According to the New Haven Independent, the school district adopted a new teacher evaluation system last year that made it easier to fire tenured teachers who aren’t performing well.
The evaluation tool won the endorsement of the teachers’ union because it placed the greatest emphasis on helping low-performing teachers get better rather than on getting rid of them. The Independent reports:
As the threat of teacher firings loomed this fall, teachers union president Dave Cicarella waited to see if the grading system would be carried out fairly and whether it would affect tenured as well as non-tenured teachers. On Monday Cicarella announced the process had gone “smoothly” on both counts. “Teachers are much happier because everyone knows what’s expected of them,” Cicarella said.
The old grading system simply rated teachers as satisfactory or unsatisfactory, and how the system was used varied from school to school. Now teachers sit down with supervisors to set the terms for their own evaluations. They get more feedback on how they’re doing.
The New Haven program is winning kudos, incuding this New York Times editorial praising the program:
Traditional teacher evaluations typically involve cursory observations by school administrators who visit the classroom once or twice — without taking student achievement into account. In most schools, even the least competent teachers receive positive evaluations. Struggling teachers never get the help they need to improve and are locked into place when they receive tenure.
The New Haven system rates teachers individually and gives them the specific help they need. To do that, it focuses on three areas. It considers growth in student learning, as measured by progress on state and local tests and attainment of academic goals. It examines the teacher’s instructional abilities, as measured by frequent observations by principals and other instructional managers. It rates teachers on professionalism, collegiality and whether they have high expectations for all students. Perhaps most important, the system gives teachers almost constant feedback, so that they are fully aware of where they stand and what they need to do to improve.
Of the 1,846 teachers rated, 75 were notified early in the 2010 school year that they were in danger of being terminated. Of those, 34 resigned or retired without contesting their final evaluations. Fifteen teachers, considered borderline cases, were given more time to improve and allowed to keep their jobs. The most hopeful sign is that nearly 40 percent of the teachers who got off to a poor start managed to improve, thanks to extra help. Some who started out as poor performers were rated as “strong” or “effective” by year’s end. This shows that good teaching can indeed be taught, and that with genuine effort school systems can upgrade the teacher corps in a fairly short period of time.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog