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Time's Up for NY Districts on Teacher Evaluation Plans

Time's Up for NY Districts on Teacher Evaluation Plans
Time is up for New York school districts to adopt a teacher evaluation plan or lose out on state aid.

The clock is ticking for New York City and the union representing 75,000 public school teachers to agree on a system for evaluating teachers or risk losing $450 million in state aid and grants.

 With a Thursday deadline looming, negotiations on the evaluation plan resumed last week for the first time since mid-December. A war of words on the issue erupted earlier this month in New York City, whose 1.1 million-pupil public school system is the nation's largest.  "You know me, I'm always optimistic," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday on his weekly radio program. "I always think things are going to work out."

 The United Federation of Teachers, meanwhile, told members in a letter Friday that if no agreement is reached, "it will be because the mayor cannot be brought to accept our position of what a teacher evaluation system needs to be, and he will once again try to blame teachers."  The struggle over how to evaluate teachers has been contentious around the nation and sparked a seven-day strike in Chicago last fall.

After the UFT released a TV ad criticizing Bloomberg for taking a "his way or the highway" approach to running schools, Bloomberg compared the union to the National Rifle Association. The mayor asserted that most UFT members "are not in sympathy" with their union's leaders and said, "The NRA's another place where the membership, if you do the polling, doesn't agree with the leadership."

The comparison to the pro-gun group was not a compliment from Bloomberg, a crusader for strict gun laws, and it did not sit well with the union. Randi Weingarten, president of the UFT's parent American Federation of Teachers, called Bloomberg's remarks "offensive and way over the line" and urged him to apologize.  Each of New York state's nearly 700 school districts was told to submit a teacher evaluation plan by Thursday. Teachers are to be rated highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective, and teachers rated ineffective two years in a row risk losing their jobs.

If New York City misses the deadline, it stands to lose $250 million in state funding plus an additional $200 million in grants that are conditional on having an evaluation plan in place. That's a small percentage of the city Department of Education's $19.7 billion operating budget, but the loss would be felt.    "It will have an impact," said Mona Davids, president of the New York City Parents Union. "For their own sakes they have to come together and come up with an evaluation system."

Under state law, 20 percent of the ratings must be based on students' growth on state tests. Another 20 percent must be based on local measures and the remaining 60 percent must include classroom observations and can also include parent or student surveys. That leaves a lot to be decided by local school districts.

"The details matter to both sides," said Micah Lasher, Bloomberg's former director of state legislative affairs who now heads the group StudentsFirstNY. "You could create a system in which very many or very few get a high or a very low rating." Former New York City Deputy School Chancellor Eric Nadelstern, who is now on the faculty of Teachers College at Columbia University, said that the evaluations will be more effective if they include parent input and peer review by teachers.

"Whatever they come up with, if the schools don't buy into it, it will not be as effective as it needs to be," he said. "They've got to own this process in order for it to work."  New York University Professor Pedro Noguera said he hopes the deal "will draw on the best research which shows multiple observations of teachers by different evaluators is key to fair evaluations."

On his radio show Friday, Bloomberg said teachers "by and large are doing a wonderful job" but added that evaluations should serve to weed out bad teachers. The UFT bristles at talk of weeding teachers out and would prefer a system that aims to help teachers improve. "A sound teacher evaluation system will provide the professional tools and feedback that allow all teachers to hone their craft and get better at their hard work," the union says on its website.

The union said in its letter to members that negotiations would take place this weekend and into the week. It scheduled a Thursday meeting of its Delegate Assembly to vote on the agreement if there is one. "If no agreement is reached with the city," the union said, "the DA will serve as a planning and operational meeting to push back against the mayor as we have so many times before."