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.

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

“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 [email protected] 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.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.