Future of Teaching

Study: Indiana's teacher evaluation law helped, but still needs work

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Indianapolis Public School is looking for a new system to evaluate teachers.

A study that asked Indiana education college professors about the state’s controversial 2011 law overhauling teacher evaluation found that most of them thought it was helpful.

The study relied on a small sample — 12 professors at four universities across the state — and focused heavily on specific questions of how teacher training changed as a result of the law. But a majority of those surveyed thought the new system was better for teachers than what existed before.

“I don’t think there was really an established, well-understood procedure for doing (evaluation) …,” one of the survey respondents told the researchers. “The quality of the feedback varied, and the quality of the observation itself varied.”

The report is called “University Faculty Perceptions of Teacher Evaluation Law In Indiana” and was produced by the Indiana University School of Education’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy. The lead authors were Colleen Chesnut and Molly Stewart, research associates at the center, and Anna Sera, a graduate student.

The four universities represented were not named but were described as “license-granting institutions with relatively large numbers of students graduating from their programs.”

“Although the changes to Indiana’s teacher evaluation law did not outline any new requirements for education leadership faculty or curricula, these policies certainly impact faculty members’ work of training school leaders,” Chesnut said in a statement. “We examine education leadership faculty members’ perspectives on the law to broaden the scope of research on this policy and bring some insight into how programs prepare future principals for the complex task of teacher evaluation.”

Indiana was one of more than 35 states that has added new laws in the past five years to require more frequent and more stringent reviews of teacher performance. But the Hoosier state did not follow the lead of other states that required most of a teacher’s evaluation rating to be based on how much their student test scores improve.

Instead, Indiana schools must ensure student test scores “significantly inform” each teacher’s annual evaluation rating but can determine what percentage of the rating is based on those scores.

The law requires each teacher to be rated on a four-point scale. Those in the bottom category can be fired, and those in the bottom two categories can be blocked from receiving pay raises.

Teachers unions, in particular, have strongly opposed basing teacher ratings mostly on student test scores, arguing that observation and other measures are more valid.

So far, the law has not dramatically changed the percentage of teachers rated ineffective. That percentage has never risen above 1 percent of all Indiana teachers.

Even so, nearly all of those surveyed for the Indiana University study said they believed the law could help improve teaching.

Among the good aspects of the law the professors surveyed cited were more time spent by principals on classroom observation and better feedback resulting both from the added time watching teachers work and because the reviews were based on specific criteria that were more objective.

But they also cited concerns, such as increased workload for principals and a lack of principal understanding of how to connect evaluations and student test performance.

“The way the law is written is probably not doable,” one respondent said. “I mean, if you really look at how many teachers you have and how much time is required to do the process well, it’s probably not doable.”

Among the study’s recommendations to improve the law were to better connect teacher evaluation and training and to give teachers more control over the design of the evaluation system at their schools.

Read the study here.

Future of Teaching

Average salary: $50,481. Doctorates: 21. First year educators: 241. We have the numbers on Indianapolis Public Schools teachers.

PHOTO: Denver Post file

Teachers in the state’s largest district are facing significant upheaval, as Indianapolis Public Schools consolidates high schools and grapples with a steep budget deficit.

Teachers and other staff are one of the district’s biggest expenses. This year, the district expects to spend nearly $200 million on salaries and benefits for staff, the vast majority of its general fund operating budget. In the months ahead, it is uncertain what steps district leaders will take to balance the budget, but it is likely teachers will be heavily impacted.

Already, we’re seeing some of the effects of high school closings and budget woes on educators. At the beginning of this month, nearly 150 educators who were displaced by high school closings are still looking for jobs, and the district is offering teachers $20,000 to retire. The district is also planning to ask taxpayers for extra money that leaders say is essential to fund regular teacher raises.

This intense focus on educators got us wondering about the district’s teaching ranks — what are their backgrounds, how high are their salaries, how much experience do they have? Here are some of the essential details we learned from state data about Indianapolis’ teachers.

From veterans to newbies

  • 241 Indianapolis Public Schools educators are in their first year, about 10 percent of the 2,497 certified employees in the district this year.
  • The school with the most first-year educators is John Marshall Middle School, where 20 educators were reported to be in their first year.
  • 34 educators have 40 or more years of experience, and 674 have 20 or more years experience.

Diploma details

  • 21 educators in Indianapolis Public Schools have doctorates, including the district’s chief, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. At the school level, Arsenal Technical High School and Northwest High School each have three educators with doctorates.
  • 789 have master’s degrees, and 1,649 have bachelor’s degrees as their highest level of education.

Money matters

  • Last year, the average annual teacher salary in the district was $50,481 — down about $1,900 from the average in 2013-2014.
  • The district spent a total of $1,926,531 on teacher salary increases last year.
  • Still, IPS has been raising teacher pay. The minimum salary for educators has gone up by more than $4,000 to $40,000 since 2013-2014.

Sources: Data from the first period 2017-18 Indiana Department of Education certified employee report and the 2016-17 and 2013-2014 collective bargaining reports from the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board.

more money fewer problems

Detroit teachers will finally get paid for their years of experience if agreement holds up with district

Ally Duncan, an elementary school teacher in Lake County, works with students on sentence structure. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Good news for Detroit district teachers stuck at a low pay level: The finance committee of the school board Friday recommended an agreement with the city’s largest teachers union to raise the pay of veteran teachers — and to bring in experienced teachers at higher salaries.

“This is a major step for the district to fully recognize experience,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said. “A lot of the adult issues have been put aside to focus on children.”

The changes will be for members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, the city’s largest teachers union.

For years, Detroit teachers have bargained for contracts that severely restricted the pay of experienced teachers who wanted to come into the district. As a result, new teachers can currently only get credit for two years of experience, regardless of how many years they’ve taught in other cities or in charter schools.

Vitti has called that restriction a major reason why it’s difficult to attract new teachers and keep existing ones. And with fewer teachers, classroom sizes start to balloon.

Detroit currently has 190 teacher vacancies, down from 275 at this point last year.

The committee also recommended giving a one-time bonus to teachers at the top of the salary scale, to recognize outside experience for current and future teachers, and to repay the Termination Incentive Plan as soon as this September.

The incentive plan took $250 from teachers’ biweekly paycheck and held it to pay them when they left the district when emergency managers were in control, but the money was never given back to teachers, said Ivy Bailey, the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

Teachers who have paid into the incentive plan from the beginning will receive $9,000. The teachers union made a contract with the district last year that stipulated the money be paid by 2020, but the new agreement would move the payment to this September.

Finally, a bonus — $1,373.60 — for more than 2,000 teachers at the top of the pay scale would be paid in December.

Potentially, some teachers receiving bonuses and who are eligible for the incentive plan payment would receive in excess of $10,000,

“The bonus for teachers on the top is focused on ensuring that we retain our most veteran teachers as we work on an agreement in the third year to increase, once again, teachers at the top step so they can be made whole after emergency manager reductions,” Vitti said.  “We can do that once our enrollment settles or increases.”

In all, the district proposes to spend a combined $5.7 million to pay current and future teachers for how long they’ve worked, $3.2 million on bonuses for veteran teachers, and $22 million on the incentive plan.

“This is something none of us were expecting,” Bailey said. “This is good for everyone. We already ratified a contract, so this is just extra.”

It’s a tentative agreement between the district and the Detroit Federation of Teachers, Bailey said.

If an agreement is reached and the school board approves it, the changes could give the district a new tool in trying to reduce the teacher shortage. It’s a major change for district teachers who saw their pay slashed by 10 percent in 2011. The new contract ratified by the union members last summer promised to increase teacher pay by 7 percent over three years but many teachers grumbled that it wasn’t enough to bring them back to where they were in 2011. 

The two groups are still in talks to “iron out the details,” Bailey said. Specifically, the union wants to make sure that district employees like counselors, therapists and college support staff also receive higher salaries commensurate with experience.