Colorado

DPS leads pack in direct-placing teachers

Teachers are placed into schools they didn’t choose – and whose principals didn’t choose them – at a much higher rate in Denver Public Schools than in the state’s other large districts.

An analysis by Education News Colorado of direct-placement rates from the state’s six largest districts shows DPS placed 377 teachers over three years while Douglas County, the district with the next-highest rate, placed 97.

Jefferson County, the state’s largest school district, placed 63 teachers over three years while Adams Five-Star placed 42, Aurora Public Schools placed 22 and the Cherry Creek School District placed seven.

Direct placement, also called forced placement or involuntary transfer, occurs when veteran teachers lose their jobs and their school district must find them new positions.

By The Numbers

* 79% of DPS direct-placed teachers were assigned to high-poverty schools in ’09

* 49 DPS teachers were direct-placed at least twice in the past three years

* 5 DPS teachers were direct-placed every year of the past three years

That’s because Colorado law guarantees a job to any teacher with non-probationary status or more than three years of experience.

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg put a spotlight on the issue when he announced limits on direct-placing teachers in the city’s highest-poverty and lowest-performing schools.

Boasberg pointed out the number of direct-placed teachers in DPS has dropped in recent years but said he was not surprised that the district’s numbers are higher than those elsewhere.

Other districts consider years of experience in deciding who stays at a school and who goes, he said, which is no longer the case in Denver.

“We believe strongly that to judge a person solely by seniority doesn’t make sense,” Boasberg said. “It ignores the critical factors of what is the need in that school, what is the fit in that school, what is the teacher’s role on the broader team?”

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Others blame poor DPS management for the disparity in direct-placement numbers.

“It seems to me they have a bias toward new teachers,” said Henry Roman, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, which opposes Boasberg’s announced limits.

“There is a great deal of talk about how potentially, potentially direct-placements could be a problem at a school, how they are potentially something negative,” he said. “But the same could be true about new teachers to DPS, period, because the mentoring programs we have in place really are not good.”

Teachers land on the direct-placement list in most large districts because their school enrollment drops or there’s a change in academic program.

DCTA President Henry Roman

Policies in DPS and other districts prohibit the transfer of teachers who are on remediation for performance concerns.

In Cherry Creek, which had the lowest number of direct-placements, “the expectation is the principal will work with a teacher to help them meet expectations,” said spokeswoman Tustin Amole.

Denver, engaged in a reform plan that includes school closings and other dramatic program changes, likely has more movement between its buildings than many other districts.

But DPS also has a history of allegations that teachers are moved for other reasons.

In 2005, the district settled a lawsuit brought by five North High School staff members who claimed they were abruptly transferred because they voiced concerns about a new principal.

And teachers’ union leaders have long suspected some principals find it easier to move unskilled teachers along than to work with them to improve.

“I don’t think principals will acknowledge that,” Roman said. “I think that happens.”

Once a teacher has been direct-placed, he said, the label carries a stigma – justified or not – that can make it difficult to hold onto a job.

The numbers bear that out. Of the 377 teachers direct-placed in DPS over the past three years, the district had to secure a job for 49 of them at least twice after their own attempts were unsuccessful.

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Five teachers have been direct-placed every year for the past three years.

That handful of teachers is experienced, having taught in DPS an average of 18 years each, according to data obtained by Ed News under the state’s open records law. Their average salary is $67,861.

They include a counselor, a high school English teacher, two middle school science teachers and a former high school social studies teacher who is now an intervention teacher at a K-8 school.

Of the five, only two agreed to be interviewed and Ed News is honoring their requests not to use their names.

Both had been teaching at North High School for more than five years when it was picked for redesign because of low test scores and declining enrollment, resulting in a new principal with the ability to choose her staff.

Neither stayed and they began to bounce from school to school.

One teacher was placed at a school an hour from her Littleton home and she volunteered to move after a year there that featured three different principals. She was then sent to a middle school that DPS officials voted to phase out for poor performance.

She’s now at West High School, which carries the district’s lowest school rating of “on probation” and which received three direct-placed teachers this year. She said she hopes to stay.

“It was humiliating,” she said, questioning decisions to place her so far from home and in a middle school when she prefers high school. “If we were a real team … they would want desperately to match us where we’re best suited.”

Her placement at struggling schools is common in Denver.

Of the five teachers direct-placed for three consecutive years, all are now at Title 1 schools – those schools with poverty rates typically topping 60 percent.

In 2009-10, the Ed News analysis found, 79 percent of the 107 direct-placed teachers were sent to Title 1 schools, which make up about 65 percent of DPS campuses.

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

Martin Luther King Jr. Early College in far northeast Denver has received the most direct-placed teachers in the past three years – 11 – while nearby Montbello High School has received 10.

Eleven teachers were sent to DPS headquarters at 900 Grant St., where they were assigned to the substitute teacher pool or placed in programs, such as those for gifted and talented students, requiring travel from school to school.

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Boasberg has repeatedly said his desire to limit direct-placed teachers at high-poverty and low-performing schools isn’t about whether they’re “good” or “bad” teachers.

Instead, he said, it’s the idea that “buy-in and passion for the mission of the school are critical” so both teacher and principal should approve the fit.

“Are there instances where the principals need to do better?” Boasberg asked of evaluating teachers. “Yes. But it’s also important to state the system as a system does not work.”

He cited a number of recent reports such as an Ed News analysis that found nearly 100 percent of teachers in the state’s largest districts have received satisfactory evaluations in the past three years.

“It is overly simplistic to say this is the fault of individual principals,” he said. “That would imply that virtually every single principal in the Denver metro area is not doing their job properly and I don’t believe that is the case.”

Other superintendents have asked for help with direct-placed teachers.

Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg

In late October, members of the Denver Area School Superintendents Council, sent a letter to state officials requesting changes in state law, including the job guarantee for teachers.

“Districts should have no obligation to force-place those teachers in other schools,” they wrote. “Rather, teachers should be given some fair time period, perhaps up to a full year including one full hiring season, to find a position in another school.”

If a teacher still can’t find a job, they say, “the district should have no further obligation to continue employing that teacher.”

The letter drew an angry response from the Colorado Education Association and, on Monday, CEA spokeswoman Deborah Fallin said the Ed News numbers show direct-placement is a Denver problem.

“It is not a statewide problem, it does not need a statewide solution,” she said. “It needs a Denver solution.”

State Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, has publicly discussed, though not yet filed, a bill that would pay experienced teachers for 18 months while they search for a job. After that time, the pay would end.

“It’s going to really make us hustle so that’s good,” said a DPS teacher who has been direct-placed for three consecutive years. “The downside is there are those of us teachers who don’t interview well.”

He said he didn’t do interviews one year that he was direct-placed because he was busy with school and being his building union representative.  He wishes he had tried harder.

He’s now at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College and, after 23 years of teaching, he’s working with a coach who last week videotaped him in the classroom.

“I just hope I don’t have to go through it again,” he said of the direct-place rounds.

Finding a teaching job is going to get harder as school budgets tighten.

Jefferson County, the state’s largest district, employs about 300 more teachers than DPS – 4,800 to 4,500 – but has far fewer direct-placements each year.

Kerrie Dallman, president of the Jeffco teachers’ union, and Superintendent Cindy Stevenson credit a largely stable student population and the district’s use of “temporary contracts.”

More than 400 probationary teachers are on the one-year contracts, which are used in areas where enrollment is projected to decline or as fill-ins for experienced teachers on annual leave.

The difference between Jeffco’s temporary contracts and the annual contracts for new teachers also used in Jeffco and in other districts is that “temporary” teachers know the job is over in a year.

Such teachers typically are looking for a “continuing” contract – they have to find one in three years or they can’t work in Jeffco again – but they provide a cushion for experienced teachers because the temporaries are the first to go.

Next to go in tough budget times are teachers with less than three years of experience on continuing contracts. Only then are experienced teachers considered for dismissal, based on seniority.

Dallman said that’s fair because Jeffco invests in its teachers – the more time in the district, the bigger the investment. And if principals are doing their jobs and carefully evaluating teachers, she said, those veterans should be effective.

“It has to be hard for a principal to have those tough conversations with teachers who aren’t performing,” she said. “While I have sympathy for them, that’s their job and I have a real difficult time when principals shirk their jobs.”

Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson

Stevenson, who spent 10 years as a teacher and 10 years as a principal, agrees with the importance of evaluation.

But, “you can do your job evaluating,” she said, “and when you get into the dismissal hearing, it’s really difficult, expensive and time-consuming … and you don’t always win.”

She was among the superintendents supporting changes in state law because teachers can hit their fourth year of teaching by age 25, she said, “and they have a lifetime contract, that just doesn’t make sense.”

Boasberg, whose background is in law and business, said the concept of a guaranteed job after three years is alien to most workplaces.

“I’m not aware of any other sector of the economy where forced placment exists, in the public sector or the private sector,” he said.

“The question ought to be, is forced placement a practice which benefits students? And if it is not, the question ought to be, why should there be forced placement?”

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at [email protected] or 303-478-4573.

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.