breaking (updated)

City, union declare impasse in teacher evaluation negotiations

The city and teachers union won’t meet this week’s deadline to hammer out a new teacher evaluation system — and it doesn’t look like they will reach an agreement any time soon.

State Education Commisioner John King this week issued a strict ultimatum to New York and nine other districts: Agree on new teacher evaluations in a subset of low-performing schools by Dec. 31 or lose special federal funds for those schools. The city is receiving about $60 million in the funds, called School Improvement Grants, for 33 schools.

In July, the city and union agreed to roll out new evaluations in the schools, but they still had some details to finalize. They were locked in negotiations until today but threw in the towel this morning, citing irreconcilable ideological differences, particularly around due process protections for teachers who receive low ratings.

The impasse has potentially far-ranging consequences. The first is that the 33 struggling schools will stop receiving funds midyear, leaving them in the lurch to pay for programs, personnel, and nonprofit partners that are already in place.

“I am left with no choice but to suspend SIG funding” to New York City, King said in a statement this afternoon, hours after city officials essentially petitioned him to consider awarding the funds despite the impasse.

The high-profile breakdown in negotiations also bodes ill for another deadline, June 30, by which new teacher evaluations are supposed to be in place for all schools, in accordance with a state law passed in 2010 to help the state win Race to the Top funds.

The city has also canceled negotiations with the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators over new evaluations for principals. Today would have been the third day for those talks, according to CSA President Ernest Logan, who urged the department to return to the table.

That seems unlikely, according to a letter Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent King this morning explaining the impasse and suggesting that the city and state try to move forward on creating a new evaluation system without the union’s approval.

“This disagreement — regarding both policy and principles — leads me to conclude that we will not be able to come to an agreement on a fair and progressive teacher evaluation system,” Walcott wrote.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew union negotiators alerted him around 11 a.m. that two deputy chancellors had declared negotiations over and exited the room. Shortly afterwards, Mulgrew said, he received a copy of Walcott’s letter to King.

“I got the sense that the department never really wanted to get this done to begin with,” Mulgrew told GothamSchools.

The main sticking points appeared to be whether outside arbitrators would hear appeals of teachers who receive low ratings and, more broadly, whether the new evaluations are meant to usher weak teachers out of the system or identify struggling teachers so they can be helped to get better.

“We are hoping that we can have a system that will help teachers improve, because that’s the spirit of the legislation,” Mulgrew told GothamSchools yesterday. “The DOE, I don’t think they look at it the same way we do.”

In his letter to King, Walcott said the union was trying “to protect the very worst performing teachers” by insisting on outside review for teachers who received either an “ineffective” or “developing” rating under the new system. He also said the union has also thrown up roadblocks to dismissal proceedings for teachers the city is trying to fire, a separate issue from the new evaluations.

“Almost every step of the way, the UFT has insisted on conditions that I believe would undercut real accountability,” Walcott said in the letter.

But union officials said they had asked only for arbitrators to hear the cases of teachers who received the lowest rating and could lose their jobs as a result. Such a protection would guard against capricious and arbitrary low ratings by principals, they said.

Mulgrew said the city had not accepted the union’s suggestion that a third-party negotiator step in on sticking points.

In his letter, Walcott suggested to King that a solution might be found without the union’s consent.

“The city stands ready to continue discussions on this matter directly with the state, and I hope that you will consider the seriousness with which we are approaching this matter as a sign of our commitment to creating a meaningful teacher evaluation system for our schools,” he said.

City officials said they were discussing the possibility of recouping some expenditures or directing different funds to pay for others at the schools.

Walcott’s complete letter to King is below:

And here’s Mulgrew’s explanation of the impasse:

Discussions with the New York City Department of Education have reached an impasse.

Despite numerous negotiating sessions, we have been unable to reach agreement on key points.  Because the DOE refused to bargain in a meaningful way, we have offered to engage in binding arbitration over the remaining issues, leaving it up to an impartial third party to resolve these differences. (letter attached)

The DOE has refused our offer.

The UFT is seeking an agreement that meets the spirit of the teacher evaluation legislation in two important ways:

1)      The agreement must focus on creating a process to help teachers improve their performance by providing them with feedback on the specific classroom issues that need to be addressed, recommended strategies to address these issues and specific assistance from supervisors and other school personnel in implementing the recommended strategies.

2)      for teachers rated ineffective — an impartial outside review by a qualified and mutually-agreed-upon third party.

Teachers look forward to the opportunity to improve their practice.  If the DOE’s major focus is on penalizing its employees for their perceived shortcomings, rather than to devise a process that will help all teachers improve, it is doing a disservice to the schools and the children they serve.

In addition, the DOE’s position in these talks has been that principals’ judgment is always right and that they should be able to wield unfettered power over their employees.  Yet its own investigative arm has documented an instance of a principal urging her deputies to target teachers for dismissal even without observing their work (Fordham HS of the Arts);  another teacher had to go to court to get an “unsatisfactory” rating overturned after an independent investigator found that he and other teachers had been harassed by the principal (Bronx Science); and repeated allegations that teachers have been pressured by administrators to pass students who had not mastered course material or who barely attended classes (Herbert Lehman, A. Phillip Randolph).

It staggers the imagination to think that, given these facts, the DOE can continue to insist that no principal’s judgment can be questioned, and that no checks or balances are needed on their powers to destroy a teacher’s career.

And here’s what State Commissioner John King said this afternoon:

Sadly, the adults in charge of the City’s schools have let the students down.  SIG schools need to be fixed, and the best way to make that happen is to make sure there’s a quality teacher in front of every classroom and a quality principal at the head of every school.

A rigorous, transparent evaluation system grounded in evidence of effective practice and student learning is critical to providing quality professional development, identifying models of excellence, and raising student achievement.  Fair, sound teacher and principal evaluations are good for educators and vital for students.

The failure to reach agreements on evaluations leaves thousands of students mired in the same educational morass.  Until the grown-ups in charge start acting that way, it won’t be a very happy New Year for the students at the SIG schools in the City.

This is beyond disappointing.  The City and the unions have known about this deadline for many months, but there’s no evidence of any real progress. The New York City Department of Education must immediately cease obligating SIG funds in its Transformation and Restart model schools.  I am left with no choice but to suspend SIG funding for Transformation and Restart model schools in the City.

First Person

First Person: Why my education nonprofit is bucking the coastal trend and setting up shop in Oklahoma

PHOTO: Creative Commons

“Oklahoma?! Why are you expanding to Oklahoma?!”

The response when I told some people that Generation Citizen, the nonprofit I run, was expanding to central Texas and Oklahoma, quickly became predictable. They could understand Texas, probably because our headquarters will be in the blue-dot-in-sea-of-red Austin. But Oklahoma?

My answer: Generation Citizen is expanding to Oklahoma City because no one would expect us to expand to Oklahoma City.

Our nonprofit is dedicated to empowering young people to become engaged citizens by reviving civics education in schools. We help middle and high school students learn about local politics by guiding them as they take action on issues they care about, like funding for teen jobs or state resources for teenage moms.

I founded the organization after graduating from Brown University in Rhode Island in 2009. Since then, we’ve expanded our programming to Boston, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area. All are urban areas with wide swaths of low-income young people, unequal schools, and disparate power dynamics. Our work is needed in those areas.

At the same time, all of these areas have predominantly liberal populations. In fact, according to The Economist, they are among the 10 most liberal cities in the country.

Generation Citizen is a non-partisan organization. We do not wish to convince young people to support a particular candidate or party — we just want them to engage politically, period. But the fact that we are preparing low-income young people in liberal urban centers to become politically active complicates this narrative.

So despite the fact that we could work with many more students in our existing cities, we made a conscious decision to expand to a more politically diverse region. A city that had real Republicans.

As we started talking about expansion, I realized the extent to which the dialogue about political and geographic diversity was a rarity in national nonprofit circles. While several large education organizations, like Teach for America and City Year, have done an admirable job of in working in conservative and rural regions across the country, a lot of other organizations follow a more predictable path, sticking largely to cities on the east and west coasts and sometimes, if folks feel crazy, an Atlanta or Miami.

There is nothing wrong with these decisions (and we were originally following this trajectory). A big reason for the coastal-focused expansion strategy is the availability of financial resources. Nonprofits want to raise money locally to sustain themselves, and those cities are home to a lot of people and foundations who can fund nonprofits.

But a more problematic reason seems related to our increasing ideological self-segregation. Nonprofits lean toward expanding to places that are comfortable, places that their leaders visit, places where people tend to hold similar values and political views.

One of the fault lines in our democracy is our inability to talk to people who disagree with us (highlighted daily by this presidential election). And non-profits may be exacerbating this reality.

This schism actually became more apparent to me when our board of directors started having conversations about expansion. Oklahoma City had come to the top of my proposed list because of my personal and professional contacts there. But I quickly realized that no one on my board lived more than five miles from an ocean, and save a board member from Oklahoma, none had stepped foot in the state.

“Are we sure we want to expand there? Why not a gateway city?” (I still don’t know what a gateway city is.)

“We can hire a Republican to run the site, but they can’t be a Trump supporter.”

“Are we sure that we can raise enough money to operate there?”

It wasn’t just my board. Whenever I talked to friends about our plans, they’d offer the same resistance.

The stereotypes I heard were twofold: Oklahoma was full of bigoted conservatives, and it was an incredibly boring location. (The dullness narrative got an unquestionable boost this year when star basketball player Kevin Durant left the hometown Thunder. It became quite clear that a main rationale for his leaving the team was Oklahoma City itself.)

But as I met with folks about Generation Citizen’s work, I met citizen after citizen who was excited about our mission. The state is facing tremendous budget challenges, and its voter participation rates amongst the worst in the country. Given these realities, there seemed to be widespread recognition that a program like ours could actually be helpful.

I did not talk about national politics with most people I met. Indeed, we might disagree on whom to support. But we did agree on the importance of educating young people to be politically active, shared concerns about public school budget cuts, and bonded over excitement for the Thunder’s playoff chances.

Still, the actual expansion to Oklahoma will be a challenge for our organization. Despite our local ties, we are coming in from the outside, and we do have the perception of being a progressively minded organization. What will happen if one of our classes wants to advocate for open carry at schools in response to a shooting? How will my board handle working in a site where they wouldn’t ordinarily visit?

I am excited to tackle all of these challenges. And I would push other similarly sized non-profits to think about working in a more diverse set of areas. It is not possible to be a national organization and avoid entire swaths of the country. But more importantly, given these tenuous political times, it feels important to interact with people who may not hold our beliefs.

Nonprofits can’t fix our national dialogue alone. But by expanding where we work, we might help improve the conversation.

honor system

Meet Derek Voiles, the Morristown educator who is Tennessee’s newest Teacher of the Year

PHOTO: Tennessee Department of Education
Derek Voiles, Tennessee's 2016-17 Teacher of the Year

Derek Voiles, a seventh-grade English language arts teacher in Morristown, is Tennessee’s 2016-17 Teacher of the Year, the State Department of Education announced Thursday.

One of nine finalists for this year’s award, Voiles teaches at Lincoln Heights Middle in Hamblen County Schools in East Tennessee. He received the top teacher honor at a banquet in Nashville.

Voiles, who has been teaching for six years, has long shared his teaching practices publicly — on Twitter, through a blog he wrote with a colleague, and as a state ambassador for the Common Core standards. In recent years, according to a state news release, his classroom became a hub as teachers from across his district observed his teaching in hopes of replicating his practices, which often improved the performance of students far behind their peers.

“All students are capable of achieving great things, and all students deserve a teacher who believes this and will do whatever it takes to make it happen,” Voiles said in the release. He is also a doctoral candidate at East Tennessee State University.

Now, Voiles will gain an even wider stage, as Tennessee’s representative to the National Teacher of the Year program. He will also share insight from the classroom as part of committees and working groups with the Tennessee Department of Education.

All nine Teacher of the Year finalists, representing each of the state’s regions, will serve on the Commissioner Candice McQueen’s Teacher Advisory Council during the 2016-17 school year.

The department also recognized two division winners from Middle and West Tennessee. Cord Martin, a music education and enrichment teacher at Whitthorne Middle School in Maury County, was recognized for his innovative teaching strategies and connecting content to contemporary culture. Christy McManus, a fifth-grade English language arts and social studies teacher at Chester County Middle School in Henderson was honored for equipping her students with the end goal in mind: a college-ready twelfth grader.

Voiles follows Cathy Whitehead, a third-grade teacher from Chester County, who served as Tennessee’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year. Whitehead teaches at West Chester Elementary School in Henderson in West Tennessee.