Friday, April 20, 2018
Education

Hillsborough officials optimistic in report to Gates Foundation

TAMPA — The latest report from the Hillsborough County school district to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation presents a mixed, but mostly positive assessment of the district's $200 million teaching reform effort.

Academic rigor, measured by everything from state test scores to National Merit Scholar awards, is on the rise, according to the 68-page document. New teacher retention has increased from 72 to 94 percent. A grant-funded administrative training program called Principal Pipeline is complementing the increased teacher training.

Goals that remain include helping teachers get more comfortable with the evaluation process and pinpointing funding sources once the seven-year Gates grant runs out.

"We have gone to great lengths to answer all questions and reach all stakeholders," the document says. "It's clear that many lessons have been learned along the way but, fortunately, they are the type that influence our future direction, rather than those that present roadblocks along the way."

The district reports twice a year to the Seattle-based foundation on the progress of Empowering Effective Teachers.

"We believe the work is going well and the challenges in Hillsborough are the same types of challenges we are seeing in other school districts," said Debbie Veney Robinson, a spokeswoman for the foundation.

"They are certainly better equipped than most to face those challenges because they were ahead of the curve. We continue to be really pleased with the progress that they're making."

Known in the school system as EET, the project is a massive undertaking, affecting some 15,000 employees. Long paid and promoted largely by seniority, teachers and administrators are making a transition to a system that rewards performance.

That performance is measured through highly structured observations by peers and administrators; and a value-added system that looks at student growth.

The report listed 19 indications of improved student achievement. A few examples: Hillsborough's high school graduation rate rose by 3.3 percent in 2012. The achievement gap between white and African-American students was narrowed on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in math and reading. And Advanced Placement exam scores of 3, 4 or 5 have doubled over the last six years.

The report also acknowledged challenges that remain. Among them:

• Using test scores to evaluate teachers is controversial nationwide, and that holds for Hillsborough as well. The district uses a complex system that measures growth, factoring in variables such as poverty, absenteeism and learning disabilities.

Training and explanation are required to help teachers understand what the data can and cannot do. For example: Research shows value-added data can predict a student's success. But the students' test scores themselves are far more useful in classroom planning.

• Replacements are frequently needed for peer evaluators and mentors. Thirty-two cycled back to the classroom this year, as the program envisioned. Eighteen more mentors were needed when that part of the program was expanded to include second-year teachers.

• While confident they can find funding to sustain the program after the Gates grant ends in 2017, officials say it is too early to pinpoint the sources. They're exploring a variety of options, including government programs such as Race to the Top. So far, the district reports, 60 percent of the money spent has come from sources other than Gates.

• Support from teachers has not come easily. The district has received national recognition for its collaborative relationship with the teachers' union. Despite that relationship, surveys show many teachers remain skeptical.

Not mentioned was a survey in December that showed nearly 60 percent of teachers did not think EET was good for the district, and 54 percent did not think it was good for them or their schools. District officials said those numbers have improved since the same survey was given in 2011.

Nevertheless, the district continues to work to tell teachers change is happening "with" them and not "to" them. "Teachers are critical to effecting change in a school district, and getting them on board will enable this culture shift to take hold more completely," the report said.

The report also gives breakdowns of top, middle and lower-level scores in schools of various income levels. There, too, results were mixed.

"Teachers in affluent schools tend to score higher, but not to the extent previously believed," said David Steele, the project's manager.

At the other end of the income scale, officials had feared they'd find a concentration of lower teacher scores. To some extent they did, but Steele believes experience is the factor. Sixteen percent of teachers are in the poorest schools, he said, while only 12.6 percent of those scoring in the highest value-add category are in those schools.

Younger teachers tend to earn lower scores, he said. And when he isolated out teachers with five or fewer years of experience, he found they made up of 38 percent of the staff in the poorest schools and 24 percent of the staff in the wealthier schools.

Those concerns are not limited to Hillsborough. A Stanford University study, which looked at the Miami-Dade Public Schools, showed that not only are lower-income and minority students more likely to get novice teachers; within schools, there is pattern of teacher sorting that often assigns the most highly qualified teachers to the strongest — and therefore least needy — students.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

Comments
Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Nicole Leary and Taylor Redington stood outside St. Petersburg High School on Friday morning with parents and protesters who had gathered with bullhorns and signs. In a few minutes they would lead about 70 students on a walk to City Hall, joining oth...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Official: Shotgun in guitar case was used in school shooting

Official: Shotgun in guitar case was used in school shooting

FORT LAUDERDALE — A gunman who carried a shotgun in a guitar case opened fire Friday in a Florida high school, wounding one student before he was arrested on a day planned for a national classroom walkout to protest gun violence, authorities said. It...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Eakins: New ‘achievement zone’ would lift struggling schools

Eakins: New ‘achievement zone’ would lift struggling schools

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins is preparing to reorganize his cabinet — for the third time since 2015 — in an effort to coordinate programs at the district’s highest-needs schools.In an interview this week, Eakins descr...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Today: Area high school students to join national walkout in memory of Columbine

Today: Area high school students to join national walkout in memory of Columbine

High school students from both sides of Tampa Bay will commemorate the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings on Friday, although in very different ways. In St. Petersburg, students from several schools will gather at noon at City Hall f...
Published: 04/20/18
Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District, with a large and growing population of children from foreign cultures, is reducing the ranks of teachers’ aides who help them master the English language.Next year’s workforce will have about 164 fewer...
Published: 04/19/18
Pinellas to enlist Sandy Hook group in its quest for safer schools

Pinellas to enlist Sandy Hook group in its quest for safer schools

LARGO — Starting soon, Pinellas County public schools could be using a nationwide violence prevention program founded by families of those killed during the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December 2012.The nonprofit group Sandy Hook Promise, with ...
Published: 04/19/18

Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District, with a large and growing population of children from foreign cultures, is reducing the ranks of teacher aides who help them master the English language.Next year’s workforce will have about 164 fewer p...
Published: 04/18/18
After Parkland, these students became activists. Will their movement last?

After Parkland, these students became activists. Will their movement last?

TAMPA — Sam Sharf’s parents thought he had the best position on the Plant High School football team. As back-up quarterback, he could impress the girls but rarely played enough to get hurt.Now a junior, Sharf is off the team so he can focus his energ...
Published: 04/18/18

Gannon University’s Ruskin growth includes $21 million addition

RUSKIN — Gannon University is experiencing some serious growing pains and as a result, SouthShore is going to see a big change in the landscape. When it opened its doors in 2015 as a satellite campus for its home school in Erie, Pa., Gannon occupied ...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18

Enrollment growth anticipated for Pasco County charter schools, with two more to open in the fall

Most of Pasco County’s more established charter schools expect to see their student population remain stable in 2018-19.Even so, enrollment in the county’s charter schools is expected to grow by about 1,100 children — or nearly 25 percent — in the fa...
Published: 04/17/18