human capital

Klein: ratings are useful for the worst and best teachers

For parents of students in the “average” city teacher’s class, learning the teacher’s rating may not tell them very much, Chancellor Joel Klein wrote in a letter to principals today.

In his email, Klein explained the city’s decision to release teachers’ effectiveness ratings and the teachers union’s move to block this from happening. He noted that the ratings, which measure teachers against estimations of how much their students’ test scores ought to rise, would be most useful in identifying very high and low performing teachers. He wrote:

One indication will never tell the whole story, and sometimes it is hard to discern definitive evidence from data alone — such as with a teacher who is “average” according to these numbers, for example. But where teachers have performed consistently toward the top or the bottom, year after year, these data surely tell us something very important. Namely, we need to retain and reward the great teachers, and we need to develop the low-performing teachers. And those who don’t improve quickly need to be replaced with better-performing teachers.

Klein’s full letter:

Dear Colleagues,

As you have likely heard or read, several media outlets recently issued Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to the City, requiring the Department to share the Teacher Data Reports we provide schools and teachers in grades 4 through 8 each year. These reports use a method called “value-added data” that seeks to predict student performance based on factors outside of a teacher’s control (high levels of poverty, for example), and then determines whether a given teacher’s students exceeded or fell short of these predicted examination scores (teachers may always access their reports at http://schools.nyc.gov/Teachers/TeacherDevelopment/TeacherDataToolkit/GetYourReports/default.htm). By controlling for factors beyond a teacher’s control, it is the fairest system-wide way we have to assess the real impact of teachers on student learning. And while the City’s particular value-add method is not etched in stone, this is why the State passed legislation this spring, endorsed by the teachers’ unions, committing to using value-added data for all teachers. It is also why value-added data is increasingly being used throughout the nation as part of a comprehensive system of teacher evaluation.

In the past we have provided the numeric value-added data to the press with no indication of the identity of individual teachers. I am writing to you today because media outlets, prompted by similar data being published by the Los Angeles Times, have requested the names of individual teachers, not just the statistics. As it is the City’s legal interpretation that we are legally obligated to provide the media this information, it is our intent to provide the data as requested.

In the time since we informed the UFT that we intended to comply with the FOIL request, the union has sued the City to prevent the release, and we have agreed to delay any release until at least November 24, when a court hearing will be held. So no data have yet been released. But I want to make sure that, as you read about these events in the newspapers, you understand the circumstances and you understand my view on the issue overall.

Our most important task is to ensure that every one of our students has a great teacher. It is critical, therefore, that when we have indications of a teacher’s proficiency, we use that indication to do what’s right for kids. One indication will never tell the whole story, and sometimes it is hard to discern definitive evidence from data alone —such as with a teacher who is “average” according to these numbers, for example. But where teachers have performed consistently toward the top or the bottom, year after year, these data surely tell us something very important. Namely, we need to retain and reward the great teachers, and we need to develop the low-performing teachers. And those who don’t improve quickly need to be replaced with better-performing teachers.

Secretary Arne Duncan last week said it best when he said, “I give New York credit for sharing this information with teachers so they can improve and get better.” More than anything, these data demonstrate that we need a better, more comprehensive system of evaluation than the one we have now. That’s why the State legislature and the unions supported an evaluation system that uses value-added data. Now it’s time that the DOE and UFT together build a new system that gives teachers an honest sense of how well they’re doing and how they can improve.

In the end, this is about real people. On one hand, for too long, parents have been left out of the equation, left to pray each year that the teacher greeting their children on the first day of school is truly great, but with no real knowledge of whether that is the case, and with no recourse if it’s not.

But this is also about teachers. They take on the hardest work there is, and they deserve our respect. If anyone sees these data as an opportunity to scapegoat public servants, that is a mistake. Doing what’s right for children means making hard decisions; it has nothing to do with personal attacks.

We’ve made huge strides for our kids over the last eight years. That’s because we’ve been willing to face hard facts. It’s also because we have made kids’ best interests our shared priority. My hope is that we approach this issue with both of those thoughts in mind, ensuring fair treatment for adults, but always keeping children first.

Sincerely,

Joel I. Klein

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.”