the quiet city

Cautionary evaluation petition attracts principals, but not in NYC

Across the state, hundreds of principals have signed onto a petition urging the state to proceed cautiously with new teacher evaluations.

Only two of them currently run New York City schools.

The petition is attached to a position paper arguing that the state’s evaluation regulations — which require a portion of teachers’ ratings to be based on their students’ test scores —  are unsupported by research, prone to errors, and too expensive at a time of budget cuts. Nearly three quarters of principals on Long Island, where the paper originated, have signed on, as well as hundreds of principals from districts across the state and even the country.

Sean Feeney, a Long Island principal who helped write the position paper earlier this month in his capacity as president of the Nassau County High School Principals Association, said toughening teacher evaluations is a worthy goal, but the state’s requirements aren’t the best way to accomplish it.

“We’ve got a ship that’s sailed on a dangerous course through uncharted waters and we’re not prepared — and somehow that’s okay and we have to go full-steam ahead,” he said. “We’re betting people’s careers on something that does not work. It’s unconscionable.”

Feeney speculated that city principals are less shocked by the state’s evaluation requirements because the city has already tried to develop “value-added” evaluations of some teachers using student test scores.

“The city’s been living with this for a while,” he said.

Plus, he said about city principals, “I think they’re a little more nervous” about jeopardizing their jobs by speaking out.

One of the principals who signed the petition, P.S. 257’s Brian Devale, has been an outspoken defender of teachers unions in the past, lobbying to keep “last in, first out” seniority layoff rules in place even when some of his colleagues were advocating to end them.

The second city principal to sign, M.S. 324’s Janet Heller, actually went to bat against the seniority layoff rules last year. She told GothamSchools today that she signed the petition because she thought the city’s approach to incorporating test scores into teacher evaluations was superior to the state’s.

A third city educator who signed the petition, Donald Freeman, retired as the principal of Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School and went on to coordinate the New York Performance Standards Consortium, which advocates against all high-stakes testing.

A spokeswoman for the principals union, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, said CSA had not observed city principals showing interest in the cause.

“What we’re witnessing here is a grassroots movement that individuals have signed onto,”  Antoinette Isable-Jones wrote in an email. “Those individuals are understandably frustrated.”

Feeney, a founding teacher at Manhattan Village Academy before moving to Long Island, said advocacy groups and professional organizations based in the city are working to promote the position paper. Already, dozens of city teachers have signed on, as well as a handful of activists include Class Size matters’ Leonie Haimson and Diane Ravitch.

But he said the petition has a shot of affecting state policy only if many principals sign on, and not just from Long Island, which he said state officials tended to view as “a thorn in their side.”

“The principal’s voice is an important one,” Feeney said. “We welcome all signatories … but we certainly put the signing on of a principal at a premium.”

Week In Review

Week In Review: A new board takes on ‘awesome responsibility’ as Detroit school lawsuits advance

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The new Detroit school board took the oath and took on the 'awesome responsibility' of Detroit's children

It’s been a busy week for local education news with a settlement in one Detroit schools lawsuit, a combative new filing in another, a push by a lawmaker to overhaul school closings, a new ranking of state high schools, and the swearing in of the first empowered school board in Detroit has 2009.

“And with that, you are imbued with the awesome responsibility of the children of the city of Detroit.”

—    Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens, after administering the oath to the seven new members of the new Detroit school board

Read on for details on these stories plus the latest on the sparring over Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. Here’s the headlines:

 

The board

The first meeting of the new Detroit school board had a celebratory air to it, with little of the raucous heckling that was common during school meetings in the emergency manager era. The board, which put in “significant time and effort” preparing to take office, is focused on building trust with Detroiters. But the meeting was not without controversy.

One of the board’s first acts was to settle a lawsuit that was filed by teachers last year over the conditions of school buildings. The settlement calls for the creation of a five-person board that will oversee school repairs.

The lawyers behind another Detroit schools lawsuit, meanwhile, filed a motion in federal court blasting Gov. Rick Snyder for evading responsibility for the condition of Detroit schools. That suit alleges that deplorable conditions in Detroit schools have compromised childrens’ constitutional right to literacy — a notion Snyder has rejected.

 

In Lansing

On DeVos

In other news

year in review

Teaching in Colorado in 2016: Debate intensifies over how to find, keep and pay good teachers

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
A Relay resident practices giving directions to her peers, who pretend to be students.

An urgency to improve teaching and attract more people to the profession grew this year as schools and districts increasingly had trouble finding teachers for some jobs and debates continued about performance pay and how to increase teacher diversity.

The discussions started early this year at the legislature with a bill that was passed to help rural districts recruit more teachers by hiring a statewide coordinator and by providing stipends to students wanting to go into teaching.

This year’s annual report from the state showed the shortage does start in college and the numbers of students enrolling in teaching programs dipped once more. Superintendents from several school districts discussed the problem at an annual forum and said teachers need to get paid more but must also feel respected.

Officials in rural districts have also said this year that their big challenge in recruitment is often salary, but they are directing some efforts to find teachers who are drawn to the benefits of being in a small town.

Even in the larger urban districts, improving teacher pay and experience was a topic of discussion this year. The advocacy nonprofit A-Plus Colorado released a report in September with suggestions to improve the performance pay model in Denver Public Schools.

Denver teachers did get a slight raise this summer under new agreements with the teachers union, as did some teachers in Jeffco Public Schools.

Besides looking at pay, Denver schools are also getting a chance to expand a coaching program for teachers after voters passed a bond measure in November. DPS is also looking at the possibility of providing affordable housing for teachers, as some districts are already doing.

Another group looking to increase the number of teachers is the Relay Graduate School of Education, which opened an office in Denver this year and started a local teacher residency program.

The city of Denver also stepped into the field by joining DPS to target teacher recruitment to increase diversity in the classrooms where the majority of students are racial minorities but most teachers are white. Among the new teachers that joined DPS this fall, that didn’t change much. Three of the teachers that participated in the targeted recruitment from DPS, and were still working in the district this year, shared the experience of being recruited with Chalkbeat.

Next year, discussions about recruitment, diversity and improving teacher quality are sure to continue. One decision to look for is a state Supreme Court ruling on teacher job guarantees under the 2010 teacher evaluation law. Educators will also be watching the legislature and other advocacy groups as they look at solutions to teacher shortage issues through school funding changes.