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Future of Teaching
Examining the divisive push to rate, reward, improve, and remove teachers
December 12, 2012
Facing own teacher eval deadline, charter schools just say no
wallyg via flickr At the same time as the State Education Department is publicly pressuring school districts to adopt new teacher evaluations by next month, it's also quietly demanding that charter schools turn in their teachers’ ratings from last year. Charter school advocates are urging most school leaders to ignore the demand, even though state officials have said it's needed in order to fulfill its Race to the Top plan. The advocates say the demand would be hard to fulfill and impinges on charter schools’ autonomy. The standoff has its roots in the state’s 2010 application for federal Race to the Top funds. In its application to the U.S. Department of Education for funding, New York State said it would require schools to rate teachers according to specific guidelines and would collect ratings for all teachers, even in charter schools. Some charter schools committed to sharing their teacher ratings at the time in order to receive some of the state’s $700 million in winnings. But two thirds did not — and the state wants their teacher ratings too, according to a series of updated guidance memos that officials have issued over the last 18 months. City and state charter school advocates have pushed back against the demands throughout that time. “Both the New York City Charter School Center and the New York Charter Schools Association believe that this reporting requirement does not properly apply to non-Race to the Top charter schools,” Charter Center CEO James Merriman and NYCSA President Bill Phillips wrote in a strongly worded email to school leaders last month. They added, “Ultimately, it is up to you whether you choose to report this data.” So far, few school leaders have made that choice. By the original submission deadline Nov. 30, just 30 of 184 charter schools in the state had handed over teacher ratings from last year.
December 10, 2012
Some teachers to get a sneak peek of new evaluations this week
A screenshot from one school's ARIS "Community Space" shows that teachers were able to download "growth scores" for their colleagues last week. Teachers in tested grades and subjects are set to receive last year's growth scores, which will factor into new evaluations, this week. About one in five city teachers will get a sneak peek on Tuesday about how they might be rated under a new evaluation system. That's when the city Department of Education will be sharing the state's "growth scores" with teachers for whom a score was generated. The scores reflect how well a teacher's students performed on state math and reading exams last year compared to other students like them and, according to state law, must eventually constitute 25 percent of annual evaluations for teachers who work in tested grades and subjects. In New York City, about 17 percent of teachers teach fourth or fifth grade or English or math in middle school. They will get their growth score for the 2011-2012 school year Tuesday evening in their Department of Education email, department officials said. The department has had the information since the end of the summer, state education officials said at a briefing for reporters last month. Principals got the reports last week and are expected to use the scores to help teachers at their school improve, according to Connie Pankratz, a department spokeswoman. But teachers are supposed to get access only to their own scores.
December 10, 2012
Survey of students about student surveys yields mixed opinions
Students from LaGuardia High School gathered at the Sloan awards ceremony to support their teacher, Neal Singh. Student opinion surveys seem unlikely to play a role in the city's teacher evaluation system, even as research suggests that they can provide valuable information. The city Department of Education piloted student surveys as part of its preparation for new teacher evaluations, and the head of the state’s teachers union says student feedback could be useful in helping to rate teachers. But city union officials say they are staunchly opposed to incorporating student feedback in teacher evaluations because the information could be skewed and could encourage teachers to put student approval ahead of student learning. But what do students think about what they can contribute to teacher evaluations? The students GothamSchools surveyed last week at a reception for award-winning math and science teachers had mixed opinions about whether their peers could accurately judge the quality of their teachers. Should student survey results factor into teacher evaluations? "I think some students would be negative because they have anger against a certain teacher, so when it comes time, they might put bad stuff. But at the same time, as students, we are able to look at what teachers are able to bring to the table in terms of skills and personalities." —Raymond John, senior at Gotham Professional Arts Academy
December 6, 2012
In evaluation talks, some not-quite-sticking points remain open
For months, city and union officials have been expressing optimism about reaching a deal on new teacher evaluations by a state deadline in January — with some road bumps, of course. But what is keeping the two sides from reaching an agreement has not been clear. That has started to change in the last week, as Department of Education officials have spoken publicly on multiple occasions about sticky issues that are still being worked out. The issues include how often observations should take place, what the observations should focus on, and when to schedule hearings of teachers who want to appeal low ratings. Union officials have declined to comment on open issues, saying that they did not want to discuss negotiations while they are ongoing. But a top official said that no issue would be considered fully closed until the entire evaluation system is set. David Weiner, the deputy chancellor in charge of teacher quality, stressed that the issues were "not sticking points" when he spoke with teachers at an event last week hosted by the advocacy group Educators 4 Excellence, which supports new evaluations. Department officials made the same assurance Wednesday morning after a panel discussion about teacher evaluations held at the Manhattan Institute, the politically conservative think thank. Instead, they said, the issues are simply very complicated to resolve.
December 5, 2012
Walcott outlines cuts that could take place without an eval deal
If the city and its teachers union do not agree soon on new teacher evaluations, class sizes will likely rise, teacher training suffer, after-school activities be eliminated, and guidance counselors cut, Chancellor Dennis Walcott predicted this morning. Walcott spelled out the doomsday scenario during a brief talk about teacher evaluations at the Manhattan Institute this morning. He said he had called UFT President Michael Mulgrew — at 7:50 a.m. today — to say he wanted to conclude negotiations by Dec. 21, or two weeks from Friday and the last regular workday before Christmas. Reaching an agreement by Dec. 21 would give state education officials, who have expressed increasing anxiety about the city's timeline, nearly a month to review the plan and request any necessary adjustments before a deadline that Gov. Andrew Cuomo set last January. State education law requires that districts adopt new evaluation systems when they next negotiate contracts with their teachers unions. But Cuomo vowed to withhold increases in state school aid from districts that do not have evaluation systems in place by Jan. 17, 2013. In a statement, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said there was no need to commit to a Dec. 21 agreement and said politics were again impeding the union's good-faith effort to negotiate new evaluations.
November 28, 2012
Student surveys seen as unlikely evaluations element, for now
Inspired by a 2010 study that found that students’ feedback about their teachers helped predict how well the teachers' students performed on state tests, New York City asked some schools last year to test out a student survey that could become part of new teacher evaluations. But if the city and its teachers union agree on a new evaluation system this year, student surveys are unlikely to play a role, according to people on both sides of the negotiating table. The Gates Foundation-funded Measures of Effective Teaching study found that student feedback and teacher observations combined were more closely correlated with teacher effectiveness than observations alone, or any number of other attributes of teachers. The city participated in that study and adapted the survey used in it, called Tripod, for use last year in 10 of the 108 schools in the Teacher Effectiveness Pilot, meant to test possible components of overhauled teacher evaluations. Under the state’s new evaluation law, 60 percent of teachers’ ratings must come from subjective measures such as principal observations and peer reviews. The State Education Department has said student surveys can play a role, too, if districts and their unions agree. The head of the state’s teachers union says student feedback could be a useful element of evaluations. But city union officials say they are staunchly opposed to incorporating student feedback in teacher evaluations.
November 28, 2012
Even if deal on teacher evals is reached, logistical matters loom
Negotiations between the city and teachers union over new teacher evaluations appear likely to come down to the wire yet again. Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he would withdraw increased state aid from any district that does not negotiate a teacher evaluation system with its union by Jan. 17, 2013. As the deadline nears, state education officials have said repeatedly that they need weeks to review systems that are submitted for approval. Districts should submit plans by the first week of December, they have urged. Most districts have responded to the urgency. About 85 percent of New York State's 700 school districts have turned in at least the first draft of required teacher evaluation plans, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said today. In New York City, where $300 million in state aid is at stake this year, city officials say they feel confident that they will reach a deal before Cuomo's deadline, and union leaders say constructive discussions are back on track after a nearly monthlong hiatus following Hurricane Sandy. But both said there is significant ground yet to cover. Comparing the introduction of new teacher evaluations to a 26.2-mile marathon, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said on Tuesday, "We're at mile five, and our goal is to make this a long-distance run."
November 19, 2012
Parents rally at City Hall, but their protest is directed elsewhere
Keoni Wright, an East New York parent, speaks on Saturday at a StudentsFirstNY backing new teacher evaluations. The scene was familiar, but the rallying cries and signs were a departure. More than 100 parents and organizers from StudentsFirstNY filled the steps of City Hall on Saturday to demand that the teachers union cooperate with the city on an evaluation deal before a deadline that could cost the city $300 million in state aid. "What do we want?" shouted Darlene Boston, who has been working to organize parents in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn to support StudentsFirstNY's policy agenda. "Great teachers!" they replied. "When do we want them?" Boston shouted back. "Now!" they said. When education advocates protest outside City Hall, it is usually with an ensemble of union leaders, City Council members, and other elected officials. And more often than not, they are criticizing policies favored by Mayor Bloomberg, the man who governs the city from the building behind them. But no elected officials showed up at Saturday's rally — and organizers said none was invited. Parents came mostly from neighborhoods in Central Brooklyn and Harlem, areas where StudentsFirstNY is trying to build a base. And while the mayor's name was not uttered, it was clear that he was not the target of their protest. The target was the continuing lack of new teacher evaluations in New York City, which StudentsFirstNY and Bloomberg have blamed on the United Federation of Teachers.
November 19, 2012
Johnston: SB191 delay not needed
Rollout of Colorado’s educator evaluation system doesn’t need to be pushed back says Sen. Mike Johnston, despite rumblings to the contrary.
November 14, 2012
City's Race to the Top-District bid centered on iZone expansion
Students at Brooklyn's Olympus Academy, a transfer high school, use online learning to move ahead at their own pace. The city is asking the U.S. Department of Education for funds to support additional efforts to "personalize education." Pitting itself against school districts across the country, the city has asked the U.S. Department of Education for $40 million to expand and augment its existing education technology programs. The city's biggest commitment in its application for Race to the Top-District, which city education officials filed last week, is to add as many as 100 schools to its three-year-old “Innovation Zone.” The application also promises to build innovative schools from the ground up and train teachers on how to use technology to improve instruction. Race to the Top-District is the latest effort by the Obama administration to entice state and local education officials to adopt its preferred policies. In the first Race to the Top grant competition, in 2010, New York State netted $700 million to overhaul teacher evaluations, add more charter schools, bulk up teacher preparation programs, and develop a statewide data system. Last year, the state fell short in its bid to win Race to the Top funds earmarked just for early childhood education. The current round — the first open to individual districts — is focused on "personalized education." City Department of Education officials say the Innovation Zone, which this year contains nearly 250 schools, makes the department uniquely positioned to turn federal funds into higher student achievement. "It’s something that we’ve been doing for three years," said David Weiner, the Department of Education deputy chancellor in charge of innovation. "We really believe that that puts us in a great place to capitalize on what we’ve learned."
October 25, 2012
In 90 minutes, Tisch took on readiness gap, test objectors, TFA
Learning Matters' John Merrow and New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch (Photo: Nancy Adler) The city's very low college and career readiness rate for black and Hispanic students is a statistic usually cited by advocates seeking to discredit the Bloomberg administration's education record. But when asked to measure the true value of a high school diploma in New York City Wednesday night by education reporter John Merrow, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch turned to the familiar statistic to convey her concerns. "That, to me, is tragic," Tisch said, after rattling off the numbers. Merrow pressed her to account for the disparity between the city's graduation rate, which is over 60 percent, and its low college-readiness rates. "Why isn't this fraud?" he asked. "I didn't say it wasn't," Tisch said. The exchange was part of a 90-minute public dialogue in which Tisch also criticized families who opt out of state tests, set firm limits about the city's request to certify teachers, and proclaimed that the city and its teachers union would reach a teacher evaluation deal before Gov. Andrew Cuomo's mid-January deadline.
October 16, 2012
City officials to ed commission: standards rollout needs funds
Chancellor Dennis Walcott and UFT president Michael Mulgrew talk at the education commission. The city and other school districts desperately need additional funding if they are to raise academic standards, Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky said today. Even though the city has done more to integrate new learning standards known as the Common Core than other districts and states, it cannot adequately train staff or buy the materials it needs with the resources it currently has, he said. "We are bound to fall short if we raise the standards without investing in the support that educators need to meet this challenge," he told the commission, according to his written statement. The call for additional funding was one of three priorities that Polakow-Suransky outlined before Gov. Andrew Cuomo's education reform commission today. The funding, he said, would be necessary to to purchase new books, software and other learning tools aligned to the Core, and help schools hire coaches to train teachers in the implementation of the Core. He also said the city needed more funds to develop a key piece of the new teacher evaluation system, rigorous assessments developed by the city for each grade level and subject area that would factor into teachers' evaluations on top of many other criteria. "As these assessments become more authentic there are real costs that come along with them," Polakow-Suransky said. "None of this is funded." Polakow-Suransky was offering a solution to a problem that United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew told the commission had already arrived. Mulgrew said the Common Core rollout has already been hindered by the lack of robust materials aligned to the new standards that teachers can use in classrooms now.
October 9, 2012
A leading teacher of teachers says feedback should be used fast
Good teachers are not born; they're made slowly, over time, through sustained and deliberate practice. That's the theory behind "Practice Perfect," the new e-book by Doug Lemov, managing director of the Uncommon Schools network of charter schools and author of "Teach Like a Champion," a 2010 book with 49 concrete strategies for improving student engagement and classroom management. (GothamSchools' Elizabeth Green wrote about Lemov and his approach in a 2010 New York Times Magazine story.) "Practice Perfect" aims to provide similarly user-friendly ideas — 42 of them — for attaining incremental improvement. Lemov and his co-authors, two of Uncommon Schools' top educators, say the strategies would be useful in any field — but they are particularly apropos for teachers, whose performance carries high stakes for their students and, increasingly, for themselves. The city's current teacher evaluation system lets educators know whether they are considered satisfactory, but it doesn't tell them about their strengths and weaknesses in the classroom, or how to build on them. The city is piloting an observation model now that would give teachers more feedback about their performance. But feedback is meaningless if it does not change practice. In an exclusive excerpt from "Practice Perfect" in the Community section today, Lemov outlines ways to make feedback more useful. He describes testing out a teacher observation protocol in which teachers received one item of praise and one suggestion for improvement immediately after delivering a three-minute lesson — and then were required to repeat the lesson incorporating the feedback right away. Lemov writes: One benefit of this structure was its implicit accountability: it was hard for teachers to ignore the feedback. For one thing, it was public. Six or seven people had heard them get it; they were explicitly asked to try it just a minute later. It would be egregious not to try it at all.
September 17, 2012
On teacher quality, city has so far fulfilled few of last year's vows
Chancellor Dennis Walcott made several policy promises during a May 2012 speech to ABNY. In the 2011-2012 school year, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott vowed to push forward an array of policy changes — from the way teachers are hired and fired to the ways schools prepare boys of color for graduation and college. So how did they do? We've rounded up all of last year's policy promises and checked up on the city's progress on each. Today, we’re looking at proposals to bolster teacher quality, a longtime pet issue for the Bloomberg administration. We found that the city has fulfilled one promise completely, to create a new Teaching Fellows program just for middle schools, but several others fell off the radar or were pushed to the margins by ongoing negotiations over new teacher evaluations. Each promise is in bold, followed by an explanation of how far the city has come toward meeting it. In future posts, we'll tally the city's progress on creating new schools, engaging parents, helping high-needs students, and improving middle schools. The city will adopt new teacher evaluations that adhere to the state’s new evaluation law. (When: Many times) Anyone who hasn't been living under a rock should know the answer: not yet, despite one close call and a helping hand from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. City and union officials are meeting regularly to negotiate an evaluation deal, this time in hopes of meeting the state's January deadline. They say they are "optimistic" and "hopeful" they'll reach an agreement in time to qualify for state funds. Teachers with top ratings on teacher evaluations will get a $20,000 pay raise. (Bloomberg's State of the City speech, January 2012) The city still has not adopted new teacher evaluations, so the proposal is moot. But the teachers union, a longtime opponent of individual merit pay, quickly passed a resolution opposing it, so its future prospects are not bright. The city will repay up to $25,000 in student loans of teachers who are in the top of their college classes. (State of the City)
September 14, 2012
City bolstering ATR evaluation process, but challenges remain
A year after starting to rotate teachers without permanent positions into different empty slots weekly, the Department of Education has settled on a way to evaluate them. But the plan, hiring administrators to observe and coach the teachers in multiple placements, could be stymied if the department cannot find enough available evaluators who are up to the task. Last year, when the city launched the rotation system for members of the Absent Teacher Reserve, it left up in the air the question of who would be responsible for evaluating them. Previously, ATRs were typically assigned to one school for the entire year, so principals could rate them as they did any other teacher on staff. For almost all of the roughly 830 teachers in the pool at the end of last year, district superintendents ended up issuing the annual ratings with input from potentially dozens of principals who supervised each teacher — in most cases, without conducting the formal observations that teachers are required to receive each year. But in Brooklyn, which had about 250 ATRs last year, the city took a different approach. It interviewed and selected five administrators who had also lost their positions to budget cuts or school closures to visit the teachers in their classrooms and give them feedback about their performance.
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