bonus points

City, union agree to performance pay deal for struggling schools

The city and the teachers union have struck a performance pay deal that will tie some teachers’ salaries to a range of measures of their effectiveness, including their students’ test scores.

The deal is part of a federal grant program to “turn around” the city’s most struggling schools. It also builds on a teacher evaluation agreement reached between the union and state education officials last month. According to the deal, 34 schools that have been designated as persistently lowest achieving will be able to pay model teachers significantly more money to take on greater responsibilities. Deemed the best-of-the-best, these teachers will mentor their colleagues, write curriculum, and open their classrooms to teachers who want to watch a lesson.

City officials have decided that 11 of these 34 schools will undergo the transformation model beginning next September. This means they can get support services, have an extended school day or an entirely new schedule, and can keep the teachers they have. In some cases, the city may decide to replace these schools’ principals.

The other 23 schools will experience one of three other plans offered by the federal government: turnaround (in which all teachers are excessed and only half can be re-hired and the principal is replaced); restart (in which a charter school replaces the district school); or closure. Department of Education officials have yet to decide which of these schools will go through which models.

Deputy Chancellor John White said the city would inform the 34 schools whether they will go through the transformation model or not in the next 24 hours.

Under the new performance pay agreement, teachers will apply to be “turnaround teachers” or “master teachers,” at both turnaround and transformation schools. With these new titles, and accompanying bonuses, city officials believe they can draw great teachers to these schools and make sure the good ones who are there, stay put.

Turnaround teachers will teach a full course load — in high schools that’s five classes — while spending at least 30 hours a year helping their colleagues in the school. That could mean helping another teacher plan his lessons, or demonstrating a model lesson. As a reward, these teachers will receive bonuses of 15 percent of their salaries.

One step up from that is the master teacher position, for which a person must teach at least four classes a day. An additional two periods must be used to train other teachers either through one-on-one mentoring or by running professional development seminars. Master teachers’ bonuses will be 30 percent of their salaries.

“It’s groundbreaking because 30 percent is meaningful, 15 percent is meaningful,” White said. “A 1,000 or 2,000 dollar bonus will have some effect on people’s lives, but it won’t compel the kind of transformation that will 15 and 30 percent increases.”

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said the deal to create the bonus program doesn’t mean the union had agreed to a merit pay system for individual teachers (the current program is school-wide).

“It’s a career ladder,” he said. “Merit pay is based entirely on test scores. If you’re doing more work, you should be compensated. It’s not a shiny new merit pay system.”

Teachers who apply to be turnaround or master teachers next year will be vetted by a committee composed of four teachers union representatives and two Department of Education employees. Piloting the new teacher evaluation system, the committee will rate teachers, with 40 percent of the evaluation based on their students’ test scores and 60 percent on performance reviews, attendance, and other factors.

Principals will hire master and turnaround teachers from this pool of vetted candidates. By 2011, the city expects to do way with the committee screening process and rely on the teacher evaluation system to separate teachers into four categories: highly effective, effective, developing, and ineffective.

How long the city will be able to offer these bonuses is uncertain. Over the course of the next three years, each of the 34 schools will receive $6 million in federal stimulus money — $2 million per year — that will pay for the bonuses. At the end of that time period, the bonuses could become part of the teachers contract and be paid by the city.

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.
Sincerely,

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”