Last Monday, the Madison School Board voted 4 to 3 in favor of a series language changes to the Employee Handbook, changing the criteria in which teachers will be evaluated regarding layoffs and surplus reassignments, when the district experiences an loss or influx of students and teachers need to be reassigned to a different school to maintain a proper student to teacher ratio.
Previously, evaluations were based solely on seniority. With the new handbook changes, teachers will be assessed on using five, rather than one, criteria: culturally responsive practices, student learning outcomes, foreign language fluency, advanced degrees and seniority.
Board members Ali Muldrow, Savion Castro, Ananda Mirilli and Gloria Reyes voted in favor with members Nicki Vander Meulen, Christina Gomez Schmidt and Cris Carusi voted in opposition. Opposition was also sustained by Madison Teachers Inc.
The vote ran across racial lines with the board’s BIPOC members voting in favor and those identifying as white voting against.
Those in favor see the policy change as a way to both maintain racial diversity among staff and protect recently hired BIPOC teachers from the risk of layoff or surplus.
“If you look at our numbers on seniority, the more senior [the] teacher, the more likely they are to be white,” Castro said in an interview. “And so teachers of color are disproportionately impacted by surplus or reassignment.”
“I went to school here from kindergarten until I graduated from high school from East. It was 12 years and I never once had a teacher who looked like me,” Muldrow told Madison365. “We are obligated to do something about that, and what people struggle to reconcile, when we’re talking about the reality of how historically oppressive systems play out today, is that something that disadvantages one person usually extends preferential treatment to other people. And so, it is not hard for any of us to part ways with oppression, but it is hard for all of us, when we have to part ways with preferential treatment, when we have to reconcile our privilege.”
A myriad of local organizations expressed their written support of the policy change: the NAACP of Dane County, YWCA of Dane County, TimeBank, the Urban League, Blacks for Political and Social Action, 100 Black Men, Charles Hamilton Huston Institute, African American Council of Churches, and Nehemiah.
MTI raised concerns regarding the policy’s objectivity and whether the changes rely on subjective measures while seniority is an “objective way to make employment decisions” that also ensures a level of security for senior employees.
In a statement to Madison365, MTI stated that, “seniority-based rights protect employees from being unfairly targeted by biased employment practices, including evaluations or hostile supervisors…seniority-based decisions can also act as a disincentive to implement layoffs in the first place.”
“As far as Surplus, MTI has repeatedly requested for MMSD to release the data showing how many staff of color were surplused and how many of these surpluses resulted in resignation. Again, no data has been brought forward for review by the MMSD Handbook Committee.”
Castro asserted otherwise, stating that “seniority is not a leading indicator of an ability to serve children.”
“There was worry (that) we were moving from objective measures to subjective measures,” Castro said. “Well, given the American context, notions of objectivity and notions of meritocracy, typically support the status quo. And there’s actually a rich, rich body of research detailing how important cultural intelligence is. Language proficiency is objective. Student learning outcomes are objective measures.”
MTI further noted that the policy’s subjectivity could lead to more harm towards BIPOC teachers.
“People were afraid that this new shift would hurt people of color or continue to hurt people of color,” Muldrow added. “And it’s interesting to say, ‘Hey, we know the system we already have is hurting people of color, but we’re afraid to change it because that might hurt people of color, too. So let’s keep it the same and continue to hurt people of color the way we’ve always hurt people of color.'”
Once the policy is implemented, the board is not responsible for the evaluations. Rather an oversight committee consisting of members of MTI, students, and teachers will be in charge of evaluating who will be laid off or surplused.
The oversight committee will utilize a newly-outlined rubric which outlines the evaluation criteria and their percentage weightings. However, the rubric will not be included within the handbook.
“When the rubric is not in the handbook, the board doesn’t get the chance to vote,” Vander Meulen said in an interview. “So those percentages and how much seniority will be worth can be changed at any time by the administration, without a board vote. That could cause a lot of problems, not with this administration, but with others. The practice could get really bad.”
For layoff decisions, there will be an appeals process if a teacher is not satisfied with their evaluation. There will not be an appeal process for surplus decisions.
Vander Meulen proposed an amendment to add the rubric into the handbook, but it was shot down with the same 4 to 3 vote.
Both Muldrow and Castro noted that when it comes to the handbook and the rubric, one is the policy itself and the other is how to operationalize the policy.
“The rubric will be used as a practice to implement the policy”, Castro said.
Vander Meulen also raised her own concerns.
“I’m a disability advocate, I cannot speak on race because I am caucasian,” she said. “I can speak of disabilities as a disability advocate and as an autistic adult. And that is, how does someone who doesn’t have a disability evaluate an individual who has a disability as an employee? Something is cultural competence when you don’t pick up on social cues, for example. How is that going to be measured? Your disability could have a disparate impact.”
Vander Meulen added that she was an advocate for lowering the evaluation percentage of culturally responsive practices because “we don’t have a full definition.”
The district defines culturally responsive practices as the ability to “articulate the systems and beliefs that may lead to inequitable outcomes for students of color, and adapt instruction to meet the needs of each student.”
The policy outlines the percentage breakdown of each measure of evaluations.
Regarding layoffs, seniority is weighted at 20 percent, student outcomes are weighted at 25 percent, additional language proficiency is weighted at 10 percent, and academic credentials or certifications are weighted at five percent.
Regarding surplus or reassignments, seniority is weighted at 25 percent, additional language proficiency at 20 percent, academic credentials or certifications are weighted at 15 percent, and student outcomes aren’t not considered at all.
Culturally responsive practices are weighted at 40 percent across both layoffs and reassignments.
This is not the first time MTI and the board have discussed this policy change. The policy change was proposed in July. The vote was supposed to occur that month but was pushed until later by the board to give staff more time to “go back to the table with MTI” and reach an agreement on criteria. From the months of October to March, there were Handbook Review Committee meetings as well as many more between the administration and MTI representatives.
The District set March 22 as the final day for additional changes to be made to the layoff language. According to MTI the March 22 date was “arbitrary.”
Beyond surpluses and layoffs, the board and MTI acknowledged that there is still work to be done in creating a safe space for BIPOC teachers within schools.
“[BIPOC teachers] are often the only Black face in a white space, so to say,” Castro said. “So we deal with isolation, feelings of not belonging, [and] microaggressions from people.
“I think we have to change our own culture and continue to examine our own practices and policies that deter people of color from coming here,” he continued. “And it’s tricky when we’re talking about culture, because you know, as a culture, we can’t policy change our way out of a culture, we’ve got to just start setting new tones.”
In the same statement, MTI stated that they “are deeply committed to the import equity work that must be done collaboratively with the District. We must continue to build a teaching staff that reflects the diversity of MMSD students. It is on all of us to create a more welcoming and supportive environment for staff through anti-racist work.”
“This is about ensuring we have the most qualified, culturally competent teachers and adults in front of our students,” Castro added. “Seniority is not a leading determining factor and ability to educate our demographic of students today. This is about ensuring we have the most qualified, most culturally competent individuals to help educate our students.”
The policy will go into effect on June 30.