prep school

City’s draft eval training plan heavy on principals, needy schools

City Department of Education officials think they’ll be able to train 1,600 principals and 80,000 teachers to use new a evaluation system by the end of the year, and they plan to let the state know before a deadline next week.

The deadline is one that State Education Commissioner John King set last month after the city and teachers union failed to agree on a new teacher evaluation system: By Feb. 15, he said, the city would have to detail its implementation plans or lose more state funds.

A summary of the draft memo, that department officials released today, is light on details and focuses almost entirely on how administrators will be trained to use a new rubric for classroom observations. It promises real-time training for principals, extra support for administrators at struggling schools, and instruction for network officials and superintendents.

It also includes a proposed requirement for six hours of training for teachers, which a teacher who saw the plan last week said would not be enough.

“A lot of teachers are frustrated about that because there is a lack of resources for teachers to learn how to apply the rubric or shift their practice to the rubric,” said the teacher.

The question of whether the city is ready to implement an evaluation plan has grown more significant as the school year wears on without a plan being adopted. King criticized the city’s lack of training preparation for principals, an issue that drove the teachers union to call off negotiations briefly in December.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said Wednesday at the union’s monthly delegate meeting that the latest plans he saw did not assuage his concerns, according to someone who attended the meeting. A spokesman declined to comment on what was discussed at the meeting.

In addition to sharing the plan with the union, which is not required, the city also asked the principals union, its own Teacher Effectiveness Advisory Council, and the nonprofit group Educators 4 Excellence for feedback. Connie Pankratz, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said the memo being circulated was not final and that officials were revising it in response to suggestions from teachers and union officials.

“We have shared drafts with stakeholders … and are incorporating their feedback into our proposed plan,” Pankratz said. She said the city had not yet shared its draft plan with the state.

The department’s teacher council, which has met twice since December, includes about 60 teachers from schools that are participating in the Teacher Effectiveness Pilot. Schools in the pilot — which began with 20 schools and 600 teachers and grew to 215 schools and 10,000 teachers this year — have spent the last three school years practicing a style of teacher observations called the Danielson Framework.

Observations under the Danielson rubric would be more demanding than what has been required under the current evaluation system. The state requires principals and lead observers to consider up to 22 instructional competencies and offer specific evidence to support their ratings.

“Charlotte Danielson’s rubric requires intensive training in order for it to be used correctly, but you have refused to certify or intensely train people so that they can properly use this tool,” Mulgrew wrote in his letter calling off the talks. “Your decision to launch this new program without a plan that would lead to its successful implementation is mind-boggling to us.”

The city’s plan focuses on the training of principals, whose mandated responsibilities would change dramatically under a new evaluation system. Instead of having to visit classrooms once during a school year for formal observations, principals will be required to observe teachers multiple times, formally and informally and at least once without letting them know ahead of time.
The plan would give principals “job-embedded training” in which a subject matter expert would sit with the observer and walk them through the process.

Additional features include giving teachers and administrators access to online training and training on student learning measures that New York City has recently begun developing.

“It’s good the city is thinking seriously about how teacher evaluation will look on the ground and it’s great they’re asking teachers for meaningful input on what will be most effective,” said Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of Educators 4 Excellence. Schleifer said he was pleased to see that the plan included an emphasis on principal training and supporting the highest-need schools.

Proof of training is just one part of what King is asking the city to submit to show that it is prepared to roll out an evaluation system soon. King also said he wants to see an estimated budget for the rollout, a preferred observation rubric for rating teachers and principals (the city will almost certainly pick Danielson), and details about anything else “required to prepare for effective implementation” of the state’s teacher evaluation law.

The information the city provided today does not include any budget details, and it does not deal at all with “Student Learning Objectives,” the state’s required tool for evaluating student progress for teachers in grades and subjects that do not have state tests. Few city teachers and principals have so far gotten training on the tool.

At stake if the city does not meet King’s expectations is more than $300 million in federal grants that the state administers. King also said he’d take control of $800 million in federal Title I and II funding for low-income schools.

Union spokesman Peter Kadushin confirmed that the UFT received a draft of the department’s memo to King and sent a response, but he declined to comment on the content of either. He said the union does not comment on what is discussed at Delegate Assembly meetings, which he said are private.

In addition to King’s deadline, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has set his own. On Feb. 22, Cuomo plans to amend his proposed budget with legislation that would give the State Education Department the authority to assign a third-party arbitrator to settle the city-union dispute, which remains around when the plan would “sunset” and how many appeal hearings teachers would get.

Mulgrew told legislators last week that he was skeptical that the union and the city could ever reach a settlement on negotiations. And he told UFT members on Wednesday that he believed a deal remained highly unlikely.

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.