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Obama official to New York: Change your tenure law or else

PHOTO: Kayleigh SkinnerJoanne Weiss The Obama administration official in charge of an educational innovation fund yesterday issued a warning to a New York audience: Unless the state legislature revises a law now on the books about teacher tenure, the state could lose out on the $4.35 billion fund she controls. Joanne Weiss said the Obama administration aims to reward states that use student achievement as a "predominant" part of teacher evaluations with the extra stimulus funds — and pass over those that don't. New York state law currently bans using student data as a factor in tenure decisions. Test scores aren't everything, Weiss said. "But it seems illogical and indefensible to assume that those aren't part of the solution at all," she said, echoing nearly word-for-word Education Secretary Arne Duncan's remarks last week to the National Education Association. The pessimism about New York's policies is a departure from Duncan's tone during a visit to New York City in February, when he was cheery about the state's chances in the competition. Duncan also briefly mentioned New York as one of several states whose firewalls around student and teacher data need to come down in a recent speech, and he indicated that New York's cap on charter schools may also hurt the state's chances at a slice of the stimulus pie. Weiss, who worked at the New Schools Venture Fund before heading to Washington, said the "disadvantage" of the tenure law to New York could be counterbalanced by efforts here that the Obama administration admires. She praised a New York City program that is evaluating individual teachers based on their students' test scores.  One strength of the program, Weiss said, is that city teachers generally accept the evaluations as an accurate and fair assessment of their performance.

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Report: "Meaningless" teacher evaluations need improvement

A new report is urging school districts across the country to beef up their methods of evaluating teachers, which the report describes as so slipshod as to be "largely meaningless." The report, by a nonprofit group that has clashed with teachers unions in the past, describes the poor evaluations as "just one symptom of a larger, more fundamental crisis—the inability of our schools to assess instructional performance accurately or to act on this information in meaningful ways." The report goes on: This inability not only keeps schools from dismissing consistently poor performers, but also prevents them from recognizing excellence among top-performers or supporting growth among the broad plurality of hardworking teachers who operate in the middle of the performance spectrum. Instead, school districts default to treating all teachers as essentially the same, both in terms of effectiveness and need for development. The report, conducted by The New Teacher Project, a nonprofit founded by the lightning-rod D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, calls on districts to develop more robust teacher evaluation systems that reward successful teachers and easily identify less successful teachers. The report comes amid a growing push to improve teaching quality across the country. President Obama has said that teachers who are not helping students learn should be removed from classrooms, and even the national American Federation of Teachers union is working internally to build a new method of evaluating teacher quality. The report bases its findings on surveys of thousands of teachers and administrators across four states and 12 school districts, plus a scouring of the districts' evaluation records. New York City was not one of the districts studied.

dirty little secret?

New York

Among the new new-teacher pool: some who sat out job search

Members of the Absent Teacher Reserve pool who did extensive job searches spoke at a press conference with teachers union president Randi Weingarten at the start of the school year. (<em>GothamSchools</em>) A teachers union source surprised me recently by pointing out what the source described as the "dirty little secret" of the Absent Teacher Reserve pool. The reserve is the group of teachers who will become the main hiring source for principals now that Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has announced a freeze on hiring outside teachers. It includes teachers who lost their positions at schools that either down-sized or closed, but failed to find new positions, and so remain on the Department of Education's payroll without holding an official job. The teachers who remain in the ATR pool are a minority; many teachers who found themselves "excessed" out of schools found new positions quickly, according to a report about the pool. The teachers who did not find new positions seem to be left out for a variety of reasons. Some simply could not get a principal to hire them, despite making major efforts to find jobs. Others remained because they were doing precisely the same job they had been doing before they entered the pool, but, affordably for principals, off of the school's payroll. (The central Department of Education's budget covers the salaries of ATR members.) Another group of teachers, however, the source told me, sat tight in the ATR pool out of a kind of defiance. They simply did not apply for new positions.

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