he said he said

Bloomberg renews criticism of UFT in ongoing teacher eval spat

Addressing the collapse of teacher evaluation talks for the first time since state education officials criticized his role, Mayor Bloomberg today blamed the teachers union again.

Last week, Bloomberg said he could not accept a teacher evaluation deal because the union wanted only a temporary evaluation system — an objection that State Education Commissioner John King said city officials had not raised earlier in negotiations.

“That comment from the mayor was, from my perspective, a new issue that was raised after they walked away from the table,” King said on Friday.

Speaking this morning at an announcement about an affordable housing project, Bloomberg dialed back his emphasis on the “sunset” issue. The union “was just deliberately trying to throw as many procedural roadblocks up that it would be so impossible to remove a teacher, even if the deal didn’t expire,” he said.

Despite his harsh criticism of the UFT, Bloomberg said he had asked Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to reach out again to the union today. The city will be cut off from hundreds of millions of dollars in state funds without a new teacher evaluations system.

But UFT President Michael Mulgrew signaled that he was not in the mood to talk.

“Welcome to Bloombergland,” Mulgrew said in a statement. “Most people would be embarrassed that the state’s highest education official has directly contradicted their statements about a new teacher evaluation system. But not the mayor. … And people wonder why negotiations haven’t been successful.”

Here’s what Bloomberg said during his public appearance, via City Hall’s press office:

“Before we take other topics, let me just briefly talk a little bit about negotiations for a teacher evaluation agreement, which I’ve gotten a number of questions about.

“As I said last week, I am extremely disappointed, but I will say I’m not surprised, that the UFT walked away from our negotiations last week.

“I’m disappointed because they have blocked our teachers from having the kind of useful feedback and accountability that is helping teachers – and children – in other parts of the country, and I’m disappointed because the UFT is costing our schools hundreds of millions of dollars.

“But I’m not surprised because I always have been skeptical, as you know, that the union leadership would be willing to accept a deal that made meaningful distinctions about the quality of teaching.

“Those distinctions would enable us to attract, retain and reward the best teachers, and make it easier to remove teachers who, even after two years of extra support, are ineffective.

“We have 75,000 teachers in our system – and the great majority of them are hard-working and talented, and they really make a difference in the lives of our kids – and they deserve credit for our successes over the last decade: rising graduation rates, narrowing of the achievement gap, progress on state tests that outpaces the rest of the state.

“But the truth of the matter is, with 75,000, not every teacher is effective – and all teachers can benefit from the kind of feedback that a fair evaluation system provides. And blocking that system, as the UFT has done, hurts teachers, and it especially hurts our children.

“The Obama Administration knows that. That’s why they promoted Race to the Top as a means of encouraging real evaluation systems. And that’s the kind of deal we were seeking: identify the good teachers and the teachers who need help, help all of our teachers excel, give special help to those who need it most, and for the few who still don’t perform up to standards, replace them.

“That’s why we wanted a deal, and still do – and it’s why the UFT leadership did not.

“For an entire year, the UFT leadership has been dragging their feet and throwing up roadblocks – and they have been trying to inject issues that are entirely unrelated to an evaluation deal into the discussions.

“Then, last week, at the very last minute, they introduced new demands designed to undermine the evaluation system and torpedo the deal. They demanded that the deal expire before bad teachers could be removed from the classrooms. They wanted the deal to go out of existence before it could go into effect.

“It was just deliberately trying to throw as many procedural roadblocks up that it would be so impossible to remove a teacher, even if the deal didn’t expire. Neither is something that we could ever live with.

“The UFT’s demand that we revert to the old system after two years, and its demand for a new grievance process, are not contemplated in the law and are clearly designed to undermine everything else the law requires.

“When we refused to go along with these demands, they held a press conference and unilaterally declared negotiations over. Despite this, I will say, we did make one last attempt last week late at night – and that too was rebuffed.

“Some have suggested that we should accept their last offer, pretending it was adequate, and taking the State’s money. We will not do that. We are not going to be complicit in a fraud.

“For decades, the system was run for the benefit of adults, and our kids suffered from a system that was a dysfunctional failure. We spent the last decade making sure that the system is run for kids. We will not go back by making a deal that protects adults at the expense of kids, nor will we do a deal that purports to do one thing when we all know it’s impossible to do it the way they want it structured.

“We’ve changed, and we aren’t going back.

“Furthermore, it would be irresponsible for me to give the UFT a huge hammer over the next mayor in contract negotiations.

“The UFT would be able to say: Give us what we want, or we’ll let the evaluation system expire, and I’m not going to put our 1.1 million schoolchildren in that position.

“Other states have dealt with this issue differently. They passed bipartisan legislation that gave districts and unions an opportunity to negotiate, but they insisted on implementing fair evaluation standards even if no agreement was reached by the deadline, even if the union objected.

“Unfortunately, when our evaluation law was passed under Governor Paterson, our State gave the union a veto over that process. That proved to be a terrible error, as some of us said back then, because the union is content with the status quo.

“And the union, if there is no deal, suffers no consequence. It is the children who suffer the loss of up to $450 million, and it’s up to the City now to figure out how to address it. That will mean moving monies around and doing less. We always try to do more with less, but there’s a limit to how much we can do.

“The union will always, on the other hand, put its own interest ahead of the interest of kids – no matter how much money is on the table.

“I spoke over the last several days with the Governor, with Merryl Tisch, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. They have urged us to resume negotiations – and we tried to do last week, after the union walked out.

“Again this morning, Dennis Walcott called Michael Mulgrew and suggested they meet.

“We are always willing to talk, and we will do everything we can to reach a deal that is good for our children. But we cannot – and I will not – accept a return to the days when the system functioned for adults and call it ‘reform.’

“We will not be party to any transaction just for the sake of getting State money or Federal monies that says they’ve got a deal, which we all know is not possible to work.”

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.