Washington, D.C. – Teachers and school leaders in the Newark Public Schools had positive views of its overhauled evaluation system, but only one in four teachers viewed a new compensation structure as “reasonable, fair and appropriate,” a study by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) found.
AIR researchers also found that teachers who were rated higher on the new evaluation system were more likely to remain in Newark schools. From 2013 to 2015, two years after the system was revamped, teachers rated as “effective” and “highly effective” were retained at rates that exceeded 90 percent while 72 percent of “partially effective” and 63 percent of “ineffective” teachers were retained.
“This was a major redesign, so it’s not surprising that some teachers would have mixed feelings,” said Eleanor Fulbeck, the report’s lead author and an AIR senior researcher. “At the same time, we found that the more informed teachers and school leaders were about these changes, the more likely they were to support them. While greater communication won’t make everyone happy, it will help ensure that teachers and school leaders understand the contract and may increase their buy-in.”
The report, the first to come out of a three-year evaluation by AIR, was commissioned by the Newark Public Schools (NPS), which have been under state control since 1995. New Jersey’s largest school district, with 66 schools and 3,086 teachers, NPS has struggled with persistently low academic achievement, graduation rates and college enrollment. In 2010, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg tried to change that with a pledge of $100 million, which was matched with another $100 million, mostly from foundations and private donors.
In 2012-13, NPS ratified a new contract with its teachers union to implement initiatives designed to improve teaching effectiveness and, ultimately, student achievement. The contract included four key components: 1) a more rigorous teacher evaluation, 2) differentiated teacher compensation, 3) extended learning time, and 4) school-based decision-making.
The revamping of Newark’s teacher evaluation and compensation system took place against a backdrop of increased national attention to these issues. According to a 2014 study by the National Council on Teacher Quality, 28 states required annual evaluation of all teachers, up from 15 states in 2009. Forty-one states required tying teacher evaluations partly to student achievement, and 20 states now factor student performance into teacher tenure decisions.
NPS’ new evaluation system is based on a mix of student growth, classroom observations of teachers and such other measures as lesson plans and teacher attendance. A key goal of the NPS evaluation overhaul was to create a “learning cycle” in which teacher ratings inform ongoing job feedback and professional development to address any weakness. The district also replaced a compensation system that based raises largely on experience and advanced degrees with one based on performance. And now NPS offers annual bonuses for teachers rated “highly effective,” with additional annual bonuses for “highly effective” teachers who work in low-performing schools and hard-to-staff subjects.
Sixty-five percent of NPS teachers and school leaders participated in the AIR surveys about the new contract. Major findings include:
- Most teachers and school leaders reported feeling that the evaluation system is valid, accurate and fair and that it provides useful feedback that can inform classroom instruction.
- Perceptions of the new compensation system were mixed, with approximately half of school leaders agreeing that it was reasonable, fair and appropriate, but roughly a quarter of teachers agreeing.
- Of teachers and school leaders working at schools with extended learning time, 83 percent of teachers and 91 percent of school leaders reported that additional time for student instruction was added. Of that group, 66 percent of teachers and 68 percent of school leaders found the extra time was useful.
The report, Newark Public Schools and Newark Teachers Union Teacher Contract Evaluation: Year 1 Report, can be found at www.air.org.
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and workforce productivity. For more information, visit www.air.org.