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Study: Duval County Public Schools losing effective teachers

District not ready to teach students under new state course standards

Posted: June 14, 2014 - 11:43pm  |  Updated: June 15, 2014 - 9:47am
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DCPS Instructional Quality & Human Capital Diagnostic: View the study here.


The New Teacher Project recommends Duval County Public Schools consider policy and strategy changes, including the following, to improve its recruitment, selection, training and staffing of high-performing teachers.

■ Address policy and contractual barriers to hiring early.

■ Implement short- and long-term strategies ending the practice of placing teachers in schools where they haven’t interviewed with the school leader.

■ Develop a more effective districtwide recruitment strategy.

■ Provide targeted support, such as a dedicated staffing unit, targeted recruitment and a prescreened applicant pool for hard-to-staff schools.



■ Set specific goals annually for retention rates of the district’s most effective teachers and their concentration in the highest-need schools.

■ Work with school leaders, especially those at high-need schools, to implement low-cost retention strategies with their most effective teachers.

■ Identify high-need schools with strong instructional leaders and high retention rates of effective teachers to identify the best practices, then use them to train other principals.

■ Use Florida’s teacher merit pay law to create a compensation system that attracts high-quality candidates and encourages retention of effective teachers.

■ Take steps to improve or get rid of low-performing teachers.



■ Allocate coaches throughout schools according to teachers’ development needs.

■ Improve coach selection, skill development and evaluation.

■ Set annual districtwide and school-level goals around instructional quality or key indicators.

■ Central office administrators should have a vision for excellent instruction, dedicate time to communicate and build understanding of that vision in schools.

■ Set goals to measure the effectiveness of school-level supports.



■ Set annual districtwide and school-level goals around key indicators or instructional culture.

■ Invest in honing the skills of evaluators to identify strengths, growth areas and providing constructive feedback.



■ Set annual districtwide and school-level goals for evaluation accuracy and usefulness.

■ Communicate effectively the connection between the teacher evaluation and district’s vision for effective instruction.

■ Use raw teacher evaluation data rather than summative evaluation ratings to make internal decisions relating to human capital strategy and resource evaluation.

Source: The New Teacher Project study: Duval County Public Schools Instructional Quality and Human Capital Diagnostic

Duval County Public Schools doesn’t have as many highly effective teachers as it wants — especially at schools serving students with the greatest needs — and it faces a hard time to keep the ones it does have.

In addition, a gap exists in the district’s readiness to teach students under Florida’s new core curriculum standards that take effect next year.

Those findings and more are contained in a study conducted by The New Teacher Project, a nationwide nonprofit based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti requested the study, paid for with part of a $600,000 grant from the Quality Education for All Fund, an initiative by the nonprofit Community Foundation for Northeast Florida.

The fund launched last year with the goal of helping Duval County Public Schools improve its pipeline of effective teachers and leaders, especially in high-need schools.

The study is the first work The New Teacher Project made for the district. The group also will help the district align upcoming teachers’ evaluations with the new Florida standards.

“We’re behind, and the study demonstrates that we’re behind,” said Vitti, who wanted a thorough analysis of areas he knew the district needs to work on. He also wanted an outside perspective. “You are never going to improve if you are not honest about where the gaps are. And you will never improve anything if you are not problem-solving.”

Among the study’s other findings:

■ Schools serving the most high-need students are disproportionately hampered by ineffective recruitment, selection and staffing.

■ A high percentage of low-performing teachers remain in district classrooms.

■ High-need schools lose top teachers at higher rates and hire lower-performing teachers to replace those who leave.

■ 47 percent of top-performing teachers who plan to leave the district in the next two years intend to teach locally.

■ 63 percent of Duval principals said they lost teachers they wanted to keep because of position or budget cuts in the past three years.

■ Duval loses out on the best teacher candidates because the district hires teachers too late in the year compared to top schools nationwide.

View the study here: DCPS Instructional Quality & Human Capital Diagnostic

The study recommends that Duval overhaul its teacher compensation system to reward performance as the primary factor, as opposed to just years of experience. That would be a way to help retain highly effective teachers.

A recently implemented $40 million program to attract top teachers and principals to low-performing schools should help, but officials admit it won’t solve the problem.

Vitti gives the study high marks, but the teachers union wasn’t impressed.

“I think the study could have been a lot more thorough with examining the state mandates and the requirements that we are asked to implement and negotiate,” said Terrie Brady, president of Duval Teachers United.

Brady, who wasn’t interviewed for the study, said she’s also concerned it doesn’t address some priorities and policies the union and district are working on. The study looked at what is in place now, not what is coming down the road, she said.

Beginning in January, The New Teacher Project analyzed the school district’s policies and practices for recruiting, retaining, training and assigning effective teachers.

Researchers also looked at how prepared Duval teachers are for Florida’s new core curriculum standards and related assessments for kindergarten through 12th grade students. In addition, the study includes teacher salary data, and information about the instructional culture at schools.

Teachers also were surveyed. The study represents the opinions of 90 percent of the teachers and school leaders districtwide, said Liz Cutrona, who works for TNTP’s new teacher effectiveness section.

Researchers looked at a dozen schools, including elementary, middle and high schools. They ranged from high to low in student achievement. They observed teachers in the classroom, reviewed instructional planning materials and interviewed teachers, instructional coaches, principals and human resources staff, Cutrona said.


In Duval County, there is no difference between the pay of the most and least effective teachers. The largest raises go to teachers with 20 years or more experience.

Most annual step increases are less than 3 percent until teachers are higher on the salary schedule, the study showed.

That means a highly effective teacher relatively new to the district will make less, sometimes a lot less, than a lower-performing veteran teacher.

Over a teacher’s 24-year career, $173,926 to $292,357 of total compensation will be based on seniority and advanced degrees. That money could be reallocated to provide capital for performance-based compensation, according to the study.

Florida law requires that school districts revamp teacher salary schedules by 2014-15, and implement it in the 2015-16 school year, Vitti said.

Brady said the law requires an annual contract employee schedule and a schedule for teachers grandfathered in. Then there is a separate performance compensation schedule for those who are highly effective and effective, with no stipulation of years of experience, she said.

The union and district will determine what the performance compensation schedule looks like through collective bargaining, she said.

Meanwhile, the district recently implemented an incentive plan, bankrolled by nearly $40 million in private donations, to convince successful teachers and principals to work at the district’s most challenged schools.

That plan should help, but it won’t solve the problem of recruiting and retaining the best teachers, Vitti said.

School Board Chairwoman Becki Couch said keeping good teachers isn’t solely a matter of money.

“I think sometimes, it’s just acknowledging the good teachers in a school, and training principals on how to do that,” said Couch, adding that stability in a district also helps.

Vitti said the research is very clear that the No. 1 factor that determines whether a teacher stays at a school or goes, is the principal.

“Our principals must create an instructional culture where the teacher’s voice is heard. Where teachers are empowered in the classroom. And where teachers are respected, valued and acknowledged for the work that they do,” Vitti said.


Known as the Florida Standards, new curriculum benchmarks already are in place for kindergarten through second grade.

Beginning next year, the standards will be implemented in third through 12th grade statewide.

Duval isn’t ready yet, the study revealed.

Classroom observations of 152 Duval teachers revealed “limited evidence of key instructional shifts needed for students to meet the new standards.” Nearly three-quarters of the assignments reviewed showed weak or no alignment to the new standards, the study said.

The gaps that surfaced, Vitti said, weren’t necessarily surprising.

“I think all districts in Florida, and I think all districts throughout the country, have gaps when it comes to moving to the new standards. What students are expected to do from a performance standpoint is much more rigorous than they have been asked to do before,” Vitti said.

Bringing everyone up to speed on the new standards takes time. But the process is going forward, he said.

“It is a process to get teachers to teach not only at grade level to the old standards, but to now teach at grade level with the new standards is almost herculean when it looks at the next steps regarding the expectations,” Vitti said.

This summer, principals will review the teacher survey data and will assess the instructional culture at their schools. The principals will be required to build strategies to keep the best teachers at their school and raise instruction to a higher level. They will be held accountable, Vitti said.


Teresa Stepzinski: (904) 359-4075

Comments (25)

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cactus58 06/17/14 - 10:02 am
Premium Member

Success Plans are punitive.

Success Plans are punitive. They are not designed to help or support a teacher. They are used as a way to harass teachers that speak up about bad policies or unethical practices by administration. Even when a teacher cooperates with The Plan the principals will then lie to achieve their objective which is to see that the teacher either quits or fails. This county is in the gutter and should be sued.

mad 06/16/14 - 09:10 am
Premium Member

J'ville Native - Success

J'ville Native - Success plans are used to punish and make teachers quit, not succeed. If you know cactus58, please contact her and may be she can put you in contact with me.

Mr McFeeley
Mr McFeeley 06/16/14 - 07:27 am
Premium Member

The lack of fair compensation

The lack of fair compensation is a major reason teachers leave the profession. It is not the only reason, but when you pay teachers poorly early in their careers and make it virtually impossible to be paid a decent wage until they have been in the profession twenty years, competent and effective teachers leave. If you don't believe that you are either blind or one of the older teachers who have crossed the Rubicon and now make a more competitive salary. All the other reasons listed such as poor management and stress are the reasons to make it worth someone's time to remain a teacher. Nobody said all teachers should be rich. However, the profession needs to attract and retain the best people possible. Compensation is a major part of what will attract the best people. As this recession fades away, younger competent teachers are going to find opportunities that did not exist five years ago. Teacher unions negotiate for all teachers but don't seem to represent the majority of teaxhers any longer. Membership is down. Their greatest contribution seems to be twofold. One; they have maintained some level of control of healthcare costs and two; they do occasionally protect all teachers against poor management actions such as the recent IPD*****ues here in Duval County. Otherwise they favor senior teachers over the rest of us and are increasingly out of touch with newer teachers' teachers' concerns.

You can just look at the make-up of our state government to clearly see the unions have little political clout left in Florida. An anti-public schools government will soon make teachers private employees teaching curriculums that will not promote good thinking but instead, murky agendas. While Americans are focused on Big Brother, the real danger to freedom has already marched to the front door of every school in America. Pay good teachers a decent wage and give them the tools to continue to teach our children how to think, not what to think.

J'ville Native
J'ville Native 06/16/14 - 07:16 am
Premium Member

@mad - issue #2 could be

@mad - issue #2 could be solved by placing overage students in separate classes with other students behind at the same level. My teacher friend was also put on a Success Plan. 10+ years, dynamic lessons, students loved her class, and very good test scores. Was used as an example to our department.

Noillusions 06/16/14 - 06:25 am

Sounds like the powers to be

Sounds like the powers to be haven't selected a good School Supt.

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