Metro Schools preparing to fire low-rated teachers

Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 2:14pm
071913 MNPS Register topper.jpg
Director of Schools Jesse Register (File)


After years of tiptoeing around what to do with teachers who fail in the classroom, Metro Nashville Public Schools officials expect to start showing some of them the door.

More than 60 teachers are expected to flunk their annual teacher evaluations two years in a row, according to Director of Schools Jesse Register.

In an email obtained by The City Paper, Register told members of the Metro school board, “It is possible that a large number of these (60 teachers) will be recommended for dismissal now,” and said the district is finally at a place where it can remove bad educators.

“We have worked very hard for two years to change the culture in the district so that we effectively deal with the removal of poor teachers,” read the July 10 email. “Principals are just now getting to the place where they are addressing poor performers rather than displacing and shifting them from school to school.”

Register sent the message to the board a day after members cast a tie vote on firing an elementary school teacher at Lockeland Design Center in East Nashville for texting during instruction, using an inappropriate tone with students and repeatedly scoring low on teacher evaluations.

The vote last week, which appeared to confuse some members of the board, was on whether to certify dismissal charges against the teacher, which puts in motion the termination process. The teacher then has a right to a hearing before an impartial officer who then determines whether the charges are founded. The tie vote means charges will be dropped.

Last week’s vote won’t be the last this year to potentially fire teachers, Register warned.

“All of you know that a much higher number of dismissals for performance may generate quite a bit of pushback, so we need to understand where we are,” Register’s email continued.

This year will be the first for the district to use multiple years of annual job evaluations to judge whether a teacher is fit to stay in the classroom or should be dismissed, according to district officials.
The new grading system, coined the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model, was ushered in by the state in 2010 with a bundle of other education reforms. Districts like MNPS began grading teachers with this model in 2011 and again, with some refinements, in 2012.

Previously, teachers went years without evaluations after earning tenure in three years. Now teachers are observed and graded on their classroom performance no less than four times a year, and student performance on standardized tests is factored into a teacher’s grade.

Each evaluation is split evenly between quantitative data — like student improvement on standardized tests and other statistical measures a teacher can pick from — and qualitative measures like classroom observations.

The new evaluations are a touchy issue. Teachers say the new evaluations have ratcheted up the pressure on them to manufacture higher test scores, an issue some parents and board members say amounts to “high-stakes testing.” Meanwhile, educators in subjects like history — or primary school teachers without matching standardized tests for their students — are largely measured by school-wide test scores they have little control over. However, observations for those teachers now make up 60 percent of their score.

“The evaluation system is not perfect, it needs refinement,” said Will Pinkston, a MNPS board member and an architect of the First to the Top state legislation that built the new evaluation system. “But for the first time period, we’re now evaluating teachers at least in part on student achievement. There’s a lot more work to be done on the system, but it’s better than what we did previously.”

Teachers are graded on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 as the highest score. In the 2011-12 school year, more than 20 percent of MNPS teachers earned the lowest scores of 1, defined as “highly inefficient,” or 2, for “inefficient.”

That year, 195 MNPS teachers scored a 1 on their evaluations, according to the district’s Human Capital office, which is trying to transition away from a typical human resources role.

“We definitely think that the evaluation itself, as state law allows us, is enough to remove teachers for poor performance,” said Katie Cour, executive director of Talent Strategy at MNPS.
State law allows districts to dismiss teachers — including tenured ones — for one of five reasons: inefficiency, incompetence, neglect of duty, unprofessional conduct or insubordination.

Although Register suggested to the board some five dozen teachers could land repeated 1, or “highly inefficient,” scores on their teacher evaluations, the state is still processing the data the district needs to determine which teachers have stagnant failing scores, according to the Department of Education. MNPS expects some of that data to roll into the district any day now, and trickle in through the fall.

But Cour said it’s too early to say how many teachers they’ll consider firing.

“We have some estimates that we’re looking at internally; we have some guesses, but we don’t know a specific number,” she said.

Even when the district has that data in hand, Cour said her office will examine each teacher on a case-by-case basis by reviewing all aspects of the evaluation and observations to determine whether they have a case to let the teacher go or whether more intervention can help that teacher improve.

“We believe that removing ineffective teachers is a piece of the puzzle, but it’s actually a very small piece of the puzzle,” said Cour. “We recognize that there are some teachers in our buildings that are not cutting it, and it’s those cases that we’ll be going through thoughtfully and carefully and meticulously while we are emphasizing support for the vast majority of our teachers.”

The expectations of teachers are great right now. Tennessee ranks among the worst states in the country when it comes to students scoring at or above grade level on standardized tests.
While students improved in most subjects on state tests this spring, this was the first year that more than half of students in lower grades were at least at grade level in every subject. While about 60 percent or more of high-schoolers are at grade level in some algebra, English and biology, only 2 in 5 are at least proficient in Algebra II and English III.

Meanwhile, teachers are juggling to prepare students for next year’s state tests while shifting to a new set of teaching standards called Common Core and a new standardized test to go with it in 2015, further complicating duties in the teaching profession.

The night before Register sent his email warning the board about upcoming teacher dismissal decisions, the board split on a 4-4 vote to certify dismissal charges against teacher Sherrie Martin, who was accused of unprofessional behavior in the classroom such as texting during class time and using a “demeaning tone” to correct students. Register described her teaching as “inefficient” as evidenced by her evaluation scores, which he said were “below expectations” in a letter to her outlining the dismissal charges.

Parents rallied behind the teacher and urged the board to drop the charges moments before the vote. Because the board stood at a tied vote, the charges were dropped and Martin can keep her position.
Board member Amy Frogge was one of four who voted against the dismissal charges because she wanted more time to review the facts. Going forward, she said the teacher evaluations are flawed, she told The City Paper, and the board needs to think carefully about that and learn more about its role in terminating teachers before it moves forward with more votes on dismissal charges.

Decisions to go forward with firing a teacher are rare in the district. Since January, 14 teachers have resigned or been taken to termination. In the 2011-12 school year, 11 teachers were removed or left.
Board members appeared confused when voting whether to certify charges to fire Martin. Register, in his email to board members, suggested in the future giving them access to the teachers’ personnel files for 30 minutes before the board meeting where they are expected to vote on a dismissal.

Board members had no idea what Martin’s file looked like before the vote, said Michael Hayes, a member of the board who has voiced a need for the district to shed underperforming teachers.
“Dr. Register does not bring many teachers right to us to recommend termination. There must have been something pretty amiss there,” he said, adding he’s bracing for what will be more “unfortunate” decisions over future dismissals.

After the unexpected split vote on removing Martin, Hayes said he’s curious how involved the board will be, how it will react to future requests to approve dismissals, and how the administration will lay out its case to justify future desired firings.

Further, some board members said they’re torn over whether the decision to proceed with a termination should fall in their lap, as it legally does now, or if it’s better left to the district to handle.
At the board’s next meeting on Tuesday, members expect to hear individuals in the Human Capital department to explain the board’s role in the due process procedure for dismissing tenured teachers and the legal and administrative procedures the district takes before recommending a dismissal to bone up on what to expect.

“It is very important that we have a good understanding of both due process and administrative procedures, as there are more recommendations coming,” read Register’s email.

20 Comments on this post:

By: JeffF on 7/18/13 at 12:35

It is hard to take seriously an elected official who will proclaim "the most important duty we have is educating our children" then turn around and vote to retain a teacher who does not appear to be doing much educating. I am seeing a pattern of "Teachers First" votes and statements out of Frogge that she may not realize contradicts her primary duty. Everyone knows that there are bad teachers sitting or standing in the front of classrooms here, but some perceive it is more important to be fair to the teachers than the students. Sad, very sad.

By: TennesseeJed on 7/18/13 at 3:03

The argument that the evaluation system is flawed and that principals use it to even scores is old and tired. The evaluation rubric is clearly laid out. Do half of what it says and you are 2 or better and have no problems. Bottom line, if you are a good teacher and are doing your job your principal is not going to spend his/her scarce time to amass evidence to get rid of you.

That being said, Huffman's obsession with teacher reform is only going to go so far as to improve the system before it reaches diminishing returns. Then he's going to have to come up with a unique and original angle to continue to find gains...I look forward to seeing whether he's got it in him to do so.

By: MusicCity615 on 7/18/13 at 3:54

JeffF- Couldn't agree more.

By: ancienthighway on 7/18/13 at 4:30

No Jed, it is flawed.

The evaluation system is based on test scores which don't truly represent the progress a child has made. Not all children start out at the same level of development entering school, and children aren't all on the same playing field when considering the socio-economic environment they grew up in. Make a test that measures the child's improvement and you will have a valid test of the teacher's ability to motivate the students to learn, and thus be taught.

The system is also flawed based on the subjective nature of classroom observations. Two evaluators observing the same teacher in the same class at the same time will see different things and come up with different evaluations. Unfortunately there is no cure all for this, and it exists not only in schools but every organization that evaluates it's people. If the same persons observed all the teachers in the same subject or same grade, there's a chance to improve on the evaluations, but that's not likely to happen enough to make a difference. If the evaluators and their evaluations were in turn evaluated, there's a chance to improve on them, but again, not likely to happen with any consistency.

As hard as JeffF finds it to believe in Frogge, I find it hard to believe in Huffman and the State oversight of education considering the lack of education background they have. His policies seem to be driven more by his ex and favors she may bestow upon him than studying and understanding the research. In the dismissal case last week, out of all the children the teacher taught over 18 years, out of all of their parents, the entire dismissal case was built on the word of only a couple of families? And many, many more spoke in support of the teacher.

By: ancienthighway on 7/18/13 at 4:33

Oh, I do support the effort to dismiss poor teachers. This evaluation system must do until a more accurate one comes along. I urge the state to listen to the teachers, school administrations, and school boards to determine problems that need to be addressed.

By: govskeptic on 7/19/13 at 6:51

I'll be totally shocked if as many as 12 of the eligible 100 or more are actually totally
let go from the system. Even then there will be screams to the high heavens that it's
totally wrong to do so. The system has for far too long adopted the senseless
attitude that no one actually loses their jobs, even among the administrators who
are paid to do the right thing, don't have the nerve or backing to do so.

It's those like ancienthighway that hide their true agenda to rail against every possibility
that any changes be made to the status quo. There is no conspiracy against teachers
nor education, but a sense able attempt to educate children responsibly.

By: BenDover on 7/19/13 at 7:39

Good reform. Who cares if it's 100% fair (which is an utter impossibility). If it's only 80% fair then it still beats the 100% unfairness to the children who get stuck with horrible educators that everyone knows should be flipping burgers rather than trusted with the education of our children.

By: BenDover on 7/19/13 at 7:45

We MUST fix the schools in Davidson. Everything else... crime, property values, economic growth, tax revenues... all of these depend on not continuing to let this tail wag the dog. If we do not fix the schools then we are on a path to become Memphis, DC, St. Louis, Cleveland or any of a number of other cities who have blazed that trail to municipal desolation.

By: Specter47 on 7/19/13 at 8:10

Oh, how many YEARS have we been saying that we must fix Metro Schools? Then the old school board hires Register, with questionable credentials who in turn hires questionable people like Brenda Steele and especially Gay Steele. Register et al shuffles stuff and people around, ruining lives and careers, renaming departments and inventing bogus new programs to simulate that something is being done...and the newest Board and populace thinks he's a genius. Yet there is zero evidence that Metro Schools are really improving...there are just new faces and new names. Heaven help us as we continue to get more of the same with the same results.

By: BenDover on 7/19/13 at 8:10

We have to start asking what the worse offense is... possibly firing someone who's not quite as bad as we thought he/she was, or subjecting another class of our kids to a p!ss poor education? We should hold the teachers accountable for their lack of results and, given the authority to remedy the problems, we should hold the schools accountable for same.

By: ancienthighway on 7/19/13 at 8:22

My only agenda is that the education of our children improve. If the status quo is keeping the public education system, yes, I'm all for that. I don't believe in gutting the public system to privatize it as Republicans want to do. I don't believe in businesses taking over government to inflate their profit statements at the cost of the tax payers.

If these 60 teachers are under performing and should go, then let's make sure they go. But if the decision to let them go is based on administration not liking them and they really might be good teachers, let's fix that bias first. Let's not replace these teachers with vo-tech 90 day wonders put out by a company for profit, but by qualified educators.

By: govskeptic on 7/19/13 at 8:34


I'd like to work for you if you own a private business. If you are my Human Resource
Director of a company I owned-I'd fire you today. Why? because the creditors and
accountants would be telling me bankruptcy would only be a few days away. Any
employee has to add worth to the enterprise whether it be education or building

By: ancienthighway on 7/19/13 at 9:15

You're absolutely right govskeptic. There is no reason at all to invest in this countries biggest asset, the children. They can make do with the 90 day wonders so that only the rich receive quality education. WTF was I thinking! Just to be clear the previous statement was totally sarcastic. For a government skeptic, if I can assume that from your handle, you are drinking a lot of Kool-Aid.

And such perception you have to come to conclusions about my skills in the private sector, especially since I'd never said a thing about that to date.

By: rawhide on 7/19/13 at 10:43

So ancienthighway, is it Republicans or the profit motive or the lack of accountability in schools that you hate the most?

By: ancienthighway on 7/19/13 at 11:36

Politicians that don't have a clue about education making education policies.

Accountability is a must, at all levels.

I have no problem with private schools. I do have a problem with the corporate welfare in taking tax money from the public sector. This argument that parent's are paying taxes for public schools and tuition for private schools doesn't hold water with me. My children are beyond public school age, but you don't hear me crying about paying taxes for things that I get no benefit from (public education is just one of those things).

I don't have a problem with most Republicans. I do have a problem with the extreme right delving into personal behavior all in the name of Patriotism and Christianity, like they have a corner on those beliefs. I have a problem with more moderate Republicans following the extremists lemming like, lest they are branded as liberals.

Although you didn't ask, I can say the same for Democrats.

I support candidates that I feel most represent what I feel is best for the city, state, and nation. Sometimes that's Democrat. Sometimes that's Republican. Unfortunately too many times it's the better of two bad candidates.

I've got a problem with any politician that runs on one platform, then tosses that platform out with the trash after being elected. I believe in partisan politics, and bi-partisan governments.

By: rawhide on 7/19/13 at 3:36

Wow, an ancienthighway manifesto!
Actually, you benefit plenty from a good education system, unless you aren't or don't intend to take Social Security or intend to not enjoy any benefits from the taxes paid by good (younger) citizens in your golden years.
So you assume that someone like Rhee (and her apron strings hanging husband) has wrong motives for what she wants to do and all NEA heavies or any gov't official beholden to said heavies (not to mention every teacher) are only altruistic?
How does it "gut" public schools to introduce competition or free market principles into schools? Who do you think will be more responsive to the customer (read: parents of school children): the public school monopoly or those with proverbial skin in the game?
What kind of accountability are you proposing? Sounds like you are merely attacking efforts at accountability (BTW, ever looked into how incredibly difficult it is to fire a teacher?) and dismissing such efforts as "Republican" or "corporate" or "private" or whatever-snarl-word-a-liberal-can-think-of.

By: waynebob on 7/19/13 at 5:47

Hiring and firing is not the answer to the systemic problems that plague our public education system, whose purpose is to protect the jobs of teachers/administrators and to advocate and lobby for more tax dollars. I have no problem at all pouring money into education; the most successful systems do so. However, we must insist that our teachers are culled from the highest performing academic students in our universities and colleges, not from the ranks of the lowest performing, as we do in America. For an example of how to do it right, check out this article:

By: ancienthighway on 7/19/13 at 6:01

Rhee's motives certainly appear to be to get as much as she can before the rubes catch on to her game. She single handedly set the DC school system back further than any combination of "officials" before her. She ignored policies. She fabricated test scores. She unilaterally fired any school administrator that disagreed with her or attempted to help her understand what she was doing. The woman spent about 5 minutes as a student in a public school, yet claims to have the be-all, know-all solution to all of it's problems. By the way that solution is privatizing public education on that tax payer's dime, both via replacing public schools and by passing out vouchers to the families that are fortunate enough to be selected to attend a private or charter school.

But then all what I just said is based on her most recent employment history, and she may have turned over a new leaf and is completely altruistic in her motives. And it's purely coincidental that she's settled in Tennessee where her ex has the top education position in the state and has the ear of the governor when it comes to how to make a dollar.

I've already stated my views on accountability. You probably missed it because it didn't strike you as controversial enough to merit your counter opinions.

"By: ancienthighway on 7/18/13 at 5:33

Oh, I do support the effort to dismiss poor teachers. This evaluation system must do until a more accurate one comes along. I urge the state to listen to the teachers, school administrations, and school boards to determine problems that need to be addressed."

If free-market competitive principles were truly being introduced, the public school system wouldn't be forced to pay for bringing in the charter schools. Charter schools are nothing more than private institutions subsidized by tax moneys allotted to public education . Okay, Nashville, here's your money for the year, but you have to give a quarter of it to your competition, and we want to decide how much competition you have to support. If you don't "approve" enough competition on your own and refuse to recognize our edicts, we will take money away from you and you still have to subsidize your competition.

Now to encourage new teachers and "improve" the current batch of teachers, the pay system has been simplified. Teachers can only received 4 pay raises in a 20 year period. Yes, that law slipped into the books without fanfare. If a teacher manages to make it 5 years performing superbly, they might get their first raise. If anything this new law appears to discourage new teachers from coming to Tennessee, opening the door for even more vo-tech 90 day wonders to come in and be our children's role model. Not to mention presenting an opportunity to introduce even more private schools the public system is forced to subsidize.

By: GoodieTwoShoes on 7/21/13 at 11:59

The question is, are these teachers actually "low-rated"? Why are they so? This evaluation system leaves out too many factors. If all kids learned at the same pace, or you could just open their heads and pour in the knowledge then you might be onto something. This "customer" based approach is a crock. You cannot treat students or their parents as customers. Teachers are not interchangeable salespeople trying to sell someone a product. These are professionals who in most cases dedicated their lives to teaching kids. There is a world of difference between someone who has worked as a professional in a field and decided to get a teaching certificate to share that knowledge with kids coming up and a 5 week summer program that suddenly proclaims you a teacher. Now we have people that were promised that if you teach 2 years we will pay off your student loan in front of our kids teaching. The schools were improving, until we had the "new and shiny" ideas. All of these so called improvements are already failing the kids in other states. And if you want to talk about accountability, lets start with making charters and vouchers accountable to the local school board. As it stands, they are not. We would be giving away taxpayer money with no strings. Sorry, I believe I went off topic a bit, but it is all a piece of one big pie of money that is spent on education, and Tennessee is ripe for the picking.

By: Darbi on 7/22/13 at 11:07

Seriously? For almost my entire career I have lived under the threat of getting terminated if I scored below a 3 of 5 on any portion of my annual review no matter how fair or unfair the process was done. Metro schools are having trouble deciding whether to remove someone who consistently, year-over-year scores the lowest possible. Talk about not being in the same ballpark with non-government employees.

My kids attend a top rated Metro high school and they constantly complain of how loud and disorganized the classrooms are. It is very hard for them to stay focused so they can learn. There are constantly students roaming the halls. Maybe the teachers would perform better if they were better able to control their classrooms -- this may or may not be their fault. When discipline issues happen, the teachers often act as though there is nothing they can do.

The teachers need more support to do their job well. However, perhaps if the worst performers were no longer rewarded, it might keep the top performing teachers from becoming so discouraged that they leave Metro or teaching altogether.