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Future of Teaching
Examining the divisive push to rate, reward, improve, and remove teachers
February 16, 2012
With state's evals deal said to be set, all eyes turn to city's talks
All eyes are on Albany today, the deadline Gov. Andrew Cuomo set last month for an agreement on new teacher evaluations. The deadline is for the state teachers union, NYSUT, to set aside its lawsuit over the evaluations and reach an agreement with the State Education Department over how new evaluations should be structured. The word on the street — and in the Capitol parking lot, which Cuomo exited early Wednesday — is that SED and NYSUT appear nearly assured of meeting that deadline. But the specifics of an agreement remain opaque. Last spring, NYSUT had sued over Cuomo's bid to increase the weight test scores play in the evaluations. Now, attention among the governor's staff has turned to the city's own evaluations impasse. Just a month ago, Cuomo gave the city a year to resolve its conflicts, which have focused on the appeals process for teachers who receive low ratings. But he seems eager to be able to announce a statewide sweep of teacher evaluation deals. Whether a sweep is in Cuomo's grasp remains unclear.
February 14, 2012
Month after turnaround news, official applications still not done
More than a month after Mayor Bloomberg announced that he would fulfill a state requirement by overhauling 33 struggling schools, the city still has not officially informed the state of its plans. The announcement, which came during Bloomberg’s State of the City address Jan. 12, was an attempt to circumvent a requirement that the city and teachers union agree on new teacher evaluations. New evaluations were a condition of the previous improvement processes the schools were undergoing with funding from federal School Improvement Grants. But turnaround, which requires schools to replace at least half of their teachers, does not call for new evaluations. The turnaround switch isn't up to the city alone. State Education Commissioner John King must sign off on the plans if they are to get the federal funds. King has said the turnaround model Bloomberg described is "approvable." But he still hasn't seen any details. That's because the city hasn't supplied them. For weeks, city officials — including Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott — had cited Feb. 10 as the deadline to complete applications detailing the turnaround plans, but the day came and went with no completed applications in sight. Department officials now say the deadline was only internal, and now the city is aiming to finish them up by the end of this week. That way, the officials said, the applications can be on the table next week when the city has its hearing about the SIG grants with state education officials.
February 13, 2012
De Blasio urges city not to pass the buck on teacher evaluations
It would be a big mistake for New York City to let Gov. Andrew Cuomo settle its teacher evaluations dispute, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said at a press conference Sunday. The press conference came four days before Cuomo's deadline for school districts to agree on new evaluations. If they don't settle on new evaluations by Feb. 16, he said, he would "do it for them" — presumably by using the budgeting process to change the state's teacher evaluations law. In recent weeks, Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott have signaled that they might prefer letting Cuomo take the lead, possibly because they hope he would side with them in a seemingly intractable local dispute. The city and teachers union have been stuck for more than a month on the issue of appeals for teachers who receive low ratings under a new system. But de Blasio warned that passing the buck could backfire for the city. "The minute it goes to Albany anything can happen," he said. "There's a much better chance of a plan that will work it's agreed to up front."
February 9, 2012
Citing poll, NYSUT pushes for limited role of test scores in evals
Across the state, school districts are inching toward teacher evaluation deals one week before a deadline Gov. Andrew Cuomo set last month. According to NYSUT, the state teachers union, 100 school districts have agreed on how to put new evaluations in place and 400 districts "report making progress." That leaves just over 200 districts that, like New York City, are nowhere near agreeing with their local unions on new evaluation systems. Cuomo said last month that if districts do not settle on new evaluations by next week, he would use the budget amendment process to change the state evaluation law. Last year, in a hint of what the changes might entail, the governor pushed state policy-makers to double test scores' weight, from 20 to 40 percent, in an action that drew a successful legal challenge from the union.
February 6, 2012
Poll: Wide approval for Cuomo's plan to link school aid to evals
Nearly three-quarters of New Yorkers approve of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's carrot-and-stick approach to getting new teacher evaluations in place, according to poll results released today. Last month, Cuomo vowed to withhold increases in state school aid to districts that do not settle in short order on new teacher evaluations that take test scores into account. The poll, conducted last week by the Siena Research Institute, asked respondents, "Do you support or oppose the Governor's plan to link school aid increases to the implementation of an enhanced teacher evaluation process?" Seventy-one percent said they support that plan. (The poll of 807 registered voters had a margin of error of 3.4 percent.) The support was evenly split between respondents in New York City and the rest of the state and was especially high among black New Yorkers (77 percent) and young people between 18 and 34 (78 percent). Households with union members (61 percent) and Jews (63 percent) supported Cuomo's plan least often, but even they stood by it in large numbers.
February 3, 2012
Cuomo’s education deputy takes agenda to city teacher group
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's top education aide took his boss's message on the road Thursday night for a speaking event with city teachers. Speaking at a Midtown hotel on a one-man panel moderated by three teachers from the group Educators 4 Excellence, Deputy Secretary for Education David Wakelyn primarily discussed teacher evaluations and why, nearly two years after a state law was signed requiring that they be toughened, nothing had changed. The meeting was notable not for what Wakelyn said — his comments hewed closely to what the governor has said about evaluations in recent weeks — but because it happened at all. Wakelyn has been relatively quiet since becoming Cuomo's education deputy in September. But now Cuomo has made his education agenda a priority for 2012 and has increasingly sought to exert greater influence over policy. The event began with a question from Dan Mejias, a teacher at JHS 22 Jordan L. Mott, one of the 33 low-performing schools slated to close and reopen with new teachers under Mayor Bloomberg's "turnaround" plan. Bloomberg devised the turnaround plan to sidestep a requirement under a previous plan for the schools that the city and its teachers union agree on new evaluations. Mejias said his school had shown progress with federal money it received under the previous model, known as "transformation," and wanted to know what the governor planned to do to force both sides to drop what he saw as pure political gamesmanship. "The NYC DOE is threatening to fire half of our staff, the UFT is willing to protect every single teacher at all costs, and none of this is beneficial for our students," Mejias said.
February 1, 2012
Teachers union president piles on objections to turnaround plan
Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew is lodging a formal complaint about the city's plans to overhaul 33 struggling schools, a day after the head of the city's principals union did the same thing. When Mayor Bloomberg announced last month that the schools would undergo a federally prescribed process known as "turnaround," which requires half of teachers to be removed, Mulgrew was immediately dismissive. In a letter sent today to State Education Commissioner John King, Mulgrew fleshes out those objections, arguing that the plan as the city has explained it would violate state and federal regulations and the city's contract with the UFT. The city has leaned on that contract when touting the plan, saying that a clause known as 18-D represents union sign-off on the turnaround bid and allows for rehiring at schools that are closed and reopened, as would be the case under turnaround. But Mulgrew contends in his letter that 18-D applies only when schools are truly closed. "What the DOE proposes is a classic sleight of hand," he writes. "While it tells the public and the UFT it will technically 'close' these schools and 'reopen' them as new schools, what it really intends and seeks your permission for is a turnaround where the same students continue to be served in the same school with a portion of the same staff. ... This is not a closure and does not trigger application of 18-D."
February 1, 2012
Diane Ravitch exhorts city principals to join evaluations protest
Principals union president Ernest Logan with Diane Ravitch after Ravitch's speech to union members on Tuesday City principals should overcome their fear and join with more than a thousand of their colleagues from across the state who oppose New York's teacher evaluation rules, Diane Ravitch urged during a speech to the principals union Tuesday. A group of Long Island principals launched a petition in November arguing that the state’s evaluation regulations — which require a portion of teachers’ ratings to be based on their students’ test scores — are unsupported by research, prone to errors, and too expensive at a time of budget cuts. The petition has attracted nearly 1,300 principals from across the state, but relatively few — just over 100 — work in New York City, in a trend that has persisted since the petition's earliest days. Sean Feeney, a Nassau County principal who drafted the petition, said in November that city principals seemed to be more afraid of jeopardizing their jobs by speaking out. Ravitch, a frequent and outspoken critic of the Bloomberg administration's education policies, took aim at those concerns during the kickoff event in the union's 50th anniversary celebration. She concluded her speech by exhorting city principals to sign on to the evaluations petition. "There is strength in numbers," she said to the roughly 150 current and retired principals in the audience. "The DOE can't fire you all."
January 30, 2012
Walcott calls state evaluation law "broken" during lobbying trip
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued his state budget speech two weeks ago, he offered a stark choice to districts and unions working on new teacher evaluations: agree, or face the consequences. In Albany today, Chancellor Dennis Walcott suggested that the city would prefer the consequences — widely assumed to be an effort by Cuomo to use his budgeting process to impose new evaluations without the consent of local teachers unions "I think the law, and the governor is so right about this, is broken," Walcott said. "It’s not going to work as constructed." Walcott would not comment on the status of negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers but said that the issue dividing them — the appeals process for teachers rated ineffective — had not been solved. Cuomo, who has said the 2010 evaluation law was "destined to fail," seemed willing but not eager to expend political capital on changing the law when he delivered his budget address. He said he preferred districts and their unions to agree on a "protocol" for new evaluations within 30 days. But, Cuomo said, "If they can’t do that then we’ll do it for them." Walcott's comments reflect pessimism about the state of negotiations in the city just days after UFT President Michael Mulgrew praised Cuomo for his "intervention" to induce the city back to the table. Walcott said he was in Albany to lobby them about changing the law.
January 23, 2012
In hearing, King calls for curbing Cuomo's competitive grants
Chancellor Dennis Walcott testifies before legislators during a hearing about Gov. Cuomo's proposed education budget. State Education Commissioner John King spent most of his time before legislators today going to bat for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed schools budget. But on one key point, he said the Board of Regents would prefer a change. The Regents would rather not hinge so much of the state's funds on a competition among districts, King said. Cuomo proposed using $250 million of a proposed $800 million school aid increase to reward districts for strong academic performance and management efficiency. King said the Regents, whose agenda is similar but not identical to Cuomo's, would slash that number by 80 percent. They would still hand out $50 million through a competition but think the remaining $200 million would be better used helping high-needs districts cover their expenses, he said. The proposal is similar to what was proposed by the Alliance for Quality Education, a group that Cuomo's office has named as a nemesis, and augurs a possible battle over the budget in the two months before it must be approved.
January 20, 2012
State-level conflict over teacher evals said to be near resolution
A week that was packed with conflict over teacher evaluations is drawing to close with news that detente is nearing — at least at the…
January 19, 2012
No longer joint between UFT and city, Danielson trainings go on
A training session about the city's favored teacher evaluation model went off as planned on Tuesday — but without the involvement of the city, which had worked with the teachers union on event. Since the start of the school year, the union and city have been grappling over the Danielson Framework, the observation model the city hopes will be adopted when a new evaluation system is finalized. Over time, a tension has emerged about whether the model is meant first to help teachers improve — the union's position — or whether it is a tool to help principals usher weak teachers out of the system, as the city's rhetoric has sometimes suggested. Since at least December, the city and teachers union had been planning joint training sessions for principals and union chapter leaders to clarify the model's purpose and value. But after Mayor Bloomberg lashed out at the United Federation of Teachers during his State of the City speech last week, declaring that he would remove half of the teachers at 33 low-performing schools, the union decided it would no longer work with the city on the trainings. "The content of the State of the City has not been received very well by members," Michael Mendel, a union secretary, told me Wednesday. "To do a joint training didn’t sit right." On Friday afternoon, union officials surprised the city by announcing that the collaboration was off.
January 17, 2012
State ed chief calls city's evals position, turnaround plan kosher
Breaking his silence today on New York City’s simmering labor dispute, State Education Commissioner John King sided with the city on key issues. King said he does not want to get involved in local disputes over teacher evaluations. But he said the city’s plan to revamp dozens of low-performing schools under the federal “turnaround” model meets the state’s requirements. “It’s an approvable model,” King said on a conference call with reporters to discuss Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s state budget proposal. “I would expect that if they submit those applications, that we would approve their application to change the model consistent with the federal model.” The city's plan, which Bloomberg announced in his State of the City speech last week as a way to sidestep teacher evaluations talks, would require half of all teachers to be removed from the 33 low-performing schools. King suspended federal funding to the schools last month after negotiations between the city and the United Federation of Teachers broke down. A major issue leading to the impasse was that the UFT wanted third-party arbitrators to hear the appeals of teachers who receive low ratings under the new evaluations. The city maintains that the chancellor should make the final determination on appeals, as has been the case for years.
January 17, 2012
In state budget proposal, Cuomo issues evaluations ultimatum
Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo slashed school aid across the state. This year, he plans to add back much of what was lost — but there's a catch. Districts will get the money only if they roll out controversial new teacher evaluations according to an accelerated timeline, Cuomo announced in a hotly anticipated speech in Albany today. He also outlined a procedure by which new evaluations could be put into effect even without local unions' agreement, which a state law passed in 2010 requires. Cuomo kicked off the procedure today with an ultimatum: He demanded that the state teachers union, NYSUT, drop its lawsuit over the evaluations and settle on a “protocol” for new evaluations with the State Education Department within 30 days. "If they can't do that then we'll do it for them," Cuomo said in his address today. Using the state’s unusual Article 7 process, Cuomo could use a budget amendment to change the state’s teacher evaluation law — possibly by striking the requirement for districts and unions to negotiate some details locally. For now, local districts and their unions would still have to sign off on evaluation plans even if NYSUT resolves its issues with the state. Districts that do so by Sept. 1 will be able to compete for $250 million in state funds, Cuomo said today. If they miss that deadline, they will have until Jan. 17, 2013 — a year from today — to settle on new evaluations or give up the 4 percent increase in state aid. "The equation is simple at the end of the day: No evaluations, no money, period,” Cuomo said.
January 12, 2012
Bloomberg's turnaround switch would cause 33 school closures
Under a proposal laid out by Mayor Bloomberg today that took education insiders by surprise, the city would retain access to threatened federal dollars for struggling schools by riffing on a familiar strategy: school closure. The announcement in today's State of the City address sets the stage for a showdown with the United Federation of Teachers — and maybe also with the State Education Department. UFT President Michael Mulgrew had already dismissed the idea that schools could receive the funds without union support by this afternoon. But State Education Commissioner John King has yet to weigh in on the strategy. Under Bloomberg's plan, the city would swap dozens of schools from one federally mandated overhaul strategy to another in a bid to escape a requirement that the city and union come to terms on a new teacher evaluation system. An impasse over negotiations caused King last week to cut off federal funds to 33 city schools that were undergoing the “transformation” and “restart” strategies, which require new evaluations. Under the mayor’s plan, the schools would undergo “turnaround” instead. Turnaround is more aggressive than the other strategies, requiring at least half of a school’s teachers to be replaced. But it also does not require that new teacher evaluations be in place, according to the Obama administration’s guidelines for the funds, known as School Improvement Grants. Mulgrew immediately dismissed the plan, arguing that the union would have to sign off on turnaround. That would be true — but only if Bloomberg had been talking about the type of turnaround that the Obama administration envisioned. What the city is actually proposing is using a second, lesser-known turnaround that state regulations allow. Essentially, the city would close 33 schools and reopen them immediately, with new names and identification numbers. Then a team of educators selected for the “new” school would hire a new staff with the union’s input, pulling half of the new teachers from the original school’s roster.
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