Teaching stipends at IR schools, leveling, student test preparation and more

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“Notes from the Superintendent” is a document intended to provide answers to the most frequently asked or most topical questions that I hear from our dedicated teachers and staff members at the campus level. These notes are kept on the HUB, the district’s online newsroom, and will provide brief answers to different questions every two weeks. If you have a question related to something that affects a number of employees, you may submit that question here. I hope this additional form of communication will help all of us stay on the same page and enhance our ability to serve our students.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Question: Is it true that all students with disabilities will be returning to their neighborhood school for the 2015-2016 school year?

Answer: There are many benefits for students with disabilities returning to their neighborhood schools and the District is working on plans that will allow more students to be closer to home. The implementation of plans will not begin until 2016-2017 school year. This will allow the necessary time for planning and support to ensure that all necessary systems are in place for a successful implementation. Conversations with families whose students will return to their neighborhood school will begin the spring of 2016.

Question: Will teachers be given a stipend for teaching in the Improvement Required (IR) schools next year?

Answer: No. However, we have provided an incentive through the DTR process: DTR-eligible teachers receive three additional points if they serve in a Tier 1 school (which includes the IR schools).

Also, the District has a draft plan to encourage teachers and a handful of principals to move to an “ACE” school. The Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE) plan is a pilot program to begin the equitable distribution of effective teachers across the District. The District will choose five to eight schools to participate in the ACE pilot next school year. The effective and distinguished teachers (and principals) who volunteer and are selected to serve in those schools will receive a stipend. Much more information will be available by the end of March.

Question: How does the District conduct leveling?

Answer: Each spring, Budget, Demographics, School Leadership and Human Capital Management go through an established process for projecting the number of students (and sub-populations of students) that each campus is expected to have in the coming fall. Those projections are used with the district’s staffing formula to determine how many teacher FTEs, and what types of FTEs (Bilingual, Special Ed, etc.) each campus should have. Principals hire staff members during the late spring and summer based on those FTE allotments.

Beginning mid-September of each year, the district conducts a leveling process during which the actual student enrollment for each campus is used in the district’s staffing formula to determine the number and types of teachers each campus should have. In general, campuses that have more teachers than the formula determines must reduce the number of FTEs on their campus (which often necessitates a teacher moving off of that campus). Campuses that have fewer teachers than the formula determines are given additional FTEs so that they can hire additional teachers.

Each of our schools have unique needs based on the specific student population that they serve for which a mathematical formula cannot account. During the fall leveling process, principals, and School Leadership Executive Directors and Assistant Superintendents frequently make requests for additional FTEs, or that they be allowed to retain FTEs they are projected to lose, based on the specific needs of their students. Additionally, the state does not announce IR status, which often results in additional FTE allotments, for campuses until August. Finding a balance between School Leadership’s desire to add FTEs above formula and Budget and HCM staff who must consider districtwide issues of comparability and funding requires thoughtful discussion. During the fall leveling process, the involved departments collaboratively come to an agreement on FTE allotments per campus and the appropriate adjustments are made.

Question: (reprise) Why is there so much test preparation? Do students really need to be pulled out of class for additional instruction that others in the same class are not getting? Shouldn’t all students get the same instruction?

Answer: The use of practice tests is a decision made at the campus level. The District does not require any practice tests to be given. Good instruction is the most important way that teachers help students grow academically, and every student should receive high quality instruction every day. Good instruction is always more effective than test preparation, particularly test preparation that occurs at the expense of other classes. We recognize that students learn the same concept in different ways and at different paces and so some students may require additional instruction in order to master the concepts being taught. However, time spent on test preparation should be very minimal.


DID YOU KNOW?

  • Since January 2013, 60 percent of a principal’s evaluation has been based on “performance” and 40 percent based on “achievement.” Last week the principals voted to change their evaluation percentages to 65 percent for performance and 35 percent for achievement.
  • The District is conducting an analysis of where its most effective teachers are teaching, starting with the 1,477 Distinguished Teacher Review-eligible teachers. Preliminary data shows that most schools have two or three times as many distinguished-eligible teachers as our IR campuses.

Percentage of DTR-Eligible Teachers Chart


EXCERPTS

From Conversable Economist blog, The Journey to Becoming a School Reformer, a discussion about Roland Fryer’s research.

Here are the five practices he [Roland Fryer] found have the greatest correlation with student achievement:

More time in school

“Simple. Effective schools just spent more time on tasks. I think of it as the basic physics of education. If your students are falling behind, you have two choices: spend more time in school or convince the high-performing schools to give their kids four-day weekends. The key is to change the ratio. … In the case of Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academy, students have nearly doubled the amount of time on task compared to students in NYC public schools.”

Human Capital Management

“For teachers, it is important that they receive reliable feedback on their classroom performance and that they rigorously apply what they learn from assessments of their students to what they do in the curriculum and the classroom.”

Small Group Tutoring

“The third effective practice was what I call tutoring, but which those in the know call small learning communities. It is tutoring. Basically what they do is work with kids in groups of six or fewer at least four days per year.”

Data-Driven Instruction and Student Performance Management

“Even low-performing schools know that data are important. When I visited a middling school, they would be eager to show me their data room. What I typically found was wall charts with an array of green, yellow, and red stickers that represented high-, mid-, and low-performing students, respectively. And when I asked what has this led you to do for red kids, they would say that they hadn’t reached that step yet, but at least they knew how many there are. When I asked the same question in the data rooms of high-performing schools, they would say that they have their teaching calibrated for the three blocks. They would not only identify which students were trailing behind, but would identify the pattern of specific deficiencies and then provide remediation for two or three days on the problem areas. They would also note the need to approach these areas more diligently in future editions of the course.”

Culture and Expectations

“The icing on the cake was that effective schools had very, very high expectations of achievement regardless of their social or economic background. … The essential finding is that kids will live up or down to our expectations. Of course they are dealing with poverty. Of course 90 percent of the kids have single female head of households. They all have that. That wasn’t news. The question is how are we going to educate them?”


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