Gateway to success

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Not many districts can boast the type of collaborative relationship with their teachers' union that the St. Louis Public Schools and AFT Local 420 seem to have. This relationship, say district officials, is one of the main reasons the school district has begun to turn around. Last year, the district earned provisional accreditation (it had lost its accreditation in 2007.). More recently, it made local headlines about the St. Louis Plan, modeled after the Peer Assistance and Review program (PAR) in Toledo, Ohio.

The St. Louis Plan has two components:

  • First-year teachers receive a mentor teacher who provides extensive support and reports on the teacher's progress to an Internal Board of Review (IBOR) four times per year.  If the teacher doesn't meet minimum standards of performance, he or she can be dismissed.
  • Principals observe tenured teachers as frequently as once a year (and as infrequently as once every three years) and can place them on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) if their teaching is not up to standard. A teacher who does not make progress on his or her PIP then receives a "Notice of Inefficiencies" (yes, that is the official term). The teacher then has two choices: either take an additional 18 weeks to improve and possibly face a termination hearing at the end of the period, or waive their tenure rights, enter the St. Louis Plan and get the support of a mentor teacher. Progress of these teachers in the St. Louis Plan is reported at the end of one year to the IBOR. If they don't make adequate progress, they are dismissed at the end of the year; if they do, they get tenure back.

The IBOR is comprised of nine members, five of whom are appointed by the union and the remaining four by the Superintendent. To take any action regarding a teacher (e.g., dismissal), six members must agree. According to union representatives, the votes at IBOR meetings are often unanimous. Data shows a high number of tenured teachers identified as needing improvement. From 2011-2013, seven percent of the total teacher workforce exited after being put on a PIP or received a "Notice of Inefficiencies."

Data on tenured teachers in St. Louis:

Source: St. Louis Public Schools Human Resources Department

In previous studies of districts, NCTQ has found that implementing a program such as the St. Louis Plan to develop teachers and exit ineffective ones can be a costly investment by the district with little return on improving teacher performance if it isn't tracked carefully. In St. Louis, the collaborative approach by the district and the union on making sure that poor performing teachers improve or exit seems to hold a lot of promise.