My thoughts about DISD's Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI)
Students see higher levels of achievement when they are taught by experienced and well trained teachers. As a state, Texas has repeatedly lowered the bar for required teacher training prior to entering the classroom, and has failed to create programs that ensure our teachers are provided the proper resources to implement best practices in their classrooms.
The city of Dallas has the third highest rate of childhood poverty in Texas, and over half of our students perform below grade-level on state assessments. We need experienced and well-trained teachers in our classrooms who are well rounded enough in their expertise to address the unique needs of our students.
Dallas ISD’s Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI) has been publicly lauded for enabling the district to identify and retain its best teachers, while losing those who perform poorly under the system.
In reality, the data the district uses to justify the model is misleading. Those identified as the district’s “best teachers” under TEI are a small percentage of the teacher workforce as a whole, and are disproportionately concentrated at “test-in” schools (where students must pass testing requirements to attend) such as magnet and choice schools. Overall, TEI has increased teacher turnover rate without any verified or validated evidence that the district is losing its “poorest performing” teachers, those that scored poorly on the TEI rubric.
Our students deserve a teacher evaluation and compensation system that helps KEEP and DEVELOP our teachers.
Under TEI, teacher performance is 50% of a teacher’s annual evaluation score. This performance is determined by the average of 4 domain scores. Teacher content knowledge is 20% of only one of those domains. That small assessment of teacher content expertise evaluates how strongly teachers use content specific language and tools and demonstrate awareness of common misconceptions and how to address them.
Measurable qualities like teacher expertise should be emphasized in a teacher compensation model. Furthermore, there are many instances in which a teacher is evaluated by an appraiser who has no background in the teacher’s content area, and yet is appraising the quality of the teacher’s expertise in their subject. How can there be a fair assessment of teacher effectiveness without expert-created content and grade level specific rubrics for appraisers to use to evaluate particular teacher knowledge and skills sets? Such rubrics must be implemented and should be collaboratively developed between teachers and appraisers.
The next portion of the teacher evaluation, student achievement, means that 35% of a teacher’s total evaluation score is based on student performance on standardized tests. A plethora of research indicates that the highest correlative factors to student test scores are family income and level of education of the student’s parents. Social, environmental, and economic factors also play a large role in a student’s academic performance, and many of these factors are due to historic and systemic social, economic, and political problems across the spectrum that fall beyond the school system’s ability to address without more comprehensive societal change.
So why then should test data, that is so heavily influenced by factors outside of the scope of the education system, be used in a punitive way to determine teachers’ pay or to close schools? In both cases, this only deprives schools of resources they so desperately need. It also creates a disincentive for teachers to work in schools that house more of our most in-need students.
The only equitable and appropriate use of test data is to determine what a student, campus, or district needs to better serve students. So much about the student achievement portion of TEI is outside of the control of the classroom teacher. Variables range from year to year, from classroom to classroom, and from student to student.
I propose the development of a new system that is tailored to the unique needs of our students, and develops expert teachers to meet those needs.
The district should grow their current teachers in content expertise by creating standardized evaluation metrics that are based on best practices in each subject, at each grade level. Equally important, these metrics should align with offered content or grade level specific professional and graduate school courses that teachers can pursue to address the specific needs of improvement in their own instruction, as well as the needs of their campus as a whole.
Teachers should be compensated for their level of expertise. They should also be compensated for leadership roles they fulfill on campus or for the district . Most importantly, the district should invest in covering the expense of getting teachers the training they need to best serve our students.