lucky 13 (updated)

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.

In an interview today, Mulgrew said he was content with winning the 13 percent figure, which he said was based on the proportion of “unsatisfactory” ratings that were overturned before Bloomberg took office. In a statement, he called the deal “the kind of independent, third party component that the UFT has been seeking.”

This afternoon, city officials offered more details on the agreement, which won’t go into effect until the union and city officially settle on a complete evaluation system. Today, Mulgrew repeatedly indicated that he would not cooperate with the city further on negotiations if they continue to move forward on plans to close and reopen 33 schools.

“I will put every legal remedy on the table and we will do everything in our power,” he told GothamSchools today.

Under the agreement, the union has the option to challenge and refer 13 percent of first-year ineffective ratings to a panel of third-party reviewers. City lawyers said the union would be limited to teachers whose low rating might have stemmed from “harassment” by their principal.

Another set of third-party reviewers, called “validators,” will be assigned to all teachers whose first ineffective ratings are upheld. A “teacher improvement plan” will be created for the teachers and the validators will monitor them over the course of the second school year.

Whether the validators’ assessment of each teacher’s performance matches the principal’s will be crucial if the teacher receives a second low rating. Currently, to the city’s chagrin, the burden of proof in 3020-a termination proceedings is on the city, meaning that lawyers must convince a third party that a teacher is incompetent and should be fired. Under the new agreement, the city will still bear the burden of proof if the validator doesn’t agree with the city’s rating. But if a validator has supported the principal’s low rating, the teacher will have to prove she is not incompetent in order to keep her job — stripping her of a protection the city says has made it nearly impossible to fire weak teachers.

The validator role is modeled after a similar position in New Haven, Conn., where the teacher evaluation system has been cited as a model. UFT Secretary Michael Mendel said tonight that the emergence of the role in negotiations was key to bringing together the agreement.

“The independent validator we believe was a huge win for our members,” Mendel said.

City officials envision that the validator positions would be filled by “master teachers” and experienced evaluators who would be hired as vendors working with the Department of Education. Although city officials said they would like to work with the union to pick the vendors jointly, they added that the UFT would not have the final say. That decision would be made by the State Education Department.

“It’s the only thing we can do to ensure fairness,” Mulgrew said of the need for the independent evaluators.

the aftermath

What educators, parents, and students are grappling with in the wake of America’s latest school shooting

Kristi Gilroy (right) hugs a young woman at a police check point near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed by a gunman in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

It’s hard to know where to start on days like this.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead on Wednesday has elicited both terror and anger — and raised debates that are far from settled about how to keep American students safe.

Here are a few storylines we noticed as the country again grapples with a tragic school shooting:

1. You’re not wrong to think it: There have been a lot of mass shootings, and many recent ones have been especially deadly.

Data on school shootings specifically, though, is notoriously murky. As the Atlantic recently noted, varying definitions can contribute to either “sensationalizing or oversimplifying a modern trend of mass violence in America that is seemingly becoming more entrenched.”

But by NBC News’ count, 20 people have been killed and more than 30 have been injured in school shootings this year. That’s a lot — and more news organizations are now trying to keep a careful tally.

2. The consequences of traumatic events like the shooting at Stoneman Douglas are likely to be felt for some time.

A number of studies have found that violent and traumatic events in and outside of school do real damage to student learning, as we’ve reported — particularly among students who are already struggling. Here are some resources for teachers who need to talk to their students about trauma.

3. The tragedy is already renewing debates over whether or how to arm teachers.

Education Week gathered some of those calls from politicians Thursday. “Gun-safety advocates say that teachers can’t safely and quickly move from the mindset of teaching to being asked to fire a gun at an active shooter,” the story also notes.

This doesn’t even get at the debate about whether anyone should have access to the kind of gun the shooter used. Students from the district, for their part, told Broward schools chief Robert Runcie Thursday “that the time is due for a conversation on sensible gun control,” the Miami Herald reported.

Whether other technology and infrastructure can help keep students safe is a topic of ongoing discussion in communities across the country. Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill to help schools buy communications systems that would allow them to talk directly to police and other emergency responders. Officials from districts that already use this equipment described them as a way to increase safety without “turning our schools into prisons,” even as they also assured lawmakers that the radios were just as useful for serious playground injuries and broken-down buses as for the much rarer active shooter situations.

In Tennessee, one school district near Nashville announced plans to close schools next Monday to review all safety plans with school staff and local law enforcement.

4. In some places, the shooting is unlikely to change the school safety debate at all.

In New York City, for example, conversations about school safety in recent years have revolved around discipline policies and metal detectors (though police have seized an increasing number of weapons from city schools). There’s little appetite there to arm teachers.

5. But all across America, the shooting and others like it have added a frightening tone to what it means to teach and learn in schools today.

“I know you are waking up this morning to a nightmare,” a former educator wrote in a “love letters to teachers” on Teaching Tolerance. “I know you are frustrated, tired and weary of the news. I know you are wearing your coat of bravery today.”

“I’m so, so angry and I’m having a hard time today looking at my students and not thinking about what happens when it’s my school’s turn,” wrote one commenter on the Badass Teachers Association Facebook group.

teacher prep

Three of Tennessee’s largest teacher training programs improve on state report card

PHOTO: Nic Garcia

Three of Tennessee’s 10 largest teacher training programs increased their scores on a state report card that seeks to capture how well new teachers are being prepared for the classroom based on state goals.

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville became the first public university to achieve a top score under the State Board of Education’s new grading system, now in its second year. And Middle Tennessee State University and East Tennessee State University also improved their scores.

But most of Tennessee’s 39 programs scored the same in 2017 as in 2016. Those included the University of Memphis and Austin Peay State University.

And more than 40 percent landed in the bottom tiers, including the state’s largest, Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, along with other sizable ones like the University of Tennessee’s programs in Chattanooga and Martin.

The report card, released on Thursday, is designed to give a snapshot of the effectiveness of the state’s teacher preparation programs, a front-burner issue in Tennessee since a 2016 report said that most of them aren’t adequately equipping teachers to be effective in the classroom. Teacher quality is important because years of research show that teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling.

State officials say the top-tier score by UT-Knoxville is significant — not only because it’s a public school but because it was the state’s sixth largest training program in 2017. “As one of the state’s flagship public institutions, UTK is setting the bar for how to effectively train teachers at scale,” said Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the State Board. She cited the school’s “model internship program” and “close partnerships with local districts.”

In the previous year’s report card, the top scores only went to small nontraditional programs like Memphis Teacher Residency and Teach For America and private universities such as Lipscomb in Nashville and Union in Jackson.

That demographic recently prompted a call to action by Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. He told state lawmakers last month that it’s time to put traditional programs at public institutions under a microscope, especially since those colleges and universities produce 90 percent of the state’s new teachers.

“Sometimes an undue amount of discussion happens around alternative new teacher programs like Teach For America or the New Teacher Project …,” he said. “If we’re going to move the needle (on teacher training), it’s going to happen at the campus of a college or university.”

Tennessee has graded programs that train teachers since 2009 but redesigned its report card in 2016 to provide a clearer picture of their effectiveness for stakeholders ranging from aspiring teachers to hiring principals. The criteria includes a program’s ability to recruit a strong, racially diverse group of teachers-in-training; produce teachers for high-need areas such as special education and secondary math and science; and its candidates’ placement and retention in Tennessee public schools. Another metric is how effective those teachers are in classrooms based on their evaluations, including state test scores that show student growth.

Not everybody is satisfied with the report card’s design, though.

“It’s a real challenge to capture in one report the complexity of preparing our candidates to be teachers, especially when you’re comparing very different programs across the state,” said Lisa Zagumny, dean of the College of Education at Tennessee Tech, which increased its points in 2017 but not enough to improve its overall score.

She said Tech got dinged over student growth scores, but that only a third of its graduates went on to teach in tested subjects. “And yet our observation scores are very high,” added Associate Dean Julie Baker. “We know we’re doing something right because our candidates who go on to teach are being scored very high by their principals.”

Racial diversity is another challenge for Tech, which is located in the Upper Cumberland region. “The diversity we serve is rural, first-generation college students who are typically lower socioeconomically,” said Zagumny.

Tennessee is seeking to recruit a more racially diverse teacher force because of research showing the impact of having teachers who represent the student population they are serving. Of candidates who completed Tennessee’s programs in 2016, only 14 percent were people of color, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population.

Morrison said this year’s report card includes a new “highlights page” in an effort to allow programs to share a narrative about the work they’re doing. 

You can search for schools below, find the new 2017 scores, and compare them with the previous year. A 1 is the lowest performance category and a 4 is the highest. You can sort the list based on performance and size. This is the state’s first report card based on three years of data.