December 30, 2011
The city and teachers union won’t meet this week’s deadline to hammer out a new teacher evaluation system — and it doesn’t look like they will reach an agreement any time soon.
State Education Commisioner John King this week issued a strict ultimatum to New York and nine other districts: Agree on new teacher evaluations in a subset of low-performing schools by Dec. 31 or lose special federal funds for those schools. The city is receiving about $60 million in the funds, called School Improvement Grants, for 33 schools.
In July, the city and union agreed to roll out new evaluations in the schools, but they still had some details to finalize. They were locked in negotiations until today but threw in the towel this morning, citing irreconcilable ideological differences, particularly around due process protections for teachers who receive low ratings.
The impasse has potentially far-ranging consequences. The first is that the 33 struggling schools will stop receiving funds midyear, leaving them in the lurch to pay for programs, personnel, and nonprofit partners that are already in place.
“I am left with no choice but to suspend SIG funding” to New York City, King said in a statement this afternoon, hours after city officials essentially petitioned him to consider awarding the funds despite the impasse.
The high-profile breakdown in negotiations also bodes ill for another deadline, June 30, by which new teacher evaluations are supposed to be in place for all schools, in accordance with a state law passed in 2010 to help the state win Race to the Top funds.
The city has also canceled negotiations with the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators over new evaluations for principals. Today would have been the third day for those talks, according to CSA President Ernest Logan, who urged the department to return to the table.
That seems unlikely, according to a letter Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent King this morning explaining the impasse and suggesting that the city and state try to move forward on creating a new evaluation system without the union’s approval.
“This disagreement — regarding both policy and principles — leads me to conclude that we will not be able to come to an agreement on a fair and progressive teacher evaluation system,” Walcott wrote.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew union negotiators alerted him around 11 a.m. that two deputy chancellors had declared negotiations over and exited the room. Shortly afterwards, Mulgrew said, he received a copy of Walcott’s letter to King.
“I got the sense that the department never really wanted to get this done to begin with,” Mulgrew told GothamSchools.
The main sticking points appeared to be whether outside arbitrators would hear appeals of teachers who receive low ratings and, more broadly, whether the new evaluations are meant to usher weak teachers out of the system or identify struggling teachers so they can be helped to get better.
“We are hoping that we can have a system that will help teachers improve, because that’s the spirit of the legislation,” Mulgrew told GothamSchools yesterday. “The DOE, I don’t think they look at it the same way we do.”
In his letter to King, Walcott said the union was trying “to protect the very worst performing teachers” by insisting on outside review for teachers who received either an “ineffective” or “developing” rating under the new system. He also said the union has also thrown up roadblocks to dismissal proceedings for teachers the city is trying to fire, a separate issue from the new evaluations.
“Almost every step of the way, the UFT has insisted on conditions that I believe would undercut real accountability,” Walcott said in the letter.
But union officials said they had asked only for arbitrators to hear the cases of teachers who received the lowest rating and could lose their jobs as a result. Such a protection would guard against capricious and arbitrary low ratings by principals, they said.
Mulgrew said the city had not accepted the union’s suggestion that a third-party negotiator step in on sticking points.
In his letter, Walcott suggested to King that a solution might be found without the union’s consent.
“The city stands ready to continue discussions on this matter directly with the state, and I hope that you will consider the seriousness with which we are approaching this matter as a sign of our commitment to creating a meaningful teacher evaluation system for our schools,” he said.
City officials said they were discussing the possibility of recouping some expenditures or directing different funds to pay for others at the schools.
Walcott’s complete letter to King is below:
And here’s Mulgrew’s explanation of the impasse:
Discussions with the New York City Department of Education have reached an impasse.
Despite numerous negotiating sessions, we have been unable to reach agreement on key points. Because the DOE refused to bargain in a meaningful way, we have offered to engage in binding arbitration over the remaining issues, leaving it up to an impartial third party to resolve these differences. (letter attached)
The DOE has refused our offer.
The UFT is seeking an agreement that meets the spirit of the teacher evaluation legislation in two important ways:
1) The agreement must focus on creating a process to help teachers improve their performance by providing them with feedback on the specific classroom issues that need to be addressed, recommended strategies to address these issues and specific assistance from supervisors and other school personnel in implementing the recommended strategies.
2) for teachers rated ineffective — an impartial outside review by a qualified and mutually-agreed-upon third party.
Teachers look forward to the opportunity to improve their practice. If the DOE’s major focus is on penalizing its employees for their perceived shortcomings, rather than to devise a process that will help all teachers improve, it is doing a disservice to the schools and the children they serve.
In addition, the DOE’s position in these talks has been that principals’ judgment is always right and that they should be able to wield unfettered power over their employees. Yet its own investigative arm has documented an instance of a principal urging her deputies to target teachers for dismissal even without observing their work (Fordham HS of the Arts); another teacher had to go to court to get an “unsatisfactory” rating overturned after an independent investigator found that he and other teachers had been harassed by the principal (Bronx Science); and repeated allegations that teachers have been pressured by administrators to pass students who had not mastered course material or who barely attended classes (Herbert Lehman, A. Phillip Randolph).
It staggers the imagination to think that, given these facts, the DOE can continue to insist that no principal’s judgment can be questioned, and that no checks or balances are needed on their powers to destroy a teacher’s career.
And here’s what State Commissioner John King said this afternoon:
Sadly, the adults in charge of the City’s schools have let the students down. SIG schools need to be fixed, and the best way to make that happen is to make sure there’s a quality teacher in front of every classroom and a quality principal at the head of every school.
A rigorous, transparent evaluation system grounded in evidence of effective practice and student learning is critical to providing quality professional development, identifying models of excellence, and raising student achievement. Fair, sound teacher and principal evaluations are good for educators and vital for students.
The failure to reach agreements on evaluations leaves thousands of students mired in the same educational morass. Until the grown-ups in charge start acting that way, it won’t be a very happy New Year for the students at the SIG schools in the City.
This is beyond disappointing. The City and the unions have known about this deadline for many months, but there’s no evidence of any real progress. The New York City Department of Education must immediately cease obligating SIG funds in its Transformation and Restart model schools. I am left with no choice but to suspend SIG funding for Transformation and Restart model schools in the City.