Boston Seeks To Improve Teaching With Higher Standards, Cash Awards

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

Beginning this year, the performance of Boston public-school students in a new citywide curriculum will be considered when their teachers are evaluated.

That change is part of a concerted effort by Boston Superintendent Robert R. Spillane to improve the quality and public image of the schools, in part by imposing higher standards of performance on instructional employees. In recent weeks, Mr. Spillane has also initiated dismissal proceedings against teachers on grounds of incompetence and replaced several principals and headmasters.

At the same time, the superintendent hopes to improve morale among teachers by establishing a technical-assistance center to provide instructional support in subject areas covered by the new curriculum and an awards program for outstanding teachers in the system.

Changes Signal New Attitude

Mr. Spillane said in an interview that the changes made in the past few months reflect an attitude in his administration that will signal to teachers that "we only want excellence" and that they are "part of a team." In the long run, he said, the change also will help to improve teacher morale.

"They know the ones who aren't performing up to par," he added. He said these recent actions demonstrate to teachers that "the old days'' of patronage "are over."

The new teacher evaluations will include traditional areas of review such as teaching style and knowledge of the subject area, but they will also consider how well students master reading, mathematics, and writing, Mr. Spillane said. Teachers who do not meet the standards will be dismissed regardless of their seniority in the system, according to Mr. Spillane.

The move to emphasize higher teaching standards was also behind the dismissal proceedings for incompetence initiated this summer against eight teachers who received poor evaluations for their performance, Mr. Spillane said. The dismissal proceedings, he added, were "unprecedented" for the school system, which has frequently been publicly criticized for its patronage practices. So far, only two of the teachers have actually gone off the payroll.

In addition, last month Mr. Spillane reassigned 22 principals and headmasters and replaced them with administrators from within the system who, he said, "have shown effective leadership." Both actions were opposed by the teachers' and administrators' unions but upheld in mediation and in federal court.

Kathleen A. Kelley, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said that her organization supported Mr. Spillane's efforts to improve the school system and that it did not favor retaining incompetent teachers. She was, however, critical of the manner in which the recent dismissals were accomplished. Ms. Kelley said the dismissals were "done in an arbitrary and inconsistent manner."

"The tools have always been available," Ms. Kelley said. "The fact that they hadn't dismissed a teacher for incompetence was the fault of the school administration."

Mr. Spillane contended that higher standards are necessary because the image of public education "is less than desirable."

"We recognize that we have to do some housecleaning," he said.

"Performance must be considered along with other factors," Mr. Spillane continued. "Seniority has its place, but in the past it has been the sole determining factor in layoffs. It is a factor, but there are other things that have to be considered."

He acknowledged that teacher morale reached an all-time low in Boston during the last school year because of layoffs that affected some teachers who had been with the city's public schools for up to 10 years. More than 700 teachers were laid off last year and about 300 of approximately 600 teachers who received layoff notices are not expect-ed to be recalled this school year.

Next year's contract negotiations, according to Mr. Spillane, are going to be "tough" because of his strong opposition to the practice of strict adherence to seniority in teacher layoffs. He said he would like to exclude teachers who receive "excellent or superior" evaluations from future layoffs.

Ms. Kelley, however, said that while the union accepts the principle of terminations for cause, it will oppose any attempt to base layoffs on performance. "Seniority, in my view, is nonnegotiable," she said.

In another initiative to raise standards, Mr. Spillane has recruited local business executives to support a program of cash awards for superior teaching. Details of the program will be announced later this month.

Vol. 02, Issue 03

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories





Sponsor Insights

Stop cobbling together your EdTech

Integrate Science and ELA with Informational Text

To Address Chronic Absenteeism, Dig into the Data

Can self-efficacy impact growth for ELLs?

Disruptive Tech Integration for Meaningful Learning

5 Game-Changers in Today’s Digital Learning Platforms

Keep Your Schools Safe and Responsive to Real Challenges

Hiding in Plain Sight - 7 Common Signs of Dyslexia in the Classroom

The research: Reading Benchmark Assessments

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

All Students Are Language Learners: The Imagine Learning Language Advantage™

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

How to Support All Students with Equitable Pathways

2019 K-12 Digital Content Report

3-D Learning & Assessment for K–5 Science

Climate Change, LGBTQ Issues, Politics & Race: Instructional Materials for Teaching Complex Topics

Closing the Science Achievement Gap

Evidence-based Coaching: Key Driver(s) of Scalable Improvement District-Wide

Advancing Literacy with Large Print

Research Sheds New Light on the Reading Brain

3 Unique Learner Profiles for Emerging Bilinguals

Effective Questioning Practices to Spur Thinking

Empower Reading Teachers with Proven Literacy PD

Dyslexia: How to Identify Warning Signs at Every Grade

Increased Social Connectedness Through Digital Peer Learning

Student Engagement Lessons from 3 Successful Districts

Response to Intervention Centered on Student Learning

The Nonnegotiable Attributes of Effective Feedback

SEE MORE Insights >