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Falling enrollment // Firing bad teachers
Subj:      [Mpls] Falling enrollment // firing bad teachers
Date:     8/7/2004 7:34:11 PM Central Daylight Time
From: [Doug Mann]
[Edited without substancial content changes]

The district's enrollment has been plummeting in the early elementary grades, which is more a reflection of the district "losing market share" than demographics. From 1998 to 2003 there was little change in the school age population
in Minneapolis, but a huge decline in public school enrollment.

The district doesn't lose many of the students who are getting what their parents consider to be a good education. A large majority of students continuously enrolled in the district from early elementary grades to grade 12 are high
performers, and disproportionately white and "middle class."  

Given the way that the decline in elementary school enrollment has been snowballing, it seems that if a child fails to thrive academically (or simply finds their school experience to be distressing), their parent(s) will try to opt
out of the Minneapolis Public Schools and not enroll their younger children in the Minneapolis Public Schools.


Since 1997 the district has promoted ability-grouping students into separate classrooms for reading instruction on the basis of perceived ability beginning in Kindergarten. They are being "tracked" on a part time basis, and "ability-grouped" within a mixed-ability classroom in the early elementary grades. Students who are identified as "high-ability" readers learn higher-order reading skills, are likely to be assigned to "high-ability" groups in the mixed ability
classroom because of stronger reading skills, and can get into college-bound classes that are offered in the upper elementary grades on up.

The district's enrollment and student achievement date (broken down by race) indicates that the district is retaining a high percentage of high-track students, and a low percentage of low-track students. And outcomes for the low
track students are generally poor.

I believe the district can phase out "low-ability" groupings and curriculum tracks without forcing teachers to hold back high achievers by "teaching-to-the-middle." Staying with the status quo means a continued, steep, enrollment
drop, the shuttering of small community schools, a semi-privatized public school system, with much of the student population assigned to charter schools.    


The district must also stop concentrating its rookie teachers in the "least desirable" schools, which generally have a high enrollment of low-income and / or minority.  There is always plenty of room for improvement for teachers who
lack teaching experience, including those who are pretty good right off the bat.  Concentrating inexperienced teachers at a given school makes effective supervision of most new teachers impossible.

And there is such a thing as overexposing students to new teachers, who usually have a lot to learn about classroom management (how to keep a lot of balls in the air at the same time), how to quickly develop a good rapport with
students (related to behavior management), development of assessment skills, formulation and implementation of individual educational plans, lesson planning, etc.


I have yet to see anyone to cite evidence in support of the contention that newer teachers are "the best." On the other hand, a large part of the test score gap (about 40%) between students in Texas was attributed to teacher expertise (which includes years of teaching experience) in a study done by Ronald Ferguson (Source: 1997 "Doing What Matters Most: Investing in quality teaching." by Linda Darlington-Hammond)

Under favorable conditions, most new teachers should become more effective over time.  However, conditions have not been very favorable in the schools where the bulk of new MPS teachers have been trained, from the elementary grade levels on up.

Firing bad teachers is not THE answer. However, I am for firing ineffective teachers, provided that

1) The district monitors teacher performance / student outcomes, with a strong emphasis on academic achievement (as measured on achievement tests). Standardized test scores, suspension rates, and other measurable outcomes that the district keeps track of should be broken down by **track assignment (assignment to classrooms for high, medium, low-ability readers in the early elementary grades, for example)  ** as well as race, eligibility for free /
reduced-price lunch, etc.   

2) The district must have clear, objective criteria to define a "poor performing" teacher who needs closer monitoring and a plan of improvement. For example, a first grade teacher whose students have shown an average of one-half year's growth in reading and math in one year might be defined as a "poor performer" regardless of possible extenuating factors.

3) Poor performing teachers need a plan of improvement that a) explicitly identifies the performance problem(s), b) sets measurable goals with time tables c) Includes specific steps that can be taken to achieve the goal(s) of the
plan, and d) provides for ongoing evaluation / feedback about how a teacher is doing.

The Minnesota Teacher Tenure Act and the teachers contract allows the district to not renew the contract of any teacher for poor job performance. A teacher is on "probationary" status (employed on a year-to-year basis) during their first three years of employment with a district, or one year if they were previously employed as a teacher in another Minnesota school district for at least 3 years.

-Doug Mann, King Field
Mann for School Board