ask and ye shall receive

State finds assessing eval systems to be harder than expected

For months, state education officials have been hounding school districts to draft teacher evaluation plans and submit them for approval.

But now that the plans are streaming in, the officials are realizing the state is not adequately prepared to assess them. Each plan must be combed through to ensure that it complies with the state’s evaluation law and meets the State Education Department’s hard-and-fast rules and subjective guidelines.

“I think it’s fair to say we underestimated the time and resources that we needed to review these plans,” Valerie Grey, SED’s deputy commissioner, told members of the Board of Regents Monday in Albany.

Grey said the department would seek “additional resources to get through January,” when Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said districts must put new evaluation systems in place or risk forgoing an increase in state aid. She also said the department would ask districts to turn in their plans early to leave time for the approval process.

Grey later clarified that increasing manpower would not require any new funds but instead could be paid for by reallocating some of the state’s Race to the Top funds. The state committed to overhauling teacher evaluations as part of its application for the federal funds.

So far, Grey said, the department has enlisted law students as interns to wade through the complicated, encyclopedic applications that districts turn in. The extra funds will allow the department to hire full-time temporary employees to help with the task. Both the interns and the temporary workers are supervised by department officials. The department is also conscripting employees who do not normally work on teacher quality issues to assist with the project.

Of the state’s 715 districts, 295 have turned in proposals for evaluation systems, Grey said. But the department has provided feedback to only 150 of them, and 75 evaluation systems have been approved so far, she said.

To guard against the bottleneck, the state is asking districts to turn in their evaluation plans by mid-December, just three months away, in order to hit the governor’s Jan. 17 deadline.

The tightened timeline could add new pressure to already fraught negotiations in New York City. City and teachers union officials have both expressed optimism about being able to reach a teacher evaluations agreement by Cuomo’s deadline, but they have missed several state deadlines in the last year. Each time, their negotiations have gone to the wire.

Evaluation plans that the department has approved and published illustrate the complexity of the approval process. Binghamton’s plan, for example, comes to 123 pages and includes a long list of assessments the district wants to use to measure student growth; spreadsheets that show how the different components of the evaluation system will lead to a single score for each teacher; and detailed plans for how to help teachers and principals who get low scores. Each component was negotiated locally, then refined in conversation with state education officials before getting a final sign-off.

Another reason that the review process is taking longer than expected is that districts are so far taking very different approaches from one another, Grey said. She said she anticipated the review process speeding up as more districts look to each other and to models that the state has published for inspiration. Checking off the components of an evaluation system that is similar to one that has already met the state’s approval is simpler than thinking through a brand new system, Grey said.

It’s unlikely that a system New York City proposes would benefit from the economy of scale. The city and its teacher union have been negotiating over the evaluation system for longer than most districts have taken to develop theirs. Plus, the city is so large that some assessment process that are feasible in smaller districts could be hard to carry out here, and vice versa.

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.