February 16, 2012
Today’s evaluations announcement would appear to eliminate the main reason for the city’s controversial plan to “turn around” 33 struggling schools. But Mayor Bloomberg said the city would move forward with the plans anyway.
Bloomberg proposed turnaround, which would require the schools to close and reopen with new names and many new teachers, last month as a way to circumvent a requirement that the city negotiate an evaluation deal for teachers in those schools. Now, having resolved a sticking point in those negotiations resolved — the appeals process for teachers who receive low ratings — the city could conceivably appeal to the state to let it continue receiving federal funds to implement improvement strategies that had been underway there until the evaluations negotiations broke down in December.
But Bloomberg — who did not join state and union officials announcing the evaluations deal in Albany today — said during a press conference at City Hall that he would not be backing down from the turnaround plans.
“Nothing in the deal prevents us from moving forward with our plan to replace the lowest performing teachers in 33 of our most troubling schools,” he said.
Bloomberg said the aggressive overhaul strategy was necessary because no teachers would be removed from schools because of low scores on the new evaluations for at least a year and a half.
“It would be unconscionable for us to sit around for two years and do nothing, so we’re going to use the 18-D process,” he said, referring to a clause in the city’s contract with the teachers union that the city says allows turnaround’s rehiring process.
Another reason not to revert to the previous overhaul strategies, “restart” and “transformation,” is that the city and union have not actually hammered out an evaluation system for the 33 schools, which would be required to restore federal School Improvement Grants for those processes. City officials said today they had not focused on fast-tracking a system just for the 33 schools and instead were focusing on longer-term negotiations for a process that would apply to the entire city.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew and principals union president Ernest Logan both said today that they thought the evaluation deal should take turnaround off the table.
Mulgrew also signaled that Bloomberg had not raised the possibility of seeking funding for less agressive overhaul strategies.
“If the mayor chooses he can speak to us about putting in a SIG application,” Mulgrew said in Albany before Bloomberg addressed the issue of turnaround schools. “I think he has decided he’d rather close schools than fix them.”
Teachers, parents, students, and even administrators at the schools have been protesting the turnaround plans, charging that the rapid teacher turnover would be disruptive and arguing that the schools had made progress under restart and transformation.
Reached at school, the principal of one of the 33 schools said Bloomberg had missed his opportunity to exit gracefully from the plan.
“This was his way of bowing out of it. If he says this is still going forward then I believe him,” the principal said. “He threw down the gauntlet.”
Some of the schools have pushed back against the turnaround proposals by pointing out that they received high marks on the progress reports the Department of Education uses to judge schools.
Bloomberg did leave open the possibility that the city would not pursue turnaround at all 33 of the schools but said the city would press forward with replacing half the teachers in “maybe even all of them, probably most of them, certainly most of them.”
Speaking in Albany today, State Education Commissioner John King — who will have to approve the plans if they are to receive federal funding — said the city must decide on an individual basis what is most likely to help each school improve. City officials are set to make their case with King next week for why federal funds should continue flowing to the schools and have said they intend to present the turnaround plans as evidence.
“The district will need to make a determination school by school,” King said.