No longer joint between UFT and city, Danielson trainings go on

A training session about the city’s favored teacher evaluation model went off as planned on Tuesday — but without the involvement of the city, which had worked with the teachers union on event.

Since the start of the school year, the union and city have been grappling over the Danielson Framework, the observation model the city hopes will be adopted when a new evaluation system is finalized. Over time, a tension has emerged about whether the model is meant first to help teachers improve — the union’s position — or whether it is a tool to help principals usher weak teachers out of the system, as the city’s rhetoric has sometimes suggested.

Since at least December, the city and teachers union had been planning joint training sessions for principals and union chapter leaders to clarify the model’s purpose and value.

But after Mayor Bloomberg lashed out at the United Federation of Teachers during his State of the City speech last week, declaring that he would remove half of the teachers at 33 low-performing schools, the union decided it would no longer work with the city on the trainings.

“The content of the State of the City has not been received very well by members,” Michael Mendel, a union secretary, told me Wednesday. “To do a joint training didn’t sit right.”

On Friday afternoon, union officials surprised the city by announcing that the collaboration was off.

“The UFT will continue to hold these sessions and only invite school-based personnel,” Catalina Fortino, a union vice president, told department bureaucrats in an email.

Shortly afterward, the city sent a message to principals telling them that the sessions were off and directing them to consult two department websites instead to find resources about Danielson.

“Regretfully, the UFT today has informed us that they were retracting their offer to participate with us and as such, the sessions have been cancelled,” principals who had registered for the trainings were told in an email.

It took the principals union, the Council for School Supervisors and Administrators, to let principals know that the training sessions were still happening.

“It has been brought to our attention that the DOE will not be participating in the joint UFT-DOE professional development session regarding use of the Danielson Framework for Teaching scheduled for Tuesday, January 17th in Queens,” CSA emailed its members. “However, the UFT will continue to offer this very important PD session, and we strongly encourage those who signed up, to attend with your UFT chapter chairs.”

The first session, held at the union’s Queens office in Rego Park, attracted about 200 administrators and union chapter leaders. They sat together at a time when conflict about the move to overhaul teacher evaluations has reached a fever pitch.

“I’ve never heard of a meeting like that,” said Musa Ali Shama, principal of Francis Lewis High School, who attended with his chapter leader, Arthur Goldstein. “When we talk about improving instruction and professional practice, that was a very positive step in that direction.”

Goldstein said he thought the city had twisted the intent of the framework’s architect, Charlotte Danielson. (Danielson herself has said some of the city’s practices in piloting the model have been troubling.) So he attended the session to learn about the model from the union’s perspective.

“I am glad to have learned what I did,” Goldstein said. “While the principal and I are often in adversarial situations, we both share a passion for this school, its survival and success. I would be a fool if I did not work together with him when we have a convergence of interests. In fact, we both want kids to receive the best education possible.”

The sessions are set to continue next week in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.


Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.