November 22, 2011
Across the state, hundreds of principals have signed onto a petition urging the state to proceed cautiously with new teacher evaluations.
Only two of them currently run New York City schools.
The petition is attached to a position paper arguing that the state’s evaluation regulations — which require a portion of teachers’ ratings to be based on their students’ test scores — are unsupported by research, prone to errors, and too expensive at a time of budget cuts. Nearly three quarters of principals on Long Island, where the paper originated, have signed on, as well as hundreds of principals from districts across the state and even the country.
Sean Feeney, a Long Island principal who helped write the position paper earlier this month in his capacity as president of the Nassau County High School Principals Association, said toughening teacher evaluations is a worthy goal, but the state’s requirements aren’t the best way to accomplish it.
“We’ve got a ship that’s sailed on a dangerous course through uncharted waters and we’re not prepared — and somehow that’s okay and we have to go full-steam ahead,” he said. “We’re betting people’s careers on something that does not work. It’s unconscionable.”
Feeney speculated that city principals are less shocked by the state’s evaluation requirements because the city has already tried to develop “value-added” evaluations of some teachers using student test scores.
“The city’s been living with this for a while,” he said.
Plus, he said about city principals, “I think they’re a little more nervous” about jeopardizing their jobs by speaking out.
One of the principals who signed the petition, P.S. 257′s Brian Devale, has been an outspoken defender of teachers unions in the past, lobbying to keep “last in, first out” seniority layoff rules in place even when some of his colleagues were advocating to end them.
The second city principal to sign, M.S. 324′s Janet Heller, actually went to bat against the seniority layoff rules last year. She told GothamSchools today that she signed the petition because she thought the city’s approach to incorporating test scores into teacher evaluations was superior to the state’s.
A third city educator who signed the petition, Donald Freeman, retired as the principal of Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School and went on to coordinate the New York Performance Standards Consortium, which advocates against all high-stakes testing.
A spokeswoman for the principals union, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, said CSA had not observed city principals showing interest in the cause.
“What we’re witnessing here is a grassroots movement that individuals have signed onto,” Antoinette Isable-Jones wrote in an email. “Those individuals are understandably frustrated.”
Feeney, a founding teacher at Manhattan Village Academy before moving to Long Island, said advocacy groups and professional organizations based in the city are working to promote the position paper. Already, dozens of city teachers have signed on, as well as a handful of activists include Class Size matters’ Leonie Haimson and Diane Ravitch.
But he said the petition has a shot of affecting state policy only if many principals sign on, and not just from Long Island, which he said state officials tended to view as “a thorn in their side.”
“The principal’s voice is an important one,” Feeney said. “We welcome all signatories … but we certainly put the signing on of a principal at a premium.”