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Nobody likes a bad teacher, not even teachers.

One of the biggest challenges any public school district has is how to level the educational playing field for socioeconomically-disadvantaged kids.  It’s an extremely vexing problem that can break down the most well-intentioned education policy wonk.  How do you offset the societal pressures that less affluent kids bring to the classroom? How do you get poor kids to succeed?

I think this problem is at the core of Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s recent announcement that DPS would no longer directly-place teachers in Title I (poorer) schools.  Now, mind you, the Superintendent has no authority to independently make this decision, since it’s a policy decision that has broad implications for the 70 percent of all DPS students that are classified as Title I.  Nevertheless, to think you’re going to solve these drastic achievement issues by making a gesture like this is, in my mind, the same as sticking one’s finger in a dike.

“Direct placement” is what happens when there is a teaching vacancy at a school, and that vacancy can exist for several reasons.  A common one is a shift in student population that creates a larger group of students that need an extra teacher.  Another is a shrinking student body that causes funding to be reduced…thereby making it necessary to cut a teaching position.  These situations cause some teachers to be placed back into a pool, and at some point, the district assigns these teachers to open slots elsewhere, sometimes without input from the principal.  The district does its best to match teacher skill sets with open positions.

However, I have objected to the insinuation that these teachers are in the pool for placement because of some deficiency on their part.  It’s true that there are some teachers that really shouldn’t be teaching, but none of last year’s teachers in a direct-placement situation were there because of some deficiency.  They were there simply because of shifts in student population.  There is some concern around teachers that seem to be chronically in this situation, but I wonder what these teachers actually teach…it could be physical education or arts of some type.

If 70 percent of all DPS classify as students that need Title I funding, then the likelihood that a directly-placed teacher will show up in their classroom is actually really high.

I’m listening very carefully to objections about directly-placing teachers in Title I schools, and they seem to center around the misguided belief that somehow bad teachers are being forced into poorer schools, against the wishes of the principals and to the detriment of the students.  Unfortunately, there just isn’t any proof of this in DPS.  However, there seems to be a general discomfort about the fact that there really are some “bad” teachers.  Now, some people’s “bad” teachers are other people’s diamonds in the rough.  In any case, the way to make sure that “bad” teachers aren’t disproportionately being forced into Title I schools is to make sure that only good teachers are in our teaching cadre in the first place.

It’s for this reason that I’m going to propose a resolution at our next meeting entitled, “Ensuring Only the Best Teachers Serve DPS Students.”  This resolution will instruct the Superintendent to immediately forge ahead with a sensible teacher evaluation system to combat this issue surrounding “bad” teachers by producing a plan within 90 days.  If the issue with Title I schools is teacher quality, and since most of our kids are in Title I schools, then let’s just make sure we properly evaluate and retain the right teachers.  It’s really that simple.  Let’s do it right, and let’s do it NOW.

Click here to read my resolution, and please call my colleagues on the Board to ask them to support it.

Update: the President of the Board, Nate Easley, thinks it’s not cricket for me to list phone numbers, so I’m changing to email addresses.

For additional insight, I recommend that you read the article by DCTA’s former President, Kim Ursetta.  This sheds even more light on the situation.

Feel free to leave a comment!