with friends like these ...

Walcott to principals: We rejected evaluation deal to protect you

Chancellor Dennis Walcott told principals today that he was thinking about them when he rejected a teacher evaluation deal. Then he warned them that their schools could see budget cuts as a result.

In his first communication with school leaders since months-long negotiations with the teachers union fell apart on Thursday, Walcott said the union had asked to be able to file more grievances over teacher ratings than a previous agreement had allowed.

If the city had acceded to the union’s request, Walcott said, principals would face union attacks over the data they collect from students, the way they communicate with teachers, and what they ask teachers to work on.

“In the end, I could not agree to the UFT’s demands because they would have stripped principals of much of your existing authority,” he said.

The explanation was not the same one Mayor Bloomberg laid out for rejecting the teacher evaluation deal. Bloomberg said he was most aggrieved by the proposal for the system to be authorized only for a fixed term, instead of forever, an issue that Walcott mentioned but did not focus on.

Union officials said on Thursday that their request for additional arbitration was not as extensive as the department was characterizing and would not have cut deeply into principals’ time.

Walcott’s letter came shortly after state education officials informed the chancellor that they would seize control of hundreds of millions of dollars that the city Department of Education typically controls if the department did not find a way to move forward with adopting new teacher evaluations. The threat was in addition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s vow to withhold about $250 million in school aid from the city for missing his Jan. 17 evaluations deadline.

Walcott said little about the funding issue in his letter to principals. But at the end, he wrote, “The lack of an agreement will have an adverse impact on our budget. We hope to protect schools from these cuts as much as possible, and we will follow up as soon as we have additional information.”

Walcott’s complete letter to principals is below:

Dear Colleagues,

When we signed on to Race to the Top in 2010, we were committed to designing a fair teacher evaluation system that would create meaningful supports and accountability for our teachers. However, despite our hard work over the past two years, as of yesterday’s deadline the UFT failed to accept a fair and reasonable agreement on a new teacher evaluation system.

The UFT had proposed dozens of new rules and a massive increase in oversight by UFT chapter leaders, district representatives, and outside arbitrators on virtually all aspects of the evaluation process. While we were able to come to agreement on nearly every detail required by Education Law 3012-c, the negotiations finally broke down over the union’s demand to double the number of grievances that are brought to arbitration. Agreeing to this demand would have dramatically curtailed principal autonomy and narrowed your ability to exercise professional judgment. It also would have created a complex, time-consuming architecture of procedures, consultations, and grievances that would have been paralyzing for good teaching and learning in our schools.

In the end, I could not agree to the UFT’s demands because they would have stripped principals of much of your existing authority. Every interaction listed below—and many more—would have been subject to this new grievance and arbitration process. Let me be perfectly clear—this new process they insisted on is not required under the law. For example, you could have been grieved about:

  • how you write up and share your observation notes
  • when and how you communicate with teachers
  • how many administrators can enter a classroom at one time
  • the kinds of professional development your school offers
  • what types of data you collect on your students
  • how your school measures student learning
  • how you assess a teacher’s development over time
  • which skills you are permitted to work on developing with your staff

Additionally, one of the promises of Education Law 3012-c was that all teachers would get more support and that ineffective teachers would be removed. Last year we negotiated a New York City-specific provision in the law that makes it easier to discontinue ineffective teachers after two years. In the last stages of our talks, the UFT insisted that the agreement sunset on June 30, 2015—just when the provisions making it easier to remove ineffective teachers are scheduled to take effect.

Through last night, we continued to negotiate in good faith. But ultimately, while we remain committed to the spirit of the law, giving in to the UFT’s demands would have undone many of the gains we have made. As Chancellor, it was my responsibility to make a decision about what was best for our school system. Given the UFT’s unreasonable demands, I could not in good conscience sign on to a deal that goes against the original intent of the law and the value we place on principal empowerment.

While we also made headway in our negotiations with the CSA, our current principal evaluation system is very close to what the law requires, so the impact would have been limited. Nonetheless, what we needed by the deadline was a deal on both a new principal and teacher evaluation system.

The lack of an agreement will have an adverse impact on our budget. We hope to protect schools from these cuts as much as possible, and we will follow up as soon as we have additional information. In the meantime, we will continue to work with you and with teachers across the City on the goals we’ve set to improve teacher practice. We welcome your thoughts and feedback on how to strengthen this work over the course of the coming year.

Sincerely,

Dennis M. Walcott

headcount

New York City school workforce grows, driven by 40 percent rise in teaching assistants

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
A teaching assistant worked with a pre-K student in East Harlem in 2014.

New York City’s public-school workforce grew 8 percent over the past decade, according to a new report, driven largely by the rising number of teaching assistants who work with preschool students and students with disabilities — two populations whose numbers have risen even as overall student enrollment declined.

The education department employed about 131,200 people this June — an increase of 10,200 workers since July 2007, according to an analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office released Tuesday. The expansion comes even as student enrollment in district-run schools fell by 1.5 percent, or some 15,300 students, during that same period, the report notes.

While the number of teachers remained basically flat during that time, the department added nearly 8,600 additional teaching assistants, or “paraprofessionals,” as they’re known within the school system — an increase of over 40 percent.

“This is a story about the use of paraprofessionals — that’s the main thing,” said Yolanda Smith, a senior IBO analyst who prepared the report.

The majority of the paraprofessionals who were added during that period work with students with disabilities. Teachers union officials attributed the increase to a citywide effort since 2012 to place more students with disabilities in classrooms alongside their general-education peers, often with the support of a paraprofessional. (An education department spokesman said students are assigned paraprofessionals based on their unique needs.)

Nearly 2,000 of the paraprofessionals hired over the past decade work in pre-kindergarten classrooms, which are required to have both an assistant and a teacher. The number of assistants spiked after 2014, when Mayor Bill de Blasio rapidly expanded the city’s pre-K program.

Full-time paraprofessionals with a high school degree earn a starting salary of around $22,000. While the number of paraprofessionals focused on special-education and preschool students grew during this period, those assigned to general-education classrooms declined by roughly 1,100.

At the same time, the ranks of other school workers expanded 22 percent during this 10-year period. Those more than 2,200 additional employees include nurses, occupational and physical therapists, and “parent coordinators,” who answer families’ questions and help organize school events.

The number of teachers, principals, and assistant principals barely budged over that period, adding just over 500 additional workers. Union officials noted that there was a teacher hiring freeze from 2009 to 2014, but said that in recent years any new hires were essentially balanced out by teachers who retired or chose to leave the system.

Education department spokesman Will Mantell said in a statement: “We’re focused on recruiting and retaining talented staff that meet the needs of New York City students and families.”

Human Resources

A minimum salary for Colorado teachers? State officials may ask lawmakers to consider it.

A teacher reads to her students at the Cole Arts and Science Academy in Denver. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

As part of a broad plan to increase the volume of high-quality teachers in Colorado, state officials are considering asking lawmakers to take the bold step of establishing a minimum teacher salary requirement tied to the cost of living.

Officials from the state departments of education and higher education are finalizing a list of recommendations to address challenges to Colorado’s teacher workforce. Pressing for the legislation on teacher salaries is one of dozens of recommendations included in a draft report.

The report, assembled at the request of the legislature, also proposes a marketing campaign and scholarships to attract new teachers to rural areas.

Representatives from the Colorado Department of Education said they would not discuss the recommendations until they’re final. However, the department earlier this month briefed the State Board of Education on their proposed recommendations in advance of the Dec. 1 deadline for it to be finalized.

The impending report — based on thousands of responses from educators, students and other Colorado residents in online surveys and town halls across the state — is a sort of first step for the state legislature to tackle a problem years in the making. Since 2010, Colorado has seen a 24 percent drop in the number of college students graduating from the state’s traditional teacher colleges. There’s also been a 23 percent drop in enrollment in those programs.

Residency programs, which place graduate students in a classroom for a full year with an experienced teacher, and other alternative licensure programs have seen a 40 percent increase in enrollment. But those programs produce far fewer teachers and can’t keep up with demand.

Colorado faces a shortage of teachers in certain subjects, regions and schools, and circumstances vary. Math and science teachers are in short supply: Only 192 college students in 2016 graduated with credentials to teach those subjects. The same year, 751 students left with a degree to teach elementary school.

And rural schools have had an especially hard time finding and keeping teachers.

Here’s a look at what the state departments are considering recommending, based on the presentation from education department officials to the state board:

Provide more and better training to new — and veteran — teachers.

Colorado schools are already required to offer some sort of induction program for new teachers. This training, which lasts between two and three years, is supposed to supplement what they learned during college.

For the last two years, the state education department has been pushing school districts to update their programs. The recommendations in the report could kick things up a notch.

The education departments are asking for updated induction requirements to be written into statute and more money to be provided to districts to pay for the training.

The draft report also calls for more more sustained training for veteran teachers, including competitive grant programs.

An additional suggestion is to create a program to train teachers expressly to teach in rural classrooms.

Increase teacher compensation and benefits.

This will be a hard pill to swallow. According to the presentation to the state board, the education departments want to call on lawmakers to set a minimum salary for teachers based on the school district’s cost of living.

The presentation to the board lacked specifics on how lawmakers and school districts could accomplish this. One board member, Colorado Springs Republican Steve Durham, called it a “mistake” to include such a recommendation.

Keeping up with the rising cost of living is a challenge. A new report shows new teachers in the state’s three largest school districts couldn’t afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

“We hope the report itself is going to talk a lot the cost of living — that’s what we heard from our stakeholders across the field,” Colleen O’Neil, the education department’s executive director of educator talent told the state board. “They literally were not able to meet the cost of living because their salaries did not compensate them fairly enough to find housing.”

Other suggestions the report might highlight to improve teacher compensation include loan forgiveness, housing incentives and creating a differentiated pay scale for teachers — something teachers unions staunchly oppose.

Help schools better plan for hiring and send teachers where they’re needed.

One short-term solution the state is considering recommending is allocating more resources to help schools plan for teacher turnover. This includes providing incentives for teachers to notify school leaders about their plans to leave the classroom earlier.

The education departments are also suggesting the state increase the number of programs that can help teachers get licensed in more than one subject at a time. Other ideas include offering scholarships to potential teachers to complete licensing requirements for content areas that are lacking viable candidates — likely math and science — and providing transportation and technology stipends for rural teachers.

Make the teaching profession more attractive.

Teachers “feel they’re not treated like professionals,” O’Neil told the board. So the education departments want the legislature to allow them to partner with private entities to launch a marketing campaign to lift the profile of teaching as a career in the state.

The education departments also hope the legislature considers creating more opportunities for middle and high school students to consider teaching as a viable career path. This could include reinvigorating the state’s Educators Rising program, a program for high school students interested in teaching.