on air

Walcott on eval talks: "We don't have a clue" what UFT wants

Mayor Bloomberg has used his weekly radio appearance recently to charge the UFT with holding up teacher evaluation talks. Today, he didn’t mention the union at all.

Instead, it was Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who joined Bloomberg on the John Gambling Show, who cast blame on the union and its president, Michael Mulgrew, for blowing Walcott’s self-imposed deadline to make a deal.

“It’s really tough to negotiate when the UFT walks away from the table,” Walcott said. “Mr. Mulgrew has instructed his negotiators that they shouldn’t negotiate with us, at all — they shouldn’t even talk to us on other issues. … That’s tough to really operate from.”

He added, “We don’t have a clue what they want.”

That wasn’t quite true. Alarmed by a spate of reports from teachers about improper observations, Mulgrew did halt evaluation talks this week. But he set a clear condition for them to resume: an agreement on how new evaluations would be rolled out. He invited Walcott to negotiate about implementation, but no talks have yet taken place.

The city and the union are both under pressure to agree on a new evaluation system by Jan. 17 or lose state school aid, a threat Gov. Andrew Cuomo reiterated this week. To give state officials time to review their plan, Walcott had said he wanted to settle with the United Federation of Teachers by Dec. 21 — today.

At stake for the city is about $250 million, a tally that Bloomberg and Walcott have both warned could cause painful budget cuts to schools and other city services. Bloomberg sounded less concerned today, even as he suggested that he is not expecting an agreement.

“We said, if we don’t have it by then, we can still keep negotiating, but we’re going to start assuming in our budget preparations … that we will not have the money,” he said. “Maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised and have to reverse it. I’d rather we do that than find that we didn’t prepare.”

He and Walcott each left the door open for the city to turn down any deal it is offered. A portion of the broadcast was obscured by a loud electronic sound, but it resumed as Bloomberg said, “We’re not going to sell our students down the road for some money.”

Walcott followed quickly with, “We’re not going to do something just for $250 million.”

Bloomberg gave a clue about what would cause him to favor an evaluation system when Gambling noted that more than 600 districts across the state have submitted teacher evaluation plans to the state already.

“I don’t know whether any of those evaluation plans evaluate and do anything meaningful and I don’t know whether they any of them are operable for us,” Bloomberg said. “We’ve got to worry about us.”

As a bonus, he offered his definition of what makes a good teacher:

“Quality teachers are teachers who know how to maintain discipline in their classroom, know how to deal with the issues facing today’s kids … , know how to deal with kids from families that are very different than they were when I went to school, and know how to deal with new subject matter, and know how to work with other teachers and their managers, the principals – it’s a very complex thing and it’s not a job for everybody.”

home sweet home

‘Finally! Something useful’ or a dangerous mistake? Detroiters respond to city’s housing deal for teachers

PHOTO: Detroit Land Bank Authority
This home on Harvard Road was up for auction the week after Detroit announced a half-off-on-city-owned housing deal for teachers.

Friday’s announcement that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter, or parochial schools — will get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority stirred a lot of discussion.

Some of our commenters on Facebook had high hopes for the deal:

But one commenter wondered if it’s the city of Detroit that’s actually getting the best deal, not the employees — or other people seeking to buy homes in the city:

And others argued that people who already live in Detroit won’t benefit from this deal:

Still, some readers appear to be ready to move — and have even picked homes to bid on (though not necessarily from the Land Bank Authority)!

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.