Posts from Sarah Butrymowicz, Hechinger Report
March 18, 2013
Early on in George Latimer’s 2012 race for the open New York Senate District 37 seat, the momentum was swinging in his opponent’s favor. Republican candidate Bob Cohen, a wealthy real estate developer, had a reputation as an aggressive campaigner who wasn’t afraid to spend money. Two years earlier, he had nearly unseated the incumbent who was now stepping down.
“There was a substantial concern that Bob’s money could win this,” said Victor Mallison, who ran Latimer’s campaign.
But the Westchester race had piqued the interest of the United Federation of Teachers and the New York State United Teachers, who saw a unique opportunity for Democrats to take over the Senate for just the third time since World War II. Democrats already controlled the Assembly, and controlling both houses of the legislature would give the party and its union allies the power to advance their agendas with little opposition. (more…)
March 12, 2013
At a synagogue in Surfside, Fla., last month, about 40 former teachers gathered for cupcakes, cheesecake, and a PowerPoint presentation by a pair of union representatives from New York. The teachers were members of the United Federation of Teachers retiree chapter, and the representatives had been sent by the UFT and New York State United Teachers to pass along information about budget counseling, Medicare, and pet insurance.
Ken Goodman, the UFT Florida retiree chapter leader, called the meeting to order by announcing updates about the following month’s annual retiree luncheon. Buses would pick the members up from Surfside and ferry them to the event in Boca Raton, where UFT President Michael Mulgrew would deliver the keynote address just weeks before his re-election bid.
Despite being out of the classroom — in many cases, for decades — retirees make up a large portion of Mulgrew’s constituency. And because the UFT is one of the only unions in the country to allow retirees to vote in leadership elections, they are powerful. Even when they live far from New York City, the UFT’s 60,000 retiree members staunchly defend the union they helped shape in the 1960s and 1970s, and they volunteer in droves when the union mobilizes its members to support candidates or lobby on education or healthcare. (more…)
March 6, 2013
A high school marching band helped start off the New York State United Teachers’ lobby day in the late morning, leading hundreds bused in from around the state on a parade outside the state Capitol building. At a rally, the crowd of teachers, students, and community organizers asked for more school funding and called Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget, which increases state aid by 4.4 percent, “bananas” because it wasn’t enough.
Today’s message will feature a different union — the city’s United Federation of Teachers — with different budget priorities and a more powerful audience. The UFT wants money for teacher training centers, community schools, and child care, and it has reserved speaking slots at its rally for the legislature’s three leaders: Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, Senate Republican Dean Skelos and Senate Democrat Jeff Klein.
The two lobby days, which include union members and their supporters, are among the most visible manifestations of the unions’ annual behind-the-scenes effort to influence how state policies are shaped and money is spent. Each year, New York’s teacher unions spend millions to organize large rallies, launch statewide advertising campaigns and pay teams of staff lobbyists to work directly with elected officials on specific legislation. (more…)
March 4, 2013
For decades, the United Federation of Teachers, the largest teachers union local in the nation, held the city in its sway. The UFT’s powerful get-out-the-vote efforts influenced mayoral elections. Its political power kept Albany legislators on a tight leash. And the city’s education policies sometimes mirrored the union’s agenda.
But in recent years, that power has been under threat, both locally and nationally.
Across the country, local teachers unions have been fending off attacks against basic labor rights, such as laws that repeal collective bargaining, and trying to defeat or water down scores of state-level bills that would tie teacher evaluations to student test scores, establish merit pay, or abolish tenure.
And in New York City, a billionaire mayor with no need for union dollars or endorsement has reshaped the city school system and picked fights with the union over its top priorities, including teacher tenure and job protections based on seniority.
Continuity and change
Together, the attacks have cut into the formidable might the UFT has wielded since it began representing all city teachers in 1962. (more…)
March 6, 2012
Add one more point of critique to the city’s Teacher Data Reports: Experts and educators are worried about the bell curve along which the teacher ratings fell out.
Like the distribution of teachers by rating across types of schools, the distribution of scores among teachers was essentially built into the “value-added” model that the city used to generate the ratings.
The long-term goal of many education reformers is to create a teaching force in which nearly all teachers are high-performing. However, in New York City’s rankings — which rated thousands of teachers who taught in the system from 2007 to 2010 — teachers were graded on a curve. That is, under the city’s formula, some teachers would always be rated as “below average,” even if student performance increased significantly in all classrooms across the city.
The ratings were based on a complex formula that predicts how students will do — after taking into account background characteristics — on standardized tests. Teachers received scores based on students’ actual test results measured against the predictions. They were then divided into five categories. Half of all teachers were rated as “average,” 20 percent were “above average,” and another 20 percent were “below average.” The remaining 10 percent were divided evenly between teachers rated as “far above average” and “far below average.”
IMPACT, the District of Columbia’s teacher-evaluation system, also uses a set distribution for teacher ratings. As sociologist Aaron Pallas wrote in October 2010, “by definition, the value-added component of the D.C. IMPACT evaluation system defines 50 percent of all teachers in grades four through eight as ineffective or minimally effective in influencing their students’ learning.” (more…)
March 1, 2012
New York City schools erupted in controversy last week when the school district released its “value-added” teacher scores to the public after a yearlong battle with the local teachers union. The city cautioned that the scores had large margins of error, and many education leaders around the country believe that publishing teachers’ names alongside their ratings is a bad idea.
Still, a growing number of states are now using evaluation systems based on students’ standardized test-scores in decisions about teacher tenure, dismissal, and compensation. So how does the city’s formula stack up to methods used elsewhere?
The Hechinger Report has spent the past 14 months reporting on teacher-effectiveness reforms around the country and has examined value-added models in several states. New York City’s formula, which was designed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has elements that make it more accurate than other models in some respects, but it also has elements that experts say might increase errors — a major concern for teachers whose job security is tied to their value-added ratings.
“There’s a lot of debate about what the best model is,” said Douglas Harris, an expert on value-added modeling at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was not involved in the design of New York’s statistical formula. The city used the formula from 2007 to 2010 before discontinuing it, in part because New York State announced plans to incorporate a different formula into its teacher evaluation system. (more…)