Revising the revision

Teacher eval law changes could ease city-labor dispute (again)

For the second year in a row, legislators are revising the state’s teacher evaluation law in part because of New York City’s difficulties in complying with it.

The legislature is expected to insert new language into the law to clarify that plans stay in effect even after they expire, according to officials briefed on the budget legislation, which has not been finalized. Concerns that a negotiated plan would default back to the current system was one reason talks between the Bloomberg administration and the United Federation of Teachers broke down earlier this year.

The change would ensure that, moving forward, no districts could ever be without an evaluation system. To enforce that teachers are being evaluated according to the system, a new state aid penalty will be imposed on districts that fail to implement their plans.

The clarification of the “sunset” issue appears to be designed to push the city’s evaluations negotiations past their most recent road bump. But it is not clear whether the change will bring the city and United Federation of Teachers closer to an agreement. A City Hall spokeswoman declined to comment today, and UFT President Michael Mulgrew said that while he still wanted to get a deal done, he didn’t see the changes as all that significant.

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo declined to comment.

Last year, Cuomo convinced the city and union to agree to an appeals process, which had previously stymied negotiations, but they still did not reach an agreement.

The new change was also designed to solve an issue that started as a major stumbling block in New York City’s negotiations. In January, the city and the UFT missed a deadline and now could lose $240 million in state aid as a penalty (Cuomo is currently barred from carrying out the penalty while a judge decides whether it is legal).

Mayor Bloomberg said he ditched an evaluation deal because he believed the law didn’t clearly state what should happen after an evaluation plan ended. That uncertainty, he said, was enough of a sticking point in negotiations.

“If the agreement sunset in two years the whole thing would be a joke,” Bloomberg said at a press conference on the day that talks broke down. “Nobody would ever be able to be removed. The law would be gone before the process could finish. It would essentially sabotage the entire agreement.”

Those claims have since been disputed by state Education Commissioner John King and Cuomo. On several occasions Mulgrew said Bloomberg and his aides were simply confused about what the law said.

Still, officials involved in the latest changes to the law, who spoke anonymously because an official announcement hadn’t been made yet, said that Bloomberg’s fears had spread to other superintendents. In New York state, almost all districts have plans that would expire in the next 18 months and district officials weren’t clear about what would happen if they didn’t quickly renegotiate new plans for the 2013-2014 school year.

In an interview, Mulgrew said he didn’t believe much about the law had changed. If anything, he said, it was to send a final message to Mulgrew and others that they need not worry about their evaluation plans expiring.

“What we’re hearing from the legislature is that it’s to tell everyone exactly what this is because there has been one man out there giving a lot of erroneous information,” Mulgrew said, referring to Bloomberg.

With the changes, districts could be docked state aid if there are inconsistencies or discrepancies between teacher evaluation ratings and other data that the State Education Department plans to monitor and analyze.

New York City remains without an evaluation plan. It has until May 28 to submit a plan; if the city misses that deadline, King will assign an evaluation system by June 1 and impose it by July 1.

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.