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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

We Shouldn't Want The Race To The Top Money

The new agreement tying test scores to teacher evaluations is a bad idea if the process has no oversight and no educator managing principals whose prejudice is to put children last.

As New York City has no one at the helm of the New York City Board of Education who cares about children and wants to promote curricula that is rigorous and high quality at all grade levels, this "agreement" will lead to a new disaster in city schools.

Here is a scenario for you to consider:

A Principal I will call "Evilness" assigns you, a teacher, to a classroom of 25 of the most difficult kids in the school: children who have disabilities involving behavior/anger management, dysgraphia, hearing loss; students at different grade levels in the English As a Second Language program, and a mix of other children each with unique needs, none of which are being addressed by the school (1:1 paraprofessionals, OT and/or speech pullout, remedial math help/resource room). You have to do your best, and you are a dedicated teacher, so you work at providing a safe as well as academically challenging environment for the children.

Unfortunately, you complained to the Principal last June that you objected to the way Evilness assigned students for this year. Your daily life in the school ever since then has been rotten, with harrassing behavior coming your way on a daily basis from the Principal. You are worried about your job.

You do everything that the Principal asks you to do, including giving a test every friday, and, as this is a third grade class, all the standardized tests and test prep that is required. You realize that no matter how well you teach to the test that about half of the class will not be able to do well, despite your best efforts.

For the first time you consider secretly changing the scores upward of those kids who dont do well towards the end of the year. You must do this, or, due to the fact that your previous year ended with not very good test scores for the exact same reason, you will be re-assigned and sent to a hearing for incompetence. You may lose your license.

You cannot sleep at night thinking about how you must scrub the tests, or you will be held accountable for the test scores of your class, when the scores are not directly your fault, but a fault of the Principal who is sabotaging your rights as an excellent, dedicated teacher.

The children will be promoted without proper assistence to handle the work in the higher grade in the Fall, but changing their grades is the only way you will be able to keep your job.

This can happen.

Why do we want this? For $700 million that we will never know to whom it is given?

Betsy Combier

May 10, 2010
Agreement Will Alter Teacher Evaluations

The State Education Department and New York’s teachers’ unions have reached a deal to overhaul teacher evaluations and tie them to student test scores, brokering a compromise on an issue the unions had bitterly opposed for years.

The agreement, reached in time for the state’s second bid at $700 million in federal education grants, would scrap the current system whereby teachers were rated simply satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Instead, annual evaluations would place teachers in one of four categories — highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective. While the deal would not have any immediate effect on teacher pay, it could make it easier for schools to fire teachers deemed subpar.

“We believe that if done correctly this will change the landscape dramatically,” said David M. Steiner, the state education commissioner. “This is not a gotcha system. This is about creating professional development that can really improve education.”

Teachers would be measured on a 100-point scale, with 20 percent points based on how much students improve on the standardized state exams. Another 20 percent would be based on local tests, which would have to be developed by each school system. After two years, 25 percent would be based on the state exams and 15 percent would come from the local tests.

The remainder of the evaluation will come from observations from principals and other teachers, and other measures. If teachers are rated ineffective for two consecutive years, they would face firing through an expedited hearing process that must conclude within 60 days. Currently hearings can drag on for several months.

The changes, which Mr. Steiner, his deputy John King and Merryl H. Tisch,(at right) the chancellor of the State Board of Regents, described in an interview on

Monday, are subject to approval by the State Legislature. Ms. Tisch said they needed lawmakers to approve a package of education legislation within the next 10 days, so that the state could meet the June 1 application deadline for the federal competition known as Race to the Top.

New York did not win one of the first Race to the Top grants. Last week, the State Senate voted to more than double the number of charter schools in the state, another move aimed at winning Race to the Top money. The Assembly has not voted on that issue, though pro-charter advocates have been furiously lobbying and running advertisements.

Testing data would be used for only a fraction of the teachers in the state, because many teachers instruct in subjects or grades that do not have an annual exam. Mr. Steiner and Ms. Tisch have criticized the state exams, saying they may have become too easy and predictable in the last several years. But Mr. Steiner said that they were “not useless,” and that the department was taking steps to improve them, including changes this year that broadened the material covered by the tests.

Lawmakers are likely to approve the changes if they are backed by the teachers’ unions. But Mr. Steiner said it remained unclear if the state was out of “choppy waters.”

The unions — the New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers, the city’s union — did not gain any clear benefit from the deal, other than shielding themselves from criticism that they were hurting the state’s chances in Race to the Top. And union leaders who backed the plan could face significant backlash from members, particularly at a time when many districts are planning for layoffs.

“The concept of this has never been unacceptable,” said Richard Iannuzzi, the president of the state union. “But doing it unilaterally or making evaluations solely dependent on students’ test scores were not options.”

New York City began evaluating teachers based on test scores three years ago. But in 2008, the Legislature banned the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations, a move that was backed by the union.

That law expires this year, and just after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg won re-election last fall, he announced that the city would begin to tie test scores to decisions on which teachers earn tenure, a move that angered the union.

Officials at the New York City Department of Education privately had hoped for more changes in the evaluation system, like giving even more weight to student test scores. The city would now have to try to win those changes during contract negotiations with the union, which are at an impasse.

State education officials and teachers unions said Tuesday that New York's chances of getting a federal Race to the Top grant and its educational system would be greatly improved if lawmakers pass legislation that ties teacher evaluations to student performance.

New York Unions and Educators Pushing for Race to the Top Legislation
Matt Pitts
Gannett Albany Bureau

ALBANY _ State education officials and teachers unions said Tuesday that New York's chances of getting a federal Race to the Top grant and its educational system would be greatly improved if lawmakers pass legislation that ties teacher evaluations to student performance.

New York was eligible for up to $700 million in the first round of funding but wasn't selected, in part because its plan did not have solid union support and the state is reaching its limit of 200 charter schools but has no provisions to add more.

The new proposal would set up a new evaluation system for teachers and principals, and it would streamline the process for disciplining teachers.

The application deadline for the next round is June 1, so there isn't much time to act, education and labor leaders said. States with plans to reform education and improve teaching and learning are competing for the federal money.

"Under Race to the Top rules -- this is important -- the proposed changes will add points to our score only if our Legislature adopts them by the end of the month," state Education Commissioner Richard Steiner said.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, said the current evaluation system is "too subjective, and a lot of it was based upon whim." UFT is New York State United Teachers union's largest local. "To have specific criteria laid out so that we could have a much more objective system and then, more importantly, tie that to professional development opportunities which relate directly to our performance inside of the classroom is a giant step forward, both for the teachers and for the students of the city and the state," he said.

The new system would be phased in, starting in the 2011-12 school year. In the first year, it would apply only to teachers in the common branch subjects or English/language arts and math in grades 4 to 8. Student performance on standardized tests would count for 20 percent and other locally selected measures of student achievement would count for 20 percent.

All teachers would be included in subsequent years until the Board of Regents approves a new assessment model, which will focus on student growth and what goes on in the classroom during a certain period of time, rather than absolute achievement levels. After it is implemented, it would account for 25 percent of teachers' evaluations, and locally selected measures would account for 15 percent. The remaining 60 percent of evaluation scores would depend on what unions negotiated with school districts.

Teachers and principals would receive one of four ratings, rather than the current "satisfactory" and "unsatisfactory." The score would help determine tenure, leadership opportunities, professional development needs, supplemental compensation and termination. Teachers who received an "ineffective" rating two years in a row could be charged with incompetence and considered for termination. A hearing -- part of the due-process system -- would have to be completed within 60 days, much less than the current average.

Dan Weiller, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said only that the Democratic majority is reviewing the proposal. Austin Shafran, a spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson, D-Brooklyn, called the proposal a "sensible solution on teacher evaluation. "New York is now one step closer to winning the race for our children's future, and the Senate will act as soon as possible in cooperation with the Assembly and the executive to pass this agreement into law," Shafran said.

Gov. David Paterson he was impressed that the Education Department and unions reached an agreement, and it could help New York gain 25 to 30 points on the application. "That, combined with an elevation of the cap on charter schools, I think would put us right at the top of the list," he said. Paterson proposed legislation to lift the charter cap before the application for the first round of Race to the Top funding was due.

The state Board of Regents supports lifting the cap, but greater accountability, transparency and sensitivity to local needs be a part of legislation to increase the number of publicly funded but privately run schools, Steiner said.

The state School Boards Association found in a recent informal poll of more than 500 school board members that 60 percent support changes to the teacher disciplinary process as the best means of strengthening the state's Race to the Top proposal, Timothy Kremer, executive director, said in a statement. "These proposals have been a long time in the making. If implemented properly, they could improve teacher quality and have a meaningful impact on student achievement," he said.
Gannett ContentOne - Albany, NY