The teachers union is threatening to curb its efforts toward new teacher evaluations if the Department of Education doesn’t remind principals again that the old evaluation system is still in place.

The threat comes at the end of an angry letter sent by UFT Secretary Michael Mendel sent to the DOE yesterday. In the letter, Mendel says that UFT members report some principals are preparing to use the Danielson Framework, an evaluation model that the DOE favors, to rate teachers — even though the union hasn’t agreed to the change.

City officials dispute the charge, saying that Danielson is being used only in ways that the union has approved: in most schools, to give teachers information to help them improve. The model is being used to rate teachers only in 33 “persistently low-achieving” schools where the city and UFT agreed to new evaluations in order to land federal school improvement funds, the officials say.

But despite a joint reminder from the UFT, DOE, and principals union last month, the union is charging that some principals still haven’t gotten the message that the Danielson rubric shouldn’t be used to rate teachers. At a meeting for members of the UFT’s governing body last night, UFT officials said they had obtained documents showing that some networks, the groups that support principals, had devised evaluation checklists based on Danielson’s criteria, according to a union member who was there. The officials did not share the documents, the union member said.

Mendel told GothamSchools that teachers have reported getting official reprimands based on Danielson-influenced observations and that many administrators do not seem to have had adequate training before starting to test the new model.

Mendel said the union won’t break state law and pull out of negotiations altogether. But he said confusion and the sense that some principals are pushing Danielson prematurely have made the union less willing to collaborate with the DOE.

“If they don’t stop the abuses we will only talk to them formally about the things we are supposed to talk about,” he said. “We won’t partake in joint ventures that we think will be bad for our children and our teachers.”

In the letter, Mendel signaled that a window of opportunity to hammer out an evaluations deal, seen as key to winning education funds from the Obama administration, was closing.

“Any potential for a fair evaluation system based on a growth and development model has been corrupted and the concept is perceived very poorly in the schools,” he wrote. “While we have been involved with the administration in joint training for teachers in the PLA schools regarding Danielson, and discussions regarding the pilot schools, we cannot continue this work if you cannot bring this situation under control.”

A DOE spokesman, Matt Mittenthal, said the department would investigate cases where principals might be using Danielson inappropriately.

“If there are specific cases where principals took it upon themselves to use the framework for teacher evaluations, we will address them. But thus far the UFT has only shared one such example, with its school name hidden,” he said. “At the same time, it’s bizarre that the teachers union is so upset about the notion that teachers might receive more detailed and thoughtful feedback.”

Mendel’s full letter is below.

As you know on September 20, 2011, Chancellor Walcott and Michael Mulgrew, joined by CSA President Ernest Logan, sent a joint letter to teachers and principals that talked about preliminary work in building a foundation for a possible new evaluation system. The letter clearly stated that there would be no changes to the current evaluation system.

Unfortunately, many schools are ignoring this directive. We continue to receive reports from the field about schools outside the PLA agreement that are training people to use the Charlotte Danielson’s framework as a legal compliance evidence gathering mechanism for the 3020a process.

Consequently, we are asking the DOE to immediately CEASE efforts to implement changes in our evaluation system and send ALL principals a directive instructing them that – with exception of Transformation/Restart schools — they are NOT to implement any changes in the current evaluation system.

It is critical that we go from an evaluation system that does not support teachers to one that becomes a professional growth and development model. That is why we went to Albany to develop and implement legislation that gives us the framework to make these changes. It is an approach that will move our school system forward.

All that hard work is being put in jeopardy by the DOE’s actions. The intent and spirit of all of Danielson’s work is based upon trust, support and engagement, and it is imperative that approach is the focus of our work.

Whoever made the decision that schools outside of the PLA schools should be changing our present evaluation system by “practicing something new” clearly abused the DOE’s authority. The idea was to test this and learn from the pilot schools, not the whole system.

What’s more, the lack of training of both administrators and teaching staff has created many problems. Three days of training for Principals and two days for teachers is not anywhere near enough to do this properly.

As a result of the DOE’s poor instructions and these other factors, any potential for a fair evaluation system based on a growth and development model has been corrupted and the concept is perceived very poorly in the schools.

While we have been involved with the administration in joint training for teachers in the PLA schools regarding Danielson, and discussions regarding the pilot schools, we cannot continue this work if you cannot bring this situation under control.

I need your response to this situation immediately.

Michael Mendel
UFT Secretary/Executive Assistant to the President