lucky 13 (updated)

UFT wins third-party review for some 'ineffective' teacher ratings

Today’s agreement on teacher evaluation appeals wasn’t a complete loss for the union – just 87 percent of one.

When talks over an evaluation system broke down last year, the conflict centered on who should have the final say on teachers rated ‘ineffective’ under the new evaluation system. The city wanted all appeals to be decided by the chancellor, while the union wanted an independent third party to make the final call.

The subsequent deal that was struck as part of today’s statewide teacher evaluations on paper appears to favor the city. Eighty-seven percent of first-year ineffective rating appeals will still be heard by the chancellor. Second-year ineffective ratings will go straight to a 3020-a termination process that takes into account, but does not depend on, a third-party reviewer’s assessment of a teacher’s quality.

The fact that the union managed to salvage a sliver of its demand – getting the city to agree to refer 13 percent of ratings to a third party – is a small win. Bloomberg and the Department of Education initially walked away from the negotiating table in late December and refused to return until the union gave in to all of their demands.

In an interview today, Mulgrew said he was content with winning the 13 percent figure, which he said was based on the proportion of “unsatisfactory” ratings that were overturned before Bloomberg took office. In a statement, he called the deal “the kind of independent, third party component that the UFT has been seeking.”

This afternoon, city officials offered more details on the agreement, which won’t go into effect until the union and city officially settle on a complete evaluation system. Today, Mulgrew repeatedly indicated that he would not cooperate with the city further on negotiations if they continue to move forward on plans to close and reopen 33 schools.

“I will put every legal remedy on the table and we will do everything in our power,” he told GothamSchools today.

Under the agreement, the union has the option to challenge and refer 13 percent of first-year ineffective ratings to a panel of third-party reviewers. City lawyers said the union would be limited to teachers whose low rating might have stemmed from “harassment” by their principal.

Another set of third-party reviewers, called “validators,” will be assigned to all teachers whose first ineffective ratings are upheld. A “teacher improvement plan” will be created for the teachers and the validators will monitor them over the course of the second school year.

Whether the validators’ assessment of each teacher’s performance matches the principal’s will be crucial if the teacher receives a second low rating. Currently, to the city’s chagrin, the burden of proof in 3020-a termination proceedings is on the city, meaning that lawyers must convince a third party that a teacher is incompetent and should be fired. Under the new agreement, the city will still bear the burden of proof if the validator doesn’t agree with the city’s rating. But if a validator has supported the principal’s low rating, the teacher will have to prove she is not incompetent in order to keep her job — stripping her of a protection the city says has made it nearly impossible to fire weak teachers.

The validator role is modeled after a similar position in New Haven, Conn., where the teacher evaluation system has been cited as a model. UFT Secretary Michael Mendel said tonight that the emergence of the role in negotiations was key to bringing together the agreement.

“The independent validator we believe was a huge win for our members,” Mendel said.

City officials envision that the validator positions would be filled by “master teachers” and experienced evaluators who would be hired as vendors working with the Department of Education. Although city officials said they would like to work with the union to pick the vendors jointly, they added that the UFT would not have the final say. That decision would be made by the State Education Department.

“It’s the only thing we can do to ensure fairness,” Mulgrew said of the need for the independent evaluators.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”

fight another day

In union defeat, lawmakers end session without revamping teacher evaluation law

After a hard-fought battle by the state teachers union, New York lawmakers went home for the summer without overhauling a controversial teacher evaluation law that ties state test scores to educator ratings.

The bill pushed by the unions would have left decisions about whether to use state test scores in teacher evaluations up to local union negotiations. While the bill cleared the Assembly, it was bottled up by the Senate’s leadership, which demanded charter school concessions in return that Assembly Democrats wouldn’t agree to.

The effort to decouple test scores from teacher evaluations was one of several that fizzled out at the end of a lackluster session characterized by lawmaker gridlock.

“Sen. Flanagan, his caucus and five Democrats chose to betray the state’s teachers,”  said New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta in a statement. “Make no mistake, New York teachers, parents and public school students will remember which senators voted against their public schools when we head to the polls this September and again in November.”

There is some possibility that lawmakers could return to finish a few unresolved issues this summer, but Pallotta told Chalkbeat he is not holding out hope for that outcome.

The lack of action is a defeat for the state teachers union, which fought hard for the bill since the beginning of the session. Union officials have staged musical rallies, bought balloons, rented a truck with a message urging lawmakers to pass the bill, and capped off the last day of session handing out ice cream for the cause.

However, the legislative loss gives the union something to rally around during this fall’s elections. Also, other education advocacy organizations are content to engage in a longer process to revamp evaluations.

“Inaction isn’t always the worst outcome,” said Julie Marlette, Director of Governmental Relations for the New York State School Boards Association.“Now we can continue to work with both legislative and regulatory figures to hopefully craft an update to evaluations that is thoughtful and comprehensive and includes all the stakeholders.”  

The news also means that New York’s teacher evaluation saga which has been raging for eight years will spill over into at least next year. Policymakers have been battling about state teacher evaluations since 2010, when New York adopted a system that started using state test scores to rate teachers in order to win federal “Race to the Top” money.

Teacher evaluations were altered again in 2015 when Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for a more stringent evaluation system, saying evaluations as they existed were “baloney.” The new system was met with resistance from the teachers unions and parents across the state. Nearly one in five families boycotted state tests in response to evaluation changes and a handful of other education policies.

The state’s Board of Regents acted quickly, passing a moratorium on the use of grades three to eight math and English tests in teacher evaluations. But the original 2015 law remains on the books. It was a central plank in that law which could require as much as half of an educator’s evaluation to be based on test scores that the unions targeted during this session.

With the moratorium set to expire in 2019, the fight over teacher evaluations will likely become more pressing next year. It may also allow the state education department to play a greater role in shaping the final product. State education department officials had begun to lay out a longer roadmap for redesigning teacher evaluations that involved surveys and workgroups, but the legislative battle threatened to short-circuit their process.

Now officials at the state education department say they will restart their work and pointed out that they could extend the moratorium to provide extra time if needed.

“We will resume the work we started earlier this year to engage teachers, principals and others as we seek input in moving toward developing a new educator evaluation system,” said state education department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis.

For some education advocates, slowing down the process sounds like a good idea.

“Our reaction on the NYSUT Assembly teacher evaluation bill is that you could do worse but that you could also do better and that we should take time to try,” said Bob Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

What seems to be a setback for the union now may be a galvanizing force during elections this fall. Republican lawmakers will likely struggle to keep control of the state Senate, and NYSUT is promising to use this inaction against them. That could be particularly consequential in Long Island, which is a hotbed of the testing opt-out movement.

It’s unclear whether the failure to act will also prove problematic for Cuomo, who is also seeking re-election. Cuomo, who pushed for the 2015 law the unions despise, is facing competition from the left in gubernatorial challenger Cynthia Nixon.

But at least so far, it seems like the union is reserving the blame for Senate Republicans and not for the governor.

Cuomo is “making it clear that he has heard the outcry,” said Pallotta. “I blame Senator Flanagan, I blame his conference and I blame 5 [Senate] Democrats.”