Education
5:42 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

Report: Pittsburgh Strong On Teacher Evaluations, But Changes Needed

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released a report stating Pittsburgh has come a long way in terms of measuring effective teachers and compensating educators.

But the report also states more needs to be done, including making sure the Pittsburgh Public School District ensures every school has effective teachers.

“One of the things we did notice was that it has not been successful at persuading some of the better teachers to go work in some of the toughest schools,” said NCTQ CEO Kate Walsh.

The report also showed that the district has a problem with teacher absenteeism.

“It has teachers that show up to school day in and day out, but it’s got about a quarter of its teachers who are absent once every 10 to 12 days, which is just unacceptable,” Walsh said. “You can’t learn if you’re not there to teach.”

Walsh said there don’t seem to be measures in place to combat absenteeism. The report issued recommendations to that end which include requiring teachers to notify a principal when they will be absent, developing a system that flags teachers who are chronically absent and commending teachers with excellent attendance.

Other areas examined include staffing. Walsh said a principal’s ability to decide who teaches in their buildings is hampered by state law thanks to something called the “eligibility list.” That is a requirement that the Pittsburgh Public Schools hire applicants from the top 10 percent of the list. She also said “forced placement” makes it harder for principals to hire who they want.

“In Pittsburgh, a teacher loses their job and the district is in the habit of force-placing the teacher in a new school whether the principal wants that teacher or not,” said Walsh. “That’s really a tough thing to say to a principal, ‘We’re holding you accountable for the results, but you don’t get to decide who delivers those results.’ It’s not the way to run a good school.”

The report recommends eliminating both the eligibility list and forced placements along with hiring teachers earlier than they currently do.

When it comes to evaluating teachers, the NCTQ applauded Pittsburgh Public Schools for the “Empowering Effective Teachers” effort which is now in its first full year of implementation. Walsh said it’s one of the strongest evaluation tools in the nation, but there is a danger that it won’t last.

“The state may force Pittsburgh to discard its evaluation system and start using the state’s system,” she said. “Now, we studied the state system that was recently enacted, it’s not nearly as good or rigorous as what Pittsburgh is doing. So it would be a shame to throw out all this good work and have to go to a system that’s not as good.”

Recommendations include allowing Pittsburgh to continue to use its evaluation framework as designed, providing more differentiated supports for teachers depending on their performance and broadening the “needs improvement” performance range.

Other recommendations in the report include allowing performance to be a factor in determining which teachers will be laid off, initiating a district-wide mentoring program for novice teachers and considering an increase in starting teacher salary.