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Last-minute change to evaluations reduces classroom observations

PHOTO: Geoff Decker

The city has agreed to a last-minute change to its teacher evaluation system that could reduce the number of required classroom observations for tens of thousands of teachers this year.

Teachers who have been rated “effective” now have the option to be observed four times, down from six last year, with each visit lasting as little as 15 minutes — an option similar to what’s being offered to “highly effective” teachers this year. The agreement means that many administrators will be required to spend less time in classrooms.

“It gives the principal the choice to limit paperwork, and free up more time to work with teachers who are struggling and less time with effective teachers,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, who formally agreed to the deal on Tuesday.

It’s unclear how many teachers will now have the choice to reduce the number of observations because officials have not yet said how many city teachers received “effective” and “highly effective” ratings last year. But if the city follows statewide trends, the number could be significant. In the 2012-13 school year, 94 percent of teachers statewide, excluding New York City, received one of the top two ratings.

The change is the latest in a series of tweaks to the city’s new teacher evaluation system, which debuted last year. It also represents another way evaluations have evolved from what State Education Commissioner John King imposed, nearly two years ago, into the city’s vision.

The system that King created, after the city and teachers union could not agree on one on their own, increased the number of required classroom observations across the board. The system offered teachers the option to have six unannounced, shorter observations or three informal observations and one formal, full-class-period observation. Both the city and teachers union had asked King to require fewer required observations.

But at schools where many teachers opted to receive the six observations, many principals complained that they were being made to spend as much time with top-performing teachers as with the struggling ones.

“Workload is one of the most important issues for our members as it is for teachers,” said CSA President Ernest Logan said.

The new UFT contract already created a new option allowing “highly effective” teachers to be observed in three short observations. The CSA pushed for a similar reduction for “effective” teachers, and first announced to its members that a deal was in place last week. A final deal couldn’t be inked without the teachers union, which formally signed off on Tuesday, a UFT spokeswoman said.

The deal comes after the school year has begun, and the next step for schools is giving teachers their new choices—presenting challenges for some schools that have already begun to plan teacher observations. CSA officials, who are still fighting the de Blasio administration over retroactive pay for some of its members, expressed frustration that the Department of Education didn’t immediately notify schools since the change have implications for early-year planning.

“We have stressed how important this is that the DOE get this out,” said CSA Vice President Mark Cannizzaro. “Hopefully that’s going to happen very soon.”

On Tuesday, some educators echoed that sentiment.

“How soon will we have full details, as many of us have completed our individual conferences?” Mitchell Poska, an assistant principal at Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School in Brooklyn, posted on CSA’s Facebook page.

A spokeswoman for the department did not immediately comment on the deal.


Aurora school board reverses course, accepts finding that district should have negotiated bonuses with union

Students in a math class at Aurora Central High School in April 2017. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Following weeks of criticism, the Aurora school board on Tuesday reversed course and accepted an arbitrator’s finding that a pilot bonus system violated the district’s agreement with the teachers union.

The Aurora school district rolled out an experiment last year to offer bonuses to some teachers and other staff in hard-to-fill positions, such as psychologists, nurses and speech language pathologists.

The teachers union argued that the plan should have been negotiated first. An arbitrator agreed and issued a report recommending that the pilot program stop immediately and that the district negotiate any future offerings. The union and school board are set to start negotiations next month about how to change teacher pay, using new money voters approved in November.

When school board members first considered the arbitrator’s report last month, they declined to accept the findings, which were not binding. That raised concerns for union members that the district might implement bonuses again without first negotiating them.

Tuesday’s new resolution, approved on a 5-1 vote, accepted the full arbitrator’s report and its recommendations. Board member Monica Colbert voted against the motion, and board member Kevin Cox was absent.

Back in January 2018, school board members approved a budget amendment that included $1.8 million to create the pilot for incentivizing hard-to-fill positions. On Tuesday, board member Cathy Wildman said she thought through the budget vote, the school board may have allowed the district to create that incentive program, even though the board now accepts the finding that they should have worked with union before trying this experiment.

“It was a board decision at that time to spend that amount on hard-to-fill positions,” Wildman said.

Board president Marques Ivey said he was not initially convinced by the arbitrator’s position, but said that he later read more and felt he could change his vote based on having more information.

Last month, the Aurora school board discussed the report with its attorney in a closed-door executive session. When the board met in public afterward, it chose not to uphold the entire report, saying that the board could not “come to an agreement.” Instead board members voted on a resolution that asked the school district to negotiate any future “long-term” incentive programs.

Union president Bruce Wilcox called the resolution “poorly worded” and slammed the board for not having the discussion in public, calling it a “backroom deal.” Several other teachers also spoke to the board earlier this month, reminding the newest board members’ of their campaign promises to increase transparency.

Board members responded by saying that they did not hold an official vote; rather the board was only deciding how to proceed in public. Colorado law prohibits schools boards from taking positions, or votes, in private.

The board on Tuesday also pushed the district to provide more detailed information about the results of the pilot and survey results that tried to quantify how it affected teachers deciding to work in Aurora.

story slam

The state of teacher pay in Indiana: Hear true stories told by local educators

It’s time to hear directly from educators about the state of teacher pay in Indiana.

Join us for another Teacher Story Slam, co-hosted by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Chalkbeat Indiana, and Teachers Lounge Indy. Teacher salaries are the hot topic in education these days, in Indiana and across the country. Hear from Indianapolis-area teachers who will tell true stories about how they live on a teacher’s salary.

Over the past two years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from the teachers, students, and leaders of Indianapolis through our occasional series, What’s Your Education Story? Some of our favorites were told live during teacher story slams hosted by Teachers Lounge Indy.

Those stories include one teacher’s brutally honest reflection on the first year of teaching and another teacher’s uphill battle to win the trust of her most skeptical student.

Event details

The event will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, March 15, at Clowes Court at the Eiteljorg, 500 W Washington St. in Indianapolis. It is free and open to the public — please RSVP.

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