big fish in a small pond

NYC among just two dozen districts without teacher eval plans

Not having a teacher evaluation agreement puts New York City in an increasingly elite group: Of the state’s 694 school districts, just 27 haven’t agreed on an evaluation system.

And almost all of the other lagging districts have much less ground to negotiate with their teachers unions than the city does: They have fewer students, on average, than some city high schools.

According to the latest update from the State Education Department, 442 districts have already had their evaluations systems approved. About 180 have received feedback from the department and are expected to revise and resubmit before the Jan. 17, 2013, deadline set by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. And about 45 have submitted plans recently and are waiting to hear whether they pass muster.

That leaves just 27 districts that have not submitted even a first draft of a teacher evaluation plan, despite increasingly strident admonitions that state officials at least six weeks to review whether plans adhere to legal requirements and department guidance.

“The clock is ticking,” State Education Commissioner John King said in a statement today. He added, “There are still over two dozen districts that have not submitted APPR plans. The longer they wait, the more difficult it will be to complete our review by the deadline. We’ll move as fast as we can, but we will not sacrifice the quality of the review.”

New York City’s plan, if it is completed, will be far harder to review than those of other school districts that still have not turned in a teacher evaluation plan. All together, the 26 districts enroll just over 80,000 students, roughly the same number as are in ninth grade in city high schools. The largest of the districts, Yonkers, is often grouped with New York City in the state’s “Big Five” urban school districts, but even it has just 23,000 students. None of the other districts enrolls more than 10,000 students, and on average, they serve just 2,300 students each.

Of the remaining Big Five districts, two — Rochester and Syracuse — have already had their plans approved. Buffalo submitted a plan in July, but the teachers union there is refusing to negotiate over required revisions because of a contract fight.

Cuomo set the Jan. 17 deadline early this year to urge districts to negotiate new teacher evaluations with their unions earlier than the state’s evaluation law would require. Districts that do not have plans approved by then will risk losing increases in their state school aid. In New York City, Department of Education and union officials both say they are committed to trying to reach an agreement in time but will not sign off on a bad plan just to get the state funds.

Some elements of new evaluations are set in law, but many others are up for negotiation. They include the assessments that will be used to judge student growth for 20 percent of the annual score, the observation model that must account for at least 31 percent, and other subjective elements such as student surveys or peer review that can factor into the final rating.

race in the classroom

‘Do you see me?’ Success Academy theater teacher gives fourth-graders a voice on police violence

Success Academy student Gregory Hannah, one of the performers

In the days and weeks after last July’s police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, teachers across New York grappled with how to talk about race and police violence. But for Sentell Harper, a theater teacher at Success Academy Bronx 2, those conversations had started long before.

CNN recently interviewed Harper about a spoken-word piece he created for his fourth-grade students to perform about what it means to be black and male in America. Harper, who just finished his fourth year teaching at Success, said that after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, he wanted to check in with his students.

“I got my group of boys together, and I said, ‘Today, we’re going to talk about race,'” Harper told CNN. “And they had so much to say. They started telling me stories about their fathers and their brothers, and about dealing with racism — things that I never knew that these young boys went through.”

Inspired by their stories, he created a performance called “Alternative Names for Black Boys,” drawing on poems by Danez Smith, Tupac Shakur and Langston Hughes.

Wearing gray hoodies in honor of Trayvon Martin, who was killed while wearing one, the boys take turns naming black men and boys who have been killed: Freddie, Michael, Philando, Tamir. The list goes on.

Despite the sensitive nature of the subject matter, Harper says honesty is essential for him as a teacher. “Our kids are aware of race and want to talk about it,” he wrote in a post on Success Academy’s website. “As a black male myself, I knew I wanted to foster conversation between my students and within the school community.”

Click below to watch the performance.

Half-priced homes

Detroit teachers and school employees are about to get a major perk: Discount houses

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is announcing an educator discount that will allow employees of all Detroit schools to buy houses from the Land Bank at 50 percent off.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is getting ready this morning to announce a major effort to lure teachers and other school employees to the city of Detroit: Offering them half-priced homes.

According to a press release that’s expected to be released at an event this morning, the mayor plans to announce that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter or parochial schools — will now get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

That discount is already available to city employees, retirees and their families. Now it will be available to full-time employees of schools located in the city.

“Teachers and educators are vital to the city’s future,” Duggan is quoted as saying in the release. “It’s critical to give our school employees, from teachers to custodial staff, the opportunity to live in the communities they teach in.”

If the effort can convince teachers to live in the city rather than surrounding suburbs, it could help a stabilize the population decline that has led to blight and neighborhood deterioration in many parts of the city.

For city schools, the discounts give administrators another perk to offer prospective employees. District and charter schools in Detroit face severe teacher shortages that have created large class sizes and put many children in classrooms without fully qualified teachers.

Detroit’s new schools superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, has said he’s determined to make sure the hundreds of teacher vacancies that affected city schools last year are addressed by the start of classes in September.

In the press release, he’s quoted praising the discount program. “There is an opportunity and need to provide innovative solutions to recruit and retain teachers to work with our children in Detroit.”

The Detroit Land Bank Authority Educator Discount Program will be announced at an event scheduled for 10:45 this morning in front of a Land Bank house in Detroit’s Russell Woods neighborhood.

The Land Bank currently auctions three homes per day through its website, with bidding starting at $1,000.