contract sport

What the teachers' contract talks are all about, part II: Evaluations and training time

Teachers and other UFT members at a rally last year calling on the city to negotiate a new contract.

As the city and the teachers union move closer to an agreement on a new contract, the issues under the microscope are coming into focus.

We started here with the union’s desire for retroactive pay and the push to find a better solution for the city’s Absent Teacher Reserve.

Also on the table are changes to one of the year’s biggest upheavals: the city’s new teacher evaluation system. Another issue, professional development time, is close to new Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s heart.

3. Tinkering with teacher evaluations

By imposing a teacher evaluation plan on New York City last year, State Education Commissioner John King had the final say one significant piece of the contract. After months of complaints from teachers and principals about the new evaluation system, the city and union are both pining to make changes.

The issue: The evaluations were established last year to comply with a state law that requires districts to use performance ratings for all employment decisions: granting tenure and bonuses, termination, and promotions. This year, some teachers and students have boycotted tests required for teacher evaluations. Principals have also complained about rigid classroom observation rules under the new system.

Principals say the process is so rigid that it’s hard to evaluate instruction and provide feedback to teachers. Principal coach Kim Marshall detailed the challenges in a Chalkbeat post last week, saying that the requirement to score as many parts of a 22-element rubric as possible after each visit was particularly burdensome.

On the table: One area where change is possible is teachers are observations. Fariña wants to make the process is easier and less restrictive, and has told administrators that she’ll try to reduce the number of items that principals are required to measure.

The union has its own requests. Next year, student surveys are set to count for 5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, but union officials have long been opposed to the idea. They also have raised concerns about how many people can visit a classroom at a time and how disruptive evaluators should be during observations.

Changes to the tests, used to measure student learning, are also likely. The union wants to more alternatives to the tests being administered only to evaluate teachers. Last year, UFT chief Michael Mulgrew said he wanted student work portfolios to count for teacher evaluation decisions, but King rejected the idea because he said it could be too easily gamed.

A state law enacted last month might also add pressure to reduce testing used for evaluations. The law also guarantees that one change to the contract will be to ban standardized tests for students in kindergarten through second grade.

4. Adding time for professional development

In 2005, the city extended the school day by 37-and-a-half minutes, four days a week, for struggling students. More than half of that time was carved out of parts of the school day previously used for department meetings and collaborative lesson planning.

Now, many people say that professional development time needs to be re-prioritized.

The issue: Last year, the city’s former Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky panned that swap as “one of the biggest mistakes” of the 2005 round of contract negotiations.

And just last week, King singled New York City’s contract talks as an example of where districts can negotiate ways to prioritize teacher-to-teacher collaboration. He also took a subtle swipe at the city’s 2005 contract.

“When New York City did their last contract, one of the tradeoffs they made was to reduce professional development time,” King said. “I think there’s an opportunity here, as they work on a new contract to figure out, how will they ensure that there’s real time for teachers to collaborate?”

On the table: Polakow-Suransky’s successors at the Department of Education seem to agree. Fariña is a big believer in giving teachers more time to work together, and has even created an office to oversee professional development.

Finding time in the city’s standard six-and-a-half-hour day will be tricky, so it’s likely that the city is pushing the union to add time to the school day or give schools extra scheduling flexibility in exchange for raises.

One idea could be to allow mandated faculty and grade conferences to take place after 3:45 p.m., an idea floated ahead of 2009 when the two sides last negotiated in earnest.

But timing might not be the only way to improve the way teachers are trained. The union sought an apprenticeship program to better prepare new teachers. The city supported a similar career ladder model that would have paid teachers more to serve in mentorship or leadership roles.

In addition, sources say, one idea being debated is to pilot a “slimmer” contract for a small group of schools that would shed many of the work rules that have been added into the 165-page contract over five decades worth of labor disputes.

Supporters say that for such an important document, it should be accessible for all education stakeholders.

“Trying to understand it if you’re a parent, a teacher, a journalist, is like going through an archeological dig of a lost civilization thousands of years ago,” said Dan Weisberg, a former chief negotiator at the Department of Education.

In 2004, then-Chancellor Joel Klein proposed an eight-page contract, and his UFT counterpart at the time, Randi Weingarten, said she’d be open to trying it out in around 150 schools. Those talks stalled, but the idea has stayed alive.

 Weingarten negotiated a unionized charter school contract that included no tenure protections for teachers in 2009 and hailed it as a national model. Since then, a handful of union charter schools have followed suit.

Some district schools worked out deals with the city to try out new models for education. New American Academy in Brooklyn allows teachers to have larger class sizes, work longer hours and get paid differently that other UFT teachers.

teacher prep

Tennessee’s mediocre teacher training programs prompt ‘interventions’ with university presidents

PHOTO: Austin Peay
Austin Peay State University in Clarksville is among four Tennessee schools that have undergone "interventions" with state officials over the quality of their teacher training programs.

Armed with sobering data about the performance of teacher training programs in Tennessee, state officials are holding meetings with top brass at universities where they say programs have grown out of touch with the needs of K-12 classrooms.

About 40 programs in Tennessee feed the state’s teacher pipeline with about 4,000 new teachers annually. The largest are based at colleges and universities.

But those same traditional programs generally aren’t attracting enough high-quality candidates or producing enough effective or diverse teachers. Not a single public university in Tennessee scored in the top fifth of teacher training programs under a state report card issued in 2016. And the outlook isn’t expected to improve much under the 2017 report card being released early next month, officials say.

“This data is sobering. It tells us that higher education must do better,” said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “I worry our higher education faculty in colleges of education get disconnected from what a K-12 classroom looks like.”

Krause outlined the challenges to state lawmakers during a presentation on Tuesday with Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Their first “intervention meetings” were with the presidents and education deans at four universities: Austin Peay, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee-Martin, and Tennessee Tech. Similar meetings are scheduled this spring with leadership of private colleges and universities across the state.

Krause described the first meetings as “very productive” — and illuminating. “In many cases, the presidents just didn’t know” about their programs’ shortcomings, he said.

Teacher quality is considered a driving factor in students’ success, making the quality of teacher preparation programs a front-burner issue in Tennessee.  A 2016 report said only a handful of the state’s programs are consistently preparing teachers to improve student achievement based on Tennessee’s TVAAS measure. The State Board’s new grading system also highlighted weaknesses based on racial diversity, candidates’ ACT scores, and whether they are producing teachers for high-need areas such as special education.

Reading instruction is another big challenge. In a state where only a third of students are considered proficient in reading, new teachers are arriving in classrooms ill-prepared to instruct students on Tennessee’s new reading standards. The state is working with higher education institutions so their faculty can take the same professional development on literacy that working teachers are taking.

But for the most part, the State Board has limited levers for improving the quality of teacher prep. The biggest hammer comes every seven years when each program undergoes a comprehensive review for licensure. (In 2014, the state raised its standards and revised its measures for effectiveness to include data such as placement, retention and employer satisfaction.)

Chancellor Keith Carver

Tennessee-Martin Chancellor Keith Carver said his school took its last state report card to heart. As a result of its overall score of 2 out of a possible 4, the university hired an assessment coordinator to help guide decisions based on data. “It’s a really good baseline for improving,” he said of the report card. “We’ve got some work to do in our diversity profile.”

Tennessee’s teacher candidates are overwhelmingly white and female. Of those who completed Tennessee’s programs in 2016, only 14 percent identified themselves as non-white, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population.

“Colleges of education will not stumble into diversity. There has to be a very intentional effort,” Krause said.

View the full presentation from Tuesday’s legislative hearing below.

Gold standard teachers

Tennessee adds nationally certified teachers but continues to trail in the South

PHOTO: Ruma Kumar/Chalkbeat

Twenty Tennessee educators have earned a national certification that’s considered the profession’s highest mark of achievement, although the state continues to lag in the South in growing that community.

The state Department of Education on Tuesday released the list of new educators designated as National Board Certified Teachers.

Their addition brings Tennessee’s number of NBCT educators to more than 700, with another 63 pursuing certification. By comparison, Kentucky has 3,600, Virginia 3,400, and Georgia 2,600.

“We know that teachers are the biggest factor in the success of our students, and it is an honor to celebrate educators who are helping their students grow, while serving as an example of what it means to be a lifelong learner,” Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Nationally, 5,470 teachers earned the designation in 2016-17, raising the total to more than 118,000 through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The certification takes from one to three years to complete and includes a performance-based peer-review process. Successful candidates must demonstrate a proven impact on student learning and achievement.

In Tennessee, at least 36 school districts offer at least one type of incentive for achieving the certification. The most common is a salary bonus.

North Carolina continues to lead the nation in certification, with 616 more teachers gaining the endorsement last month from the Arlington, Va.-based organization.

Earning their certification in Tennessee were:

  • John Bourn, Franklin Special School District
  • Christy Brawner, Shelby County Schools
  • James Campbell, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Kimberly Coyle, Sumner County Schools
  • Suzanne Edwards, Williamson County Schools
  • Anastasia Fredericksen, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Theresa Fuller, Kingsport City Schools
  • Amber Hartzler, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System
  • Jennifer Helm, Williamson County Schools
  • Deborah Higdon, Franklin Special School District
  • Karen Hummer, Franklin Special School District
  • Heather Meston, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Melissa Miller, Franklin Special School District
  • Kelsey Peace, Sumner County Schools
  • Lindsey Pellegrin, Franklin Special School District
  • Andrea Reeder, Williamson County Schools
  • Jordan Sims, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Susanna Singleton, Williamson County Schools
  • Melissa Stugart, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Drew Wilkerson, Franklin Special School District

To learn more, visit the website of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.