Key Questions and Valuable Resources on ESSA

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What is the Every Student Succeeds Act?

On Dec. 10, President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law. ESSA is the most recent version of the federal government’s biggest K-12 law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which came into effect in 1965. It governs around $25 billion in federal resources that are allocated to states, including approximately $58 million to Delaware in 2012-13.

ESSA contains a number of meaningful requirements that education leaders, parents, and community members should know about and discuss as the state develops its plan to implement the new law.

The Rodel team has developed a series of short summary briefs (links below) that spell out the info you need to know, and the questions you should be asking. To get involved in the Delaware Department of Education’s community engagement process, click here.

Why Teacher Prep Report Cards are Vital to Progress

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Last week, the Delaware Department of Education released the first reports on educator preparation programs. As a reminder, the reports were put into place per Senate Bill 51, passed in 2013, requiring that “Education preparation programs administered by institutions of higher education shall collaborate with the Department to collect and report data on the performance and effectiveness of program graduates. At a minimum, such data shall measure performance and effectiveness of program graduates by student achievement. The effectiveness of each graduate shall be reported for a period of 5 years following graduation for each graduate who is employed as an educator in the State. Data shall be reported on an annual basis. The Department shall make such data available to the public.”

In addition to being a bipartisan bill, it was lauded by national and local experts in the field.

The report cards assess programs across six domains:

  • Recruitment—the diversity of incoming program candidates within programs, as well as the performance of incoming candidates on the SAT
  • Candidate Performance—the performance of program candidates on general content assessments and performance assessments* required for certification
  • Placement—the rate at which program graduates get a job in Delaware schools within one year of graduation from the program, and the rate at which candidates get a job in a school designated as “high-need” by the department of education
  • Retention—the rate at which program graduates continue teaching in Delaware beyond year one (or three)
  • Graduate Performance—the performance of program graduates on the statewide teacher evaluation framework (DPAS-II), separated out by:
    • the student improvement component
    • observation scores
    • student growth (for educators with math, English, science and social studies DCAS scores)
    • overall evaluation scores
  • Perceptions*—surveys from program graduates on their satisfaction and level of preparedness from their program and surveys from LEAs on the preparedness of graduates from a particular program

This is a new effort informed by federal and state policy and this first iteration has generated some criticisms from the teacher preparation programs as to the strength of the metrics used, but our hope is that the state and these institutions continue to refine the information and their uses in the years ahead.

But the rationale for providing some version of this information is really important. Teachers matter. They are the most important in-school factor driving student achievement. And these new teachers are the pipeline for the second most important in-school factor to a child’s education: our school leaders. Moreover, Delaware spends a large portion of its $1.5 billion education budget on the people working in our schools, so it makes sense to try to determine how we can make sure our educators are ready to go when they enter our schools. Again, the details of the metrics may need ongoing refinement, but the concept makes sense.

On Wednesday, the Vision Coalition of Delaware will host its annual conference on education. This year’s conference will focus on Student Success 2025 which the coalition released in September. The report provides six core areas of recommendations to improve Delaware’s schools, including Educator Support and Development. Within those recommendations are several on making sure that new teachers are adequately prepared for “day one” in the classroom, and that educator preparation programs work more closely with K-12 schools to create alignment and continuous improvement for preparation programs. These data are a catalyst to jumpstart those recommendations. We encourage you to join the conversation at Clayton Hall on Wednesday.

*Data on candidate performance assessments and perception surveys were not available for the 2015 report cards.

Calling All Educators – The Vision Coalition Needs to Hear From You

On Monday, September 15th, the Vision Coalition of Delaware is presenting its draft plan, “A Vision for Education in Delaware in 2025,” also known as “ED25″ at a meeting aimed specifically at educators and groups that directly support educators. The meeting will take place at the Dover Public Library from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm, and light refreshments will be provided.

If you’re a teacher, principal, school counselor, dean –- if you identify as an educator –- I hope you will join this important conversation and provide feedback on the plan to the Vision Coalition Leadership Team. I entered the classroom as a 6th grade teacher 10 years ago (almost to the day!). I often wish I was more involved in the local education scene while I was teaching, beyond the four walls of my classroom. I was pretty ignorant to the policies and practices occurring around me at the time, even though they directly affected my students and me. I know exactly why that was –- teaching was (and continues to be) the hardest job I have ever had. I had to put all my energy and focus into the students in front of me every day. I don’t regret that decision. However, I know I could have had a powerful voice in support of or in challenge to policies and practices that were going on around me at the time. My insights, opinions, and voice as a classroom teacher could have been a powerful lever for change –- much more powerful than any voice or influence I have now outside of the classroom.

The Vision Coalition is right to engage the voices of educators as they develop their plan. And while I know it is incredibly difficult to step away from grading, lesson planning, and the day-to-day (or evening-to-evening) activities of the classroom, I hope any and all educators –- especially teachers and principals –- can join this discussion and leverage their powerful voice. It needs to be heard.

Shortchanging Delaware Educators

Last month, TNTP released a policy paper on teacher compensation practices across the country, including some promising practices in a few select states and districts. This paper is timely for Delaware given legislation passed at the end of June calling for a statewide committee to review our state’s existing policies for teacher compensation and to propose recommendations for changes by November 2014. TNTP’s paper provides some strong insights as well as innovative profiles of early adopters that this committee may want to keep in mind as they make their recommendations.

The paper argues that there are three main problems with existing salary structures, which are largely based on increasing compensation based on additional years of service and academic credentials:

  • Teacher starting salaries tend to be low and not competitive with other competing industries. The problem here is obvious — it’s hard to recruit high-quality talent into classrooms. Though everyone agrees no one goes into teaching for the money, everyone can also agree that we need to ensure teaching is a lucrative career choice for young professionals contemplating their options or career-changers looking to move into education.
  • Salaries do not differentiate among teachers that are effective at raising student achievement versus those that are ineffective. One startling graph (figure 3) from the paper illustrates the discrepancy in pay for a 20-year veteran teacher rated ineffective in Atlanta ($62,000) versus a 5-year highly effective teacher in that same district ($48,000). Another staggering statistic — the report cites that last year, schools across the U.S. spent an estimate of $250 million giving pay increases to teacher identified by their districts as ineffective.

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  • Salaries generally do not account for different settings or challenges in high-need, high-poverty areas. In reviewing the salary schedules across two schools within Chicago Public Schools (figure 4), the paper found two teachers on the same step in the salary ladder are paid the exact same amount ($66,147) for teaching in two very different environments. One, with high-poverty, chronic truancy, increased rates of homelessness, and low-academic proficiency rates. The other, a middle-high income, high proficiency rates, and smaller class sizes. Yet two teachers with the same level of experience and education earn exactly the same amount for teaching in these very different contexts.

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Buried in the paper is some Delaware-specific data regarding the cost of paying teachers across the country based on advanced degrees (typically master’s degrees), which has been shown to have little effect on student achievement. The paper references a study from the Center for American Progress in 2009 which estimated teacher compensation costs for master’s degrees nationally. It found that in the 2003-2004 school year, 53% of teachers in Delaware had a master’s degree or above and that obtaining a master’s degree resulted in an average salary bump of $8,986 per teacher and cost the state $39 million annually – or $312 per student.

TNTP provides some reason for optimism however. The paper profiles some states and districts that are revamping their teacher compensation models to reward teachers for gains in student achievement and overall effectiveness. Given Delaware’s statewide salary structure, and the recent legislation to re-examine our current structures, the profile on Louisiana may provide an interesting model for us to learn from. Louisiana law requires that salaries be based on teacher effectiveness, demand, and experience – with no factor accounting for more than 50 percent of the overall formula. The state provided some overall parameters for the system, and even developed an off-the-shelf sample model for districts to adopt or customize for local contexts. This balance of autonomy to build a district- or school-specific system while balancing support and accountability for requiring the models include some key components, seems like the right approach for a state with diverse districts and needs.

Finally, the paper raises thoughtful caution and lessons for implementation. A strong evaluation system is critical to any teacher compensation structure that is built upon it. In addition, compensation is a very personal and important element to anyone in the workforce – therefore communicating any changes to a compensation structure and involving teachers in the process is very important.