Just before our story about the rise in PIPs among city teachers posted last night, Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso sent out a letter to teachers explaining the district's new approach to evaluating teachers, which many are decrying as a way to cut down on union contract costs the district can't afford. And we've also learned that city principals are also experiencing a surge in PIPs, which their union leader believes is a strategy for the city to more easily fire principals.
Updated: February 9 at 8:19 a.m.
After this letter went out, the PIP stories began rolling in. I thought I'd share some since, despite my best efforts to include as many teacher voices as possible, many couldn't speak on the record for fear of retribution. Though rare, The Sun granted teachers anonymity for this story, given the position many were in. So, I thought I'd share some feedback to my story.
One teacher wrote and said that they discovered Wednesday they had retroactively received unsatisfactory ratings--having never been observed or gone through the mid-year evaluation process. The teacher never sat or signed anything, they said, and the evaluation was submitted after the due date. Consequently, they was placed on a PIP without anyone ever even informing them.
"Generally improvement plans tend to only work if we know [we] are on them," the teacher wrote.
Another, a veteran teacher, said they were informed from the city's benchmark MSA scores, that their 'interventions' weren't working for 34 percent of their students, half of which had never shown up to school.
"They just said my data shows my interventions aren't working," the veteran teacher said. "I thought: How do you know? And if they haven't been working since October, why are you just telling me in January?"
One veteran teacher, who said "the system doesn't need us anymore," wrote in and put the interventions in perspective:
"Just imagine, a 14 or 15 year who walks out of you class cursing you," she wrote. "This same student makes no effort to complete any class work. Part of your interventions is to communicate with a student's home. Some parents may curse you out or call the principal and make a false report about you nagging them."
Another wrote in and said that she tried to present evidence to challenge her unsatisfactory ratings, and was told that 'it wasn't necessary,' because it was going to be in place anyway.
"A lot of us showed up to a meeting, and my principal broke the meeting, telling us there was no point," she said.
A parent also wrote in yesterday, asking if I had any school-by-school percentages, because she was interested in knowing if her student's school was experiencing the PIPs. When I couldn't provide it--the school system declined to provide data, calling it a "shifting number,"--she had one response: "Disturbing."
Below, I've posted the letter sent by the system explaining its take on the angst the PIP situation has caused.
Update on Professional Support for Teachers
February 7, 2012
Dear City Schools Teachers,
Thank you for all that you have done—and continue to do—for our students. In so many ways you and City Schools are at the forefront of the national effort to strengthen student success in big-city public school districts. And as we all know, along with the thrill and satisfaction of being innovators come plenty of challenges and hard work.
Your contributions have been invaluable as we roll out new standards and assessments for students, build new evaluation systems for employees and continue to improve how we support schools. With our new teacher contract, and our current participation in a state pilot with six other Maryland school districts to explore different ways of evaluating teachers, we in City Schools have a unique opportunity to dramatically improve our teacher evaluation system. But a shift of this significance is complex, and important work takes time.
We have reached significant milestones in the implementation of the new teacher contract to date, especially in the development of processes and criteria for teachers to advance within and move across pathways. The team of union and district representatives leading the contract implementation have established a peer review process for, and articulated roles and responsibilities for Model Pathway applicants; they are now working on the same for Lead Pathway applicants. And perhaps what is most gratifying about this work so far is that we are hearing from teachers about how the application process has improved their practice—helping them to be more self-reflective and partake of new supports available to them at the district level. One art teacher’s students wanted to help her produce a video as part of her application, and that spurred her to create a whole new Digital Filming/Mixed Media unit for them. She saw what they could and wanted to do, and created the learning structure to make it happen.
Because building a new teacher evaluation system takes time, we are doing what we can to move the work forward with tools we already have in place. Professional development is the most important of these tools, and we as a district are committed to providing teachers with professional development that is rich, relevant and ongoing. We have redesigned our professional development model, replacing one-off workshops with multi-session courses, and created an office of Teacher Support and Development within the Office of Teaching & Learning dedicated to overseeing this work. We are also committed to providing strategic professional development tailored to specific content areas. For example, we are providing for a first time this year professional development around early learning and adolescent literacy.
And we are committed to professional development that is tailored to the particular needs of individual teachers. The performance improvement plans we currently have in the district (popularly known as PIPs) are an important way to achieve this targeted support. I know PIPs have carried a negative connotation in the past; because City Schools was, for many years, a district where teachers received little feedback on how they could grow in their profession, performance improvement plans were often seen as negative, or even punitive. But as their name implies, they represent a tangible agreement between supervisors and staff that identifies both areas for improvement, and the necessary supports needed to help ensure that that improvement occurs. Many of you have heard me say this before and I’ll say it again and again: Every single one of City Schools’ 10,800 employees has room for growth—including me. Whether formally or informally, every one of us should be on a performance improvement plan—as a way to make sure that we are striving to be the best we can be for our kids.
As a district, we have worked hard in recent years to ensure that evaluations are completed on a regular and timely basis. We now require schools to report whether mid-year evaluations are occurring, and on the content of those evaluations. And as part of this renewed focus on evaluations, there is a sense that there are more teachers on performance improvement plans than in the past. Because performance improvement plans are a school-level activity and the number varies from day to day as plans begin and end, and because we do not require information on performance improvement plans as part of the evaluation reporting that principals do, we cannot quantify an exact number. And we should keep in mind that the common assumption that these plans are always tied to unsatisfactory evaluations is unwarranted. A teacher with a satisfactory evaluation might still have a performance improvement plan.
As teachers, you are at the heart of real progress for our students and our schools. I appreciate both your ongoing input and your patience as the evaluation system gets developed and refined. I also appreciate—and ask for—your continued patience with the implementation of the teacher contract overall. But mostly, I thank you for your work each day in the classroom to help our students succeed. Please keep an eye on our employee website, City Schools Inside, for latest updates on the development of the evaluation system and the contract implementation.
I look forward to continuing to work together, as we advance our shared goal of providing great schools for all 85,000 of our great kids.