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Walcott to principals: We rejected evaluation deal to protect you

Chancellor Dennis Walcott told principals today that he was thinking about them when he rejected a teacher evaluation deal. Then he warned them that their schools could see budget cuts as a result.

In his first communication with school leaders since months-long negotiations with the teachers union fell apart on Thursday, Walcott said the union had asked to be able to file more grievances over teacher ratings than a previous agreement had allowed.

If the city had acceded to the union’s request, Walcott said, principals would face union attacks over the data they collect from students, the way they communicate with teachers, and what they ask teachers to work on.

“In the end, I could not agree to the UFT’s demands because they would have stripped principals of much of your existing authority,” he said.

The explanation was not the same one Mayor Bloomberg laid out for rejecting the teacher evaluation deal. Bloomberg said he was most aggrieved by the proposal for the system to be authorized only for a fixed term, instead of forever, an issue that Walcott mentioned but did not focus on.

Union officials said on Thursday that their request for additional arbitration was not as extensive as the department was characterizing and would not have cut deeply into principals’ time.

Walcott’s letter came shortly after state education officials informed the chancellor that they would seize control of hundreds of millions of dollars that the city Department of Education typically controls if the department did not find a way to move forward with adopting new teacher evaluations. The threat was in addition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s vow to withhold about $250 million in school aid from the city for missing his Jan. 17 evaluations deadline.

Walcott said little about the funding issue in his letter to principals. But at the end, he wrote, “The lack of an agreement will have an adverse impact on our budget. We hope to protect schools from these cuts as much as possible, and we will follow up as soon as we have additional information.”

Walcott’s complete letter to principals is below:

Dear Colleagues,

When we signed on to Race to the Top in 2010, we were committed to designing a fair teacher evaluation system that would create meaningful supports and accountability for our teachers. However, despite our hard work over the past two years, as of yesterday’s deadline the UFT failed to accept a fair and reasonable agreement on a new teacher evaluation system.

The UFT had proposed dozens of new rules and a massive increase in oversight by UFT chapter leaders, district representatives, and outside arbitrators on virtually all aspects of the evaluation process. While we were able to come to agreement on nearly every detail required by Education Law 3012-c, the negotiations finally broke down over the union’s demand to double the number of grievances that are brought to arbitration. Agreeing to this demand would have dramatically curtailed principal autonomy and narrowed your ability to exercise professional judgment. It also would have created a complex, time-consuming architecture of procedures, consultations, and grievances that would have been paralyzing for good teaching and learning in our schools.

In the end, I could not agree to the UFT’s demands because they would have stripped principals of much of your existing authority. Every interaction listed below—and many more—would have been subject to this new grievance and arbitration process. Let me be perfectly clear—this new process they insisted on is not required under the law. For example, you could have been grieved about:

  • how you write up and share your observation notes
  • when and how you communicate with teachers
  • how many administrators can enter a classroom at one time
  • the kinds of professional development your school offers
  • what types of data you collect on your students
  • how your school measures student learning
  • how you assess a teacher’s development over time
  • which skills you are permitted to work on developing with your staff

Additionally, one of the promises of Education Law 3012-c was that all teachers would get more support and that ineffective teachers would be removed. Last year we negotiated a New York City-specific provision in the law that makes it easier to discontinue ineffective teachers after two years. In the last stages of our talks, the UFT insisted that the agreement sunset on June 30, 2015—just when the provisions making it easier to remove ineffective teachers are scheduled to take effect.

Through last night, we continued to negotiate in good faith. But ultimately, while we remain committed to the spirit of the law, giving in to the UFT’s demands would have undone many of the gains we have made. As Chancellor, it was my responsibility to make a decision about what was best for our school system. Given the UFT’s unreasonable demands, I could not in good conscience sign on to a deal that goes against the original intent of the law and the value we place on principal empowerment.

While we also made headway in our negotiations with the CSA, our current principal evaluation system is very close to what the law requires, so the impact would have been limited. Nonetheless, what we needed by the deadline was a deal on both a new principal and teacher evaluation system.

The lack of an agreement will have an adverse impact on our budget. We hope to protect schools from these cuts as much as possible, and we will follow up as soon as we have additional information. In the meantime, we will continue to work with you and with teachers across the City on the goals we’ve set to improve teacher practice. We welcome your thoughts and feedback on how to strengthen this work over the course of the coming year.

Sincerely,

Dennis M. Walcott

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

We’ve reached out for reaction from DeVos’s team and will update when we hear back.

teachers with borders

Schools near state lines perform worse — and rules discouraging teachers from moving may be to blame

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Want a leg up in school? Don’t attend one near a state border.

That’s the surprising finding of a new study published in the Economics of Education Review. The likely culprit: certification and pension rules that discourage teachers from moving between states, limiting the labor pool on each side of the border.

The peer-reviewed paper focuses on test scores at public middle schools near a state boundary. Eighth-graders attending those schools, the researchers find, perform consistently worse in math than students at non-boundary schools. (The results are negative in reading, too, but smaller and not always statistically significant.)

One reason the findings ought to catch the attention of policymakers across the country: the data comes from 33 states, including big ones like Florida, New York, and Texas.

“We estimate that roughly 670,000 students are enrolled in middle schools nationally that are [considered] ‘intensely affected’ by a state boundary in our study,” the researchers write.

Of course, schools and students are not randomly assigned to be near state boundaries, so the study can’t definitively conclude that boundaries are the cause of lower performance. But the researchers — Dongwoo Kim, Cory Koedel, Shawn Ni, and Michael Podgursky, all of the University of Missouri — control for a number of student characteristics that might affect performance.

And while the study can’t pinpoint why a boundary seems to hurt test scores, the researchers have a theory: “state-specific pension and licensing policies” that discourage teachers from moving between states, likely forcing border schools to draw from a more limited pool of potential teachers.

In some places, those pension rules mean a substantial loss of retirement wealth if teachers move states mid-career. Complicated licensure rules that in some cases require experienced teachers to take certification exams or obtain additional degrees can also make that kind of switch practically difficult. Other research has found that teachers rarely move across state lines, even if they live near a boundary.

Why might that harm performance of schools near state lines?

Say a school in New York City has two science teachers and no math teachers, while a school right across the river in New Jersey has two math teachers and no science teachers. If each school needs exactly one teacher per subject, the solution is easy in theory: the New York City school gets a math teacher and loses a science one, and vice versa for the New Jersey school. But if certification or pension rules prevent that from happening, both schools lose out — and student achievement might suffer.

States aren’t typically eager to change those policies, though, for several reasons.

For one, states that require prospective teachers to clear a high bar to become certified may worry that making it too easy for an out-of-state teacher to receive a license could reduce teacher quality. A study from North Carolina provides some evidence for this argument, showing that teachers trained elsewhere were less effective than teachers trained in-state, though the difference was very small.

Another argument is that limiting teachers’ ability to bring pension money along with them when they move helps states hold on to their educators — even if they are in turn harmed when they can’t recruit teachers from elsewhere.

The latest study suggests that the net impact of those restrictions are negative. Still, the effects on students are quite small, implying that changes to pension and certification policies are unlikely to lead to large improvements in student performance.

But, the study points out, policies that eliminate the harm from attending school near a state line could help hundreds of thousands of students.

“Although the boundary effects are small on a per-student basis, they are spread across a very large population,” the researchers write.