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Future of Teaching
Examining the divisive push to rate, reward, improve, and remove teachers
May 22, 2012
Proposed rules for new Race to the Top pose issues for NYC
In the beginning, there were charter schools, data systems, and teacher evaluations. Then, there was early childhood education. And now, the Obama administration wants to reward individual school districts for tailoring their offerings to individual students. "Personalized education" is the emphasis for the U.S. Department of Education's third iteration of Race to the Top, a competitive grants program that launched in 2009. New York State won $700 million in the first year after legislators approved new teacher evaluation requirements and allowed more charter schools to open. It's an approach the city has embraced for years, providing data tools for schools to zoom in on each student's weaknesses and creating an "Innovation Zone" that allows schools to restructure their space and time in a bid for stronger scores. The principal of Olympus Academy, an Innovation Zone school that allows students to progress at their own pace, appeared in Washington, D.C., today as part of the competition announcement. But some of the federal government's proposed eligibility criteria — including a requirement that school board members undergo formal evaluations — could make it tough for the city to qualify for the grants. Large cities could receive up to $25 million, or about .1 percent of the city Department of Education's annual operating budget. Perhaps most crucially, the city and its teachers union have spectacularly failed to adopt new teacher evaluations, despite commitments set out in the state's first Race to the Top bid and in an application for a different federal program, School Improvement Grants. The latest competition requires that districts commit to having new evaluations in place by the 2014-2015 school year.
May 18, 2012
"Turnaround" hiring to resume, but decisions could be reversed
State Education Commissioner John King observes an English and Language Arts class at the Dual Language Middle School. Hiring is set to resume at the 24 "turnaround" schools under an agreement city and union officials reached late Friday afternoon. But the hiring decisions could be reversed if an arbitrator ultimately decides that the unions' complaint — that the city is attempting to circumvent contractual hiring and firing policies at the schools — is valid. The city teachers and principals unions sued to stop the hiring process, but on Wednesday, a State Supreme Court judge urged both sides to accept arbitration rather than pursue litigation. Today, the city and unions agreed "in principle" to seek arbitration, selected an arbitrator, and selected a first meeting date — June 5. In the meantime, the city will continue the process of rehiring or replacing teachers at the schools — but will have to run the risk of having those decisions undone if the arbitrator rules in the unions' favor. The outcome of the contractual dispute could affect the state's ability to approve those 24 schools for a pot of federal funds, Commissioner John King told reporters today.
May 17, 2012
In lieu of new evaluations, city looks to options in union contract
Chancellor Dennis Walcott speaks to business leaders at the Association for a Better New York breakfast. After years of trying to win new powers to fire under-performing teachers, the city is turning to rights it has had all along. Speaking to a coalition representing the city's business elite this morning, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced that the city would move to fire any teacher who receives "unsatisfactory" ratings for two years in a row. He also announced that the city would ask the UFT to allow buyouts for teachers who have been without permanent positions for more than a year. Both policies are already permitted under the law and the city's contract with the teachers union — a fact that drew ridicule from UFT President Michael Mulgrew. "It's theater of the absurd. It's getting old," he said. "I think they believe that everyone's a fool. They've made an announcement about something they already have the ability to do." Mulgrew noted that the union contract already allows Department of Education officials to do exactly what Walcott's two plans announced today would do—incentivize teachers without permanent jobs to take buyouts, and require schools to remove teachers who receive consecutive unsatisfactory ratings. He also said the buyout plan was proposed by the union several times over the past three years, but the city rebuffed it.
May 17, 2012
Walcott: City won't wait for evaluations to tackle teacher quality
Even without a new teacher evaluation system, New York City will ramp up efforts to weed out teachers who "don't deserve to teach," Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced today. In an early-morning speech to the Association for a Better New York, a business and political group, Walcott said the city would adopt new policies to insulate students from teachers deemed "unsatisfactory" under the current evaluation system. Under the new policies, no student will be allowed to have a teacher rated unsatisfactory multiple years in a row, and the city will move to fire all teachers who receive two straight U ratings. "If we truly believe that every student deserves a great teacher, then we can’t accept a system where a student suffers with a poor-performing one for two straight years," Walcott said. "One year of learning loss is bad enough — but studies indicate that two years could be devastating." The policies would go into effect if the city and union do not agree on new teacher evaluations by September, when the new school year begins. Under the existing evaluation system, two consecutive U ratings can trigger termination proceedings but do not have to. Two "ineffective" ratings on teacher evaluations now required under state law would automatically trigger termination proceedings. Walcott also announced that the city would capitalize on a clause in its contract with the teachers union to offer a resignation incentive for teachers who have spent more than a year in the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of teachers without permanent positions. Buyouts would have to be negotiated for each teacher, and Walcott promised that the incentives would be "generous." The move represents a shift in approach for the Bloomberg administration, which has previously sought the right to fire members of the ATR pool. Walcott's complete speech, as prepared for delivery, is below. We'll have more on his proposals later today.
May 16, 2012
LEAP a big step for teachers in DPS
Backers are banking on LEAP, Denver's pilot teacher evaluation program, to represent a substantive shift in the way teachers are reviewed and professionally supported.
May 14, 2012
In two separate rulings, state's labor board sides with the UFT
For the second time, the state's labor relations board has ruled that the city must accept mediation in its teacher evaluation talks with the United Federation of Teachers. The board, the Public Employees Relations Board, first decided in March to heed the UFT's request and appoint a mediator to broker negotiations about teacher evaluations in the 33 schools that until December had been receiving federal School Improvement Grants. But the city appealed the decision, arguing that it was no longer planning to negotiate a separate evaluation system for just those schools. Now the board has affirmed its stance and once again ordered the city into mediated talks with the union. When the board first granted the request, its director of conciliation said that because the city had not yet formally applied to switch the schools to a reform model that does not require new teacher evaluations, it was still obligated to seek a deal for the 33 schools. Today, the board ruled that the city's bid to switch the overhaul model — to "turnaround," in a swap that the state has not approved — "does not nullify its obligations." City lawyers are regrouping after the setback. "We strongly disagree with the board's ruling and are reviewing our legal options," said Department of Education spokeswoman Jessica Scaperotti in a statement.
April 27, 2012
Latest skeptic of teachers unions is clothing label's city billboard
This spring, the West Side Highway's typical advertising fare also includes a political message that seems aimed at teachers unions. A billboard advertising Kenneth Cole — the clothing company owned by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's brother-in-law — puns to southbound commuters, "Shouldn't Everyone Be Well Red?" In smaller lettering, the billboard says, "Teachers' Rights Vs. Students' Rights ..." The second line evokes a tension drawn out repeatedly by some critics of teachers unions, including Cuomo, who say that unions' support for teachers' job protections can stand in the way of students' education. The billboard also invites viewers to visit WhereDoYouStand.com, a website maintained by the city-based company, to weigh in on "Issue in the News." This spring, one of the issues is "Should underperforming teachers be protected?"
April 23, 2012
Making Failure An Option
My ninth-graders and I are still working our way through "Romeo and Juliet." I’ve taught this play before. For the most part, I’m using lessons I’ve used before, just tweaking them to suit my new students. I’m not being lazy. I’m being smart. My lessons are good and I know they work. In the middle of Act III, however, we got to my favorite scene in the play. It’s the one where Friar Lawrence chews Romeo out for being self-absorbed and melodramatic. While I love this scene, I’ve never figured out an effective way to teach it: it’s filled with long speeches that students often find very difficult. In the past, I’ve just walked the students through the scene, making sure they get the key points. It works, but it’s kind of boring. This year, rather than reuse my old lesson, I planned something new. I put the students into groups and had them divide up the speeches amongst their group members. In their groups, the students created contemporary versions of the scene, translated into their own contemporary language and supplemented with stage directions. It was a two-day lesson and my plan was to have the students perform their versions of the scene at the end of the second day. As it turned out, I was too ambitious. While a few groups completed everything in two days, none of them had a chance to rehearse for a performance. Many groups didn’t even complete their stage directions. According to the goals I set during planning, I — or my students, or both — had failed.
April 23, 2012
Federal teacher evaluation mandate's impact felt across country
New York City’s controversial school turnaround proposals represent a tiny piece of a sweeping effort, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, to overhaul the country’s lowest-performing schools. In the last of three articles about the reform effort produced by Education Week, The Hechinger Report, and the Education Writers Association, Sarah Garland looks at the national impact of a federal requirement — tougher teacher evaluations — that has tripped up School Improvement Grants in New York. GothamSchools was one of four news organizations to contribute to the reporting. Elliott Elementary in Lincoln, Neb., struck off on its own last year when it became the only school in the city to win money through the federal School Improvement Grant program. Winning wasn’t something to be proud of, though: It meant the school qualified as one of the worst in the nation. About a third of fifth-graders at Elliott were proficient on state reading tests when the reforms began, compared to 80 percent in Lincoln as a whole. Winning also meant a lot of work for teachers and administrators. One of the biggest tasks was overhauling the way teachers at the school are evaluated. Elliott was the only school in the city making the change, which meant it had to come up with a new way of rating teachers mostly on its own. “The challenge was connecting it to student achievement,” said Jadi Miller, named the principal at Elliott after a longtime principal was ousted to comply with the grant’s mandate of new leadership. “That was certainly very new for us.” In the Obama administration’s new push to turn around the bottom 5 percent of schools nationwide, the vast majority of districts chose the reform option that seemed the least invasive: Instead of closing schools or firing at least half of the teaching staff, schools could undergo less aggressive interventions, such as overhauling how teacher performance is measured and rewarding teachers who do well. But the teacher-evaluation requirement has turned out to be a major stumbling block for many schools in the SIG program.
April 18, 2012
As testing starts, critics plan post-teacher evaluation deal efforts
Southside High School Principal Carol Burris with Harbor School Principal Nate Dudley at Burris's school in March. Carol Burris, the principal of a Long Island high school, isn't done fighting. Even after her statewide principals petition failed to sway lawmakers from passing a teacher evaluation bill last month, she's hoping her newest effort — a poll — will do the trick. Beginning today, Burris is sending out surveys to principals, teachers, and parents about New York State's high-stakes testing policy "to give voice to the concerns that we are hearing from all three groups," she said. "We have no intention of not continuing our fight." She said she expects that the results from the surveys will reflect her own concerns about the testing role in teacher evaluations. "We hope that policymakers and the public will be interested in our findings," said Burris. Burris discussed the strategy Tuesday evening at a forum about high-stakes testing held at Murry Bergtraum High School in Manhattan. She sat on a panel alongside Class Size Matters' Leonie Haimson; Gary Rubinstein, a math teacher known for crunching the city school data on his blog; and Khalilah Brann, a teacher at Bushwick Community High School, which is facing closure because of its student performance data. The forum, which attracted about 50 people, was organized by Change the Stakes, a group that grew out of a committee formed by a teacher activist group, the Grassroots Education Movement, last year.
April 11, 2012
State Board adopts appeals rules
The State Board of Education has adopted rules that will govern appeals by teachers who receive two consecutive ineffective ratings.
April 6, 2012
City's bid to win Race to the Top funds without union buy-in fails
A gamble that the city took back in October did not pay off this week when the state announced which districts would receive extra funds to pay for teacher training. The city had applied for the funds, part of the state's Race to the Top winnings, back in October. But it came up short on one crucial requirement of the application: demonstrating that the teachers union agreed that new teacher evaluations would be in place this year. At the time, the UFT and city had hashed out a tentative teacher evaluation deal for the 33 schools that were receiving federal School Improvement Grants, but their relations were growing more tense. Here's what we reported at the time: The decaying union-city relations could help explain why, when it submitted a bid last week for teacher training funds, the Department of Education asked for its share of Race to the Top funds to go only to schools included in the limited evaluation deal. ... It’s unclear whether the state would approve the city’s funding bids without the [union] memorandums in place. If the city’s application is turned down, the funds would be dispersed among other districts, according to Race to the Top rules.
March 30, 2012
From Buffalo, a warning for local consensus on absent students
The city and teachers union aren't anywhere close to settling on new teacher evaluations. But if and when they do strike a deal, they might have to revisit a point of agreement. Leo Casey, a teachers union official, told me recently that before negotiations broke down in December, the city and UFT had agreed that only students with a minimum attendance rate should be counted in teachers' scores. Exactly what that rate would be was still up for discussion, Casey said, but everyone agreed on the basic principle that if students aren't in class to learn, it's not fair to hold teachers responsible for their learning. It's an outlook that teachers at schools under threat of closure have shared over and over. At Washington Irving High School, teachers protesting the city's ultimately successful closure proposal argued that the school would have much stronger performance data if the city excluded the school's many "long-term absences" from its progress report calculations. It's also a point that united Buffalo and its teachers union as they negotiated a new teacher evaluation system earlier this year for schools eligible for School Improvement Grants. In February, they settled on a system that would exclude chronically absent students from the student growth portion of evaluations. But the State Education Department rejected that portion of their compromise. In the rejection letter, Education Commissioner John King explained that Buffalo's evaluation system would have applied the attendance provision to the 20 percent of evaluations that the state controls, and that's not allowed. But another problem, he wrote, was that the provision could be abused.
March 29, 2012
Asked to talk teacher ratings' release, a panel skirts the topic
New York City's release of teacher ratings last month stoked fierce debate over the role of evaluations in boosting student achievement and about whether the public should be privy to their results. A panel discussion featuring former state education chief David Steiner; United Federation of Teachers Vice President Leo Casey; policy researchers; and Nick Lemann, dean of Columbia University's journalism school tackled those issues this afternoon. The panel, part of a two-day long symposium on testing, was billed as a conversation about whether to make teacher ratings public, as New York City did with caveats last month and New York State is poised, at least legally, to do in the future. But the panelists mostly skirted that issue, focusing instead on the bigger question of how current teacher evaluations can be improved upon — an issue that the state is grappling with as it rolls out new curriculum standards and prepares to impose a state-wide evaluation system. Eric Nadelstern, a former top city Department of Education official who spoke from the audience, was the only person to speak out in favor of the data releases — or address the matter head on at all. "Clearly the tests have to get better, but we can't wait until they do before we use them to determine whether or not the adults are doing good work," said Nadelstern, who led the city's effort to create report cards for each school. "However imperfect the data, if we're using it to make high stakes decisions about kids, shouldn't we make that data available to the students, to the parents and to the public?"
March 28, 2012
City: "Turnaround" schools won't have to replace half their staff
Department of Education officials are telling principals of schools slated for "turnaround" not to worry about quotas when they decide which teachers to hire for next year. This guidance conflicts with the federal guidelines for the reform model, which require a school to replace at least half its teachers. It also contradicts the words of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other city officials, who have done little to dispute this figure before alarmed teachers, students and parents at meetings held throughout the city. The 50 percent figure has been repeated again and again in months since Bloomberg's announcement, at forums, protests, union press conferences, and city presentations. Superintendent Aimee Horowitz told families and staff at Brooklyn's William E. Grady High School and Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School that "up to 50 percent of the remaining faculty can be re-hired," while at least 50 percent will have to leave. At a meeting of the Citywide Council on High Schools, Deputy Chancellor Elaine Gorman distributed a presentation that said part of the plan was to "re-hire no more than 50 percent." But behind the scenes, department officials have been telling principals to ignore this requirement. They said they have told principals at the 33 schools to hire the best teachers available without fretting over whether they are new or would be returning. "Our goal is for schools to hire and recruit the most qualified teachers who meet the high standards set by their principals — not to remove a certain percentage of staff," said Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg. "As that happens, we will work with the state to secure millions of dollars in funding that these new schools need and deserve." Principals who have been working on developing plans for the replacement schools say they plan to follow the department’s instructions and are anticipating replacing far fewer teachers than 50 percent. Multiple principals said they were expecting to replace about a quarter of their teachers over the summer.
March 26, 2012
Two more districts to get SIG funds back, but NYC still cut off
Two more New York State school districts will have their federal funding restored after adopting new teacher evaluations for this school year, State Education Commissioner John King announced today. In January, King cut off the funds, known as School Improvement Grants, to 10 districts that had been receiving them to help overhaul low-performing schools. The districts had not adequately complied with a Dec. 31 deadline to adopt new evaluations for teachers in those schools, King said. But after the state's teacher evaluation deal in February, five districts refined their applications sufficiently to have their funding restored. Today, two more districts — Yonkers and Roosevelt — got their funding back. The announcement means that just three districts, including New York City, are still shut out of funding for the year. The city was supposed to get almost $60 million this year through the grant program. The other two districts that haven't met the state's requirements for this year are Greenburgh 11 and Buffalo. Greenburgh 11, a tiny school district that serves only students with special needs, has been silent on the issue of teacher evaluations all year. Buffalo, on the other hand, devolved into conflict this month after King rejected an evaluations agreement between the city and its teachers union, saying that their plan to exclude the scores of chronically absent students was unacceptable.
March 20, 2012
City's accountability czar fields criticism at forum about testing
About 200 people attended a forum in Brooklyn Monday night about high-stakes testing. The architect of many of the metrics the city uses to assess teachers and measure student growth spent Monday evening defending his work against a steady stream of criticism from parents and educators. Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky sat on a three-person panel titled "High-Stakes Testing 101" hosted at The Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies and The Brooklyn New School. The panel included two principals, Long Island's Sean Feeney and Elijah Hawkes formerly of the James Baldwin School in Manhattan, who have publicly criticized the city's and state's use of testing data to measure student growth and evaluate teacher effectiveness. Hawkes was one of about 170 city principals to sign on to a petition Feeney authored against the state's use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. That system, in which student growth on standardized test scores count for at least 20 percent of teacher ratings, was officially signed into law last week in Albany. Polakow-Suransky said the parents and principals were right to have qualms about the new system. He said the tests currently in use are imperfect and acknowledged, as the principals' protest points out, the evaluation system allows for scenarios in which a teacher can have the full confidence of her principal yet still be rated ineffective if her students show zero growth. "I agree with you that principals should not ever be in this situation where ultimately their judgment gets trumped by a mechanistic formula," Polakow-Suransky said after Feeney raised the issue. "I think that's an important thing that we need to look at as we work to implement this." But for the most part, the department's second in command defended the city's accountability system against concerns that test scores are being used inappropriately and that longer tests are negatively affecting schools' curriculum and culture.
March 16, 2012
Behind the surprising late-night teacher evaluation bill approval
When revisions to the state's teacher evaluation law came before the State Senate late Wednesday night, not a single senator cast a "no" vote. That's because nearly all of the Senate Democrats had walked out of the Senate chambers to protest a controversial redistricting deal. While they were out, Senate Republicans made quick work of bills that had already been approved by the Assembly. That included the teacher and principal evaluation bill. The situation meant that the evaluations bill garnered just 36 "yes" votes. Just four of those votes came from senators who represent the city. Two were from the city's two Republican state senators and two were from two Democrats who are part of an independent caucus. In the Assembly, the bill passed 91 to 49 and found only scarce opposition from city representatives. About half of the Assembly members from outside of New York City voted against the bill, but just six of the city's 64 Assembly representatives voted against the bill.
March 15, 2012
Principals say evaluation legislation won't derail their protest
Southside High School Principal Carol Burris and Harbor School Principal Nate Dudley at Burris's school on Monday. The pair oppose the state's new teacher evaluation requirements. The Long Island principals who galvanized opposition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's teacher evaluation proposals say they won't let the fact that the proposals won legislative approval stop their protest. Together, Sean Feeney and Carol Burris in October launched a petition critiquing the evaluation system that has garnered more than 8,000 signatures, nearly 1,500 of them from principals. The petition argued that the state’s evaluation regulations — which require a portion of teachers’ and principals' 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. Those issues haven't disappeared just because the legislature agreed late last night to turn Cuomo's proposals into law, Feeney and Burris said today. They said they would still run an ad featuring about 70 principals in next week's Legislative Gazette, and they would still ask lawmakers to shield teachers' ratings from transparency laws that could land the ratings in newspapers, as happened last month in New York City. More than that, they said, they would still speak out about problems they have identified in the evaluation system's requirements. "One way or another we have to stand up for what we believe in, and no matter what happens, we've stated and articulated our position," Feeney told me this morning. "We'll see what happens after that."
March 15, 2012
Legislators sign off on Cuomo's teacher evaluation framework
A late-night, no-contest legislative agreement has brought changes to the state's teacher evaluation system a crucial step closer to becoming law. The deal also heads off protest by the evaluation system's critics, including principals from across the state who had planned to ask legislators to make changes. Under the agreement, the State Senate and Assembly agreed to approve revisions to the state's 2010 teacher evaluation law proposed last month by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office and the state's main teachers union, NYSUT. The agreement came during a spree of deals that lawmakers tore through all night and well into this morning, on issues as wide-ranging as the state's pension system, congressional redistricting, and a database to store most convicted criminals' DNA. In large part because NYSUT had signed on to the framework, the evaluations legislation was among the least controversial issues before the lawmakers. They made no changes to the framework agreed upon last month. That the legislature included teacher evaluations in the spree at all was something of a surprise. Cuomo had proposed the revisions to the law as part of the budget amendment process, meaning that they would be approved only when the state's budget is finalized by the end of the month. Now, as soon as Cuomo signs the legislation, it goes into effect, and changes to teacher evaluations won't be on the table when legislators haggle over budget items.
March 14, 2012
Poll: Voters don't trust city's teacher ratings but do back release
New York City voters by and large do not trust the teacher ratings released late last month. But most wouldn't mind if future assessments of teachers' quality were also made public, according to a poll whose results were released this morning. The poll, conducted by Quinnipiac University last week, asked 964 New Yorkers about teacher evaluations both in theory and in practice. It found that just 20 percent of voters said they trusted the city's "recently released teacher evaluations" known as Teacher Data Reports, and nearly half said the results were flawed. (The ratings, which had massive margins of error, were not actually used to evaluate teachers.) But 58 percent said they approved in theory of releasing the results of teacher evaluations to the public. The poll's findings suggest voters simply haven't made up their minds about the role that teacher evaluations should play even as battles over new evaluations have dominated the headlines in recent months. Just a third of poll respondents said they thought teachers who score low on evaluations should be fired, a use that advocates of new evaluations have championed. But 54 percent said they thought top-rated teachers should be rewarded with additional pay, something Mayor Bloomberg has suggested and the UFT has opposed. And 84 percent said they thought performance should trump seniority if the city needed to lay off teachers, a policy position that Bloomberg made his priority last spring, to no avail.
March 12, 2012
Principals ramp up evaluations protest with a lobbying effort
Signing on to a petition wasn't enough for some principals across the state who oppose the state's impending teacher evaluation requirements. The Long Island principals who launched a policy paper and signature drive against the teacher evaluation system last fall are ramping up their resistance with a lobbying effort. Bringing together colleagues from across the region, including from New York City, the principals plan to take out an ad in the Legislative Gazette, a small Albany publication, asking lawmakers to revise the framework that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed for new teacher and principal evaluations. The framework that Cuomo proposed was set with the support of the state's main teachers union, NYSUT, but it doesn't become law until legislators sign off on it when they set the new budget. That must happen by the end of this month, and until then, legislators could conceivably make revisions. The principals have broad concerns about the educational value of the evaluation requirements, but they are limiting their ask to three main changes. They want lawmakers to shield teachers' evaluations from being subject to transparency laws; revise the scoring ranges so teachers whose students do not make academic progress are not automatically rated ineffective; and institute a pilot period before the new system goes statewide.
March 6, 2012
Small funding losses point to big obstacles for new evaluations
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last month that the state's progress on teacher evaluations met his requirements to keep Race to the Top funds flowing. But city officials' handling of smaller pools of the federal funds suggests that they don't think the city is anywhere close to meeting the same standard. Last week, the Department of Education returned $7.5 million in federal funds that the state doled out for the city to design schools that make students college ready, the New York Post reported today. The city's explanation: That it has not yet adopted new teacher evaluations, a string attached to the funding. It's a situation that our reporting predicted last fall, when the state began opening up mission-specific pools of Race to the Top funds to districts. Nearly all of the funding pools came with a requirement that the districts adopt teacher evaluations that comply with the state's 2010 evaluation law. At the time, the state was requiring districts to commit to having new evaluations in place for this school year, so the city applied for funding only for 33 schools where it had reached a partial evaluations agreement with the teachers union. Now, even though the city and union have publicly announced a deal on the issue that derailed that agreement, the city is sitting out of funding streams that don't require new evaluations until next year.
March 1, 2012
City's value-added initiative early entrant to evolving landscape
New York City schools erupted in controversy last week when the school district released its “value-added” teacher scores to the public after a yearlong battle with the local teachers union. The city cautioned that the scores had large margins of error, and many education leaders around the country believe that publishing teachers’ names alongside their ratings is a bad idea. Still, a growing number of states are now using evaluation systems based on students’ standardized test-scores in decisions about teacher tenure, dismissal, and compensation. So how does the city’s formula stack up to methods used elsewhere? The Hechinger Report has spent the past 14 months reporting on teacher-effectiveness reforms around the country and has examined value-added models in several states. New York City’s formula, which was designed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has elements that make it more accurate than other models in some respects, but it also has elements that experts say might increase errors — a major concern for teachers whose job security is tied to their value-added ratings. “There’s a lot of debate about what the best model is,” said Douglas Harris, an expert on value-added modeling at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was not involved in the design of New York’s statistical formula. The city used the formula from 2007 to 2010 before discontinuing it, in part because New York State announced plans to incorporate a different formula into its teacher evaluation system.
February 21, 2012
As new evaluations firm up, more city principals oppose them
During the month that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was engineering revisions to the state's teacher evaluation law, more city principals signed onto a petition critiquing it. A pair of Long Island principals launched the petition against the state's 2010 evaluation law in November, arguing that its requirement that a portion of teachers’ ratings be based on students’ test scores is unsupported by research, prone to errors, and too expensive at a time of budget cuts. Two weeks after the petition started circulating, hundreds of principals across the state had signed on, but only a handful were from New York City. By early January, only about 100 city principals had signed on, up from 30 in early December. Now, there are more than 175 principals on board as of the version of the petition distributed Monday night. City principals still make up less than 15 percent of the 1,359 state principals who have signed on while comprising more than a third of principals statewide. But they have made up ground in recent weeks. They were less than 10 percent of signatories a month ago.
February 17, 2012
From Cuomo's office, a chart showing NY's evals are just right
A chart comparing states' evaluation systems produced by Gov. Cuomo's office. At least a dozen states that factor student test scores into teachers' evaluations count the scores more than New York's new teacher evaluation framework does. That's according to a chart compiled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office comparing New York's new teacher evaluation framework against those present in 21 other states with teacher rating systems that incorporate "student growth." The chart suggests that the state's framework — which dedicates 40 percent to two different measures of student growth, at least one based on state tests, and 60 percent to subjective measures such as observations — is in line with what other states are doing. Many of the other states also adopted new evaluation systems in order to secure funding from the U.S. Department of Education. The chart is below:
February 17, 2012
In New Haven's experience, validators don't lead to teacher firing
The city's new process for managing low-rated teachers might result in more of them leaving the system — but not because they have been fired, if New Haven's experience using a similar model is any indication. When city and union officials announced a deal on a key sticking point in teacher evaluations talks, the appeals process for teachers who get low ratings, both said they had been inspired by a system in place since 2009 in New Haven, Conn. A key component of that system is the use of third party "validators" to observe teachers considered ineffective and either corroborate or contradict the principal's assessment. In New York City, validators would work with teachers in the year after they receive a low rating according to a not-yet-finalized evaluation system. New York City officials said they expected the new process to result in more teachers being terminated. If the validator supports a principal’s assessment of a teacher, they note, the teacher would enter termination hearings under a presumption of incompetence — a major shift from the current system, in which the city must prove that the teacher is not up to par. But New Haven’s system has not produced many firings. Instead, officials there say it has encouraged teachers to leave on their own. Thirty-four New Haven teachers designated "in need of improvement" — less than half of whom had tenure — exited the system last year, but they had chosen either to retire or resign, according to the officials. “They came to an understanding once they saw that it wasn’t just one person saying that they weren’t performing, that the validator was also seeing the same thing,” said Michele Sherban-Kline, who oversees New Haven Public Schools Teacher Evaluation and Development. “Most of them came to the realization that it was better that they not fight it because all of the evidence was there.”
February 17, 2012
Reform groups are mostly mum on coming teacher rating dump
Contrasted against each other, this week's two pieces of teacher evaluation news put some education reform groups in a tough spot. As a deadline on a teacher evaluation deal neared, the groups anxiously supported Gov. Andrew Cuomo's work to add weight to test scores for assessing teachers. But in the middle of those negotiations, a court decision on the release of the city's teacher data reports reminded the public of the pitfalls of relying too heavily on data-driven metrics. Research into the reports had revealed a wide margin of error and instability from year to year. So, for the most part, groups were mum about the legal ruling, which paves the way for a data dump of two-year-old "value-added" ratings for 12,000 city teachers. The exception was Educators 4 Excellence, an upstart advocacy group that says it has support from thousands of city teachers. Although they are usually a thorn in the side of the United Federation of Teachers because of disagreement over senior-based layoffs and teacher evaluations, the two groups struck common ground on this issue. E4E co-founder and co-CEO Evan Stone sent over an email Wednesday saying he was "disappointed" with the court's decision to let the release go forward and said he thought making the ratings public would do little to boost the issue of improving teacher quality. "While we strongly support teachers receiving quality feedback about their performance, including how much they're helping their students progress on state tests, publicizing these results on the front page of newspapers will not help improve teacher effectiveness," Stone said in a statement. Stone's comments, while not as sharply worded, echo the sentiments of UFT President Michael Mulgrew. Principals union head Ernest Logan piled on criticism of the decision as well yesterday.
February 17, 2012
From Queens, strategies to halt redoubled "turnaround" plans
Councilman Ruben Wills present Richmond Hill Principal Frances DeSanctis with allocated discretionary funding. Parents at Richmond Hill High School hadn't heard that Mayor Michael Bloomberg was given a chance to reverse his bid to overhaul their school yesterday when they gathered to strategize against his plan. But it wouldn't have made a difference if they had: Bloomberg rejected the opportunity, created by a resolution in the city's teacher evaluation talks with the UFT, and vowed to proceed with plans to "turn around" 33 struggling schools, including Richmond Hill, anyway. When I told some of them the news that Bloomberg had reaffirmed his intentions to move forward with the turnaround, they said the news didn't change their agenda: to figure out how to halt the turnaround, which would cause the school to close and reopen with a new name and many new teachers. They pressed Principal Frances DeSanctis and City Councilman Ruben Wills, who both attended the parent association meeting, for suggestions about how to fight back against the city's plan. Carol Bouchard, the parent coordinator, said she left an "early engagement" meeting with Department of Education officials under the impression that the school could still go back to the restart model, which involved sharing the school management duties, and SIG funding, with and Educational Partnership Organization. She said Bloomberg's recommitment did not cause her to abandon hope. "I feel like it's still hanging," she said.
February 16, 2012
UFT wins third-party review for some 'ineffective' teacher ratings
Today's agreement on teacher evaluation appeals wasn’t a complete loss for the union – just 87 percent of one. When talks over an evaluation system broke down last year, the conflict centered on who should have the final say on teachers rated 'ineffective' under the new evaluation system. The city wanted all appeals to be decided by the chancellor, while the union wanted an independent third party to make the final call. The subsequent deal that was struck as part of today's statewide teacher evaluations on paper appears to favor the city. Eighty-seven percent of first-year ineffective rating appeals will still be heard by the chancellor. Second-year ineffective ratings will go straight to a 3020-a termination process that takes into account, but does not depend on, a third-party reviewer's assessment of a teacher's quality. The fact that the union managed to salvage a sliver of its demand – getting the city to agree to refer 13 percent of ratings to a third party – is a small win. Bloomberg and the Department of Education initially walked away from the negotiating table in late December and refused to return until the union gave in to all of their demands.
February 16, 2012
Arne Duncan: NY overcame "stumbling block" with evals deal
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised the agreement between the State Education Department and NYSUT. Just hours after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a deal about the structure of a new teacher evaluation system, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he was no longer concerned about the state's eligibility for federal Race to the Top funds. New York won $700 million in Race to the Top funds in large part by agreeing to adopt a new teacher evaluation system. But after passing an evaluation law in the spring of 2010, implementation was slow, and relations between the state and its teachers union, NYSUT, had deteriorated over the implementation. Last month, charging that the state was "backtracking on reform commitments," Duncan warned that New York was at risk of losing its Race to the Top funds. Today, Duncan said he was no longer worried. He struck a tone of unreserved optimism this afternoon while speaking to reporters on a Midtown sidewalk as he dashed between a meeting with the New York Times editorial board and a taping of the Daily Show. "This was a major roadblock, a major stumbling block, and I think they are over that in a great way," he said. There's a whole body of work going forward that New York has to do, but this was a major issue, a major concern of ours and I think they've addressed it in an extraordinary way."
February 16, 2012
New state evaluation framework leaves much up to local districts
Teachers can expect unannounced observations to factor into their annual ratings under the terms of the evaluations agreement that Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today. The unannounced observations are one of several ways that the State Education Department and state teachers union, NYSUT, agreed to flesh out the state's 2010 evaluation law, seen as so open-ended as to stymie implementation. The agreement, which Cuomo is set to turn into law through the state budget amendment process, resolves some major points of contention while continuing to leave many elements of districts' evaluation system subject to local collective bargaining. Districts and their unions have until the end of 2012 to turn the framework into a local evaluation system, or risk losing state aid. The framework hews to the broad contours of the 2010 teacher evaluation law: 20 percent of ratings will be based on a calculation of student growth based on state test scores; 20 percent will be based on other assessments that are decided locally; and 60 percent will come from subjective measures such as observations, also decided upon locally. Teachers will still receive a score between 0 and 100 and a rating ranging from "ineffective" to "highly effective." But there are new constraints. In a major win for the state, teachers whose students show no academic growth will get an "ineffective" rating, even if the rest of their evaluation is strong. The evaluation law had not provided for such a circumstance.
February 16, 2012
Bloomberg: Evaluations progress won't stop "turnaround" plans
Today's evaluations announcement would appear to eliminate the main reason for the city's controversial plan to "turn around" 33 struggling schools. But Mayor Bloomberg said the city would move forward with the plans anyway. Bloomberg proposed turnaround, which would require the schools to close and reopen with new names and many new teachers, last month as a way to circumvent a requirement that the city negotiate an evaluation deal for teachers in those schools. Now, having resolved a sticking point in those negotiations resolved — the appeals process for teachers who receive low ratings — the city could conceivably appeal to the state to let it continue receiving federal funds to implement improvement strategies that had been underway there until the evaluations negotiations broke down in December. But Bloomberg — who did not join state and union officials announcing the evaluations deal in Albany today — said during a press conference at City Hall that he would not be backing down from the turnaround plans. "Nothing in the deal prevents us from moving forward with our plan to replace the lowest performing teachers in 33 of our most troubling schools," he said. Bloomberg said the aggressive overhaul strategy was necessary because no teachers would be removed from schools because of low scores on the new evaluations for at least a year and a half.
February 16, 2012
With state's evals deal said to be set, all eyes turn to city's talks
All eyes are on Albany today, the deadline Gov. Andrew Cuomo set last month for an agreement on new teacher evaluations. The deadline is for the state teachers union, NYSUT, to set aside its lawsuit over the evaluations and reach an agreement with the State Education Department over how new evaluations should be structured. The word on the street — and in the Capitol parking lot, which Cuomo exited early Wednesday — is that SED and NYSUT appear nearly assured of meeting that deadline. But the specifics of an agreement remain opaque. Last spring, NYSUT had sued over Cuomo's bid to increase the weight test scores play in the evaluations. Now, attention among the governor's staff has turned to the city's own evaluations impasse. Just a month ago, Cuomo gave the city a year to resolve its conflicts, which have focused on the appeals process for teachers who receive low ratings. But he seems eager to be able to announce a statewide sweep of teacher evaluation deals. Whether a sweep is in Cuomo's grasp remains unclear.
February 14, 2012
Month after turnaround news, official applications still not done
More than a month after Mayor Bloomberg announced that he would fulfill a state requirement by overhauling 33 struggling schools, the city still has not officially informed the state of its plans. The announcement, which came during Bloomberg’s State of the City address Jan. 12, was an attempt to circumvent a requirement that the city and teachers union agree on new teacher evaluations. New evaluations were a condition of the previous improvement processes the schools were undergoing with funding from federal School Improvement Grants. But turnaround, which requires schools to replace at least half of their teachers, does not call for new evaluations. The turnaround switch isn't up to the city alone. State Education Commissioner John King must sign off on the plans if they are to get the federal funds. King has said the turnaround model Bloomberg described is "approvable." But he still hasn't seen any details. That's because the city hasn't supplied them. For weeks, city officials — including Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott — had cited Feb. 10 as the deadline to complete applications detailing the turnaround plans, but the day came and went with no completed applications in sight. Department officials now say the deadline was only internal, and now the city is aiming to finish them up by the end of this week. That way, the officials said, the applications can be on the table next week when the city has its hearing about the SIG grants with state education officials.
February 13, 2012
De Blasio urges city not to pass the buck on teacher evaluations
It would be a big mistake for New York City to let Gov. Andrew Cuomo settle its teacher evaluations dispute, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said at a press conference Sunday. The press conference came four days before Cuomo's deadline for school districts to agree on new evaluations. If they don't settle on new evaluations by Feb. 16, he said, he would "do it for them" — presumably by using the budgeting process to change the state's teacher evaluations law. In recent weeks, Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott have signaled that they might prefer letting Cuomo take the lead, possibly because they hope he would side with them in a seemingly intractable local dispute. The city and teachers union have been stuck for more than a month on the issue of appeals for teachers who receive low ratings under a new system. But de Blasio warned that passing the buck could backfire for the city. "The minute it goes to Albany anything can happen," he said. "There's a much better chance of a plan that will work it's agreed to up front."
February 9, 2012
Citing poll, NYSUT pushes for limited role of test scores in evals
Across the state, school districts are inching toward teacher evaluation deals one week before a deadline Gov. Andrew Cuomo set last month. According to NYSUT, the state teachers union, 100 school districts have agreed on how to put new evaluations in place and 400 districts "report making progress." That leaves just over 200 districts that, like New York City, are nowhere near agreeing with their local unions on new evaluation systems. Cuomo said last month that if districts do not settle on new evaluations by next week, he would use the budget amendment process to change the state evaluation law. Last year, in a hint of what the changes might entail, the governor pushed state policy-makers to double test scores' weight, from 20 to 40 percent, in an action that drew a successful legal challenge from the union.
February 6, 2012
Poll: Wide approval for Cuomo's plan to link school aid to evals
Nearly three-quarters of New Yorkers approve of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's carrot-and-stick approach to getting new teacher evaluations in place, according to poll results released today. Last month, Cuomo vowed to withhold increases in state school aid to districts that do not settle in short order on new teacher evaluations that take test scores into account. The poll, conducted last week by the Siena Research Institute, asked respondents, "Do you support or oppose the Governor's plan to link school aid increases to the implementation of an enhanced teacher evaluation process?" Seventy-one percent said they support that plan. (The poll of 807 registered voters had a margin of error of 3.4 percent.) The support was evenly split between respondents in New York City and the rest of the state and was especially high among black New Yorkers (77 percent) and young people between 18 and 34 (78 percent). Households with union members (61 percent) and Jews (63 percent) supported Cuomo's plan least often, but even they stood by it in large numbers.
February 3, 2012
Cuomo’s education deputy takes agenda to city teacher group
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.
February 1, 2012
Teachers union president piles on objections to turnaround plan
Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew is lodging a formal complaint about the city's plans to overhaul 33 struggling schools, a day after the head of the city's principals union did the same thing. When Mayor Bloomberg announced last month that the schools would undergo a federally prescribed process known as "turnaround," which requires half of teachers to be removed, Mulgrew was immediately dismissive. In a letter sent today to State Education Commissioner John King, Mulgrew fleshes out those objections, arguing that the plan as the city has explained it would violate state and federal regulations and the city's contract with the UFT. The city has leaned on that contract when touting the plan, saying that a clause known as 18-D represents union sign-off on the turnaround bid and allows for rehiring at schools that are closed and reopened, as would be the case under turnaround. But Mulgrew contends in his letter that 18-D applies only when schools are truly closed. "What the DOE proposes is a classic sleight of hand," he writes. "While it tells the public and the UFT it will technically 'close' these schools and 'reopen' them as new schools, what it really intends and seeks your permission for is a turnaround where the same students continue to be served in the same school with a portion of the same staff. ... This is not a closure and does not trigger application of 18-D."
February 1, 2012
Diane Ravitch exhorts city principals to join evaluations protest
Principals union president Ernest Logan with Diane Ravitch after Ravitch's speech to union members on Tuesday City principals should overcome their fear and join with more than a thousand of their colleagues from across the state who oppose New York's teacher evaluation rules, Diane Ravitch urged during a speech to the principals union Tuesday. A group of Long Island principals launched a petition in November 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. The petition has attracted nearly 1,300 principals from across the state, but relatively few — just over 100 — work in New York City, in a trend that has persisted since the petition's earliest days. Sean Feeney, a Nassau County principal who drafted the petition, said in November that city principals seemed to be more afraid of jeopardizing their jobs by speaking out. Ravitch, a frequent and outspoken critic of the Bloomberg administration's education policies, took aim at those concerns during the kickoff event in the union's 50th anniversary celebration. She concluded her speech by exhorting city principals to sign on to the evaluations petition. "There is strength in numbers," she said to the roughly 150 current and retired principals in the audience. "The DOE can't fire you all."
January 30, 2012
Walcott calls state evaluation law "broken" during lobbying trip
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued his state budget speech two weeks ago, he offered a stark choice to districts and unions working on new teacher evaluations: agree, or face the consequences. In Albany today, Chancellor Dennis Walcott suggested that the city would prefer the consequences — widely assumed to be an effort by Cuomo to use his budgeting process to impose new evaluations without the consent of local teachers unions "I think the law, and the governor is so right about this, is broken," Walcott said. "It’s not going to work as constructed." Walcott would not comment on the status of negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers but said that the issue dividing them — the appeals process for teachers rated ineffective — had not been solved. Cuomo, who has said the 2010 evaluation law was "destined to fail," seemed willing but not eager to expend political capital on changing the law when he delivered his budget address. He said he preferred districts and their unions to agree on a "protocol" for new evaluations within 30 days. But, Cuomo said, "If they can’t do that then we’ll do it for them." Walcott's comments reflect pessimism about the state of negotiations in the city just days after UFT President Michael Mulgrew praised Cuomo for his "intervention" to induce the city back to the table. Walcott said he was in Albany to lobby them about changing the law.
January 23, 2012
In hearing, King calls for curbing Cuomo's competitive grants
Chancellor Dennis Walcott testifies before legislators during a hearing about Gov. Cuomo's proposed education budget. State Education Commissioner John King spent most of his time before legislators today going to bat for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed schools budget. But on one key point, he said the Board of Regents would prefer a change. The Regents would rather not hinge so much of the state's funds on a competition among districts, King said. Cuomo proposed using $250 million of a proposed $800 million school aid increase to reward districts for strong academic performance and management efficiency. King said the Regents, whose agenda is similar but not identical to Cuomo's, would slash that number by 80 percent. They would still hand out $50 million through a competition but think the remaining $200 million would be better used helping high-needs districts cover their expenses, he said. The proposal is similar to what was proposed by the Alliance for Quality Education, a group that Cuomo's office has named as a nemesis, and augurs a possible battle over the budget in the two months before it must be approved.
January 20, 2012
State-level conflict over teacher evals said to be near resolution
A week that was packed with conflict over teacher evaluations is drawing to close with news that detente is nearing — at least at the…
January 19, 2012
No longer joint between UFT and city, Danielson trainings go on
A training session about the city's favored teacher evaluation model went off as planned on Tuesday — but without the involvement of the city, which had worked with the teachers union on event. Since the start of the school year, the union and city have been grappling over the Danielson Framework, the observation model the city hopes will be adopted when a new evaluation system is finalized. Over time, a tension has emerged about whether the model is meant first to help teachers improve — the union's position — or whether it is a tool to help principals usher weak teachers out of the system, as the city's rhetoric has sometimes suggested. Since at least December, the city and teachers union had been planning joint training sessions for principals and union chapter leaders to clarify the model's purpose and value. But after Mayor Bloomberg lashed out at the United Federation of Teachers during his State of the City speech last week, declaring that he would remove half of the teachers at 33 low-performing schools, the union decided it would no longer work with the city on the trainings. "The content of the State of the City has not been received very well by members," Michael Mendel, a union secretary, told me Wednesday. "To do a joint training didn’t sit right." On Friday afternoon, union officials surprised the city by announcing that the collaboration was off.
January 17, 2012
State ed chief calls city's evals position, turnaround plan kosher
Breaking his silence today on New York City’s simmering labor dispute, State Education Commissioner John King sided with the city on key issues. King said he does not want to get involved in local disputes over teacher evaluations. But he said the city’s plan to revamp dozens of low-performing schools under the federal “turnaround” model meets the state’s requirements. “It’s an approvable model,” King said on a conference call with reporters to discuss Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s state budget proposal. “I would expect that if they submit those applications, that we would approve their application to change the model consistent with the federal model.” The city's plan, which Bloomberg announced in his State of the City speech last week as a way to sidestep teacher evaluations talks, would require half of all teachers to be removed from the 33 low-performing schools. King suspended federal funding to the schools last month after negotiations between the city and the United Federation of Teachers broke down. A major issue leading to the impasse was that the UFT wanted third-party arbitrators to hear the appeals of teachers who receive low ratings under the new evaluations. The city maintains that the chancellor should make the final determination on appeals, as has been the case for years.
January 17, 2012
In state budget proposal, Cuomo issues evaluations ultimatum
Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo slashed school aid across the state. This year, he plans to add back much of what was lost — but there's a catch. Districts will get the money only if they roll out controversial new teacher evaluations according to an accelerated timeline, Cuomo announced in a hotly anticipated speech in Albany today. He also outlined a procedure by which new evaluations could be put into effect even without local unions' agreement, which a state law passed in 2010 requires. Cuomo kicked off the procedure today with an ultimatum: He demanded that the state teachers union, NYSUT, drop its lawsuit over the evaluations and settle on a “protocol” for new evaluations with the State Education Department within 30 days. "If they can't do that then we'll do it for them," Cuomo said in his address today. Using the state’s unusual Article 7 process, Cuomo could use a budget amendment to change the state’s teacher evaluation law — possibly by striking the requirement for districts and unions to negotiate some details locally. For now, local districts and their unions would still have to sign off on evaluation plans even if NYSUT resolves its issues with the state. Districts that do so by Sept. 1 will be able to compete for $250 million in state funds, Cuomo said today. If they miss that deadline, they will have until Jan. 17, 2013 — a year from today — to settle on new evaluations or give up the 4 percent increase in state aid. "The equation is simple at the end of the day: No evaluations, no money, period,” Cuomo said.
January 12, 2012
Bloomberg's turnaround switch would cause 33 school closures
Under a proposal laid out by Mayor Bloomberg today that took education insiders by surprise, the city would retain access to threatened federal dollars for struggling schools by riffing on a familiar strategy: school closure. The announcement in today's State of the City address sets the stage for a showdown with the United Federation of Teachers — and maybe also with the State Education Department. UFT President Michael Mulgrew had already dismissed the idea that schools could receive the funds without union support by this afternoon. But State Education Commissioner John King has yet to weigh in on the strategy. Under Bloomberg's plan, the city would swap dozens of schools from one federally mandated overhaul strategy to another in a bid to escape a requirement that the city and union come to terms on a new teacher evaluation system. An impasse over negotiations caused King last week to cut off federal funds to 33 city schools that were undergoing the “transformation” and “restart” strategies, which require new evaluations. Under the mayor’s plan, the schools would undergo “turnaround” instead. Turnaround is more aggressive than the other strategies, requiring at least half of a school’s teachers to be replaced. But it also does not require that new teacher evaluations be in place, according to the Obama administration’s guidelines for the funds, known as School Improvement Grants. Mulgrew immediately dismissed the plan, arguing that the union would have to sign off on turnaround. That would be true — but only if Bloomberg had been talking about the type of turnaround that the Obama administration envisioned. What the city is actually proposing is using a second, lesser-known turnaround that state regulations allow. Essentially, the city would close 33 schools and reopen them immediately, with new names and identification numbers. Then a team of educators selected for the “new” school would hire a new staff with the union’s input, pulling half of the new teachers from the original school’s roster.
January 12, 2012
In education-packed speech, Bloomberg vows to bypass UFT
Mayor Bloomberg is attempting to breathe new life into his enervated education agenda today with an ambitious and startling list of proposals that include paying top teachers $20,000 bonuses and bypassing the union to overhaul struggling schools. Perhaps most interesting is the way that he is outlining, in his 11th State of the City address right now in the Bronx, to resuscitate stalled efforts to transform 33 struggling schools — and still receive the $58 million in federal funds that were supposed to support them. The state cut off the city's access to those funds last month, arguing that Bloomberg's failure to reach a deal with the teachers union on evaluations of teachers made the city ineligible for them. But today Bloomberg argued that the city could still get the federal support without a deal. His plan is to change the city's approach to overhauling those schools, using the "turnaround" model. That model requires that at least 50 percent of a school's teachers be removed. "We believe that when we take this action, we will have fulfilled the state's requirements and the schools will be eligible for the $58 million in funding," he is set to say. The city had originally wanted to use the turnaround model, one of four federally mandated options, to overhaul the 33 schools. But it turned to backup models, "transformation" and "restart," because the union would not agree. Today, Bloomberg says he believes the union's current contract permits turnaround, according to his prepared remarks. In a telephone call before the address, a union official said immediately that that was not the case, auguring a fight that could drag on or even wind up in court.
January 10, 2012
Cuomo says state's teacher evaluation law was "destined to fail"
Gov. Andrew Cuomo turned up his rhetoric against teachers unions today, charging that their influence made the state's teacher evaluation law "destined to fail." Cuomo was responding to the Obama administration's warning that New York could lose hundreds of millions of federal dollars if it does not speed up reforms that include overhauling how teachers are rated. In 2010, with the deadline to apply for federal Race to the Top funds looming, legislators passed a law requiring districts to negotiate more sophisticated evaluations. That law was key to helping the state secure $700 million in the funding competition, and it is that law that the Obama administration now wants to see in effect. But a requirement that districts negotiate some details with their local unions has hampered implementation, including in New York City. Speaking several days after negotiations in several districts fell apart, Cuomo said in his State of the State address last week that the state's teacher evaluation law "didn't work." Today, he took that characterization even further, suggesting that legislators had been excessively influenced by teachers unions and arguing that a different law is needed.
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