teaching the teachers

Teacher training programs contemplate how to adapt to teacher evaluations

PHOTO: Chalkbeat/Kate Schimel
Teachers in training at CSU-Pueblo discuss where they'd score on the new teacher evaluations.

Even though Mary Young is just in the final weeks of her training to become a new teacher, she’s already become an expert in Colorado’s complex stack of standards for good teaching that will one day be used to decide whether she should stay in the classroom.

On a late spring afternoon, she pored over the standards — which rolled out to schools around the state this year — and speculated on where she’d rank on each piece.

In some areas, like building a strong classroom culture, Young said expected to excel. But she also realized she had little to no experience practicing other areas of expectation, like incorporating technology in the classroom.

“I have no idea if I will be good at it,” she said.

And the guide that lays out all of the standards, which runs to 20 pages, is daunting for a new teacher.

“How do you balance all of these?” she asked.

But Young is already ahead of the game in getting ready for her first evaluation. Her training program, Stanley Teacher Preparation Program, is one of just two in the state selected to be part of a pilot program figuring out how to train teaching candidates on the new evaluation system.

For teacher preparation programs, the incentive to graduate students who will do well under the new evaluation system is strong: eventually, the state’s teacher trainers will be graded based on how well their students do in their first years of teaching.

But the pilot has revealed just how far programs have to go to prepare teaching candidates for the new system and has illuminated a system still in flux as officials gradually introduce a complex series of laws governing teaching practices.

“They’re not going to be done by the time I’m done with my job,” said Jennifer Arzberger, who supports the grant-funded pilot program, which is entering its second and final year and was formed as a collaboration between the two state offices overseeing Colorado’s higher education and K-12 systems.

Teacher preparation programs also have a dilemma: school districts, which have to teach according to the new evaluation standards, want their incoming teachers trained on those. But the higher education system still holds the programs accountable to teaching the old standards, so prep programs must meet those expectations as well.

Moreover, teacher prep programs often work closely with individual school districts, many of which have developed their own variations on the state’s evaluation system to meet the requirements of the law. But programs must prepare new teachers for classrooms anywhere in the state.

And the implementation of the new standards has raised a number of practical questions for teacher trainers, including ones as simple as exactly how advanced young teaching candidates should be when they first enter the profession.

No answers, yet

One of the biggest problems for teacher training programs is that there is still no clear consensus on how skilled teachers should be, within the framework of the new evaluation system, when they graduate and enter classrooms for the first time on their own.

Young and her fellow students received training on how they would be evaluated and assessed themselves on the standards. But when Stanley instructors prepared to evaluate Young and others on the standards, it became obvious that no one knew where they should score if the program was doing its job. Should they be proficient on every standard? Or are some areas impossible for students who don’t run their own classroom to demonstrate mastery of?

Stanley, which puts teaching candidates to work immediately in a classroom under a mentor, polled their mentor teachers on where students should fall early in their careers. The program leaders also broke down the standards by what candidates are taught in the program.

“In most cases, they are going to be around basic, proficient or partially proficient,” said Sue Sava, who heads the Stanley program. Few recent graduates will rank in the top tiers on the evaluation.

Right now, those designations carry no consequences for teaching candidates. But eventually, under legislation likely to come forward next year, teacher candidates’ rankings on the evaluations could be tied to whether or not they receive their teaching licenses.

That’s a move Sava isn’t so sure about.

“Does state model rubric even make sense for teachers [in training]?” Sava said. Using it as a training tool works well, but to demonstrate mastery, she said, a candidate would really have to have their own classroom.

Other remaining questions are as basic as exactly which variation on the state’s system programs should use to train their students, since many of the largest districts have designed their own evaluation systems.

Both Stanley and the other participating program, University of Colorado-Denver’s Urban Community Teaching Education Program, collaborate closely with districts to place teachers-in-training in classrooms and prepare them for the needs of the specific districts. But most smaller districts use the state’s model system, whose language and structure can differ significantly from Denver’s LEAP evaluation tool and other district-designed systems.

While these questions and others linger, Arzberger hopes their work will help inform other teacher preparation programs statewide as they grapple with the new system.

Caught in the middle

As Sava and her team spend the next year totally redesigning Stanley’s preparation program to align with the standards of the evaluations, they will have to confront the side effects of a set of teacher accountability policies that have been stitched together piecemeal.

While their teachers will be evaluated on one set of standards after they graduate and enter the classroom, the teacher training programs themselves are still held accountable for teaching an old set of standards. And to make things more complex, teacher preparation programs will soon be ranked based on how well their candidates perform on evaluations during their first three years of teaching.

Sava believes that the old guidelines, known as “performance-based” standards and dating back to 1991, are antiquated and burdensome. The strain the old standards place on programs like Stanley takes physical form in a document called Big Bertha — a stack of papers several inches thick that contains all of the compliance information on just one of the standards, literacy instruction.

“[The new standards] are much more concise,” said Sava.

And she thinks they do a better job of pushing teachers to get better. “They do a good job of articulating this is what highly effective teaching looks like.”

Stanley is currently attempting to comply with both sets of standards, but Sava hopes to abandon the old standards entirely and discard Big Bertha. But that would require new legislation.

“We hope that’s going to happen,” said Sava. In the meantime, Sava said she has been encouraged to continue their work with the new standards.

“All they’ve known”

While programs are grappling with how to comply with the policies, the teachers they train are facing them fresh. New teachers like Young won’t have to deal with the transition many veterans have.

It’s a fact Young is acutely aware of. Her mother is also a teacher in Denver Public Schools. This year, Young received more training on the standards than her mother did.

“I feel better knowing what’s going to be expected and that [Stanley] is a safe place where I can ask questions,” said Young. While she finds some aspects of the standards daunting, that’s more hopeful than her mother’s response: “How are we supposed to do this?”

According to Arzberger, the teachers in training on whom so much of the difficulties center may emerge relatively untouched.

“It’s all they’ve known,” Arzberger said.

Future of Teaching

Tentative contract includes big raises for IPS teachers

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Teachers would receive significant raises under a tentative new contract with IPS.

A month after voters approved a vast funding increase for Indianapolis Public Schools, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration and the district teachers union have reached a tentative deal for a new contract that would boost teacher pay by an average of 6.3 percent.

The agreement was ratified by union members Wednesday, according to a statement from teachers union president Ronald Swann. It must be approved by the Indianapolis Public Schools board, which is likely to consider the contract next week, before it is final.

Swann did not provide details of the agreement, but it was outlined in union presentations to teachers on Wednesday ahead of the ratification vote. The deal would cover the 2018-19 school year, and teachers would receive retroactive pay back to July 2018. The prior contract ended in June.

Raising teacher pay was a key part of the sales pitch district leaders used to win support for a referendum to raise $220 million over eight years from taxpayers for operating expenses. The referendum passed with wide support from voters last month, and although the district will not get that money until next year, the administration can now bank on an influx of cash in June 2019. Teachers could receive another raise next year, once the money from the referendum begins flowing.

The proposed deal would bring pay raises for new and experienced teachers. First year teachers in the district would see their salaries jump to $42,587, about $2,600 above the current base salary, according to the presentation to teachers. Returning teachers would move up the pay scale, with most receiving raises of about $2,600.

The deal also brings a reward for teachers who are at the top of the current scale. The top of the scale would rise to $74,920 by adding several stops above the current maximum of $59,400. That means teachers who are currently at the top of the scale would be able to move up and continue getting raises.

Many longtime teachers in the district also earn additional pay for advanced education, but teachers who joined the district more recently are not eligible for that extra money.

Teachers who received evaluations of ineffective or needs improvement in 2017-18 are not eligible for raises.

The new contract is the second time in recent years that teachers have won substantial raises in Indianapolis Public Schools. After four years of painful pay freezes, Ferebee negotiated a contract in 2015 that included a large pay increase. Teacher pay is especially important for the district because it is competing with several surrounding communities to staff schools.

Health care costs would go up this year, a policy shift that was advocated by the Indy Chamber, which urged the district to reduce health insurance spending as part of a plan to shift more money to teacher salaries.

The contract includes a provision that was piloted last year allowing the district to place newly hired teachers at anywhere on the salary schedule. It’s designed to allow the district to pay more for especially hard-to-fill positions.

Teachers at some troubled schools, known as the transformation zone, would also be eligible for extra pay on top of their regular salaries at the discretion of the administration. That money would come from state grants specifically targeted at transformation zone schools.

The idea of allowing superintendents to pay some teachers in their districts more than others is controversial.

Teacher Pay

‘Our teachers have waited long enough’: Educators say Indiana needs to act now on teacher pay

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students in Decatur Township work on physics problems with their teacher.

Educators and advocates are pushing state leaders to take action this year to raise teacher compensation — not to wait for additional research, as Gov. Eric Holcomb proposed last week.

“Our teachers have waited long enough,” said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union. “It doesn’t take a two-year study to discover what we already know: teachers need to be valued, respected, and paid as professionals.”

Holcomb’s proposal last week to study raises in the upcoming budget-writing session and make bigger steps in 2021 didn’t sit well with some, since lawmakers and advocates spent the fall talking up the need to make teacher salaries competitive with other states. But given the state’s tight budget situation, Holcomb suggested studying the impact of raises for at least a year, as well as looking at how much money would be needed and how districts would be expected to get the money to teachers.

Read: Raising teacher pay likely to be at the forefront for Indiana lawmakers and advocates in 2019

The proposal drew quick criticism. Education leaders and advocacy groups took to Twitter to express their hopes that Holcomb and lawmakers would find ways to address teacher salaries this year as well as into the future.

“IN must respond now,” State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick tweeted Friday morning, remarking that too many teachers across the state are leaving the profession because pay is too low. “Kids deserve & depend upon excellent teachers.”

“We can’t wait to act because Hoosier children are counting on all us to come together to ensure our schools can attract and retain the best teachers,” Justin Ohlemiller, executive director of Stand for Children Indiana, said in a blog post titled “The time to act on teacher pay is now.

ISTA’s 2019 legislative agenda, released Monday, will continue pushing for lawmakers and state leaders to find creative solutions to raise teacher pay and make Indiana competitive with other states.

And ISTA says they might have voters on their side. A recent ISTA poll of more than 600 Hoosiers, conducted by Emma White Research, shows that funding for education is a priority across the state, with more than 86 percent of those sampled supporting sending more money to public schools. About 72 percent of people polled believe educators are underpaid.

But it’s unclear if there would be enough money in the budget to spend on across-the-board raises after other funding obligations are met, such as funding needed by the Department of Child Services to deal with effects of the state’s opioid crisis. Senate Democrats have called for $81 million a year to ensure 5 percent raises for teachers and counselors over the next two years. Republicans have strong majorities in both chambers.

Neither ISTA, lawmakers, Holcomb nor other education groups have released specific plans for either how much they’d like to see set aside for teachers or strategies for how a pay increase could feasibly be carried out. However, the effort has brought together some unlikely allies — the union, a vocal advocate for traditional public schools, rarely aligns its education policy with groups like Stand and Teach Plus Indiana that have favored increased school-choice options, such as charter schools.

With limited dollars to go around, the focus will have to also be on how to make existing education dollars go farther, Meredith said. She, along with Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma last month, pointed to the need to curtail spending on administration, which, they argue, could free up money for other expenses such as teacher compensation.

Some have also pointed to the state’s recent budget surplus and reserves as evidence that Indiana could spend more on education if there was political will to do so.

“The surplus has come on the backs of educators and their students,” Meredith said. “Elected leaders must do more. They must do more to declare teacher pay a priority in this session, and they must take action.”

ISTA is also hoping lawmakers will act to:

  • Restore collective bargaining rights so educators can negotiate work hours and class size, as well as salaries and benefits.
  • Remove teacher evaluation results from decisions about salary until the state’s new ILEARN test has been in place for a few years.
  • Invest in school counselors, psychologists, and social workers
  • Strengthen regulations for charter and virtual charter schools, including putting a moratorium on new virtual schools until those safeguards can be enacted.
  • Study districts that have focused on how to best teach students who have experienced trauma.

Indiana’s next legislative session begins in January.

Correction: Dec. 11, 2018: This story has been updated to reflect that Stand for Children Indiana doesn’t take a position in regards to private school vouchers.