such as New York City have done so. Both The New Teacher Project and the National Council on Teacher Quality have urged an end to the forced placement of teachers. Kate Walsh, the head of the National Council, urged Colorado legislators to put a statewide mutual consent policy into law.

DPS, with a teaching force of more than 4,000, typically hires as many as 500 new teachers each year. That number may fluctuate as Colorado school districts grapple with projected budget cuts in coming years.

Boasberg said he believes the district will have enough openings for any unassigned teachers this spring. They will be able, as they have in years past, to interview for vacancies over the next two months.

“It is our intention to try to find jobs for every tenured teacher,” he said.

But Roman said he is worried that the poor economy may mean fewer teachers retiring or moving this year, resulting in fewer openings.

“We’re making another assumption here, we’re assuming there will be vacancies,” he said. “What happens if there are no vacancies, what are we going to do?”

 By 4:30 p.m. Friday, Roman said he already was getting an earful from teachers worried about the change. Many believe they’re being made scapegoats for the larger issue of poor performance in DPS’ “red” schools.

“Definitely, we are going to monitor this very closely,” he said.

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

To learn more:

Click here to read a Denver Post story from August 2009 that examined the issue of teacher placement.