another day another deadline

As latest teacher eval deadline nears, renewed pressure for deal

A screenshot from Educators 4 Excellence's new television ad, which encourages a quicker adoption of new teacher evaluations in New York City than Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget proposal would allow.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is getting an onscreen assist from advocates as he gears up to make yet another next move to get New York City to adopt new teacher evaluations. But his bid for more authority could face an uphill battle in the legislature.

After the city and teachers union failed to agree on an evaluation system by his Jan. 17 deadline, Cuomo announced that he would use this year’s budget cycle to seek the right to impose a system on the city. Under his plan, legislators would write the right into state law when they sign off on this year’s state budget.

Budget amendments are due this week, and Fredric Dicker of the New York Post reported over the weekend that Cuomo is planning to propose language that would allow him to impose a teacher evaluation system on New York City if one is not in place by Sept. 17.

That’s not fast enough for some advocates of new teacher evaluations. The teacher advocacy group Educators 4 Excellence, which has been lobbying for new teacher evaluations, is running a television ad this week arguing that Cuomo should impose an evaluation system well before September.

Jonathan Schliefer, the group’s New York City director, said Cuomo’s deadline “kicks the can so far down the road” that teachers would have to go another year without being rated using multiple measures. (If the city and union had agreed on an evaluation system last month, the system would have generated ratings for the current school year, at least in theory.)

“Why not just establish a system as soon as possible?” Schliefer said. “The one thing that’s going to kill a system is uncertainty.”

The group bought airtime on several New York City television stations but aims to influence legislators in Albany, who would have to sign off on Cuomo’s request for him to have the power to impose evaluations.

Convincing legislators could be a challenge: They know that giving Cuomo the right to intervene in New York City would set a precedent for governors to step into local education disputes across the state. Currently, Cuomo has less sway over the State Education Department than over other state agencies because the department is governed by an appointed Board of Regents, not the governor’s office.

“SED and Regents is really the only agency he doesn’t control. … It drives him crazy. It drives every governor crazy,” State Sen. John Flanagan, who chairs the State Senate’s education committee, said after speaking at an Educators 4 Excellence event last month.

“I don’t see that happening. … I don’t want to give him that authority,” Flanagan said about Cuomo’s proposal to impose an evaluation system in New York City.

Instead, Flanagan said, legislators are motivated to push city and union officials to break their longstanding stalemate on evaluations. “I think it’s going to get resolved,” he said. “It may be ugly, but I think it’s going to get resolved.”

Since the Educators 4 Excellence event where Flanagan spoke, three weeks have passed without the city or union acknowledging any progress from behind closed doors. The city Department of Education did submit a plan to the State Education Department for how it would implement new evaluations once a system is adopted, but the plan did not address all of the details that the state had requested.

Educators 4 Excellence TV ad on teacher evaluations from GothamSchools on Vimeo.

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.