meeting in the middle

Legislators pass teacher data shield bill despite reservations

The high-profile debate on public access to teacher evaluations ended today when lawmakers signed off on a bill making the data available to parents, despite reluctance and opposition on both sides.

The bill, which was introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday, passed the Assembly 118-17. Cuomo called it a compromise between those aligned with the teachers unions, who opposed releasing teacher performance data, and officials who wanted full disclosure of the data.

Not everyone was satisfied by the compromise. Many assemblymen said they felt the bill still left teachers vulnerable. Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement that he felt the opposite.

“I believe that parents have a right to full disclosure when it comes to information about their child’s education, and I am disappointed that this bill falls short of that goal,” he said.

Many assemblymen said before the vote that they were supporting the bill in the spirit of compromise, although they said the bill itself was weak. One New York City lawmaker apologized to principals for the bill because he said he believed it would give them a host of new responsibilities in order to comply with the law.

“I’m sorry for you principals out there for what we’re doing to you today,” said Bronx lawmaker Michael Benedetto. “I’ll be voting for this very reluctantly.”

“Like most others, I will vote for this bill as a necessity,” said Barbara Lifton, a Democrat from Ithaca. “But I hope this discussion today is the beginning of a plan to start a new conversation in New York.”

Early iterations of the bill were highly-restrictive to parental access, but the final version provides them more. Districts must now notify parents about their rights to request teacher and principal performance information and parents can receive and review it in any format, including over the phone.

How much notification is unclear from the bill’s language. It says districts must provide “conspicuous notice” to parents, although it does not describe what that entails. The lack of specificity could be a point of contention down the road, as administrators and principals implement the law in their schools.

Joel Miller, a retiring Republican from Poughkeepsie, said he was disappointed with his colleagues for saying they voted for it in spite of their qualms.

“This bill is no damn good, and we’ll wait around until you give us a better bill,” he said.

The bill was passed in the Senate with little opposition.

UFT president Michael Mulgrew praised the new law as striking an “appropriate balance” between ensuring parents’ right to information and the prevention of teacher vilification. State Education Commissioner John King said the law was a “welcome step.”

And Ellen Jaffee, who sponsored the bill in the Assembly said legislators should have faith that parents will not misuse the information.

“We’ll have to trust parents’ judgement,” she said.

Some assemblymen said they expected to amend the bill in the future, but the governor said he considered the case closed.

“Maybe with another governor, but not with me,” he said. “I have no intention of revisiting the bill in six months.”

Training teachers

More literacy coaches to bolster Tennessee’s drive to boost student reading

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

More than half of its school districts signed on last year when Tennessee created a network of literacy coaches to help classroom teachers improve their students’ reading.

Now entering the program’s second year, another 16 districts are joining up. That means two-thirds of Tennessee districts will have instructional supports in place aimed at addressing the state’s lackluster reading levels.

Tennessee has a reading problem. Less than half of its students in grades 3-8 were considered proficient in 2015, the last year for which test scores are available. In Memphis, the numbers are even more stunning. Less than a third of Shelby County Schools’ third-graders are reading on grade level.

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Gov. Bill Haslam speaks during the statewide launch of Read to be Ready in 2016.

The state wants to get 75 percent of third-graders proficient by 2025. (New scores coming out this fall will help track progress.)

The coaching network is a major component of Tennessee’s Read to be Ready drive, launched in 2016 by Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. The focus is helping teachers improve literacy instruction for the state’s youngest students.

So far, some 200 coaches have worked directly with more than 3,000 teachers in 83 districts, including all four urban districts. This fall, 99 out of the state’s 146 school systems will participate.

About 92 percent of classroom teachers report that coaching is improving their teaching, even as many coaches say they are stretched too thin, according to a state report released Wednesday. Inadequate planning time for teachers is another barrier to success, the report notes.

To join the coaching network, districts must commit to funding a reading coach who will support about 15 teachers. New districts signing up this year are:

  • Scott County Schools
  • Smith County School System
  • Pickett County Schools
  • Jackson County Schools
  • Macon County Schools
  • Clay County Schools
  • Sumner County Schools
  • Dyer County Schools
  • Wayne County Schools
  • Bedford County Schools
  • Benton County Schools
  • Alamo City School
  • Polk County Schools
  • Kingsport City Schools
  • Oak Ridge Schools
  • Dayton City School

A complete list of participating districts can be found here.

Getting there

With new contract, first-year teachers in Detroit could soon make more than peers in Grosse Pointe and other suburbs

PHOTO: Detroit Public Schools Community District
First-year teachers in Detroit could soon earn more than their peers in neighboring districts. The gray bar in this chart shows where starting salaries were in Detroit last year. The green one shows how the contract could change that.

For years, Detroit’s main school district has paid some of the lowest starting teacher salaries in the region but Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says that’s about to change.

The teachers contract approved by the Detroit school board Tuesday night doesn’t include enough of a pay increase to bring city teachers back to where they were in 2011 when a state-appointed emergency manager ordered a 10 percent pay cut.

But data compiled by the Detroit district show that the new agreement, which will boost teacher wages by more than 7 percent, would pay enough that starting teachers could soon earn more than their peers in Dearborn, Grosse Pointe and other nearby districts.

“It doesn’t begin to address the injustice [of pay cuts and frozen wages] but this is a first step,” Vitti told the board as it met at Osborn High School Tuesday.

The new contract was approved last month by members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers union. Now that the school board has signed off, the contract will go to a state financial review board for final approval.

Vitti, who hopes the higher salaries will make it easier for the district to fill more than 400 vacant teaching positions, showed the board a series of charts and graphs that illustrated some effects of the new contract.

Among the charts he flashed on a screen was one that compared starting teacher salaries in Detroit to other districts, before and after the new contract. Another slide showed how salaries would change for teachers at every level of the pay scale. A third warned that the city’s main district could be careening toward a “cliff” if it doesn’t recruit enough young teachers to replace the district’s predominantly senior educators as they begin to retire.

See the charts — and additional details about the contract — below. The last page spells out other steps Vitti says he plans to take to address the teacher shortage.