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.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.