Educators use school board’s public comment period to voice concerns
It’s been roughly eight years since Dallas ISD switched to a pay-for-performance teacher evaluation system called Teacher Excellence Initiative, or TEI — and ever since, several teachers each month show up to school board meetings to voice their concerns.
TEI was designed to find and retain the district’s best teachers and, in part, to identify them for potential placement in areas with more need.
“Even before the pandemic, there were a number of issues with regard to TEI, because of the way the data is collected and how it’s used to sort of measure and compare teachers,” Dallas ISD teacher and Alliance-AFT leader Andrew Kirk said after the district’s March school board meeting. “The teachers that were qualifying for the highest salaries were disproportionately concentrated in magnets, or they were in campuses like Lakewood that have really affluent student population.”
Last year, Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa told the Dallas Morning News that the district acknowledged that TEI’s application was “uneven” but that the district was working to address that. The district also points to pre-pandemic improvement in how many schools didn’t meet state standards — down from a high of 43 in 2014 to eight just before COVID struck.
Kirk said he and other teachers feel that TEI is inequitable.
“The pandemic exacerbated equity issues with TEI,” Kirk added. “One major issue that came up repeatedly at the meeting was with regard to attendance – the campuses that have the most chronic absenteeism among their student population were also some of the campuses that had the fewest teachers qualify for those raises in the TEI.
“It continues to bring into sharp relief – is it really a problem of instruction, or is it a broader problem of equity in terms of resources and support even beyond the classroom?”
Since the pandemic, teachers and other school staff have also taken to the microphone at school board meetings to demand more pay. At the March school board meeting, teachers dressed in red shirts took turns at the microphone to request an 8% increase in pay for all school staff, including nurses, who have often been tasked with coordinating their schools’ COVID case response.
“If Dallas offers any less than an 8% raise, it’s basically a pay cut, but we are supposed to be thankful for it,” one teacher said, as her fellow teachers also explained that thanks to inflation and an increase in benefits, school employees were often seeing less income.
But even as they fought for more pay, some teachers also took time to address protestors who attended the meeting to insist the district not promote “gender fluidity.”
Some teachers donned T-shirts in support of trans and LGBTQ+ students, telling protestors that there were more important issues at stake.
“If you’re more interested in what’s between my students’ legs than their struggles within systems designed to fail them, I have to kindly ask you to reevaluate your priorities,” one teacher said. “And if this is the first education issue that’s alarmed you, please take a seat.”