soundoff

As details become clear, responses roll in to evaluations deal

We’re still piecing together what Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s teacher evaluations announcement today means for the state — and, even more bafflingly, just what the city and United Federation of Teachers have agreed to.

But the complex nature of today’s announcement hasn’t stopped education stakeholders from around the state from sounding off about it. We’ve compiled reactions to Cuomo’s announcement from unbridled exuberance to measured optimism to — in the case of the UFT President Michael Mulgrew — cynicism about what is likely to come next.

From Dick Iannuzzi, head of New York State United Teachers, which agreed on a new evaluations framework with the state:

Teachers support high standards and accountability for our profession. We believe today’s agreement is good for students and fair to teachers. It includes two principles we believe are essential. First, a child is more than a standardized test score. While there is a place for standardized testing in measuring teacher effectiveness, tests must be used appropriately. Secondly, the purpose of evaluations must be to help all teachers improve and to advance excellence in our profession. This agreement acknowledges those key principles. The settlement also reinforces how important it is for teachers to have a voice in establishing standards of professional effectiveness and in developing evaluations that meet the needs of local communities.

From State Education Commissioner John King:

The goal is and always has been to help students – to give them every opportunity to succeed in college and careers. To make that happen, we need to improve teaching and learning. We owe it to our students to make sure every classroom is led by an effective teacher and every school is led by an effective principal. Today, the Governor’s leadership and his commitment to our students have helped us take a strong step toward that goal.

From UFT President Michael Mulgrew:

The UFT and the Governor have reached an agreement on an appeal process for New York City teachers that includes the kind of independent, third party component that the UFT has been seeking.

The appeal process will not go into effect unless and until Mayor Bloomberg negotiates agreements with the UFT for an overall teacher evaluation deal or for schools eligible for School Improvement Grants (SIGs).

I want to congratulate Governor Cuomo and NYSUT for their hard work in finding common ground on the statewide issues that separated them.  Their agreement recognizes that students are more than a test score. I also want to thank the Governor for his efforts to find a similar resolution for the issues that separate the UFT and Mayor Bloomberg. The Mayor’s obsession with closing schools presents a significant barrier to us reaching that overall agreement.

From Ernest Logan, head of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators:

Today, the Governor’s office announced that an agreement has been reached between the State Education Department and education unions over a new teacher and Principal evaluation system. We thank the Governor for his leadership in pursuit of a fair and transparent evaluation system that acknowledges local collective bargaining.   We urge Commissioner King to bring all parties together here in NYC in an effort to avoid placing 33 schools into a ‘Turnaround’ mode that would arbitrarily close them down and quickly reopen them under new names.

 

From Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch:

This agreement is a significant improvement over the evaluation law passed in 2010. But our work is by no means over. The Regents have adopted a major education reform plan, and teacher and principal evaluations are just a part of that reform. Today is a good day, but the best day will be when we’ve fully implemented the Regents reforms and we’ve made sure all our students get the education they need to succeed in college and careers.

From Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who four days ago implored the city to come to an agreement with the UFT:

Governor Cuomo has brokered a historic agreement with the United Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers that puts our children’s education first. Once again we have proof that dialogue and good-faith negotiating deliver far more than posturing and threats ever could. The deal reached today preserves vital federal funding for struggling schools across the city and state, and puts in place a long-overdue system to fairly evaluate teachers. This agreement erases the Bloomberg Administration’s flawed rationale for closing 33 schools and firing half of their teachers—a plan intended as a threat to wring concessions from the UFT. The Mayor must immediately halt those plans and recognize that today’s historic announcement deserves the City’s complete support.

From Elizabeth Ling, the state’s director of Democrats for Education Reform:

In reaching this groundbreaking agreement on teacher evaluations, Gov.  Andrew Cuomo reminded us what it looks like when leaders lead. This is a complicated deal with lots of moving pieces, but the Governor skillfully pulled them all together and the end result is a pragmatic agreement that’s great for students. That it’s also a great deal for teachers, parents, and taxpayers is icing on the cake.  We long ago pegged New York as a ‘follower’ when it comes to education issues, but today our education and political leaders showed that the Empire State can, and should, be a pace-setter once again.

From Hannya Boulous, the director of an upstate reform group, Buffalo ReformED:

I commend Governor Cuomo for facilitating an agreement to create a transformative teacher evaluation system that finally pushes politics aside and focuses on the real objective of improving New York’s education system. Students have been forced to be a part of a system that was internally broken, as New York State outspends the rest of nation on education, yet is only ranked 38th in graduation rates. The Governor has cut right to the heart of the issue and helped those who have suffered the most: our students. A stronger and more effective teacher evaluation benefits both students and teachers, by clearing the path for improved instruction and professional development opportunities. This is the first big step in turning our schools around.

From Educators 4 Excellence, which outlined its dream teacher evaluation system last year:

Finally! This historic agreement will for the first time give classroom teachers the meaningful feedback they need to improve their performance and help their students achieve. This multi-measured solution is very much in line with what Educators 4 Excellence members proposed nearly a year ago and we’re thrilled our voices were heard. It offers the right combination of student test data, multiple observations and a fair and streamlined appeals process that creates opportunities for struggling teachers to get better. Governor Cuomo deserves enormous credit for breaking through the gridlock and delivering such a strong plan. We applaud Mayor Bloomberg for his commitment to giving teachers the tools they need to succeed and UFT President Mulgrew for recognizing how important this feedback is to his members. They all showed great leadership on the issue.

From the Columbia University leader of Students for Education Reform, Ashley Williams:

This new evaluation system will develop teachers to provide high quality instruction to all students. As both a recent classroom student and a future teacher, I am very confident that this system will improve the quality of teachers statewide and ultimately benefit student learning.

Time crunch

In victory for teachers union, Newark superintendent scraps longer hours for low-performing schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Superintendent Roger León at Hawkins Street School, one of the schools that will lose its extended hours.

Newark’s new superintendent is eliminating a program that extended the hours of struggling schools, which the teachers union has long attacked as ineffective and unfair to educators.

Teachers at roughly 30 schools will no longer receive $3,000 annual stipends for the extra hours, a provision written into the current teachers contract, which extends to 2019. Instead, all 64 district schools will get extra funding for before and after-school programs, Superintendent Roger León said in an email to employees on Tuesday.

The changes will go into effect Monday, Sept. 10, resulting in new hours for the affected schools just days after the new school year began. The district is still working to adjust pickup times for students who are bused to school, according to León’s email. A few of the schools will phase out their extended hours later in the year, the email said.

“We will not continue to do the same things as before and be surprised when the results do not change,” León wrote, adding that cutting the extra hours would save the district $5 million.

In an interview with Chalkbeat Thursday, León said the move is intended to create more uniformity among schools and the services they provide. Now, all schools will get additional money to pay for programs outside of the regular school day, which schools can tailor to their individual needs, though students who are struggling academically will continue to receive “intensive” support, he said.

“Ultimately, the idea would be by October having completely different after-school and before-school programming that meets the needs of each respective school,” León said.

The extended time was first included in the teachers contract in 2012 as part of a larger improvement plan for the targeted schools, which was developed by Cami Anderson, Newark’s former state-appointed superintendent. The plan also designated some low-performing schools as “renew” schools, where teachers had to reapply for their positions and work longer hours.

Anderson also closed some schools and gave principals new hiring authority. Both actions left dozens of tenured teachers without positions, so Anderson created a fund to pay those teachers to perform support duties in schools. In 2014, that fund for “employees without placement” cost the district $35 million out of its nearly $1 billion budget, though by last year the fund had shrunk to $8 million for about 100 unassigned teachers, according to officials.

León said in Tuesday’s email that he was also eliminating the fund, which he said would save the district another $6 million. The teachers union president said he believed all the unassigned teachers now have placements, but the district did not respond to a request to confirm that.

León is also removing the “renew” and “turnaround” labels from low-performing schools, citing their “progress and student achievement,” according to the email.

“I applaud everyone’s efforts at renew or turnaround schools and acknowledge what has been accomplished,” he wrote.

Now that León has abolished his predecessors’ school-improvement program, he will be expected to create his own. Many schools remain mired in poor performance, even as the district overall has made strides in recent years.

When the teachers union agreed to the extended hours in its 2012 contract with the district, it was hailed nationally as a major breakthrough in efforts to revamp troubled schools. But even as the union agreed last year to keep the provision in its current contract, union officials have assailed the turnaround effort as a failure.

NTU President John Abeigon told Chalkbeat on Thursday that the program had been a “scam” and “nothing more than extended childcare.” He added that the stipend teachers received amounted to about $7 per hour for the extra time they worked.

In 2016, a district-commissioned survey of 787 teachers at schools with extended hours found that two-thirds of teachers at schools where the extra time was spent on student instruction said the time was valuable. But in a survey the union conducted in April, the 278 teachers who responded gave the extended hours low ratings for effectiveness in boosting student achievement.

Some teachers in the union survey praised the longer hours, saying their schools used them effectively to lengthen class periods, run after-school clubs, or allow teachers to plan lessons or review student data. But others said the extra time was squandered, leaving staff and students exhausted with little evidence of improved student outcomes to show for it. (Students’ pass rates on state tests stayed flat or declined at most “renew” schools in the first years of the program.)

The union also has complained that many teachers felt compelled to work the extra hours because those who refused to could be transferred to different schools. Under the terms of the original extended-day agreement, teachers were required to work an extra hour per day and attend trainings during the summer and some weekends.

In León’s email to employees, he said every extended-day school had set different work requirements and “none are consistent with the original design.” The longer days may also be contributing to high teacher turnover in those schools, he wrote, adding that principals of schools with regular hours told him they did not want to extend their hours.

Abeigon, the union president, applauded León’s decision to scrap the extra work hours.

“He came to the conclusion that we expected any true educator to reach: that the program was not working and was never going to work,” he said.

León said Thursday that he is now working on a new turnaround program. Once it’s ready, he promised to share the details with affected families before publicly announcing which schools are part of it — an effort to avoid the student protests that erupted when Anderson identified her “turnaround” schools.

He also said he was still considering whether he would ever close schools that fail to improve or to reverse their declining enrollments. Anderson’s decision to shutter nearly a dozen long-struggling schools continues to fuel resentment among her critics even years later.

“I think the whole idea of how much time does a school get to correct itself is a very important one and I’m going to need to be really reflective on it,” León said. “I’ve seen what closing schools does with people who do not feel that they were aware of it or a part of fixing it.”

Back to school

Newark officials deliver a message to students on first day: Keep showing up

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Superintendent Roger León spoke to seventh-graders at Hawkins Street School on the first day of school Tuesday.

At Hawkins Street School Tuesday morning, eighth-grade teacher Jasmine Johnson was at the whiteboard writing her students’ goals for the new school year — complete all assignments, get into a great high school — when in walked two unusual visitors: Newark’s mayor and schools chief.

Luckily for Johnson, Mayor Ras Baraka’s message was also about goals — namely, the lofty goal of perfect attendance.

“Try your best to get here and be in these seats every single day,” the mayor told the students as a phalanx of TV cameras captured his remarks from the back of the room. “It’s very, very important. The superintendent is super focused on that.”

Superintendent Roger León, who started in July and is the city’s first locally selected schools chief in more than two decades, told employees last week that he wants the district to achieve 100 percent attendance. That is a hugely ambitious, if not impossible, goal considering that the average daily attendance was 90 percent in 2016-17 and — even more troubling to experts — about 30 percent of students were chronically absent.

To assist in the effort, León has promised to rehire the attendance counselors who were laid off by former Superintendent Cami Anderson and to restore the truancy teams that in the past roamed the streets searching for students who cut class. He also ordered every district employee to call five students’ families before the start of the school year to remind them that school began Tuesday.

“It’s important for everyone to worry about student attendance,” León said during the all-staff meeting at the Prudential Center last Tuesday.

At a school board meeting that evening, district officials said that an analysis of state test data had shown a strong connection between attendance and test scores: Students who regularly showed up to class earned markedly higher scores.

Research shows the reverse is also true. Students who are chronically absent, meaning they missed 10 percent or more of school days, tend to perform worse on tests and are more likely to drop out of school and enter the criminal-justice system.

Peter Chen, a staff attorney at Advocates for Children of New Jersey who co-wrote a report on Newark’s high-school absenteeism problem last year, said in an August interview that schools often take a compliance-driven approach to attendance. After students miss a certain number of days, staffers may call or write home and inform families of the problem.

He said that a more effective, but also more resource-intensive, strategy is to analyze why certain students are frequently absent — for instance, are they suffering from mental-health challenges or struggling with school work? Then social workers and other staffers should try to help remove those obstacles that are keeping students out of class, Chen added.

He also pointed out that León’s state-appointed predecessors, including Anderson and Christopher Cerf, also came up with plans to reduce absenteeism. But top-level mandates only go so far, Chen said.

“What we’ve seen is that leadership at the top matters,” he said. “But on a day-to-day basis, what happens in school buildings is often more a function of the school-building leadership.”

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Seventh-graders listened to Superintendent León on Tuesday.

At Hawkins Street, Principal Alejandro Lopez said his school’s attendance task force had already devised its own plan to boost attendance.

Students with perfect attendance each week will earn “Hawk bucks,” named for the school mascot, and be entered into raffles to win prizes. Also, the three classes with the highest attendance rates at the end of the year will take a trip to Six Flags Great Adventure theme park.

Meanwhile, support staff will look for ways to help students who are frequently absent. In 2016-17, 45 percent of Hawkins Street students missed more than 10 days of school. Getting them to show up every day this year will be hard, Lopez said — but doing so is crucial.

“If you’re not present, you’re not going to learn,” he said. “There’s no substitute for that.”

After leaving Johnson’s room Tuesday morning, Mayor Baraka and Superintendent León stopped by a seventh-grade math class where teams of students were building towers out of noodles and marshmallows.

León told the class that he had attended Hawkins Street as a child, before growing up to become a teacher, principal, and now, superintendent. Baraka, another Newark Public Schools graduate and former principal, told the students he loved them and would make sure they got whatever they needed to succeed.

After the city officials left to visit two high schools, 12-year-old Angeles Rosario said she was excited about the new school year — and dance classes, in particular. That the mayor had chosen to visit her school first on Tuesday only added to her excitement, she said.

“There are many other schools in Newark,” she pointed out, “but he decided to come to ours.”