Highlights from the Contract Study

By Fiona Cohen

Our Schools Coalition commissioned the The National Council on Teacher Quality to do a study of the new contract between the school district and the Seattle Education Association, the union representing the teachers and supporting professionals, and finds the contract is well, OK.

“The recently adopted contract between the Seattle Public Schools and Seattle Education Association is clearly a document of compromise that seemed to leave both parties content, but neither completely successful in achieving their goals,” states the analysis.

For the Our Schools Coalition, this doesn’t represent a setback – reforms that the 2010 contract introduced are still there – but it isn’t much of a boost either.

It is particularly disappointing when it comes to discipline.

[Read more…]

Study Finds Contract Falls Short

SEATTLE – A detailed review of the new contract struck between Seattle Public Schools and the district’s teachers gives both sides credit for carrying through on the groundbreaking professional growth and evaluation program adopted in the 2010 contract, but faults the process for not making more ambitious improvements to improve teaching and learning and close the achievement gap.

The study, conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality, was commissioned by the Our Schools Coalition, a broad alliance of Seattle Public Schools parents, businesses and community leaders dedicated to improving the education of Seattle’s children.

Earlier this year, the coalition urged the district and the Seattle Education Association to incorporate a balanced set of research-based, high impact improvements in their new contract. The package of reforms, ranging from better support for teachers’ professional development, to proven strategies for eliminating the achievement gap between student groups, to improved hiring practices, enjoys overwhelming support from Seattle Public School parents and Seattle taxpayers. (A poll taken earlier this year found 89 percent of Seattle voters and 93 percent of Seattle parents supported the platform (http://ourschoolscoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/OSC-2013-Release-Toplines-survey-results.pdf).

Contract Talks Stalled between the School District and the Teachers’ Union.

By Fiona Cohen

Early this evening, Seattle Public School teachers gather at Benaroya Hall to vote on the district’s most recent contract offer. It is likely they will reject it.

Contract talks between the teachers’ union and the school district broke down on Friday, and union leadership has voted to recommend that the membership vote down the district’s proposal.

The sticking points:

  1. Teacher evaluations. During the last contract, the union and the district came up with an new method for teacher evaluations, which used a combination of classroom observations and test scores, and the district (and Our Schools Coalition) had hoped that would continue. The union wants to put it on hold until after the state switches to the Smarter Balanced evaluation system. This change, which is part of a plan to implement a nationwide “common core” curriculum, is scheduled to take place in 2014-2015.
  2. Elementary School teachers will have half-an-hour added to their day.  Both sides agree that classroom teachers will use that time for planning and meetings. The dispute is over what the kids will do in that time. The union wants them in school, doing classes in P.E. or the arts. The district does not want to pay for that.
  3. Teacher pay. Although the state mandated a 1.3 percent salary cut, the district will not be doing this. Also, the district has proposed a 2 percent raise in each of the next two years. Not enough, says the union.

For more details visit Crosscut or KUOW.

State Must Fix Teacher Evaluations, say Feds

By Fiona Cohen

Washington risks losing its waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act if it doesn’t revamp how teachers and principals are evaluated by the end of this school year, the Associated Press reports.  U.S. Education officials stated on Thursday that Washington, Oregon and Kansas have not met the conditions of their waivers from, and had already blown their deadlines to fix it at the end of this school year.

Without the waiver, they would have to meet the acts requirements that every child meet state reading and math standards by January 2014.

The letter from Department of Education Assistant Secretary Deborah Delisle (which we linked to via Education Week blogger Michele McNeil’s post about the decision), Washington needs to pass legislation requiring school districts to use test scores as a factor in evaluating teachers. Current Washington law leaves it up to school districts whether to do that.

Delisle’s letter says that Washington has made a commitment to change the law, though it does seem that it will be challenging to get such a bill passed in time, given that the continually deadlocked Washington State Legislature has difficulty getting anything passed.

Making Way for Great Teachers

By Fiona Cohen

Right now, a group of teachers union and school district officials are slowly, painstakingly working out a collective bargaining agreement. The agreement will map out almost every aspect of how teachers work and how much they are paid, and every phrase in it will be considered in baffling, jargon-ridden detail. But once in a while, something great and creative can come out of this talk-a-thon.

Three years ago was one of those times, when the union and the school district came up with a new framework for teacher evaluations.

The system they replaced simply rated teachers’ performance as “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory,” with almost all (in the 2007-2008 school year the proportion was 99.5 percent) teachers rated “satisfactory.”

[Read more…]

Am I growing? Can I do this?

These two questions defined the recent whole district training led in West Valley School District in Spokane, on the transition to new teacher and principal evaluation system. As a facilitator for SEE Washington, I led the entire certificated district staff of about 250 through the three hour opportunity to dialogue and confront the upcoming changes educators face with the new teacher and principal evaluations. Like teaching, the workshop took on a natural cycle of inquiry. Starting with questions, gaining understanding, and ending with deeper questions about the new laws developed by legislators in the new Teacher and Principal Evaluation bills.

In the beginning the questions sound a lot like “Why me?” “Whose idea was this?” and “Where will I find the time?”. As teachers and principals face the newly designed eight criteria of evaluation, a four-tiered system, the teaching and learning framework options of Danielson, Marzano, and the 5 D’s out of UW, along with the use of student growth data, they often look as if they are facing a tsunami.

We started with the idea about why we would want to change our evaluation system in the first place. Reflecting on the limitations of the current binary system of evaluation, short intervals of interaction with a supervisor, and often minimal dialogue about practices led the group to consider that there might be a better way after all.

West Valley took a unique approach in having all certificated staff and administrators participate in the training. The conversation was rich with discussions around specific roles. “What about alternative learners?” “What is unique for small districts in this transition?” Although each staff member worked a typical eight hour day, they stayed engaged for four hours after their regular workday in the activities. We explored the constructivist approach the state took in involving numerous stakeholders in the development of the criteria and legislation. Participants in the training recognized the unique approach Washington has taken in transforming both teacher and principal evaluation simultaneously. Most importantly, they realized how much local control they still hold in guiding the work in their own district.

At the end of the training I reflected with the staff about what their new questions were and what steps they needed to take next after landing on a shared understanding of the instructional shifts that need to be made. Although they developed some new insightful questions and action steps, they also answered some of their initial “tsunami” questions and realized that, “Yes! I want to show how I am growing, and yes! I can do this.” This change is bound to cause some rough waters, but with a shared understanding and rich dialogue we discovered in West Valley that it will not be a tsunami.

This post was written by Shannon Lawson, who also offers these resources for further exploration:
TPEP Site: www.tpep-wa.org
OSPI Resources: www.k12.wa.us/EdLeg/TPEP
Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession: www.cstp-wa.org

Rubrics and muggles: Common language and the new evaluation system

This post was written by Jen Brotherton, a teacher, instructional coach, and mother of two.

My son is obsessed with Harry Potter. It started with an introduction by his older cousins to the first movie and has snowballed from there. He has taken to putting spells on everyone he sees; I think his preschool teachers are a bit concerned. He and his buddy Liam talk about it endlessly, passionately. Listening to two five year olds navigate the complicated, wacky language of J.K. Rowling’s world is fascinating. Now, Liam and Jack talk about many other important things that inhabit their world: Scooby Doo, Batman, their “annoying” sisters, but none of these topics carry the same importance and fervor as their Harry Potter conversations. I asked Jack one day why he and Liam liked talking so much about this together and he said, “Because Mom, we BOTH know all the spells and all the characters and all the places in the books.” Ahhh, a common language.

I have come to realize that having a common language in any situation is often what makes conversations the most meaningful, interesting, exciting and productive. It allows for jumping over the introductory part where you have to explain the background and catch everyone up to speed so that you can instead delve firmly into the content of the conversation. This idea of a common language is one of the many reasons that I feel so positive that the new Teacher and Principal Evaluation system, which our state recently signed into law, will change the future of education. For years, I have had the privilege of teaching with hard-working teachers, initially as a classroom teacher and now as an instructional coach. While we teachers share a global common language: formative assessment, PLC, IEP, differentiated instruction, I have found that much of the language of education is just that, global. When it comes to talking specifically about instruction, we need a more focused, common direction.

We have been very fortunate in Washington State to have incredibly strong support behind the new evaluation system. One of the many supports that our state has provided is a grant that school districts applied for to learn more about the new evaluation system, called Regional Implementation Grants (RIG’s). The ESD in our region holds monthly meetings for the 30+ districts who have signed on for the grant. While our district is not an official RIG district, we are welcomed to these meetings to learn and share resources. On our pseudo-RIG team, we have teachers, administrators, and central office administrators. Not only does this group need to learn and understand the eight criteria adopted by the state for the new evaluation, but each district also needs to pick one of the three preferred instructional frameworks directed by the legislature and adopted by OSPI.

It is a steep learning curve, to say the least. But learning things steeply is not a new notion for educators, is it? At the same time that we are inducting a new evaluation system in our state, we are also adopting Common Core State Standards. While the upcoming professional development, curriculum alignment, and support for teachers may seem overwhelming, in many ways, the timing feels right. We have been, for many years, moving away from the “closed-door” style of teaching and towards collaboration and de-privatization of practice. These two initiatives lend themselves so nicely to a teaching world where sharing and feedback are not only welcomed, but necessary. Complimenting this is the fact that Washington State is the only state that is enacting the principal evaluation in the same year as the teacher evaluation. This intentional connection further supports the vision that our state has for the future of education, the notion of no more “us and them.” We are in this together and it is all for the students we teach everyday.

In addition to being on my district’s Teacher and Principal Evaluation Pilot team, I am also a facilitator for SEE Washington, a group of teachers and principals brought together by the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession to help educators in our region learn and understand all aspects of the upcoming evaluation system. Facilitating for this group has allowed me to go outside my own district and meet with principals and teachers who crave that common language we are striving to develop. I have learned that while the eight criteria are the underpinning of our evaluation system, it is the instructional frameworks which will operationalize our common language. While it might not be as exciting as muggles, quidditch or Hogwarts, there is something pretty magical about a group of teachers discussing with familiarity and understanding the four domains, critical attributes and rubric language embedded in the four tiers. And more exciting than that is that for the first time in my educational career, both teachers and principals will actually have rubrics by which they are judged and evaluated.

As a classroom teacher, I was always mystified by the evaluation protocol of reading over and signing a document that essentially reiterated what I had done in my class for a 55 minute period. Now, I had an amazing principal and am in no way denigrating him–this was the system. What I did find incredibly valuable and useful were our follow-up conversations where we really talked about my practice and the areas where I excelled and I could improve. When I completed my National Board portfolios, it was all I could do not to throw all 56 pages on my principal’s desk with excitement or pop a bag of corn, pull up two chairs and put on my small and large group videos for us to enjoy and discuss. My point is that the majority of teachers love to share, in great detail, their students’ work, evidence of learning in discussions, and the engagement in their classrooms. In many ways, the new evaluation system will enable us to do this by providing teachers the opportunity to bring evidence of our teaching directly to the evaluation.

I am unabashedly hopeful about the future of education. I know that may not be the popular stance right now, but I don’t see any other option but to hope. And I have a great deal of hope about our new evaluation system. I come from a family of teachers, both parents and two of my three siblings; apparently there is an undiscovered education gene. So I will keep hoping and learning and perhaps in the future, one or both of my offspring will continue the work we have just begun. Either that or write the next series of Harry Potter.

Editorial: Put teeth into evaluations

This editorial originally appeared in the Everett Herald.

Stating the obvious, the state Supreme Court ruled recently that Washington is underfunding basic education, and must come up with a reliable revenue source to meet its constitutional duty.

But since our state Constitution also gives voters a direct voice in such decisions, through referendum and initiative, citizens must first be convinced that the money will be spent efficiently and effectively.

To that end, lawmakers need to add teeth to the teacher and principal evaluation system currently being piloted in 11 districts (including Snohomish). The sharper the teeth, the better.

Various ideas are reportedly under negotiation in Olympia, ranging from filling in details in the current law to requiring student test scores be a significant factor in evaluating teachers and principals, and having those evaluations count in employment decisions such as placement, transfers and, when necessary, layoffs.

Read the full editorial here.

Opinion: Protect effective educators, rethink “last in, first out”

This opinion piece originally appeared in the Seattle Times. It is written by Christopher Eide, a former teacher and executive director of Teacher’s United, and Kirby Greene, a fourth-grade teacher in the Seattle Public Schools.

Recently, two teachers from South Seattle drove down to Olympia on a school night to testify against a long-standing labor-union policy in Washington. The policy under scrutiny, commonly referred to as “last in, first out,” has been adversely affecting students in Washington for far too long. “As adults, oftentimes we lose sight of what is most important … our kids,” one teacher testified.

Whether to restructure this policy and build up our ability to identify effective educators is a decision currently in front of Washington legislators.

As teachers, our primary goal is to ensure that we put our students on a track to ultimately graduate high school ready for college or their career. We want all students to go on to earn a living wage and be productive members of our state.

But in Washington, more than 16,000 kids drop out of high school every year. More than half of low-income students and students of color are not reading at grade level. We are 43rd in the nation in terms of college participation for low-income students. Clearly, we are missing the mark, and our most at-risk kids suffer disproportionally.

To read the full article, click here

Comparing and contrasting the teacher evaluation bills

This article appeared in The Seattle Times on Sunday, Feb 5th

Washington state already has a law, approved two years ago, to reshape the way public-school teachers are evaluated.

Now it’s looking at several proposals that would reshape the reshaping — one pushed by the business community, another backed by the state teachers union, one from Gov. Chris Gregoire and yet another from state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn.

So how do all of these differ from yet another system — one recently put in place by the state’s largest school district, Seattle Public Schools?

There are only a few differences, it turns out, but they concern major issues, especially pertaining to how the evaluations can be used in hiring decisions — a flash point because some think the evaluations are too subjective for that.

Read the full article here.