HISD moves ahead with its teacher dismissal plan

Here we go.

The school board on Thursday gave initial approval to a policy that allows the district to dismiss teachers whose students consistently perform below expectations on standardized tests. The change represents a move to make personnel decisions based more on student learning instead of relying solely on principals’ classroom observations of teachers.

[HISD Superintendent Terry] Grier and school board members have emphasized that the district’s goal is not to fire teachers but to help them improve. Teachers’ job evaluations now will include their so-called value-added scores, a statistical measure of their effectiveness in helping students reach their potential on standardized exams.

Well, we’ll see how it goes. The teachers don’t much like this, and I can’t say I blame them. We rely an awful lot on standardized tests, and while I think they provide a good metric, they’re just one dimension. They shouldn’t be over-emphasized. I think as long as they’re just another factor in the evaluation, it’ll be all right. The more it’s used, the less comfortable I’ll be.

Do bear in mind that not all teachers teach subjects that are covered by standardized tests. That was a complaint about the merit pay program, too, since it meant some teachers were automatically excluded. Also, as noted in Hair Balls, using improvement on standardized tests as a metric isn’t so effective for Gifted and Talented teachers, whose students generally start out at a very high level on these tests and thus literally can’t improve much, and it complicates the decision of when to transition bilingual kids into English-only classes. The devil is very much in the details here.

One thing I’m curious about:

[Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle] Fallon places blame on principals who don’t identify weak teachers early in their careers. For their first three or four years on the job, public school teachers in Texas are on probationary contracts, making it easier for districts to dismiss them.

In Texas, getting rid of a teacher with more experience, however, can take up to seven months and cost thousands of dollars in legal fees.

“It’s a long process,” said attorney David Thompson, who represents HISD and other Texas districts. “You can see why educators who don’t deal with this every day find it daunting and why it can be discouraging.”

Why not place a greater burden on the principals to do a better job of weeding out the weaker teachers before they get tenure? You have to be careful to not do this in a way that would provide an incentive for principals to fire any time they’re in doubt, but if this is the best time to take action, then let’s make sure action gets taken when appropriate. Come up with a metric that shows how many teachers that were subsequently identified as underperforming a given principal allowed to get tenure, and make that a part of a principal’s evaluation. That’s not perfect – among other things, some people who start out as good performers do later become poor ones, for a variety of reasons – but I think it’s in the right direction. What do you think? School Zone has more.

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11 Responses to HISD moves ahead with its teacher dismissal plan

  1. Martha Griffin says:

    Just to be clear, there is no such thing as tenure for Texas teachers. They can be removed at any time, but it does take more effort and more evidence after the probationary period.

  2. Anna Eastman says:

    Charles, I think it’s important to note that the policy change is the addition of a 34th item that can be used as a factor for non-renewal of a teacher’s contract. We also changed the criteria for a principal’s evaluation. Your concerns regarding teachers who work with high performing students are legitimate and HISD has to be diligent about the integrity of the data, not only for firing reasons, but aslo to allow for us to identify excellence and grow it. I think it’s important to note that with Agenda Item E-2 we voted to accept funding to begin our work with The New Teacher Project, authors of “The Widget Effect.” Check out http://www.tntp.org and you will find ideals and practices that address many of the concerns regarding teacher evaluation and growth and ensuring that those are addressed effectively to ensure that every child has an excellent teacher.

    It is so easy for this conversation to become one demensional and lose sight of the intention. For years there was no measure of accountability for our most struggling kids. Many of our other children bring their test scores from home. The EVAAS data does not use “pass rates” as its measure, rather growth over a year. If kids are taught only to the test the bottom falls out by the end of elementary school, so I see another step in real attempts to tackle the problems of our unacceptable drop-out rates and overaged kids. If children are taught well from an early age the test score will follow. Right now we have large numbers of kids who are older and didn’t get that.

    We also voted on programs for over age middle schools in item D-3. We have thousands of kids scattered throughout our district who are 2+ years over grade level and we’re prepared to serve them with programs that allow for a longer teaching day and extended week and year to get them ahead at their own pace.

    I’ve heard several times that using assesments for accountability is a “magic bullet,” rather it’s an move to insist all of our kids are being taught and learning. You and I would be concerned if our kids weren’t performing on those tests, probably if they weren’t excelling, I don’t understand why that should be a privilege. And when we say it isn’t possible for the kids whose parents don’t have degrees or are incarcerated, etc, that’s the message we give. Teach well and the scores will follow.

    Check out this article in the Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/201001/good-teaching

  3. jost says:

    Yes, there are many ineffective teachers and they should be removed. But, no one is talking about the elephant over in the corner: parents who, for whatever reason, do not parent when it comes to attendance, homework, supplies and respect for an education. The good teachers are over-whelmed with paperwork, too many students and all kinds of pressures – how can then be expected to overcome parents who do not value education?

  4. Anna Eastman says:

    The school system’s job is to educate children. The system can only control what goes on inside the building and society will never fix problems outside the building with an uneducated community. I hear the argument again and again that teaching cannot happen because adults (parents) don’t value education or because parents don’t care about their kids. Valuing education can mean many different things to many different people. Parents come to the table with a variety of different skill sets, life experiences or lack thereof, but that should not determine our effort to educate their children. HISD is a huge system, kids come from many walks of life and noone is denying that there are a mulititude of challenges on our hands. While we plan to add the policy language in February, we are also putting into place measures to support teachers and principals in a variety of ways. But people who have not had success, have to be willing to try new things. Longevity in the system alone does not account for success in the classroom. These changes come from a long, thoughtful, evidenced- based process and while they may be difficult, they may just be another giant step in the direction of a solution.

  5. Jesse Alred says:

    I understand the difficulties HISD leaders face in reforming schools to respond to every kid. My single parent never made over $15,000 a year, but I was lucky to go to a school that offered opportunity. As the school reformers say, we must work to provide these opportunites to every kid. These are complex issues.

    The unions have more to offer than is currently understood, or currently expressed through action. As a youngster in Mississippi, and as a college student in Great Britain, I found myself in environments where I spent some meaningful time supporting strikes. Strikes generate virtues in the form of solidarity and shared understandings among working people. Strikes clarify complex issues real fast. The headlines do not always reflect this. The whole experience of strikes can be as positive as the headlines are negative.

    In the United States we have had about twenty years of a good economy combined with slight liberal trends on social issues, but little progress for working people as workers. Identity politics has masked this. This alliance between economic conservatives and social liberals as “school reformers” putting complete responsibility for student progress of low income kids on teachers represents the bizarre elitism that appears in the void where organized labor should be. This would not happen in the seventies, because unions, in this case, organized teachers, still existed, and people with common sense would acknowledge a link between social class and educational outcomes.

    Practically speaking, you have to have better discipline environments to get better test scores in secondary schools. Too many of our teenagers do not understand the connection between school work and their futures. Its a class more than a race issue. If you were born and raised affluent, it would be hard to grasp that.

    It is unfair to identify the teacher as the primary reason why some kids succeed and others fail, especially considering no society has ever closed the achievement gap without closing the income gap. The billionaires who fund school reform candidates are certainly not advocating policies closing the income gap.

    Its hard to be consistent advocates of our kids without addressing issues in and out of schools.

  6. Judy says:

    I do not know the solution to HISD’s problems but dismissing all the teachers over test scores is not the answer if that is really the plan. I do agree with Jost who asked what about parental involvement. No one ever wants to address this issue. Anna Eastman gave the typical response of we can only control what goes on in the schools and not the outside and other factors beyond our control. Don’t you think the outside factors are limiting the teachers’ abilities to teach those kids? If I am a child of a parent with a low paying job, several mouths to feed, and limited resources, why would going to school be high on my list of priorities if I am lacking the basic needs of life? Of course, the teacher is naturally to blame because I am so depressed that I failed my standardized test. The night before the test the kids are told to have a good meal and get some rest. If I am homeless and starving, how do I do that? Of course, when I fail, fire my teacher!

    Will there be any support for the teachers with these new programs? Will the new superintendent do like the previous ones? Hire all his friends and pay them well while the teachers work from sun up to sun down and barely make enough money to buy groceries and gas! What is the incentive to remain in HISD? Please do not say ASPIRE money. Depending upon where you work, some teachers will never earn that money. Seeing how the qualifying factors to receive the money is changing, I think that was the district’s plan all along!

    Overall, I do hope whatever is put into place for the students will be beneficial for all the stakeholders and not just the top brass who will continue to earn big money and never step foot into a classroom to actually see the truth of what the teachers have to contend with.

  7. Anna Eastman says:

    One final note from me: The proposed changes do not represent an absolution of responsibility from kids or parents. But when we continue blame the plight of the over-worked parent or one who does not “value” education, we get stuck and are again left with undereducated kids. There are many simultaneous measures going on to support kids and families whose challenges are great and multiple, as well as provide support to teachers and administrators within the system. Please take the time to read the entire agenda posted on the HISD.org website under the Board of Education link.

    Check out http://www.tntp.org, widgeteffect.org and http://www.citizenschools.org

    While some children walk in the door with a natural advantage due to their parents’ education and income levels, there is still the expectation that their teachers will teach them what they need to learn. We should have that same expectation for all children. When we start filling those gaps early, they shrink rather than grow and end with disadvantaged kids dropping out. That said our approach must be system-wide now, with credit recovery and accelerated programs for kids who’ve been with us since kindergarten and aren’t succeeding. What we’ve been doing isn’t serving the majority of our kids well. We need to continue to try and identify new and innovative ways to succeed and be open to discarding what’s not working.

  8. Jesse Alred says:

    I have the same expectation for all children. Unfortunately too many of our education leaders in urban areas do not. The standards of both behavior and academics are way different depending on the school.

    Students roam the hallways of my school in small and large groups during class time every day, hanging on window sills, coming to class late and a signficant minority get by with disrupting classes five, ten, fifteen times per semester and face modest penalties.

    Teachers are afraid to fail students who turn in their work, no matter what the quality of it, because there is an unofficial failure rate. Go above that and you are called in and pressured.

    Here is one indication of the changes I have seen in the recent past. Six years ago at my school, every student would have recieved an individual text book for each class. Today, most of us only take one class set. Our principal gave a lecture trying to convince us homework is conduct not academics and thus should not be counted towards a grade.

    So here you have it. At those schools where students come in with socially-determined advantages–I would not call them natural–they also have more work in and out of class, and students who start out behind have less work and lower standards.

    Its administrators (out of a justified fear of higher drop out rates and more failures) that place the downward presure on academic and behavior standards, not teachers.

    Every school neigborhood school has a core of academic oriented teachers who have our hands are tied on both grades and discipline. You can’t tie our hands and ask us to make sure students learn more. You have to make sure we have the powers we need to carry out our responsibilities.

    Nothing is more frustrating in the world than to have responsibility without power.

    If you ask me seriously why my students do not learn more (and my TAKS scores have been pretty good, but that is a sad standard anyway), I would say, because I have been pressured to increase passing rates, lower standards, not give homework, and because students can disrupt my classs any time they want and if I sent them to the office the consequence is so minimal they will just do it again next week.

    You see, many kids from low income familes come in not only with fewer skills and less intellectual enrichment at home, they are not sure why they are in school. The adults need to be on the same page and very clear, this is important. We cannot send so many mixed messages to these kids in particular.

    If you are serious about school improvement then you send a message to teachers, parents, administrators and students at the same time by adopting firm policies and, like good teachers, you live with the inevitable reaction.

    We should not BLAME parents or teachers, or lay it all on administrators either (they are trying to minimize dropouts and political problems), but if you are serious about good secondary schools you put strong policies in place that 1. make sure kids are in their classes, not in the hallways,. 2. permit teachers to establish moderate academic standards and give F’s for students who, after being given second chances and makeup opportunities, refuse to make a reasonable effort, 3. give homework regularly to all students and 4. stop students from disrupting their classes after they have done this a second time.

    None of these are solutions for students with serious family problems, but they will help us provide a good, solid education to every cooperating student.

  9. Pingback: HISD gives final approval to teacher dismissal plan – Off the Kuff

  10. Jerry Hinds says:

    They are CHILDREN!!!! Not widgets, what makes a great educational experience and how can we help teachers? Get all of enourmously important grossly neglected work off the teacher’s plate, such as Counseling.

    If the district really, really wants to improve the scores of all children, why are there NO counselors in elementary schools? So, Oscar’s dad who just got laid off or worse arrested, or Sarah’s mom who’s addicted to drugs, or Belle, who’s being raised by a grandmother with Alzheimer’s has someone to turn to…there’s no food in the house, they’re living in the car, the list goes on….because right now, the ONLY PERSON who is consistently available in the district is the TEACHER. NOT THE SCOREKEEPER, the TEACHER.

    Get a clue, if we expect students to care about themselves, we should CARE about more than their test scores and put priorities first…their mental well-being affects their learning and their scores. If you change the teacher’s primary focus off the wel-being of the whole child and place it on a test score, YOU have FAILED NOT THE TEACHER!

    Every time I hear an official of the school district or board share an view about what children need, I want to throw-up because I know they are doing NOTHING to get the counselors back schools, they give most of the money to their executive management and mid-management staff in pay and bonuses.

    Probably most teachers are shaking their heads about this entire fiasco, Rome is burning and the new staff has decided to go after the foot-soldiers who have been keeping things afloat. It is a LIE to say that this will only affect the lowest/worse teachers. All teachers will feel some anxiety from these additional measures and pressure and I doubt the benefit is worth the intensely negative atmosphere, but this I am sure until we the public stand up and say, NO MORE CRAP HISD get some help for the teachers, because good or bad whatever, whenever children need help. It is 99% coming from the teacher…noone else is there, everyone else is measuring WIDGET PERFORMANCE or talking about HUMAN CAPITAL!

  11. Judd Bingle says:

    Ms. Eastman can spin her vote anyway she wants to but the bottom line is this:
    The New Teacher Project aggressively pursued implementing this failed evaluation system at the behest of Natasha Kamrani and the Arnold Foundation. Their goal is to gain more funding for their projects. Congratulations to them: they have been successful getting approval to turn HISD into a laboratory where the students become lab rats and the teachers robotic. School administrators and teachers will become slaves to the evaluation which gives standardized testing (let’s get real here: multiple choice tests) too much importance – and that’s an understatement. Ms. Eastman needs to get out in the high schools and try to understand what a school day is like. She and the six other board members who voted to approve this plan are deluded. We all want to see student achievement increase. The assessment plan approved by the HISD trustees will create a gulag atmosphere in HISD – and we all know how well that worked in the former Soviet Union. No, the evaluation vote was a bellwether moment for the fate of seven HISD board members. Thank you, Ms. Eastman, and your six colleagues. You have just taken the creativity out of the HISD classroom, you’ve encouraged cheating, and you’ve exacerbated a dropout rate that the tax paying public will hold you accountable for.

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