February 17, 2012
The city’s new process for managing low-rated teachers might result in more of them leaving the system — but not because they have been fired, if New Haven’s experience using a similar model is any indication.
When city and union officials announced a deal on a key sticking point in teacher evaluations talks, the appeals process for teachers who get low ratings, both said they had been inspired by a system in place since 2009 in New Haven, Conn.
A key component of that system is the use of third party “validators” to observe teachers considered ineffective and either corroborate or contradict the principal’s assessment. In New York City, validators would work with teachers in the year after they receive a low rating according to a not-yet-finalized evaluation system.
New York City officials said they expected the new process to result in more teachers being terminated. If the validator supports a principal’s assessment of a teacher, they note, the teacher would enter termination hearings under a presumption of incompetence — a major shift from the current system, in which the city must prove that the teacher is not up to par.
But New Haven’s system has not produced many firings. Instead, officials there say it has encouraged teachers to leave on their own. Thirty-four New Haven teachers designated “in need of improvement” — less than half of whom had tenure — exited the system last year, but they had chosen either to retire or resign, according to the officials.
“They came to an understanding once they saw that it wasn’t just one person saying that they weren’t performing, that the validator was also seeing the same thing,” said Michele Sherban-Kline, who oversees New Haven Public Schools Teacher Evaluation and Development. “Most of them came to the realization that it was better that they not fight it because all of the evidence was there.”
Sherban-Kline said the separation agreements happened after both school administrators and the validators held extensive conversations with the teachers. She called these opportunities for teachers to leave on their own terms – instead of being terminated – a “respectful and professional way” of treating people.
This year, of the 50 New Haven teachers targeted as “In Need of Improvement,” five have already put in for retirement or resignation.
“Some of them don’t want to put in or don’t have the capacity to put in the amount of work that is necessary to improve the amount that we’re looking for,” Sherban-Kline said.
According to Sherban-Kline, validators have been a well-received addition to the evaluation procedures, especially by teachers who participated in developing the system through a collaborative process.
“They’re finding it useful in that it gives the teachers more of a sense that the process is fair. The most objective part of the whole process is the observation of classroom practice,” Sherban-Kline said.
David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, agreed that teachers have bought into the process and feel assured by the independent set of eyes.
“We’re not looking to fire people, in fact it’s just the opposite,” Cicarella said, noting that the goal is to help teachers improve and to ensure that all teachers are meeting certain standards. ”It’s a protection for the teacher and it’s a protection for the school district.”
New Haven’s validators visit teachers under their watch at least three times, the same number as New York City’s validators will observe teachers, and some of those visits are unannounced. Both the administrator and the validator observe the lesson together and submit a written evaluation to Sherban-Kline after each visit.
At the end of the year, if both the administrator and validator agree that there has been improvement, all is good. If they both agree that the teacher is still “In Need of Improvement,” a strong case is made for termination. If there is a discrepancy, then there is further investigation into the quality of the teaching and the supports that were provided.
There are key differences between the system that exists in New Haven and the one proposed for New York City. Here, validators will be appointed when a teacher actually receives an ineffective rating. But in New Haven, they are assigned when a principal deems a teacher likely to get a low rating — and termination proceedings can start at the end of the same year.
Also, New Haven doesn’t reserve validators for just the most struggling teachers. Ones who appear likely to be headed for “exemplary” status are also observed, to judge whether they might be promoted to leadership positions.
And New Haven’s experience doesn’t answer a major open question here in New York: whether the system can afford the contractor fees for a large number of validators to visit potentially large numbers of teachers with low ratings. Fewer than 1,900 teachers received evaluations in New Haven last year.