As unions rejoice over possible teacher evaluations reversal, original advocates say change will ‘mask inequity’

PHOTO: Katherine Taylor/EWA
John King, former New York education commissioner (and U.S. secretary of education) and current president and CEO of The Education Trust.

The revelation that forces are lining up behind an effort to drop test scores from teacher evaluations jolted Albany on Thursday — and no one was more jarred than advocates who convinced the state to weigh scores in the first place.

For years, those advocates pushed the state to hold teachers accountable for their students’ performance — and they were effective in reshaping the state’s teacher evaluation system starting in 2010.

Three years ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo channeled those advocates when he pushed through legislation to increase the weight of test scores to as much as half of teachers’ ratings — a move that has never fully gone into effect but that has continued to set the tone in New York even as other states have moved away from test score-based ratings.

So those advocates were dismayed to learn that lawmakers, unions, and possibly even Cuomo want to roll back the teacher evaluation push entirely. In statements and phone calls, they warned that it would be a mistake to abandon that effort now.

“The current effort to permanently undermine New York’s teacher evaluation system takes us backwards, masks inequity, and will lead to more and unnecessary testing,” read a statement from Ian Rosenblum, executive director of The Education Trust-NY. Rosenblum’s group is part of a national nonprofit run by New York’s former education commissioner, John King, who shepherded the state’s evaluation system into existence.

If the evaluation system is abandoned, the state could shift to a model where individual districts create their own evaluation systems and ways to judge student progress. Under the bill, the state could no longer require districts to use state standardized tests in teacher evaluations.

A similar note came from Evan Stone, a founder and CEO of Educators for Excellence, a group that works to get teachers involved in policy making and has backed including test scores in evaluations in ways that its members think are fair.

“Allowing districts to use an array of tests, not only would prevent us from identifying which educators and schools are making progress, it would also mask inequity across our state,” Stone said in a statement. “Contrary to the claims of this bill’s supporters, this proposal does not eliminate testing and would create a fractured system with more tests and confusion for teachers, students and parents.”

The state teachers union, NYSUT, signed off on the original evaluation system that included test scores under duress because the state faced losing federal funds if it had not. But the union has long opposed giving state tests the weight that Cuomo sought — and its president rejoiced in an email to members Friday morning.

“We have been waiting for this day for years,” Andy Pallotta wrote. “Everything about the current system has angered and frustrated educators, parents and students. … There are far better ways to evaluate educators than to use mystery math and algorithms that spit out invalid ‘growth scores’ while subjecting kids to exhausting tests that neither inform instruction nor accurately measure achievement.”

Randi Weingarten, who heads the national American Federation of Teachers, offered a similar take on Twitter:

Advocates said they were disheartened to see that elected officials were moving forward with legislation, rather than waiting for state education officials to put forth a new plan.

“There is already a moratorium in effect,” the Education Trust-NY statement said. “Changes to the current system should be considered as part of the process the New York State Education Department has already outlined, rather than by short-circuiting it.”

So far, state education officials have been silent about the legislation and potential deal, so it’s unclear whether they were caught unaware or see the developments as undermining their own work.

What is clear is that an issue that had appeared to gain unusual traction in New York — that test scores should play at least some role in teacher evaluations — is once again contested, and that changes could soon follow for the state’s educators.

Future of Teaching

Tentative contract includes big raises for IPS teachers

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Teachers would receive significant raises under a tentative new contract with IPS.

A month after voters approved a vast funding increase for Indianapolis Public Schools, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration and the district teachers union have reached a tentative deal for a new contract that would boost teacher pay by an average of 6.3 percent.

The agreement was ratified by union members Wednesday, according to a statement from teachers union president Ronald Swann. It must be approved by the Indianapolis Public Schools board, which is likely to consider the contract next week, before it is final.

Swann did not provide details of the agreement, but it was outlined in union presentations to teachers on Wednesday ahead of the ratification vote. The deal would cover the 2018-19 school year, and teachers would receive retroactive pay back to July 2018. The prior contract ended in June.

Raising teacher pay was a key part of the sales pitch district leaders used to win support for a referendum to raise $220 million over eight years from taxpayers for operating expenses. The referendum passed with wide support from voters last month, and although the district will not get that money until next year, the administration can now bank on an influx of cash in June 2019. Teachers could receive another raise next year, once the money from the referendum begins flowing.

The proposed deal would bring pay raises for new and experienced teachers. First year teachers in the district would see their salaries jump to $42,587, about $2,600 above the current base salary, according to the presentation to teachers. Returning teachers would move up the pay scale, with most receiving raises of about $2,600.

The deal also brings a reward for teachers who are at the top of the current scale. The top of the scale would rise to $74,920 by adding several stops above the current maximum of $59,400. That means teachers who are currently at the top of the scale would be able to move up and continue getting raises.

Many longtime teachers in the district also earn additional pay for advanced education, but teachers who joined the district more recently are not eligible for that extra money.

Teachers who received evaluations of ineffective or needs improvement in 2017-18 are not eligible for raises.

The new contract is the second time in recent years that teachers have won substantial raises in Indianapolis Public Schools. After four years of painful pay freezes, Ferebee negotiated a contract in 2015 that included a large pay increase. Teacher pay is especially important for the district because it is competing with several surrounding communities to staff schools.

Health care costs would go up this year, a policy shift that was advocated by the Indy Chamber, which urged the district to reduce health insurance spending as part of a plan to shift more money to teacher salaries.

The contract includes a provision that was piloted last year allowing the district to place newly hired teachers at anywhere on the salary schedule. It’s designed to allow the district to pay more for especially hard-to-fill positions.

Teachers at some troubled schools, known as the transformation zone, would also be eligible for extra pay on top of their regular salaries at the discretion of the administration. That money would come from state grants specifically targeted at transformation zone schools.

The idea of allowing superintendents to pay some teachers in their districts more than others is controversial.

Teacher Pay

‘Our teachers have waited long enough’: Educators say Indiana needs to act now on teacher pay

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students in Decatur Township work on physics problems with their teacher.

Educators and advocates are pushing state leaders to take action this year to raise teacher compensation — not to wait for additional research, as Gov. Eric Holcomb proposed last week.

“Our teachers have waited long enough,” said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union. “It doesn’t take a two-year study to discover what we already know: teachers need to be valued, respected, and paid as professionals.”

Holcomb’s proposal last week to study raises in the upcoming budget-writing session and make bigger steps in 2021 didn’t sit well with some, since lawmakers and advocates spent the fall talking up the need to make teacher salaries competitive with other states. But given the state’s tight budget situation, Holcomb suggested studying the impact of raises for at least a year, as well as looking at how much money would be needed and how districts would be expected to get the money to teachers.

Read: Raising teacher pay likely to be at the forefront for Indiana lawmakers and advocates in 2019

The proposal drew quick criticism. Education leaders and advocacy groups took to Twitter to express their hopes that Holcomb and lawmakers would find ways to address teacher salaries this year as well as into the future.

“IN must respond now,” State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick tweeted Friday morning, remarking that too many teachers across the state are leaving the profession because pay is too low. “Kids deserve & depend upon excellent teachers.”

“We can’t wait to act because Hoosier children are counting on all us to come together to ensure our schools can attract and retain the best teachers,” Justin Ohlemiller, executive director of Stand for Children Indiana, said in a blog post titled “The time to act on teacher pay is now.

ISTA’s 2019 legislative agenda, released Monday, will continue pushing for lawmakers and state leaders to find creative solutions to raise teacher pay and make Indiana competitive with other states.

And ISTA says they might have voters on their side. A recent ISTA poll of more than 600 Hoosiers, conducted by Emma White Research, shows that funding for education is a priority across the state, with more than 86 percent of those sampled supporting sending more money to public schools. About 72 percent of people polled believe educators are underpaid.

But it’s unclear if there would be enough money in the budget to spend on across-the-board raises after other funding obligations are met, such as funding needed by the Department of Child Services to deal with effects of the state’s opioid crisis. Senate Democrats have called for $81 million a year to ensure 5 percent raises for teachers and counselors over the next two years. Republicans have strong majorities in both chambers.

Neither ISTA, lawmakers, Holcomb nor other education groups have released specific plans for either how much they’d like to see set aside for teachers or strategies for how a pay increase could feasibly be carried out. However, the effort has brought together some unlikely allies — the union, a vocal advocate for traditional public schools, rarely aligns its education policy with groups like Stand and Teach Plus Indiana that have favored increased school-choice options, such as charter schools.

With limited dollars to go around, the focus will have to also be on how to make existing education dollars go farther, Meredith said. She, along with Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma last month, pointed to the need to curtail spending on administration, which, they argue, could free up money for other expenses such as teacher compensation.

Some have also pointed to the state’s recent budget surplus and reserves as evidence that Indiana could spend more on education if there was political will to do so.

“The surplus has come on the backs of educators and their students,” Meredith said. “Elected leaders must do more. They must do more to declare teacher pay a priority in this session, and they must take action.”

ISTA is also hoping lawmakers will act to:

  • Restore collective bargaining rights so educators can negotiate work hours and class size, as well as salaries and benefits.
  • Remove teacher evaluation results from decisions about salary until the state’s new ILEARN test has been in place for a few years.
  • Invest in school counselors, psychologists, and social workers
  • Strengthen regulations for charter and virtual charter schools, including putting a moratorium on new virtual schools until those safeguards can be enacted.
  • Study districts that have focused on how to best teach students who have experienced trauma.

Indiana’s next legislative session begins in January.

Correction: Dec. 11, 2018: This story has been updated to reflect that Stand for Children Indiana doesn’t take a position in regards to private school vouchers.