Across the state, hundreds of principals have signed onto a petition urging the state to proceed cautiously with new teacher evaluations.
Only two of them currently run New York City schools.
The petition is attached to a position paper arguing that the state's evaluation regulations — which require a portion of teachers' ratings to be based on their students' test scores — are unsupported by research, prone to errors, and too expensive at a time of budget cuts. Nearly three quarters of principals on Long Island, where the paper originated, have signed on, as well as hundreds of principals from districts across the state and even the country.
Sean Feeney, a Long Island principal who helped write the position paper earlier this month in his capacity as president of the Nassau County High School Principals Association, said toughening teacher evaluations is a worthy goal, but the state's requirements aren't the best way to accomplish it.
"We've got a ship that’s sailed on a dangerous course through uncharted waters and we’re not prepared — and somehow that’s okay and we have to go full-steam ahead," he said. "We're betting people's careers on something that does not work. It's unconscionable."
Feeney speculated that city principals are less shocked by the state's evaluation requirements because the city has already tried to develop "value-added" evaluations of some teachers using student test scores.
"The city’s been living with this for a while," he said.
Plus, he said about city principals, "I think they’re a little more nervous" about jeopardizing their jobs by speaking out.
The city won't strike a deal on new teacher evaluations just to get millions of dollars in federal funding, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said last week.
The city and teachers union are supposed to settle on new teacher evaluations by the end of the school year. An agreement would bring the city into compliance with state law and also enable it to receive millions of federal dollars that have policy strings attached to them.
Earlier this month, a New York Daily News editorial said Walcott “has committed to surrender $60 million in federal school improvement grants unless he and the teachers union have agreed by the end of the year on a pilot system for evaluating teacher performance.” The newspaper, which praised Walcott's tough-on-unions sentiment, did not report the chancellor's exact words in its news or editorial pages.
Last week, Walcott told me that the editorial accurately paraphrased a comment he made. Coming to an agreement that satisfies both parties is so important, he said, that he does not want the federal funds to force his hand prematurely.
"I'm not going to be hampered by money being the sole force of what a decision will be," Walcott said. "So at the end of the day if we have to return money, I will be willing to do that. I'm not going to be beholden to money as determining a decision."
Last summer, as a federal deadline loomed, the city and UFT struck a last-minute, limited agreement on teacher evaluations at 33 low-performing schools, enabling the schools to receive millions of dollars to fund "restart" or "transformation" improvement processes.
The teachers union is threatening to curb its efforts toward new teacher evaluations if the Department of Education doesn't remind principals again that the old evaluation system is still in place.
The threat comes at the end of an angry letter sent by UFT Secretary Michael Mendel sent to the DOE yesterday. In the letter, Mendel says that UFT members report some principals are preparing to use the Danielson Framework, an evaluation model that the DOE favors, to rate teachers — even though the union hasn't agreed to the change.
City officials dispute the charge, saying that Danielson is being used only in ways that the union has approved: in most schools, to give teachers information to help them improve. The model is being used to rate teachers only in 33 "persistently low-achieving" schools where the city and UFT agreed to new evaluations in order to land federal school improvement funds, the officials say.
But despite a joint reminder from the UFT, DOE, and principals union last month, the union is charging that some principals still haven't gotten the message that the Danielson rubric shouldn't be used to rate teachers. At a meeting for members of the UFT's governing body last night, UFT officials said they had obtained documents showing that some networks, the groups that support principals, had devised evaluation checklists based on Danielson's criteria, according to a union member who was there. The officials did not share the documents, the union member said.
Mendel told GothamSchools that teachers have reported getting official reprimands based on Danielson-influenced observations and that many administrators do not seem to have had adequate training before starting to test the new model.
Mendel said the union won't break state law and pull out of negotiations altogether. But he said confusion and the sense that some principals are pushing Danielson prematurely have made the union less willing to collaborate with the DOE.
I finished Steven Brill’s popular (infamous?) book about the school reform drama, “Class Struggle,” about a month ago. No, I don’t plan on offering my take on the narrative. Enough bytes have already been expended on that. But even though I finished it and have read several other books since, one small, virtually inconsequential paragraph continues to resonate with me.
Brill describes a major frustration Eva Moskowitz, the brilliant creator of the Success Charter Network in NYC, experienced as a student at Stuyvesant High School:
Stuyvesant is New York’s star high school, from which an outsize portion of students, like Moskowiz, cruise into the Ivy League. But to Moskowitz, many, if not most, of the teachers were anything but stars. She thought half of the teachers were incompetent and vividly remembers math and science classes where “the students, who were all gifted, literally carried the class. The teachers were cruising on the students’ talent,” she says. “I remember one of the kids taught the rest of us physics, while the teacher sat there drunk . . . It was easy to be a teacher there.”
This stuck with me because, as a Stuyvesant alum myself (who did not go onto the Ivy Leagues), I totally agree. I don’t think any of my teachers were drunk in class, but my high school memories are also littered with teacher experiences that demonstrate either severe incompetence or gross neglect. Either way, I can’t think of any way to justify why these individuals were allowed to be instructing in any classroom.
Many of the 12 Race to the Top winners are facing implementation challenges, according to Education Week, but none so striking as New York, where a judge last month overturned a key element in the state's teacher evaluation plans.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said he would withhold funding from states that do not live up to their Race to the Top plans. But [State Education Commissioner John King] said he believes New York state and its union could avoid that fate.
The regulations “are entirely consistent” with the 2010 state law, he said, adding: “I remain extremely optimistic that we’ll find a way forward. Inevitably, there are moments of disagreement, but I’m confident about the long-term direction.”
King's argument is the same that Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch made last month during the "On Education" panel that I helped moderate. I had asked whether New York is keeping its Race to the Top promises and whether it has the capacity to execute planned reforms, given the teacher evaluations decision, which had been handed down just the previous day.
Panelists didn't really deal with the big-picture question, but they projected confidence about rolling out new teacher evaluations, the piece of New York's application that most helped the state land $700 million in federal funds.
Chancellor Dennis Walcott with PS 40 teachers during a training session.
Teachers at Manhattan's P.S. 40 played students this morning, engaging in role plays, "turn-and-talks," and "sharebacks" to learn about the new way they will be evaluated this year.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott joined the teachers for a training session about Charlotte Danielson's "Framework for Teaching," the teacher evaluation model that principals are supposed to start using this year.
Without an agreement between the city and teachers union on new teacher evaluation rules, teachers will still be judged as "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" at the end of the year. But the city has instructed principals to follow Danielson's framework — which divides teachers into four categories, from "highly effective" down to "ineffective" — when they conduct observations throughout the year, in conjunction with the rollout of new "common core" curriculum standards.
“We’ve worked out some pieces with the UFT around the evaluation, but right now, my goal is to make sure we're having the training take place around the Common Core,” Walcott said.
A group of five P.S. 40 teachers acted out a scripted classroom scene, with one “teacher” pushing her “students” to think critically about a nonfiction reading on Polynesian settlement in Hawaii. Walcott and the rest of the staff watched on and consulted yellow photocopied evaluation rubrics to see if the “teacher” should be judged highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective.
Two years after sending state tests to the end of the school year, the state is moving them earlier again, but its motives for doing so – to move forward on teacher evaluation plans – hit a road block today.
The 2011-2012 school year testing schedule published by the State Education Department this week has state tests for students in grades 3 through 8 starting April 16 and being graded by May 3. Last year, the tests began May 3, and scoring didn't end until May 26.
The new dates might not be set in stone, because April 16 is the first day that students in New York City and many other school districts return from spring break. But the test scores will definitely be available earlier next year, state officials promised.
The earlier timing is necessary for state to put new teacher evaluation requirements in place, Commissioner of Education John King told district superintendents in a letter, sent Monday, that implored them not to be distracted by policy debates. The evaluation plan sets at least 20 percent of a teacher's rating to be based on student test scores, but local districts still need to negotiate with unions if it wants more, according to a court ruling today.
Two years ago, the state moved test dates from January and March until May in part to make it possible to attribute a student's performance to his teacher that year. A side effect is that scores came out later — this year, not until mid-August. That timeline meant that had the evaluation plan been online, teacher ratings couldn't have been completed. It also meant that for the second straight year, the city had to send students to summer school based on predicted scores, which were sometimes wrong.
For at least the sixth straight year, principals rated more teachers as unsatisfactory.
Last year, 2,118 teachers received unsatisfactory ratings, setting them along a path that could lead to termination. That number, making up 2.7 percent of all teachers, was 16 percent higher than in 2010 and more than twice the number of U-ratings handed out five years ago. In the 2005-2006 school year, just 981 teachers received unsatisfactory ratings.
About 80 percent of the teachers who received unsatisfactory ratings were tenured, according to Department of Education data. And about a quarter — 511 — received the scarlet rating last year as well.
The numbers suggest that principals are responding to the city's sustained push to usher more weak teachers out of the system, and the city says 86 of the U-rated teachers have already resigned, including 41 who were denied tenure. But they hardly reflect a sea change in the way that principals rate teachers.
For that, the city is counting on a new teacher evaluation system that will do away with the binary satisfactory/unsatisfactory rating choice altogether. State law now requires districts to enact evaluation systems that use student test scores as a component and sort teachers into four categories from "highly effective" down to "ineffective."
Several recent intersecting conversations lead me to this post: The North “credit recovery” issue, increasing discussions about using performance funding for Colorado higher ed and/or K12, evaluations of ProComp and other teacher incentive pay programs and Alex Oom’s valuable recent post.
If we want to incentivize or reward educational performance in some form (and we do), we need to pay careful attention to how we do that. Nearly any output or outcome measure can potentially be “gamed” or cheated. We see this with No Child Left Behind, where state tests are the key to school evaluation. As a result, states have produced considerable improvement on those tests, while not showing much improvement on NAEP, the national test that was not “dumbed down” to show greater proficiency of students.
It is also true that no single measure comes near being perfect. In addition to cheating or gaming, reliance upon a single measure (and test scores are the one that most of us would lean towards), makes the assumption that this measure is capturing appropriately what we want to capture. Currently, for state tests like CSAP, this is not the case, and we clearly need to find more, better tests.
In some ways, this is an obvious point – who can oppose multiple measures of evaluation?
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.
If Governor Andrew Cuomo angered Mayor Bloomberg by batting off his calls to end seniority-based layoffs, perhaps the governor redeemed himself in the mayor's eyes today. Cuomo sent the chancellor of New York's Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, a letter saying he believes that student test scores should count for a larger portion of teachers' annual evaluations.
His comments are a critique of a set of regulations put out by the Board of Regents that they will vote on next week. The regulations are to be used by New York City and other districts as a guide to implementing the state's new teacher evaluation system.
In a statement today, Tisch vowed to support Cuomo's recommendations at the meeting next week, saying that they "will lead to an even stronger teacher and principal evaluation system for New York." It's not clear if the other members of the board will agree with Tisch. A recent appointee to the board, the former city school official Kathleen Cashin, is a quiet critic of Bloomberg's.
Another hurdle involves getting the teacher evaluations implemented in school districts. The new state law revising the evaluation system granted final power to local collective bargaining talks between districts and unions. That means that no evaluation system will become final without local unions' approval.
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew responded to Cuomo's letter obliquely, saying only: "We look forward to discussing the Governor's recommendations with the Regents."
Bloomberg's reaction was more effusive:
“The thoughtful recommendations made today by Governor Cuomo will greatly improve the rigor of these new evaluations, and I am heartened that the Regents agreed to adopt them. But it will take the sustained commitment of all invested parties – and perhaps most importantly, the cooperation of the teachers union – if we are to make this evaluation system a reality.”
Here's Cuomo's complete letter:
A bill that would end the "last in, first out" layoff policy for New York City teachers passed in the State Senate today, but faces an uphill battle in the Assembly.
Introduced late last week by State Senator John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, the bill rules out seniority as the sole factor in determining who gets laid off. Instead, the bill offers eight pages of an extraordinarily complicated, prioritized list of which teachers and school supervisors would be first in line to be laid off.
The bill passed the Senate 33-27, with support from Republicans and two Democratic Senators — Jeff Klein and David Valesky.
Following the vote, Governor Andrew Cuomo put out a statement saying he plans to introduce a bill that would "expedite and expand ongoing plans to implement a statewide, objective teacher evaluation system."
Rather than replacing "last in, first out" with other measures, which Flanagan's bill does, Cuomo's bill would put New York's new teacher evaluation system in place sooner than was previously planned. The original law had it covering math and English teachers who teach grades 4-8 next year and expanding to all teachers and all subjects by 2012-13. Under Cuomo's bill, the evaluation would cover all teachers beginning next year.
City education officials are saying they want to release teachers' ratings publicly as a way of helping bad teachers improve and reward those who are excelling.
In an interview with John Gambling on WOR-AM (710) this morning, Deputy Chancellor John White said the union's concerns about how parents and the public would use the data were legitimate. But, he said, those concerns should not be an obstacle to improving how teachers are evaluated. He told Gambling:
And these data show that, actually, there are plenty of teachers who every year, year after year after year, are performing at the top of their game. We need to honor those teachers. This is not just about failing teachers.
But there are cases where we see every year, teachers in the bottom. And you can sit there and say, "Oh there's this exception, this teacher's is not a perfect score, it doesn't reflect this," but at the end of the day when you have teachers who are performing way at the top year after year after year, way at the bottom year after year after year, you have to say: are we doing the right thing for kids? We've got to keep that teacher at the top, we've got to pay that teacher right, at the top, and that teacher at the bottom, they've got to get better or we've got to get a better teacher.
It's unclear how making teachers' ratings public would improve their performance, as principals and teachers already have access to the ratings. This year, principals are supposed to use the ratings as a factor in tenure decisions and by 2012 they will be a significant part of all teachers' evaluations.
Mayor Bloomberg on NBC today, announcing a crackdown on seniority-based layoffs and a new tenure policy.
In his first major education policy announcement for the new school year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg this morning vowed a renewed attack on seniority laws that protect veteran teachers and a change in how teachers are awarded tenure.
He made the remarks on NBC, which is dedicating this week to school reporting in a project called "Education Nation."
The attack on seniority laws came as city officials made a dire budget prediction for next year, saying that they will likely have to lay off public school teachers as federal stimulus funding runs out. Under the current state law, teachers with the least seniority would be the first to lose their jobs — a policy known as "last in, first out." The mayor and Chancellor Joel Klein oppose this policy, but their effort to change the law, which the teachers union does support, went nowhere last year.
Today, the mayor said he would try dismantling the policy again before the city confronts an expected $700 million budget hole and possible layoffs next year.
"It's time for us to end the 'last-in, first out' layoff policy that puts children at risk here in New York — and across our wonderful country," Bloomberg said on NBC. "How could anyone argue that this is good for children? The law is nothing more than special interest politics, and we're going to get rid of it before it hurts our kids," he added.
Teachers union officials immediately squashed any possibility that they might partner with the mayor.
More teachers than ever received unsatisfactory ratings last year, suggesting that the city's push to rid the school system of more struggling teachers is working.
Principals gave unsatisfactory ratings to 1,813 teachers, 17 percent more than in 2009, according to data the city released today. They also denied tenure to 234 teachers this year, 80 percent more than last year. And principals nearly doubled the number of teachers given an extra year before their final tenure decision is made.
In total, 11 percent of the 6,386 teachers up for tenure this year were denied or delayed, compared to 6.6 percent last year. It's an even more dramatic jump from 2006, when tenure was denied or delayed less than 1 percent of the time.
By far, the leading cause principals cited for giving a U-rating was quality of instruction and student care. Attendance problems were the second-leading cause of low ratings, followed closely by the nebulous "personal and professional qualities."
Still, the vast majority of teachers were rated satisfactory and received tenure after three years in the classroom.
The day after the state and union announced a deal to use student test scores in teacher evaluations, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew faced his members last night at a meeting of the union's ruling body.
A UFT chapter leader sent us this report from the monthly delegate assembly, comprised of representatives of the teachers at each school. The account offers a glimpse of how Mulgrew is pitching the deal to teachers, many of whom are skeptical of the plan:
The scene was surreal to start. The room was packed but the tone was hushed. It felt like the crowd had come to listen to Mulgrew explain himself and the recent overhaul of the evaluation system.
Mulgrew disputed press accounts that test scores will make up 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation, the chapter leader said. State test results will account for 20 percent, Mulgrew explained. Another 20 percent of the evaluations will come from students' progress on local measures of student learning. The local assessments, which could be tests but don't have to be, must be negotiated locally between the city and the union.
Chancellor Joel Klein has already expressed displeasure over how much of the plan is left to negotiation. Colorado and Louisiana, by contrast, are both pursuing evaluation overhauls that would base 50 percent or more of a teacher's rating on student test score progress.
Here's our rundown of the evaluation deal, and the chapter leader's full account of the meeting is below the jump:
City principals rated more teachers unsatisfactory this year than they have since at least 2005, suggesting that the Bloomberg administration's efforts to escort more struggling teachers out of the system may be bearing some fruit.
Principals gave the scarlet-letter rating to 1,554 teachers this year, up from 981 in the 2005-2006 school year, data provided by the city Department of Education show. Both the number and percentage of teachers rated unsatisfactory rose during that period, and the rise occurred for both tenured and non-tenured teachers, city figures show.
Even with the rise, the percentage of teachers rated unsatisfactory remains low. About 2% of teachers, both tenured and without tenure, received what teachers call "U" ratings this year.
Ann Forte, a schools spokeswoman, sent us the figures this afternoon.
The rise follows a concerted effort by school officials to make it easier for principals to terminate poorly performing teachers, including a new group of lawyers assigned to targeting struggling teachers, called the Teacher Performance Unit. Rating a teacher unsatisfactory is often the first step toward removing him from the school system.
Will Obama officials succeed in their mission to use the Race to the Top fund to re-write state education laws? The state of Indiana, where a recent down-to-the-wire budget session featured a teacher-evaluation mini drama, offers some clues.
The drama began with pressure from the Obama administration to repeal a law banning the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. Alarmed, state education officials lobbied the state legislature, and lawmakers acted, inserting a repeal of the law into the state's budget.
But mere hours before the new budget passed, lawmakers at the state House removed the repeal at the request of the teachers' union. The final budget includes a roundabout compromise allowing districts to use student data to assess teachers — but only in cases where federal grant money requires it.
"We had a clear message from the secretary [Arne Duncan] that we were putting our ability to compete for the Race to the Top Funds at risk," a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education, Cam Savage, said. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has communicated frequently with the federal education department about Indiana's strengths in the competition for grant funds, Savage said.
Bans on using student test scores to assess teachers seem to be the next group of laws on the Department of Education's watch list. States and districts already took note after Obama administration officials used the threat of denying Race to the Top funds to push against state laws limiting the spread of charter schools. Lawmakers in at least eight states have passed or introduced legislation since the end of May to lift their charter caps.
A new report is urging school districts across the country to beef up their methods of evaluating teachers, which the report describes as so slipshod as to be "largely meaningless." The report, by a nonprofit group that has clashed with teachers unions in the past, describes the poor evaluations as "just one symptom of a larger, more fundamental crisis—the inability of our schools to assess instructional performance accurately or to act on this information in meaningful ways."
The report is called "The Widget Effect" because accuses districts of treating all teachers alike, regardless of how much they help students learn. It goes on:
This inability not only keeps schools from dismissing consistently poor performers, but also prevents them from recognizing excellence among top-performers or supporting growth among the broad plurality of hardworking teachers who operate in the middle of the performance spectrum. Instead, school districts default to treating all teachers as essentially the same, both in terms of effectiveness and need for development.
The report, conducted by The New Teacher Project, a nonprofit founded by the lightning-rod D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, calls on districts to develop more robust teacher evaluation systems that reward successful teachers and easily identify less successful teachers.
The report comes amid a growing push to improve teaching quality across the country. President Obama has said that teachers who are not helping students learn should be removed from classrooms, and even the national American Federation of Teachers union is working internally to build a new method of evaluating teacher quality.
The report bases its findings on surveys of thousands of teachers and administrators across four states and 12 school districts, plus a scouring of the districts' evaluation records. New York City was not one of the districts studied.
It's one thing for Randi Weingarten, the teachers union president, to say she's behind President Obama's reform mission to track teacher performance — as long as he gets the details right. It's another for her to lay out what those details are.
That's what her national union, the American Federation of Teachers, did today, by way of a press release from Anderson, Indiana. Yeah, I've never heard of Anderson either, but apparently teachers there passed a program that will mentor struggling teachers — and give evaluations that point out their strengths and weaknesses.
“PAR is an example of an innovative, successful union-led education reform,” said Dal Lawrence. “It shows just how inaccurate the stereotype is that teacher unions are anti-reform or anti-accountability.”
Here's the full release, which is from the Anderson union but was sent to me by the national press shop: