As school starts this week in Duval County, more than 30 teachers are finding themselves reassigned to new jobs at the last minute — state’s orders.
Duval Superintendent Patricia Willis was touring Northwestern Middle School on Monday, the first day of the school year, looking at the progress as a portion of the school is being converted into a computer science academy.
Northwestern is considered a “turnaround” school, meaning it had too many consecutive D or F grades, so the state approved a district plan to turn it around.
Duval Teachers Union President Terri Brady says the last-minute notification from the state was disheartening, three days before their first day of work. At Arlington Middle alone, 12 teachers were moved to other schools.
“Everything is set up, you’ve positioned all your work and your prep work for those students in that population, and now you’re not going to be there,” Brady said.
Altogether, 35 reassigned teachers taught at the district’s eight “turnaround” schools. The Florida Department of Education has required districts to reassign underperforming teachers at turnaround schools since 2010.
How Teachers Were Selected For Reassignment
The teachers were selected because they earned the lowest effectiveness scores measured by what’s called the Value-Added Model, or VAM. But a district spokeswoman said in the past, the state didn’t measure effectiveness by VAM alone.
The VAM evaluation system is controversial. It uses a complicated formula to measure teacher impact on student growth, comparing students’ projected expected scores against what they actually score on state tests.
State Education Department Spokeswoman Meghan Collins said it’s “the best and most unbiased way” to measure teacher impact, and the new expectation has been clear to districts since July of 2016.
In an email, she wrote that every student deserves high-quality teachers.
“The State Board of Education has made clear its intention to hold our state’s educators to the same high standards to which we hold our students,” she said. “We are committed to working collaboratively with all of our state’s education stakeholders to ensure Florida remains the best place to live, work and receive an education.”
But critics like Brady say the VAM system flawed and doesn't take into account factors like student poverty.
As Brady points out, the VAM method results in different scores than the district’s own evaluation method.
“On our evaluation system that we used and that was approved by the state, most of these teachers are ‘effective’ teachers,” Brady said.
And soon, many districts might not even use VAM scores in their evaluations because a recently passed education law no longer requires them to.
Why This Year Took Teachers By Surprise
And though it’s typical for VAM scores to come out just before a new school year, a district spokeswoman says in years past, factors like principal input were also considered, so fewer teachers were removed based on their effectiveness scores — fewer than 15 last year in Duval.
Superintendent Willis said, even with the new requirement, she negotiated to keep as many teachers as possible in their current classes this year by lobbying for teachers who scored “needs improvement” but are also considered “developing,” which means they’d been teaching for two years or less.
“We looked at about 35 teachers, and it could have easily been twice that many,” Willis said.
A district spokeswoman said Duval also first asked the state for options besides teacher reassignment, but the Department of Education said noncompliance could jeopardize schools’ turnaround plans and funding.
What’s Next For Reassigned Teachers And Turnaround Schools
In school district parlance, the teacher reassignment is called “surplusing.” As of Monday, most of those surplused were already teaching at different schools in permanent positions. Nine of the teachers were in temporary positions, assigned instructional or support duties by principals at other schools.
“The employees were being placed into a temporary work assignment at a school until an opening occurred within the subject area that they had previously taught,” Brady said.
Turnaround schools, which already had an average of two vacancies before the surplusing, were looking to fill nearly 30 positions altogether on students’ first day.
Willis said, “It’s a key focus, and HR is doing everything they can, as quickly as we can staff teachers who have certifications and qualifications to be (at those schools). We want our students to have highly qualified teachers.”
As of the first day of school, 154 teacher and support positions, districtwide, still needed to be filled.