end of the road

King unveils long-awaited evaluation systems for city educators

The evaluation system that State Education Commissioner John King imposed on New York City today fulfills requests made by both the Bloomberg administration and the United Federation of Teachers.

In a unique move, it also delegates crucial decisions about how teachers will be rated to the city’s roughly 1,600 non-charter public schools and, in some cases, to teachers themselves.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked lawmakers to allow King to impose an evaluation system after city and union officials failed to agree on one by a January deadline. Starting from broad parameters set out in state law, each side made its case in position papers and in-person presentations last month, and King issued his final determination tonight.

“Following years of delay, today we can finally say that every school district in the state of New York has a teacher evaluation system in place based on some of the most stringent and comprehensive standards in the nation,” Cuomo said in a statement. “The mayor didn’t win and the union didn’t win. Today, the students won. Finally.”

King said the plan would remain in effect through the 2016-2017 school year — or unless the city and teachers union negotiate a different plan that follows the state’s evaluation law. That could happen as soon as next year, when a new mayor takes office and must negotiate a contract with the teachers union.

“If we feel it’s not going well, we will advocate for changes next year,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

Under the plan, which King has not yet published in full, teachers will get to decide how frequently they want to be observed and whether they will let administrators judge their teaching by videotape. Teachers will be able to choose whether administrators see one full period of instruction along and two shorter snippets, or whether administrators come six or more times for short visits. Both options require more observations than either the city or UFT asked for, and both represent substantial change from the old system, under which most teachers were assessed on the basis of a single announced observation.

And teams of educators at each school, chosen jointly by the UFT and the principal, will get to choose the assessments that will generate the 20 percent of teachers’ ratings that must be based on locally selected measures of student growth. (King picked a default in case they can’t decide, or the principal doesn’t like their choice.) Some schools might administer additional pencil-and-paper tests, while others might ask teachers to administer performance assessments that are embedded in their daily instruction.

The flexibility, which both city and UFT officials wanted, recognizes the diversity of schools in New York City, King said.

On other significant issues, King sided more clearly with one party or the other. Principals will have to consider all of the elements of the Danielson Framework for observing teachers, not just some, as the Department of Education had wanted. UFT President Michael Mulgrew said he worried the city would ask principals to focus only on the hardest components while ignoring others that are important, such as lesson planning. King said he would also require principals to document each of their observations in writing, which the union wanted but the city said would create unnecessary paperwork.

“I wanted a plan I thought was fair and more importantly followed the spirit of the law, and I think we have the beginning of that,” Mulgrew said.

But King also carved out a small role for student surveys, which union officials had sworn they would never accept. Starting in the 2014-2015 school year, student surveys will count for 5 percent of the ratings of teachers in third grade and beyond. And King’s final plan did not reflect issues that the union raised if they were not required under the state’s evaluation law, such as for all teachers to have curriculum given to them before they could be evaluated under a new system.

Department of Education officials said they had gotten almost everything they asked for and in fact ended up with a system they liked more than what they almost agreed to in January. Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he considered King’s plan “a major victory for students and staff.”

In January and last year, Mayor Bloomberg rejected teacher evaluation deals because he said the systems that would go into place would not result in any teachers being fired.

King pushed back against that outlook today, in the first paragraph of his press release touting the new evaluation system.

“There are strong measures to help remove ineffective teachers and principals, but let’s be clear: New York is not going to fire its way to academic success,” King said.

City and union officials’ next task is to figure out how to implement the new system. City officials said part of the $100 million in teacher training funds it has set aside for this year will go toward preparing educators for the new evaluations. One required component for teachers whose students do not take state tests, “Student Learning Objectives,” will be completely new to almost all city educators but count for 20 percent of their scores.

Mulgrew said the rollout of the new system would be crucial to determining whether it helps teachers improve, as the union hopes will happen, or amplifies mistrust between teachers and the Department of Education.

“None of this is going to be good if the implementation starts out horrendously,” he said.

King also announced a system for evaluating principals. The union that represents principals, the Council on School Supervisors and Administrators, actually reached an agreement with the Department of Education, with “the strong intervention of Commissioner King,” according to President Ernest Logan. That evaluation system hews closely to how principals have been rated in the past but increases the role of superintendent observations and introduces an appeals process for principals who get low scores.

Newcomers

This mom came to the newcomer school ready to stand up for son. She left with a job.

PHOTO: Provided by Javier Barrera Cervantes
Charlotte Uwimbabazi is a bilingual assistant at the Indianapolis Public Schools newcomer program.

When Charlotte Uwimbabazi showed up at Indianapolis Public Schools’ program for new immigrants, she was ready to fight for her son. When she left that day, she had a job.

A native of the Congo, Uwimbabazi fled the war-torn country and spent nearly a decade in Cape Town, South Africa waiting for a new home. Last spring, Uwimbabazi and her four children came to the U.S. as refugees.

(Read: Teaching when students are full of fear: Inside Indiana’s first school for new immigrants)

When the family arrived in Indianapolis, Uwimbabazi’s youngest son Dave enrolled at Northwest High School. But he wasn’t happy, and a volunteer helping to resettle the family suggested he transfer to Crispus Attucks High School. When the school year started, though, Crispus Attucks turned him away. Staff there said he had been assigned to the newcomer program, a school for students who are new to the country and still learning English.

There was just one problem: Dave was fluent in English after growing up in South Africa. Uwimbabazi said it’s the only language he knows. So Uwimbabazi and her son Dave headed to the newcomer school to convince them he should attend Crispus Attucks.

That’s when Jessica Feeser, who oversees the newcomer school and programing for IPS students learning English, stepped in — and found a new resource for the district’s growing population of newcomer students.

Feeser immediately realized that Dave was fluent in English and should enroll in Crispus Attucks. Then, Uwimbabazi started talking with Feeser about her own experience. With a gift for languages, Uwimbabazi speaks six fluently, including Swahili and Kinyarwanda, languages spoken by many African students at the school.

“Where are you working right now?” Feeser asked. “Would you like a job here?”

Uwimbabazi, who had been packing mail, took a job as a bilingual assistant at the school. Her interaction with the district went from “negativity to positivity,” she said.

The newcomer program has seen dramatic growth in enrollment since it opened last fall, and it serves about three dozen refugee students. Students at the school speak at least 14 different languages. As the only staff member at the school who speaks Swahili and Kinyarwanda, Uwimbabazi is a lifeline for many of the African refugees it serves, Feeser said.

She works alongside teachers, going over material in languages that students speak fluently and helping them grasp everything from simple instructions to complex concepts like graphing linear equations, Feeser said. She also helps bridge the divide between the district and the Congolese community on Indianapolis’ westside, going on home visits to meet parents and helping convince families to enroll their children in school.

When students in the newcomer program don’t share a language with staff members, the school is still able to educate them, Feeser said. But it is hard to build community without that bridge. Uwimbabazi has played an essential role in helping the school build relationships with families.

“She believes that all of our families are important, and she’s working diligently to make sure that they feel that their voices are heard,” Feeser said. “It was a gift from God that she joined us.”

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or FACE@schools.nyc.gov.

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.
Sincerely,

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director