explainer

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.

The 20 percent of ratings that are supposed to come from local assessments had been the most obvious point of contention between SED and NYSUT. Last year, NYSUT sued the state after Cuomo pressed the Board of Regents to double the weight of student test scores in teachers’ evaluations. Today’s agreement does allow districts to use state test scores for the local assessments — as long as their calculation of student growth isn’t based on the same formula as the state’s.

For example, districts could crunch the state’s numbers to show the growth of students in high-needs groups, or they could calculate an entire school’s test score climb to complement that of a single teacher’s students. Districts can also elect to use assessments produced by third-party vendors or create their own assessments, something the city had been working on when teacher evaluation negotiations fell apart at the end of December. Today’s agreement gives the state the right to vet the rigor of local assessments.

Richard Iannuzzi, NYSUT’s president, said the agreement announced today adequately constrained the role of test scores.

“While there is a place for standardized testing in measuring teacher effectiveness, tests must be used appropriately,” he said in a statement.

The agreement also clarifies the role of observations in a teacher’s rating. Previously, the evaluation law didn’t actually say that teachers would have to be observed as part of the evaluation process. The new framework guarantees that at least 31 percent of the ratings is based on at least two observations by principals. One of those observations must be unannounced, something that teachers unions have long opposed.

The agreement also bolsters the role of the state education commissioner. Now, the commissioner will have the right to reject local evaluation systems on grounds other than whether they simply comply with the state law. Systems that appear to crafted outside the spirit of the law — to make evidence of student growth a crucial component of teacher ratings — are also subject to rejection.

And the commissioner is also getting the right to evaluate teachers if he or she suspects their districts are not doing a good job.   The provision is meant as a safeguard against the current reality, in which virtually all teachers across the state receive “satisfactory” ratings each year even as student achievement results suggest that schools have a great deal of room to improve. State officials said they had no goals for the number of teachers who receive low ratings under the new system and did not anticipate stepping in to issue new evaluations for individual teachers in most cases.

Today’s agreement represents a substantial narrowing of the world of possibilities under the state’s evaluation law. But much of what will actually make up teachers’ ratings remains up to negotiation between local districts and their unions. Both the local assessments and the subjective measures other than observations must be bargained. Negotiations will direct what observation model principals when watching teachers in their classrooms. And, of course, districts and their unions will have to agree on the appeals process for teachers who get low ratings. That element had been the sticking point in New York City, and a separate deal on that front announced today won’t go into effect until all of the other pieces fall into place.

For the hundreds of school districts across the state that had actually come to an agreement on new teacher evaluations, the framework is sending them back to the negotiating table. Their deals will remain in place for the remainder of this school year, but next year they will have to set new evaluation systems that match the state’s updated framework.

breaking

Indianapolis Public Schools teachers union president out after alleged mishandling of more than $100,000

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Rhondalyn Cornett, center, at a 2017 IPS board meeting. Cornett resigned under pressure from the state teachers union.

The president of Indianapolis Public Schools’ teachers union has resigned under pressure after an investigation indicated she had mishandled more than $100,000 over several years, the state’s largest teachers union announced Saturday.

The Indiana State Teachers Association investigation came after a member of the district union filed a complaint with the state union in June over how Rhondalyn Cornett operated the group. An audit completed this week “indicates serious financial mismanagement and misappropriation,” a statement from an ISTA spokeswoman said.

ISTA’s investigation discovered that Cornett had used her IEA debit card to withdraw about $100,000 in cash for personal use, spokeswoman Kim Clements-Johnson said. She said there were also additional debit card transactions that could not be accounted for, but she declined to elaborate on the amount of those expenses. The money in question has not been recovered, Clements-Johnson said.

In a text message, Cornett said she had no comment.

Cornett was asked to resign and did so effective Thursday, the statement said. Ronald Swann, the district union’s vice president, is now president, and helped lead the investigation and audit, the statement said.

“Because of the IEA president’s failure to meet her obligations toward sound financial management of members’ dues dollars, she has complied with a demand that she resign,” the statement said. “New local leadership has assumed control and are prepared to deal with the issue and move the Association forward in a positive direction.”

ISTA has taken control of the district union’s finances and will continue to manage them for the next two years. The statement said ISTA has also filed an insurance claim to possibly get back dues money for union members. The state union said it might also consider legal action.

The state union reported the mismanagement to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s Organized Crime Section. It is not yet clear if any crimes have been committed, the statement said.

Cornett has been a teacher in Indianapolis Public Schools since 1994. She has been president of IEA since 2013, and she was reelected last spring.

IEA is a local association affiliated with the statewide union, which is Indiana’s branch of the National Education Association. The Indianapolis Public Schools’ teachers union represents about 900 members, according to a state report. That’s just under half the educators in the bargaining unit.

The IPS union, in addition to the statewide union, has often pushed back against some of the rapid changes in Indianapolis Public Schools, including the district’s partnerships with outside charter or nonprofit operators to run what are known as innovation schools. While those schools still fall under the district’s umbrella, its teachers are employed by the operators, rather then the district, so they are not able to join the district’s union.

Earlier this week, the teachers unions won a political victory at the ballot box. Two candidates who were endorsed by the political arms of the state and local teachers unions won seats in the Indianapolis Public Schools board. The candidates ousted two school-choice friendly incumbents with the help of the IPS Community Coalition, a group of community advocates critical of the district administration that has received funding from the NEA.

Charter Dispute

As León pushes for changes, some charters consider leaving Newark’s unified enrollment system

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Newark students arriving at a district school on the first day of class.

Newark families could have a harder time applying to certain schools this year if changes sought by the district’s new superintendent spur some charter schools to pull out of the city’s common enrollment system, charter advocates say.

Superintendent Roger León is pushing for the system to no longer assign schools extra students to offset attrition over the summer, according to people briefed on negotiations over the enrollment system. The practice, known as “overmatching,” helps both district and charter schools plan for the coming year, but it also ensures that charter schools fill their seats — something León appears less willing to help with than his charter-friendly predecessors.

The dispute means that district and charter leaders are still hashing out rules for the five-year-old common enrollment system just weeks before applications are due to open. Now, some charter schools are considering withdrawing entirely — potentially triggering a return to the fragmented application process families faced before universal enrollment launched in 2013, charter proponents say.

“Realistically, it’s possible that could happen,” said one of the people briefed on the talks who, like the others, asked to remain anonymous while negotiations continue. “We’re really late in the game right now.”

The dustup marks another instance where León appears eager to roll back his predecessors’ policies — even if it means moving quickly, before all the potential consequences are known.

On the first day of classes, he told principals he was eliminating extra hours for struggling schools, forcing them to scramble to reset their schedules. And before even taking office on July 1, he pushed out dozens of top officials — a move the school board, which was not consulted in advance, partially blocked.

One of those officials was the district’s head of enrollment, Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon. She oversaw the universal enrollment system, called “Newark Enrolls,” which lets families apply to most of the city’s traditional, magnet, and charter schools using a single application. After a chaotic launch that outraged many parents, the system today gets high marks on user surveys. Yet it remains controversial among critics of charter schools who view it little more than a ploy to funnel students into the privately managed schools.

One feature of the system is that it assigns schools — both charter and district — more students than they have space for. This “overmatching” is done to account for the attrition that occurs each year as some students leave the city or decamp to private or county schools. A former district official estimated that most schools lose between 5 to 20 percent of their assigned students that way.

Now, overmatching has become a sticking point in the negotiations, according to those with knowledge of the talks, as León has proposed ending the practice.

It is unclear why, and the district did not make León available for an interview. One possibility is that doing so might appease critics without dismantling common enrollment, which León has said he wants to keep.

But some people in the charter sector believe the superintendent, wanting to retain as many students as possible in the district, is loath to send charters extra students. That prospect has alarmed some charter school operators who fear they could end up with unfilled seats and reduced budgets, as school funding is based on enrollment.

To illustrate how overmatching works, a person connected to the charter-school sector gave an example of a high school with 100 available ninth-grade seats. In the past, the enrollment system might assign the school 115 students based on the assumption that roughly 15 students would not end up attending. If the system only matched 100 students to the school, then it could be left with 15 open seats.

“At an independent charter school, when those 15 students don’t show up, there’s no money coming from anywhere else to adjust their budget,” the person said. “That could put them out of business.”

If the district stops sending charter schools extra students, those schools are likely to start admitting more students from their waitlists. If that happens, district schools may suddenly lose students who were on their rosters. They would then have openings that are likely to be filled by students who arrive midyear, who are often some of the most challenging students to serve.

“District principals hate losing kids to charter waitlists,” the former district official said. “It creates a lot of instability.”

León met with charter-school representatives Thursday, but no final agreement was reached. Even if the two sides work out a compromise, the district’s board of education and each of the boards overseeing the participating charter schools must still vote on the plan.

They have limited time to do that without disrupting the normal admissions cycle. Typically, families can start applying to schools for the following year in the first week of December.

Newark Public Schools spokeswoman Tracy Munford said enrollment would start at the same time this year even though the district-charter enrollment agreement has not been finalized.

“This is in progress and we look forward to it being completed soon,” she said in an email.

Meanwhile, some charter school leaders have discussed the possibility of forming a separate charter-only enrollment system if they decide to withdraw from Newark Enrolls. The heads of smaller charter-school organizations are most concerned about the proposed changes, according to a person familiar with their thinking.

Last school year, 13 of the city’s 19 charter school operators participated in the joint enrollment system. (The others each handled their own admissions.) Most families who used Newark Enrolls were matched with one of the top three choices on their applications — 94 percent who applied to kindergarten got a top pick, as did 70 percent who applied to ninth-grade.

Assigning schools more students than they have space for allows additional students to be matched with high-demand schools, said Jesse Margolis, an education researcher who has studied Newark’s enrollment system. The schools end up with roughly the right number of students because some of those on their rosters never show up. And students who would have been assigned to a less popular school if the system hadn’t overmatched instead get to attend one at the top of their list.

“Overmatching is a way of helping kids get their preferences,” said Margolis, who co-wrote a favorable report about Newark Enrolls commissioned by the district’s previous superintendent, Christopher Cerf. “And it helps schools have stable, predictable enrollments.”

Correction: This story has been updated to remove an inaccurate explanation for why some charter schools are more wary of a change to enrollment rules than others.