New York

Citing "abuses," teachers union says it is wearying on eval talks

The teachers union is threatening to curb its efforts toward new teacher evaluations if the Department of Education doesn't remind principals again that the old evaluation system is still in place. The threat comes at the end of an angry letter sent by UFT Secretary Michael Mendel sent to the DOE yesterday. In the letter, Mendel says that UFT members report some principals are preparing to use the Danielson Framework, an evaluation model that the DOE favors, to rate teachers — even though the union hasn't agreed to the change. City officials dispute the charge, saying that Danielson is being used only in ways that the union has approved: in most schools, to give teachers information to help them improve. The model is being used to rate teachers only in 33 "persistently low-achieving" schools where the city and UFT agreed to new evaluations in order to land federal school improvement funds, the officials say. But despite a joint reminder from the UFT, DOE, and principals union last month, the union is charging that some principals still haven't gotten the message that the Danielson rubric shouldn't be used to rate teachers. At a meeting for members of the UFT's governing body last night, UFT officials said they had obtained documents showing that some networks, the groups that support principals, had devised evaluation checklists based on Danielson's criteria, according to a union member who was there. The officials did not share the documents, the union member said. Mendel told GothamSchools that teachers have reported getting official reprimands based on Danielson-influenced observations and that many administrators do not seem to have had adequate training before starting to test the new model. Mendel said the union won't break state law and pull out of negotiations altogether. But he said confusion and the sense that some principals are pushing Danielson prematurely have made the union less willing to collaborate with the DOE.

Some thoughts on teacher effectiveness

I finished Steven Brill’s popular (infamous?) book about the school reform drama, “Class Struggle,” about a month ago.  No, I don’t plan on offering my take on the narrative.  Enough bytes have already been expended on that.  But even though I finished it and have read several other books since, one small, virtually inconsequential paragraph continues to resonate with me. Brill describes a major frustration Eva Moskowitz, the brilliant creator of the Success Charter Network in NYC, experienced as a student at Stuyvesant High School: Stuyvesant is New York’s star high school, from which an outsize portion of students, like Moskowiz, cruise into the Ivy League.  But to Moskowitz, many, if not most, of the teachers were anything but stars.  She thought half of the teachers were incompetent and vividly remembers math and science classes where “the students, who were all gifted, literally carried the class.  The teachers were cruising on the students’ talent,” she says.  “I remember one of the kids taught the rest of us physics, while the teacher sat there drunk . . . It was easy to be a teacher there.” This stuck with me because, as a Stuyvesant alum myself (who did not go onto the Ivy Leagues), I totally agree.  I don’t think any of my teachers were drunk in class, but my high school memories are also littered with teacher experiences that demonstrate either severe incompetence or gross neglect.  Either way, I can’t think of any way to justify why these individuals were allowed to be instructing in any classroom.
New York

P.S. 40 teachers prep for tougher evaluations by simulating them

Chancellor Dennis Walcott with PS 40 teachers during a training session. Teachers at Manhattan's P.S. 40 played students this morning, engaging in role plays, "turn-and-talks," and "sharebacks" to learn about the new way they will be evaluated this year. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott joined the teachers for a training session about Charlotte Danielson's "Framework for Teaching," the teacher evaluation model that principals are supposed to start using this year. Without an agreement between the city and teachers union on new teacher evaluation rules, teachers will still be judged as "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" at the end of the year. But the city has instructed principals to follow Danielson's framework — which divides teachers into four categories, from "highly effective" down to "ineffective" — when they conduct observations throughout the year, in conjunction with the rollout of new "common core" curriculum standards. “We’ve worked out some pieces with the UFT around the evaluation, but right now, my goal is to make sure we're having the training take place around the Common Core,” Walcott said. A group of five P.S. 40 teachers acted out a scripted classroom scene, with one “teacher” pushing her “students” to think critically about a nonfiction reading on Polynesian settlement in Hawaii. Walcott and the rest of the staff watched on and consulted yellow photocopied evaluation rubrics to see if the “teacher” should be judged highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective.
New York

Tripping on city's spring break, state moves test dates earlier

Two years after sending state tests to the end of the school year, the state is moving them earlier again, but its motives for doing so – to move forward on teacher evaluation plans – hit a road block today. The 2011-2012 school year testing schedule published by the State Education Department this week has state tests for students in grades 3 through 8 starting April 16 and being graded by May 3. Last year, the tests began May 3, and scoring didn't end until May 26. The new dates might not be set in stone, because April 16 is the first day that students in New York City and many other school districts return from spring break. But the test scores will definitely be available earlier next year, state officials promised. The earlier timing is necessary for state to put new teacher evaluation requirements in place, Commissioner of Education John King told district superintendents in a letter, sent Monday, that implored them not to be distracted by policy debates. The evaluation plan sets at least 20 percent of a teacher's rating to be based on student test scores, but local districts still need to negotiate with unions if it wants more, according to a court ruling today. Two years ago, the state moved test dates from January and March until May in part to make it possible to attribute a student's performance to his teacher that year. A side effect is that scores came out later — this year, not until mid-August. That timeline meant that had the evaluation plan been online, teacher ratings couldn't have been completed. It also meant that for the second straight year, the city had to send students to summer school based on predicted scores, which were sometimes wrong.
New York

Mulgrew says he wants time before striking full evaluations deal

Today's partial teacher evaluation deal shows that the city and teachers union can reach an understanding on one of the thorniest issues they face right now. That's good, because they have more negotiating to do. Today's agreement applies only to the 33 schools that are set to receive federal funding to help them improve, not to the nearly 1,500 other schools operated by the city Department of Education. The city and union haven't even started discussing how evaluations should be done in those schools, according to UFT President Michael Mulgrew. Federal authorities didn't require any teacher evaluation commitments, but the State Education Department told the city in May it wouldn't forward the city's application for improvement funds without a teacher evaluation plan. At the time, city officials accused the state of trying to "change the ground rules" by using the $65 million in federal funds as a carrot to get them talking about evaluations. But ultimately the worry of missing out on the windfall in a tight budget year propelled the city and union to follow the state's instructions. In the course of hammering out a limited agreement, the city and union established that teachers have the right to a meeting with their principal to discuss the observations. That had been a sticking point in negotiations this spring. "We have all come to an understanding that it is important to have a verbal discussion, especially if it will help them help children," UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.