Thursday, May 13, 2010

New York, Teachers Agree To New Evaluations - 

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New York's powerful teachers unions have agreed to change the way teachers are evaluated, eliminating one of the obstacles that cost public schools $700 million in federal "Race to the Top" funds earlier this year, union and New York City officials said Tuesday.

They say the unions and the state will propose a new evaluation system that would include four categories other than just "satisfactory" and "unsatisfactory." Teachers rated ineffective for two straight years could be fired after exhausting appeals they can make under the current evaluation process.
The Obama administration had offered the funding to schools that took measures to improve instruction, and more effective teacher evaluations was an element.

The new agreement is subject to approval by the state Legislature. The New York State United Teachers union and the United Federation of Teachers have great sway among lawmakers and if the labor groups approve, lawmakers are expected to go along.

"Now, all eyes are on the Legislature," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "It's a step in the right direction. We want to see accurate and fair evaluations that use student learning in a meaningful way."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he hasn't yet seen the proposal, but the lack of union support was one of the weaknesses in the state's Race to the Top application. If the two sides agreed to this proposal, he said it would be "difficult" for lawmakers to interfere, he said.

"To continue our investment in our children and our future we need to improve our score for Race to the Top," said Senate Democratic majority leader Johns Sampson. "The Senate will act as soon as possible ... to pass this agreement into law."

The evaluation system could make it easier for school districts to fire unfit teachers. There is no provision to use it in any kind of pay system based on merit.

"The proposed evaluation system will help ensure that we have an effective teacher in every classroom and an effective leader in every school," said state Education Commissioner David Steiner.

Teachers would be measured on a 100-point scale. Twenty percent of an evaluation would be based on how students improve in standardized test scores -- a measure long opposed by the teachers' unions. Their argument in part was that many factors -- poverty, home life and more -- contribute to low test scores and are often beyond the means of teachers to fix.

Another 20 percent would be based on local test scores and the rest would be on traditional evaluations of teachers in the classrooms by principals and other teachers.

"It's a step in the right direction. We want to see accurate and fair evaluations that use student learning data in a meaningful way," David Cantor, a spokesman for the New York City Department of Education, said of the agreement.

"The current teacher evaluation system doesn't work for teachers -- it's too subjective, lacks specific criteria, and is too dependent on the whims and prejudices of principals," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. "We worked with the state Education Department to create a more objective system that would apply across the state, with strict limits on the role of standardized tests."