TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

Doing something right in Dallas…

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Results are in for the first full year of implementation of a new teacher evaluation system in Dallas, a system that the district claims to be "the most rigorous teacher evaluation system in the nation." Given the initial results, perhaps it is.

Many districts undertake what appear to be strong eval systems only to, disappointingly, end up reporting little differentiation among teachers. Not so in Dallas.

Among the system's seven possible teacher effectiveness ratings, about a third of the district's 11,000 teachers were assigned to one of the three lowest. Around 40 percent received a middle-of-the-road rating. Only 22 percent received one of the highest three ratings.

Further, Dallas reported a fairly typical turnover rate for an urban district of 16 percent, suggesting that teachers weren't all that fussed about the new system (which wasn't the case for Washington, DC's first year of implementation, though that could have been because of all the national attention). Those Dallas teachers who did choose to leave were likely the ones the district would have chosen to go anyways: over half rated "unsatisfactory" did not return and a quarter of teachers who performed just marginally better did not return. Conversely, only a small percentage of higher performing teachers chose to leave.

Why is the Dallas approach off to such a positive start?

We think the use of seven ratings—versus four or five in most other states—has something to do with it, allowing for more fine-grained distinctions among teachers. The district also carefully defined what it took to fall into each of the seven categories, field testing a rubric that measures in detail a teacher's performance across nearly 20 different performance indicators. The result is an instrument that is much more successful at actually grouping teachers into the different rating tiers.

Also, the system relies on more than just a formal observation and written summary—school leaders conduct a minimum of ten spot observations per year to provide teachers with regular instructional feedback. Spot observations (only 10-15 minutes each) appear to be a more palatable choice to school leaders, and their very nature may be a much better match with the generally frenzied pace of running a school. 

The most significant reason the Dallas system might have met with such early success is that it was so carefully piloted for a number of years in a much smaller school district, which allowed the kinks to be worked out. Dallas's superintendent, Mike Miles (who recently left) had been previously posted in the Harrison School District in Colorado Springs, Colorado where he developed the rudiments of the Dallas system. (N.B. Mike Miles sits on NCTQ's Board of Directors).

Perhaps what's most interesting about the Dallas system is its impact on teacher pay. A highly effective teacher can now earn quite a bit more in the new regime, e.g. an "Exemplary" teacher earns a minimum of $74,000 per year, compared to $56,000 for a teacher rated "Proficient 1." Still Dallas did not pay out a single dime more in salaries this year. While most returning teachers (71 percent) received a salary increase, the additional expense was offset by the sizeable group of teachers who did not qualify.