Schools officials: Data shows 'effective' educators work at every school

Good teachers are spread fairly evenly throughout the District, according to an analysis of teacher evaluations by The Washington Examiner, despite the enormous achievement gap between classrooms in affluent Northwest areas and poor Southeast communities.

On evaluations, teachers are classified as "ineffective," "minimally effective," "effective" or "highly effective." Much of the attention on improving underperforming schools has focused on the disproportionately large number of highly effective teachers in Ward 3, the city's whitest and richest area.

But when the B-level, "effective" teachers are grouped in with the superstars, the picture shifts: There are more combined effective and highly effective teachers per student at Ward 7's Davis Elementary -- which was recommended for turnaround or closure last week in a report commissioned by the mayor's office -- than at Janney Elementary, a sought-after, high-performing school in Tenleytown.

There are, of course, outliers. The five worst effective-teacher-to-student ratios are all in Ward 8. Johnson Middle has one effective teacher for every 28 students, while flagship Ward 3 middle school Alice Deal has a good teacher for every 16 kids.

How teachers stack up
A quick comparison of good teachers at schools in affluent and poor areas:
High schools
School"Effective" and "highly effective" teachersStudent enrollmentRatioReading proficiency*Ward
Dunbar High School557141:1326.8%5
Wilson High School941,5341:1665.2%3
Middle schools
Ron Brown Middle School151971:1322.9%7
Deal Middle School579231:1682.7%3
Elementary schools
M.C. Terrell/McGogney Elementary School172251:1524.3%8
Stoddert Elementary School213241:1578.1%3
* Students demonstrating "proficiency" on the 2011 DC CAS exam.
Source: D.C. Public Schools, Office of the State Superintendent for Education

And struggling Ward 8 elementary Garfield has only five teachers who merit the "effective" rating, to Oyster-Adams' 60 in Woodley Park. But most schools' ratios fall surprisingly close together.

DCPS officials say the numbers are proof that they have good teachers in all their schools, at a time when the school system is working with the D.C. Council to incentivize highly effective teachers to relocate to low-income, low-performing schools.

Because teachers' evaluations are tied to their students' test scores and behavior during classroom observations, officials say teachers are reluctant to practice at the schools that need them the most.

But DCPS says an even more important piece of the puzzle is improving the effective teachers they already have in struggling schools. Scott Thompson, director of teacher effectiveness strategy for DCPS, said the system has brought coaches into schools to work with each teacher for six-week stretches, helping them zero in on their weaknesses and jump to the "highly effective" level.

While "highly effective teachers are really knocking it out of the park," Thompson said effective teachers are still "strong and consistent, explaining content clearly, and good at pushing students to understanding."


  Related story
  • Extremes show disparity between schools
  • However, the data raises questions about which teachers the evaluation tool labels "effective," the most common rating for DCPS' 4,116 teachers at 69 percent -- 16 percent were rated highly effective on last year's evaluations, 13 percent minimally effective, and 2 percent ineffective.

    If there are 11.2 effective teachers per student at Ward 4's Cardozo High School, but only 16.3 at Ward 3's Wilson High School, then why can less than 28 percent of Cardozo's students read proficiently?


      Examiner archive
  • Charter schools say they can't compete with DCPS teacher pay (1/24/12)
  • Brown no longer pushing for evaluation waivers for top teachers who transfer (1/23/12)
  • Nearly every eligible DCPS teacher chooses to skip evaluations (1/22/12)
  • New DCPS "scorecards" compare college enrollment, teacher retention (1/10/12)
  • New DCPS 'scorecards' released to parents (1/9/12)
  • "If you have a bunch of schools that are failing, you have to question whether those teachers are truly effective," said David Pickens, executive director of D.C. School Reform Now.

    Some of the schools with the highest numbers of effective teachers are chronically underperforming. At Eastern High School, no students scored "proficient" or "advanced" on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System reading exam last year. It's an underenrolled campus, with 25 effective teachers for just 167 total students.

    DCPS points to the other factors that contribute to a child's experience in the classroom -- chiefly poverty, which can mean hungry students and uninvolved parents.

    On Tuesday, the D.C. Council is scheduled to discuss the Community Schools Incentive Amendment Act, a bill that aims to provide lessons on nutrition and literacy for parents, as well as after-school tutoring and medical services for students.