New teacher evaluation data show that Minneapolis schools with the largest number of low-income students have the highest concentration of poor-performing instructors.
Students in the most affluent neighborhoods of the city are far more likely to have the best and most experienced teachers, according to school district records obtained by the Star Tribune.
The new information is emerging as Minneapolis schools are facing federal scrutiny for an achievement gap between white and minority students that is among the worst in the nation.
"It's alarming that it took this to understand where teachers are," Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said Friday. "We probably knew that, but now have the hard evidence. It made me think about how we need to change our staffing and retention."
The school district's teacher evaluation data for the 2013-14 school year reflect a larger national trend in which the schools with the highest needs often have the newest and least experienced teachers.
Minneapolis is one of the first districts in the state to evaluate teacher performance, judging them on factors ranging from test scores to student ratings to regular in-class critiques.
Minneapolis public school officials say they are already taking immediate action to balance schools' needs with teachers' abilities. The district has created programs to encourage effective instructors to teach at high-needs schools and mentor the newest teachers. District officials say they are providing immediate training for teachers who are deficient. And last year, the district fired more than 200 teachers, roughly 6 percent of its teaching staff.
Some teachers and union leaders say that the evaluation data are flawed, and that teachers in struggling schools are handicapped from getting better scores.
The teachers union says it's too early to judge the performance of teachers in Minneapolis because the evaluation system is so new. Union officials and some school administrators also say the district is not giving teachers enough resources to improve.
"In some of our struggling schools, they have a lot of issues they are dealing with," said union President Lynn Nordgren. "That's harder when you are a younger teacher."
Least proficient, most poor
The district uses three different tools to evaluate teachers: classroom observations, a student survey and student achievement data.
Last year, 14 schools had larger concentrations of below-average teachers, based on their observation scores. Of those, 13 had student populations in which more than 65 percent qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. Similarly, 80 percent of the schools that had the largest concentration of high performing teachers were located in wealthier neighborhoods.
The district did not release data on individual teachers; instead it gave an average score by school.
Bethune Elementary is the poorest school in the district, with 100 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches. Last year, it also had one of the largest concentrations of low-performing teachers.
Bethune had the lowest average teacher observation score at 2.61 compared with the district average of 3. Its score was largely affected by ranking far below average in classroom instruction.
School administrators, union and district officials say high-poverty schools often have the least experienced teachers. Those schools generally have the most openings when more experienced teachers move on.
The average number of years of experience at Bethune is 7.6, compared with 18.6 at Hiawatha Elementary, which had some of the highest teacher observation scores in the district.
"If I'm a brand-new teacher the likelihood of me coming out proficient or exemplary is probably going to be low. I'm still learning," said Michael Thomas, the district's chief of schools.
Nordgren, with the teachers union, and some administrators, say there is a deeper problem. Teachers who are considered the most deficient may get a mentor, but others are not seeing the same resources.
"If you are going to score somebody, then there has to be some resources for them," Nordgren said. "Those resources have not been put in place."
The teacher evaluation data sometimes showed uneven and surprising outcomes.
Burroughs Elementary ranked above average in the teacher observation category, but scored far below average among students taking the survey.
Some district and union officials say the varying results show the evaluation model still needs improvement.
Nevertheless, the district already has begun using the evaluations to make determinations about what happens to ineffective teachers.
The district has endured years of criticism for failing to deal with bad teachers, a trend leaders say they are determined to break.
Minneapolis Public Schools fired more than 200 teachers last year over performance issues, more than any other year in recent history.
"We are committed to ensuring that students have high-quality teachers in the classroom and part of that work is ensuring that teachers get the support they need," said the district's human capital director Maggie Sullivan. "If they are unable to perform, they are no longer in our system."
MPS's new evaluation system and increasing dismissals put it squarely in line with a national movement of districts that have stopped making hiring and firing decisions based solely on teacher tenure. A national report on teacher quality gave Minnesota a failing grade for "failing to articulate that classroom ineffectiveness is grounds for a teacher's dismissal."
Both the union and the district say they are dealing with ineffective teachers.
In the 2012-2013 school year, 128 teachers were fired. Nordgren said years ago, the average was 40 to 50 dismissals a year.
District officials would not talk about dismissals at specific campuses.
"We catch them early," Nordgren said. "We don't let them go 20 years being ineffective."
Alejandra Matos • 612-673-4028