In HISD There Are No Unsatisfactory Teachers; Surprise: We Live in Lake Woebegone

Categories: Education
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Only 3.4 percent of HISD teachers are "below expectations" or "unsatisfactory"
"Of the 11 HISD schools rated 'Academically Unacceptable' by the Texas Education Agency in 2008-9, only two rated any teacher unsatisfactory" in any category of their evaluations. -- Source: HISD Human Resources

It was a day of cold, dark truths for Houston school district trustees at their weekly workshop Thursday as Daniel Weisberg of The New Teacher Project led them through a review of preliminary findings of his group's review of how the Houston district handles its personnel evaluations -- and found it wanting.

In fact, even though HISD's teachers say they want a rigorous review process that then supports them in their development, the system the district uses is inadequate in telling good from bad, determining specific areas of improvement or helping teachers individually to improve, the consultant said.

As a result, "HISD has missed opportunities to improve or remove ineffective teachers."

As its own data proves. For instance:

-- Just 3.4 percent of teachers in the Houston Independent School District got a rating of "below expectations" or "unsatisfactory" in any part of their job evaluations in the 2005-6 and 2008-9 school years.

-- "Even the district's least effective teachers are rarely rated 'unsatisfactory' in any area."

-- Just two of the 661 teachers reviewed at the 11 worst schools had any area of their evaluation rated unsatisfactory.

-- "Before the 2010 staff review process, almost no probationary teachers were nonrenewed for their performance in the classroom. Only 0.6 percent of all probationary teachers between 2005-6 and 2008-9 were nonrenewed for performance reasons."

-- "Just 50 term or continuing contract teachers have been terminated or nonrenewed for performance reasons since 2005-6. Fifty-one percent of all principals have not even attempted to nonrenew or terminate a poorly-performing term or continuing contract teacher in the last five years.

Just 18 percent of principals said they have enough time to focus on teacher appraisal and development.

But the district gave them something new to think about in that regard on Thursday when it announced a new principal bonus plan.

HISD principals will be able to earn as much as $30,000 in bonus money next year if they're at one of the district's most troubled middle and high schools and if they meet at least three goals 100 percent, Superintendent Terry Grier said.

The plan, presented by Chief Human Resources Officer Ann Best, makes principals at certain high schools (Lee, Kashmere, Jones, and Sharpstown) and low-performing middle schools (Fondren, Ryan, Attucks, Dowling and Key) eligible for extra money if they can turn the schools around.

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Photo by Margaret Downing
HISD Superintendent Grier wants to give bonuses to principals

The purpose of all this "is to encourage bold leaders to take on the challenge of transforming the district's lowest-performing schools and to signigicantly increase student achievement." Examples of goals they undertake would include: decreasing the dropout rate, increase student enrollment, and increase science proficiency.

According to Grier, there would be no payments for partial success. So if a principal doesn't reach 100 percent of one of his or her goals, there's no bonus for that.

High school principals (in addition to the overall principals at the schools) would be eligible for up to $30,000 in bonuses. Middle school principals and the small school principals within Kashmere (two) and Jones (three) could earn up to $20,000. Funds are coming from the Texas Title 1 Priority Schools Grant. Key Middle School's bonus, if there is one, will be paid out of the general fund. If the Title 1 funding doesn't come through, then all the bonuses will be paid out of the general fund's ASPIRE bonus section.

In other business, the board received a tidied-up version of its resolution asking the State Board of Education to reconsider the changes it is making in the mandated social studies curriculum. First discussed at an April 22 board workshop, the measure endorsed 7-0 by HISD trustees asks state board members to reduce the number of mandated objectives that students must learn.

Rather than increasing the number of student objectives by nearly 11 percent, the HISD resolution -- championed by Manuel Rodriguez -- argues that considation ought to be given to "encouraging in-depth student understanding of key concepts and issues, and the development of critical and reasoning skills."

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