(Bloomberg) - New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration agreed with the state's largest teachers union on an evaluation system that would enable officials to fire the worst educators, which may save $700 million in federal funding.
The deal between the Education Department and New York State United Teachers union was reached after Mr. Cuomo threatened to insert his own evaluation plan into the budget, which he had until Thursday to do. The agreement puts into action a 2010 law and provides a framework for school districts to negotiate with local unions.
Last month, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan warned that New York state could lose $700 million if it didn't fulfill its promise to President Barack Obama's Race to the Top program to implement teacher evaluations.
In a related deal, New York City and its local teachers union, with Mr. Cuomo's help, agreed to an appeals process for educators graded poorly in evaluations that will save the city at least $300 million in state funding, Mr. Cuomo said.
“This historic agreement about a statewide teacher evaluation system that is directly linked to student performance ends a two-year-long stalemate and will make New York the national model for education reform,” Larry Schwartz, secretary to the governor, said Thursday at a press conference in Albany.
Under the agreement between the state and United Teachers, which represents 600,000 educators and other school employees, 60% of an evaluation will be based on classroom observations by administrators, and peer and parent feedback. The remaining 40% will be split between students' performance on state tests and locally developed exams.
New York's more than 700 school districts have until Jan. 17 to use the framework to negotiate specifics with local unions or risk losing their share of a 4% increase in state funding, Mr. Cuomo, a 54-year-old Democrat, said when he introduced his $132.5 billion budget last month. Lawmakers approved the extra spending in last year's budget, bringing the total to $20.3 billion for fiscal 2013, or about $800 million more than the current year.
“If a school district doesn't get the money, the school district is going to start talking about layoffs,” Mr. Cuomo said during a Feb. 14 Cabinet meeting in Albany. “That's going to affect the union, and so I think that's an incentive.”
The deal on evaluations is another victory for Mr. Cuomo. In his first year, he erased a $10 billion deficit, got New York's two biggest government-worker unions to agree to pay freezes and furloughs, instituted a property-tax cap and pushed through a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the third-most-populous state. In December, the Legislature passed a Cuomo-endorsed tax package that raised rates on joint filers earning $2 million or more, and cut them for the middle class.
Among the rules that districts will negotiate is the implementation of an appeals process for fired teachers.
United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi said such a system is best worked out locally.
“One size fitting all is a bad recipe for education,” Mr. Iannuzzi said Thursday on WCNY public radio in Albany.
The appeals process had been a sticking point between Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration and United Federation of Teachers, the local union.
The debate grew hostile and that's “why they asked the governor to sit down and broker an agreement,” Mr. Schwartz said during the Feb. 14 meeting.
With a deal in place, the Bloomberg administration and the UFT will now work out the remaining details for the city evaluation system, the mayor said in a statement Thursday.
“It will help us create a rigorous and comprehensive evaluation system that will ensure that teachers who are rated 'ineffective' can be given the support they need to grow, or be moved out of the classroom,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

Cuomo: NY, Union Agree on Teacher Evaluation Plan

Mayor Bloomberg also agreed to the the 11th-hour decision, which frees up nearly $1 billion in federal education money that was linked to the reforms.

By Michael Gormley
NBC News, Thursday, Feb 16, 2012

A deal has been struck on a new teacher evaluation system that should ensure New York gets $1 billion in threatened education funding, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.
The agreement between the state and its largest teachers union creates a statewide standard for evaluating teachers in districts outside of New York City.
The state deal fulfills much of a commitment the state made two years ago to enact reforms. It also frees up nearly $1 billion in federal and state funds linked to the reforms.
"Today's a great day for the schools within the state of New York and for schoolchildren within the state of New York," Cuomo said. "I believe this is a better system than any system that had been contemplated or discussed until now."
The New York State United Teachers union negotiated the deal with the state Education Department. Now school districts will need to reach agreements on local assessments. A major sticking point had been the use of standardized test scores to evaluate teachers.
Two hours after the state announcement, Mayor Bloomberg said the city had reached a deal with the union on how to evaluate teachers within its 1 million-student public school system.
"I am happy to report that we have arrived at a strong evaluation system," Bloomberg said at a press conference at City Hall. "The governor will put language into his budget amendments that we agreed on earlier today."
A major sticking point has been using student test scores in evaluations of school teachers, a purpose for which the tests were never designed.
At issue was the use of student performance in standardized test scores. A 2010 law passed to qualify for federal Race to the Top funds tied to education reforms requires 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation to be based on student performance in the tests, now limited to fourth and eighth grade math and English tests. But more tests could be added.
A greater issue is whether another 20 percent of an evaluation could be used as a "local" measure, although the scores would have to be used differently than a simple reflection of student progress.
Also critical is how teachers could appeal their evaluations. The law called for that to be worked out locally in collective bargaining with teachers unions' locals, but New York City is finding that a difficult, perhaps impossible, issue to resolve between the mayor and union.
A deal will fulfill much of a commitment the state made two years ago to enact reforms. It also frees up nearly $1 billion in federal education money that was linked to the reforms. State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. has withheld some aid for districts he said were delaying action on teacher evaluations.
A new Quinnipiac University poll found that 50 percent of voters trust Cuomo more "to protect the interests of New York State public school students." Thirty-eight percent trust the teachers union more. It found that 45 percent of those polled said they approve of the way Cuomo is handling education, while 42 percent disapprove.
Voters also supported merit pay for "outstanding" teachers by 2-to-1. And two-thirds of voters said they support making it easier to fire teachers.
The poll released Thursday surveyed 1,233 voters from last Wednesday through Monday. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.