rough draft

State officials are ready to fast-track New York City's eval plan

Commissioner John King and Chancellor Merryl Tisch discussed the remaining school districts without approved evaluation systems during a Board of Regents meetin today.

ALBANY — State education officials cleared their schedule in anticipation of a busy week as dozens of school districts, including New York City, scramble to meet a Thursday teacher evaluation deadline.

Over the weekend, they finished assessing the last of the evaluation plans that districts had proposed, Commissioner John King told the Board of Regents this morning.

“As of 5 p.m. [Sunday], our desk was empty,” he said. “We’ve reviewed and provided feedback on everything that’s been submitted.”

Now they are just waiting for six districts to submit their plans for the first time and 29 others to resubmit plans that needed revisions.

King did not name New York City when he mentioned the districts that have not yet submitted plans. But there was no mistaking which district was most on his mind.

“One of them is quite large,” King said, to laughter.

In order to meet a deadline that Gov. Andrew Cuomo set last year to adopt new teacher evaluations or lose state aid, districts must have their plans approved by Jan. 17. In New York City, where $250 million is at stake, officials are still negotiating over evaluations with the teachers union, whose sign-off is necessary before the state will review a proposed plan.

State officials have said repeatedly that they need time to review proposals to ensure that they comply with state law and education department regulations. So far, 656 districts have had their plans approved, and most of the remaining districts are poised to get final approval by the deadline, King said today.

But not a single district has submitted a plan that did not require feedback and resubmission. So unless the city and union officials submit a flawless first draft, they likely can’t wait until the last minute on Thursday.

“The sooner a district submits a plan, the more likely it is we can work with them to ensure that plan is approved,” King said.

Still, King said his staff has grown “very efficient” at reviewing plans and was optimistic that the city would be able to address shortcomings in its proposal quickly. “I expect them to finish on time,” he said.

After exchanging barbs for much of the last month, the Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers returned to the negotiating table last week. This week, several state officials said they assumed that the city and union had struck a deal.

Members of the United Federation of Teachers handed out flyers supporting fair teacher evaluations to commuters today, three days before a state deadline for the city to adopt a new evaluation system or lose $250 million in state aid.

In New York City today, the union recruited teachers to hand out flyers in more than a dozen locations asking people to call 311, the city’s public information phone line, to “tell the mayor to commit to an evaluation system that supports quality teaching.”

As he handed out leaflets at the Brooklyn Bridge subway station in Manhattan, Barry Greenberg, a first-grade teacher and union chapter leader at Manhattan’s P.S. 126, said, “We always have time to have an influence.”

Implementation of a new evaluation plan, once approved, remains a looming concern. State law requires that districts have their plans “fully implemented” this year in order to qualify for the funding. But that would be a tall order for New York City, where teachers and principals have been introduced only to some of the likely components of new evaluations.

But what implementation means could be up for discussion. For example, the original evaluation law says that districts can move to fire teachers who receive two consecutive “ineffective” ratings — but they don’t have to. While city officials have said they intend to take advantage of that allowance, they could decide to start the clock next year and treat this year’s ratings as a practice round.

“The district has to decide how to use the ratings consistent with the law,” King said, adding that personnel decisions based on the ratings were the “district’s discretion.”

Bob Lowry, New York State Council of Superintendents deputy director for advocacy research and communication, said some superintendents in other districts were also struggling to implement the plan for this year. He criticized the timing of the legal deadline as coming too late for districts to implement new evaluation systems this year.

“If the expectation was that they were going to be implementing this year and carrying it out in the ideal fashion, then they would have said you have to have a plan in place at the beginning of the school year,” Lowry said. “But they didn’t say that.”

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.