Teachers and administrators earned $33 million in performance bonuses this year, 65 percent more than they took home last year, despite the school system's shrinking budget. The $33 million, which came from public coffers for the first time this year, was also significantly more than the Department of Education had set aside for the bonuses. Spokeswoman Ann Forte said the department had budgeted just a little more than it spent last year on the bonuses, about $20 million. To cover the $13 million difference, "we've found savings in central," Forte said, referring to the department's central administration. She did not identify where the savings came from. The performance bonuses were handed out based on how schools did on their progress reports, the vast majority of which showed improvement this year. Forte said the city is likely to award less money next year, when the bonus trial extends into a third year, because it will be harder for schools to get high progress report scores. Two years ago, the city made a deal with the teachers union to try the bonuses on a temporary basis, with taxpayer money funding one year of the program. Now that the two-year trial is over, Forte said the city anticipates maintaining the program next year and has had "discussions" with the UFT about doing so, also using taxpayer money.
The city is set to award millions of dollars in bonuses to teachers and principals at high-performing schools tomorrow, using public funds for the first time in a year when schools have faced deep cuts. The city would not disclose today how much money would be awarded tomorrow. But last year, the bonuses for elementary and middle school teachers amounted to nearly $20 million. (Nearly $8 million went to high school principals and teachers after high school progress reports were released.) About $5.5 million went to administrators whose schools scored in the top 20 percent on the progress reports. The rest of the money, $14.2 million, went to 89 of the schools participating in a separate bonus program in which a team of teachers and administrators decides how to mete out the extra money at each school. Last year, the $14.2 million tab for the school-wide bonus program was paid by a host of private donors, including the Broad Foundation and the Partnership for the City of New York, and the plan was for taxpayers to begin footing the bill this year. A Department of Education spokeswoman, Ann Forte, confirmed today that the plan had not changed. The bonus program for principals used public dollars last year.
P.S. 47 / The American Sign Language & English Secondary School Every year before students are packed off to school, hundreds of parents and children pass through the city's dozen registration centers in hopes of finding new schools. Often, they are recent arrivals to the city, looking to enroll their children before the new school year begins. Others are long-time residents trying to shift a child from private to public school or from a school many subway transfers away to one closer to home. In the auditorium of the American Sign Language and English Secondary School — one of the three centers in Manhattan — families waited for hours today as DOE officials examined their documents and searched for open slots. We'll be following their and others' efforts to find an empty seat before September 9. Maxine Shivers was making her second trip to the center in two days. Shivers, who is in the Army, has deployment orders that will take her overseas within the month, but before she goes she's scrambling to transfer her daughter to a high school closer to where they live. Currently, her daughter is slated to begin ninth grade at the Bronx High School for Writing and Communication Arts (she wants to be a reporter), but that's a long subway ride from their home in lower Manhattan, and one Shivers doesn't want her daughter making alone. Distance is one of three reasons (along with safety and health) the DOE finds acceptable for requesting a transfer. Tomorrow her daughter has interviews at two high schools. "It's up to her now," Shivers said. If neither of those schools has an open seat, she'll have to return to the registration center and assess what's left.
The union that represents hundreds of school aides facing layoffs is striking back with a radio ad campaign protesting Mayor Bloomberg's budget cuts. District Council 37, the city's largest municipal union, is running ads on five stations beginning this week that tout the benefits of school aides, whose contract with the city does not protect them from budget-induced layoffs. In the ads, children talk about why they need the aides who supervise them on the playground, sit with them in the cafeteria and counsel them against drug use. A total of 850 school aides are facing layoffs after principals eliminated their positions because of budget cuts, said Department of Education spokeswoman Ann Forte. About 150 of those aides have already gotten pink slips. Listen to the radio ad: "Tell the mayor 'no' to these cuts," the spot urges. "While it takes teachers to educate our kids, it takes an entire school to keep them safe."
"I think there's nothing wrong with anything." So spoke Chancellor Joel Klein at yesterday's release of the 2009 elementary and middle school progress reports. As Anna Phillips reported, 84% of the schools received a letter grade of A, and an additional 13% received a B. Only two schools out of 1,058 received an F, and just five more were awarded a D. The letter grades were driven by the remarkable/suspicious gains in 2009 on the state's ELA and math tests. Schools weren't actually compared to one another on their performance this year to derive the letter grades. Rather, they were compared to last year's peer and citywide benchmarks. To use a football metaphor, because test scores rose across the board, virtually all schools moved up the field, but the goalposts didn't move. I wasn't sure that the progress report letter grades could actually be less useful this year than last, but Chancellor Klein's administration has achieved that dubious feat. When 84% of the schools receive an A—the top grade, which everyone understands to signify excellence—what useful information about the school's relative performance is being conveyed to parents, students, educators, and others with a stake in our schools? Not much, in my view. Last year, my blogging partner Jennifer Jennings (who, for those keeping score at home, is now Dr. J) and I were sharply critical of the 2008 school progress reports. Writing on Jennifer's eduwonkette site, we demonstrated that student achievement growth over the past year—which makes up 60% of the overall progress report letter grade—was highly unreliable. Schools that demonstrated high gains in student achievement from 2006 to 2007 were no more likely to show gains from 2007 to 2008 than schools that showed low gains in 2006 to 2007. We concluded that the measure of student progress making up 60% of the overall progress report grade was picking up chance fluctuations from year to year. And if 60% of the score is random, there's not much genuine information about school performance in the progress report grade. It wasn't a fluke.