July 15, 2011
Today’s partial teacher evaluation deal shows that the city and teachers union can reach an understanding on one of the thorniest issues they face right now. That’s good, because they have more negotiating to do.
Today’s agreement applies only to the 33 schools that are set to receive federal funding to help them improve, not to the nearly 1,500 other schools operated by the city Department of Education. The city and union haven’t even started discussing how evaluations should be done in those schools, according to UFT President Michael Mulgrew.
Federal authorities didn’t require any teacher evaluation commitments, but the State Education Department told the city in May it wouldn’t forward the city’s application for improvement funds without a teacher evaluation plan. At the time, city officials accused the state of trying to “change the ground rules” by using the $65 million in federal funds as a carrot to get them talking about evaluations. But ultimately the worry of missing out on the windfall in a tight budget year propelled the city and union to follow the state’s instructions.
In the course of hammering out a limited agreement, the city and union established that teachers have the right to a meeting with their principal to discuss the observations. That had been a sticking point in negotiations this spring.
“We have all come to an understanding that it is important to have a verbal discussion, especially if it will help them help children,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.
But under the terms of today’s agreement, even if a teacher requests a meeting and one doesn’t take place, the review letter remains in the teacher’s file, according to Matthew Mittenthal, a DOE spokesman. Instead, the teacher will be able to file a grievance with the union.
Another area of consensus was over the rubric that will be used to judge teachers’ performance in the classroom. Principals will use the “Framework for Teaching” developed by Charlotte Danielson. The framework was used last year to guide a toughened tenure process that seems to have resulted in more young teachers having their probationary periods extended.
The same issues are likely to arise in negotiations over teacher evaluations in the rest of the city’s schools, which must happen if the city is to comply with the state evaluation law. The law requires districts and their unions to negotiate which assessments are used in 20 percent of the new evaluations.
Mulgrew said his hope is that the 33 schools in today’s deal could be used as a testing ground for the policies being considered for the broader evaluation system.
“If it’s done right, if it doesn’t get ideologically hijacked by certain forces, we can make a difference,” he said. He said an ideal system would recognize that different schools have different needs.
How a waiting period would happen is unclear, because the new system is supposed to be finalized before the school year starts in September. But Mulgrew said discussions are not even underway.
“I have had no conversations or negotiations with the DOE on a systemwide evaluation system,” he said.