Department of Education leaders, from left, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, Deputy Chancellor David Weiner and Deputy Chief Academic Officer Josh Thomases spoke to teachers about evaluation challenges this week.
It's never too late to help schools figure out how to implement a complicated teacher evaluation system.
At least that's the theory at the Department of Education, which is planning to put out a comprehensive guide to navigating the city's new evaluation system this week, more than four months after the details were set.
It's now six weeks into the school year, and teachers and principals have been raising red flags about the new teacher evaluations since even before the first day of school. They've complained about not having enough time, resources, and information to confront logistical challenges related to evaluations.
Department officials are aware of the gripes, and this week they acknowledged that the process hasn't always been smooth.
"I think we have done a somewhat decent job," Chancellor Dennis Walcott said of the rollout this week.
They're responding with a series of stopgap fixes to aid with the rollout. They've extended deadlines, allocated millions in overtime pay, and consolidated the state's 243-page evaluation plan for New York City into a 45-page guide.
Even teachers eager for the new evaluations, which will judge teachers on a four-rating score and be based on multiple measures, say they feel overwhelmed by the many changes happening at once this year. At an event hosted this week by Educators 4 Excellence, which supports new evaluations and is generally optimistic about school reforms under the Bloomberg administration, nearly 60 percent of teachers said they had been "poorly informed" or "very poorly informed" about the evaluation system.
"I think it's been a huge lift for us to get information out there," said Deputy Chancellor David Weiner, who added that he was actually surprised at how many teachers said they had been informed about the changes.
For months, city and union officials have been expressing optimism about reaching a deal on new teacher evaluations by a state deadline in January — with some road bumps, of course. But what is keeping the two sides from reaching an agreement has not been clear.
That has started to change in the last week, as Department of Education officials have spoken publicly on multiple occasions about sticky issues that are still being worked out. The issues include how often observations should take place, what the observations should focus on, and when to schedule hearings of teachers who want to appeal low ratings.
Union officials have declined to comment on open issues, saying that they did not want to discuss negotiations while they are ongoing. But a top official said that no issue would be considered fully closed until the entire evaluation system is set.
David Weiner, the deputy chancellor in charge of teacher quality, stressed that the issues were "not sticking points" when he spoke with teachers at an event last week hosted by the advocacy group Educators 4 Excellence, which supports new evaluations. Department officials made the same assurance Wednesday morning after a panel discussion about teacher evaluations held at the Manhattan Institute, the politically conservative think thank.
Instead, they said, the issues are simply very complicated to resolve.
The lights dimmed and the screen lit up with the face of an 8-year-old girl staring at a chalkboard and struggling to read the sentence written upon it. The camera flashed to the teacher sitting at her desk, texting on her cellphone and shopping for shoes on the computer.
“Try again,” the teacher said.
“I can’t,” she answered, and the scene ended.
The scene opens “Won’t Back Down,” a new film by Walden Media, the same company that produced the 2010 documentary "Waiting for 'Superman,'" which extolled charter schools. The advocacy group Educators 4 Excellence held a private advance screening of the movie for its members, all city teachers, Wednesday night at the Regal Cinemas in Union Square.
"Won't Back Down" riffs off real-life parents’ efforts to turn a struggling California school into a non-unionized charter school.
The drama has come under scrutiny as it approaches its Sept. 28 release because of its harsh, and sometimes inaccurate, treatment of teachers unions. "This fictional portrayal, which makes the unions the culprit for all of the problems facing our schools, is divisive and demoralizes millions of great teachers," said AFT President Randi Weingarten in a statement last month.
“We cannot pretend there’s not a debate around this movie,” said E4E’s New York Executive Director Jonathan Schleifer to the crowd before the movie began. “That’s why you’re here – you want to be informed.”
Sydney Morris, E4E’s co-founder and chief executive director, warned the crowd that the story told in the movie didn’t accurately mirror real events.
“It’s not in any way a perfect depiction of reality,” she said. “But it is a bold depiction of teachers as change agents — it shows what teacher empowerment and parent involvement could and should look like.”
In a picture the UFT distributed on Twitter, President Michael Mulgrew and AFT President Randi Weingarten wear red today to show solidarity with teachers on strike in Chicago.
When teachers in the country's third-largest school district go on strike, the question is only natural: Could the same thing happen in New York City?
The answer is yes, in theory. But there are a host of reasons why New York City teachers probably won't follow their Chicago colleagues in trading the classroom for the picket line any time soon. Here are several issues to consider:
Only some of the issues in dispute in Chicago are also under contention in New York City. Like Chicago's teachers, city teachers would like a pay hike. They've have gone without substantial raises for several years. And like Chicago's union, the UFT is very concerned about some elements of the reform agenda that the Obama administration has advanced, particularly about the use of student test scores in teacher evaluation systems. That issue has caused acute tensions between the UFT and the Bloomberg administration for more than a year, keeping the city so far from complying with the state's new teacher evaluation requirements.
But New York City teachers don't have to grapple with many of the issues Chicago teachers face. The union contract already contains class size limits, even if the union says they are sometimes skirted. Recall rights for laid-off teachers have been in place for decades. And the school year has long been 180 days.
And because the policy agenda that Mayor Rahm Emanuel brought to Chicago last year has been solidly in place in New York City for nearly a decade, city teachers and their union have had more time to adjust and reach compromises. While the Bloomberg administration and the UFT haven't agreed on the technical points of teacher evaluations, they have struck a broad agreement on the concept that student test scores can play some role in ratings. They have already agreed to extend the school day and given schools options to add even more time. And their 2005 contract created an Absent Teacher Reserve with no time limit on how long teachers can draw salaries without occupying permanent positions after losing their old ones — a policy that city officials now want to change but so far have not been able to.
The UFT more resembles 2009's Chicago Teachers Union than today's. Like Chicago's union until recently, the United Federation of Teachers has long been dominated by a single caucus that has been willing to work with city officials to reach compromises on issues such as teacher placement, extending the school day, and even evaluations. The compromises have angered some union members, who have criticized the union and its leadership for not adequately defending teachers' rights.
But unlike in Chicago, where the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, or CORE, seized power in 2010, there hasn't yet been a serious threat to Unity's power. In the last union elections, the caucus's candidate for president, Michael Mulgrew, won with 91 percent of the vote.
Sketch of a teacher "career ladder" from Educators 4 Excellence's new report on teacher pay. (Click to enlarge)
Teachers should be paid more — but they should have to prove their value before getting big raises or better positions.
That's a central idea of a paper about teacher pay released today by the teacher advocacy group Educators 4 Excellence. The group convened a 16-teacher policy team last fall to study past and current experiments in teacher pay, survey city teachers about their views, and come up with recommendations about how to change the way city teachers are paid.
Currently, city teachers earn a starting salary of $45,530 and see their pay rise in small increments each year and as they accumulate additional credentials such as a master's degree. Large salary jumps come late in teachers' careers or when they move into administrative positions.
The group's recommendations include increasing the starting salary by a third; creating a "career ladder" so teachers can be rewarded for strong performance without leaving the classroom; introducing bonuses for teachers who receive top ratings on new teacher evaluations; and paying more to draw teachers to hard-to-staff subjects, such as science or special education.
Educators 4 Excellence is aligned with school reform groups that have battled the teachers union in the past, and some of the group's previous reports have influenced city and state policy proposals. But the teacher pay report does not side neatly with either Mayor Bloomberg or the UFT. It does not call for merit pay tied to student test scores, which Bloomberg has supported and the city teachers union has said it would never accept, nor does it support Bloomberg's recent proposal to offer permanent pay raises to teachers who earn top ratings on new evaluations. But it also does not call for union-backed school-wide bonuses of the type distributed under a city program that was aborted after it did not lead to increases in student performance.
"We are not interested in replicating failed experiments. As teachers, we already work hard, and we know that more pay will not make us work harder," reads the report. "But we do want to be recognized for our successes. We want to build up our supply of excellent teachers by recruiting and retaining professionals who might otherwise choose other fields."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's top education aide took his boss's message on the road Thursday night for a speaking event with city teachers.
Speaking at a Midtown hotel on a one-man panel moderated by three teachers from the group Educators 4 Excellence, Deputy Secretary for Education David Wakelyn primarily discussed teacher evaluations and why, nearly two years after a state law was signed requiring that they be toughened, nothing had changed.
The meeting was notable not for what Wakelyn said — his comments hewed closely to what the governor has said about evaluations in recent weeks — but because it happened at all. Wakelyn has been relatively quiet since becoming Cuomo's education deputy in September. But now Cuomo has made his education agenda a priority for 2012 and has increasingly sought to exert greater influence over policy.
The event began with a question from Dan Mejias, a teacher at JHS 22 Jordan L. Mott, one of the 33 low-performing schools slated to close and reopen with new teachers under Mayor Bloomberg's "turnaround" plan. Bloomberg devised the turnaround plan to sidestep a requirement under a previous plan for the schools that the city and its teachers union agree on new evaluations.
Mejias said his school had shown progress with federal money it received under the previous model, known as "transformation," and wanted to know what the governor planned to do to force both sides to drop what he saw as pure political gamesmanship.
"The NYC DOE is threatening to fire half of our staff, the UFT is willing to protect every single teacher at all costs, and none of this is beneficial for our students," Mejias said.
A policy change up for approval by teachers union leaders today would increase the weight of retired teachers in union elections.
The proposal, which the union leadership's say is meant to make voting more democratic, has roiled critics who say it represents a bid to consolidate power by a leadership that fears dissent.
At issue are the union's complex rules about how to count votes from its different constituencies during leadership elections. Under the bylaws, active teachers and members of other UFT chapters, including paraprofessionals and nurses, get one vote each. If 25,000 current teachers cast votes, 25,000 votes are counted.
But the votes of retired teachers are capped, a provision that union leaders have said was aimed to limit retirees' influence. Since 1989, if 25,000 retired teachers vote, only 18,000 of those votes would count. In 2010, when the union elected Michael Mulgrew president, retired teachers' ballots counted only for seven-tenths of a vote.
Under the proposed policy, that cap would be raised but not eliminated: 23,500 votes from retired teachers would be counted.
If the people on a panel Tuesday about teacher preparation didn't convey the urgency they felt about improving teacher training, then a flash poll of the audience surely did.
More than two-thirds of the audience, made up primarily of young teachers, said they didn't think their masters degrees had made them better at their jobs, according to electronic votes that were tallied in real time.
With that context, a five-member panel of advocates for alternative certification and training dove into a 90-minute discussion about how traditional theory-driven teacher training had failed the profession, particularly in high-needs urban schools. Research has shown that having a masters degree does not make teachers more effective, and local, state, and federal efforts are underway to re-imagine how teachers are trained.
Panelists largely agreed that many traditional education schools lack accountability, aren't willing to share performance data for their graduates, and have a detached relationship with the public schools where their graduates eventually work.
"For too long schools of [education] have sat back and spun out academic theories of what should work in the ideal school with the ideal conditions," said a panelist, Bob Hughes, president of the nonprofit New Visions for Public Schools, which trains and certifies teachers and operates 99 schools in New York City. "And they've been divorced from the reality of what happens in schools ."
Percentage of Teachers Who Had Tenure Denied or Extended
In a stark departure from tradition, more than 40 percent of city teachers up for tenure this year did not get it.
Just over 5,200 teachers were up for tenure this year. Of them, 58 percent received tenure and 3 percent were denied it, effectively barring them from working in city schools. The remaining portion -- 39 percent -- had their probationary periods extended for another year.
The number of extensions inched up in 2010 to 8 percent, but skyrocketed this year after the Department of Education revamped the tenure evaluation process in an effort to make the protection tougher to receive.
Yet the rate of tenure denials actually fell slightly from last year, from about 3.3 percent in 2010 to 2.7 percent in 2011, or 151 teachers, despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg's insistence that the figures were the first step toward "ending tenure as we know it."
The numbers, which Bloomberg touted at a press conference today, confirm anecdotal reports pointing to a sharp rise in the number of probation extensions under the new system. Before last year, that option was rarely used and the vast majority of teachers received tenure almost as a formality.
A veteran teacher who disrupted an Educators 4 Excellence panel last month has learned that he isn't welcome at the group's future events.
Stuart Kaplan, a nine-year teacher at High School for Law and Public Service in Brooklyn, joined Educators 4 Excellence because he believed that the teaching profession could be improved by more dialogue.
"I feel that there needs to be discussions between educators. It was my hope that they wanted to foster a real conversation," Kaplan said of E4E. He signed a pledge required of all members to agree to certain policy positions help by E4E and he attended several events, which are closed to the general public.
But he publicly disavowed his membership last month after a blow-up with founder Evan Stone at a teacher evaluation panel. Annoyed that the group had released a teacher evaluation proposal earlier in the day because he believed too little feedback from E4E members was solicited, Kaplan repeatedly interrupted Stone, prompting an early end to the event
But E4E did not remove him from its email list, and he received invitations to additional events, including one tonight, which he accepted.
Last week, Stone personally called him to inform him he wasn't welcome unless he recommitted to E4E's core principles. Kaplan refused and Stone said that he would be barred from attending future events.
A new challenge to the Educators 4 Excellence group comes from an unlikely source: a school administrator who says he agrees with many of the group's positions.
In a new post in our Community section, John Galvin, the assistant principal at I.S. 318 in Brooklyn, targets the group's requirement that people who attend certain E4E events sign the group's "Declaration of Principles and Beliefs." Galvin writes:
If you want to sponsor events that are closed to the public and only open to your members, that is your right. However, if you want to engage the public in debate and to test your ideas to the widest audience possible, then it makes no sense. It raises questions about the motives of your group and the commitment of your group to engage in honest debate with those that agree and disagree with you.
Galvin describes attempting to sign up to attend the group's panel last week on teacher evaluation, and then being disappointed to find out that, in order to RSVP, he had to click a button indicating that he signed on to the declaration. (Many of our commenters logged similar complaints.)
In an e-mail, Educators 4 Excellence founder Sydney Morris explained that teachers become members of the group by signing the statement. She defended the group's right to hold private members-only meetings.
Her full statement:
A panel discussion that featured officials on each side of the teacher evaluation stand-off was halted abruptly last night after a disagreement escalated. The disruption did not stem from the teachers union and Department of Education official on the panel, but from a small group of audience members protesting the event itself.
“Okay, I’m going to cut it off,” said moderator Evan Stone, following a crescendo of interruptions that built up for nearly five minutes. Stone is a founder of Educators 4 Excellence, which hosted the event. “Clearly, we’ve broken a lot of norms of respectability.”
The interruptions came from at least three people in an audience of more than 100, most of them teachers. They began in response to Stone's handling of the panel and then escalated into an airing of grievances that targeted Educators 4 Excellence and its teacher evaluation recommendations, released yesterday, which the protesters said did not reflect their views.
“I am a teacher and I have never been asked what I thought,” yelled out Stuart Kramer Kaplan, one of the protesters.
(Click here for video of the exchange.)
In advance of an event tonight about the future of teacher evaluations, an organization of young teachers has outlined how its members would ideally be measured.
The proposal from Educators 4 Excellence signals a departure for the group, which formed last year to lobby against seniority-based layoffs that would put many of its 2,500 members at risk of losing their jobs. E4E enters the teacher evaluation debate as the city and teachers union are locked in negotiations to hammer out evaluation rules. Their standoff could cost the city millions of dollars in funds for low-performing schools.
E4E's proposal builds off the state's new teacher evaluation law, which requires districts to evaluate teachers using 20 percent state test scores, 20 percent local assessment results, and 60 percent subjective measures such as observations and surveys. The proposal recommends that administrators, colleagues, and "outside master observers" all assess teachers, using formal rubrics that E4E sketches out, and that results of student surveys and "support of the school community" be factored in to teacher evaluations.