District officials are developing a plan to bring more effective teachers to schools in poor neighborhoods, part of their response to a federal mandate to address the historically short supply of talent in schools where children have the greatest needs.
At a public meeting with educators Thursday night, officials with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, which is overseeing the development of the plan, said that ensuring equity is key to the success of the city’s public schools.
“We think equitable access is not just a civil rights issue, it’s a school improvement issue,” said Etai Mizrav, OSSE’s education policy and compliance specialist.
Mizrav said the plan will give schools a chance to share what’s working and to try to alleviate common obstacles. The plan also will look at differences between traditional and charter schools overall, between schools, and if possible, within schools.
Charter schools, operated independently, have different methods of evaluating and rewarding successful teachers.
D.C. Public Schools has made improving teacher quality the cornerstone of reform efforts underway since 2007, when the mayor took control of the schools and appointed Michelle Rhee chancellor. Rhee implemented a controversial teacher evaluation program — IMPACT — that led to the termination of more than 400 teachers deemed “least effective” and rewarded many more who are considered “highly effective.”
Research shows that the teachers deemed most effective are far more likely to work in the wealthiest parts of the city, according to an analysis of four years of IMPACT data that was released in 2014.
The highest average IMPACT score was in Ward 3 — 332.7 on a 400-point scale. The lowest scores were in Wards 7 and 8 — 292.3 and 288.5, respectively, according to an analysis by EdCORE at George Washington University under contract with the National Academy of Sciences.
The report, which examined 13,488 teacher IMPACT scores across all eight wards from 2009-2010 to 2012-2013, also looked at average IMPACT scores within each ward and found consistently higher teacher scores in more affluent schools.
In the 2011-2012 school year, 41 percent of Ward 3 teachers were rated highly effective, while just 9 percent were highly effective in Ward 8, according to an analysis by Mary Levy, a school finance expert who was hired as a consultant by Marion Barry while he was a Ward 8 D.C. Council member.
The imbalance has caused many people to question whether the District’s formula for evaluating teachers — which includes classroom observations and measures of student achievement growth — is fair to the teachers working in schools with high numbers of struggling students.
D.C. Public Schools has taken many steps to encourage qualified teachers to work in high-
poverty schools, and to stay there. Most notably, the school system has offered bonuses of up to $20,000 for highly effective teachers in high-poverty schools, compared with $2,000 in low-poverty schools.
Compensation differences are also built into the pay scale, so that a highly effective teacher with a master’s degree working for seven years (or more) in a high-poverty school can earn $100,000 compared with $70,000 in a low-poverty school.
The school system also is targeting more support for teachers in struggling schools, including professional development and opportunities for teachers to play greater leadership roles, said Jason Kamras, chief of human capital for DCPS.
“We want to make sure we have a great teacher in front of every child,” Kamras said. “We are going to continue to think very hard and be as innovative as possible to make sure we can make that happen.”
The federal government is hoping that more transparency about the challenges districts face will spur change.
The District, along with every other state, has to submit an “educator equity plan” by June that will identify gaps in teacher effectiveness between schools and offer an analysis of the root causes of disparities and strategies for addressing them.
Mizrav said the plan will give schools a chance to share what’s working.
The plans are a response to a lesser-known requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires states to ensure that all teachers in core academic subjects are “highly qualified.”
The federal definition of “highly qualified” requires teachers to have college degrees, a full state license and some mastery of content, provable by coursework or a standardized test. That definition has been criticized as insufficient, because such qualifications have not been closely connected to student success.
The District also plans to look at other measures, including teacher experience, which has been linked more closely to effectiveness, with teachers in their first or second years performing worse than veteran teachers.
David Tansey, a math teacher at Dunbar High, said he has been the second-most senior math teacher on staff since his third year at the school.
He cited the unpredictably that comes with teaching in a classroom where enrollment is constantly changing and large numbers of students are behind academically.
Teachers feel that getting a good classroom evaluation is often a matter of luck, he said.
“It’s a very high-stress environment,” Tansey said.