After the collapse of teacher evaluation negotiations in New York City and across the state, education reform groups are asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to install a “shot clock” on future talks.

When the clock expires, a teacher evaluation system devised by the State Education Department would go into effect, according to the plan outlined in a letter signed by 13 reform organizations from across the state and country. The groups — which include Democrats for Education Reform and and StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee’s new lobbying outfit — argue both that more stringent evaluations are needed and that the state cannot afford to leave funding on the table during tough budget times.

The state’s teacher evaluation law, passed in 2010in order to secure Race to the Top funding, requires districts to adopt tougher evaluations when they renegotiate teachers contracts. But if they want to draw on several pools of federal funds, they have to finalize the new evaluations sooner. Dec. 31 was the deadline for one set of funds, School Improvement Grants. Another deadline, for Race to the Top funds, is coming on June 30.

Now the reform groups want the state to set another deadline — Aug. 31 — and they want it to apply to all districts, not just ones seeking federal funding. The groups are suggesting to Cuomo that districts that haven’t negotiated a plan by then would have to adopt a “default” plan and put it in place by the following year.

In some ways, the proposal is redolent of city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s request last week that State Education Commissioner John King help the city hammer out an evaluation system without the union’s help. But in this case, both the districts and the unions would be cut out of the process to devise new evaluations.

The proposal doesn’t outline what exactly the default plan would look like. But the lack of a default option makes New York’s evaluation negotiations more complicated than in some other states receiving Race to the Top funding, representatives of reform groups told GothamSchools last year.

Putting a default option in place would require an amendment to the state’s teacher evaluation law, according to SED officials.

The idea of a plan B on evaluations is likely to find a receptive audience in Cuomo, who is expected to propose education policy changes in his second “State of the State” address tomorrow. But the governor, who said last week that he was “disappointed” that districts had not been able to agree on teacher evaluations and urged them to return to the negotiating table, has had mixed results when trying to push specific education policies. In May 2011, the Board of Regents approved a policy change he sought, to make teacher evaluations depend even more heavily on state test scores than the law requires. That regulation was rolled back after a lawsuit by the state teachers union.

The full letter from the reform groups is below:

Dear Governor Cuomo:

We are gravely concerned about New York’s credibility when it comes to living up to our promise of providing every child in the state with an outstanding classroom teacher. As you are aware, labor and management from school districts in many parts of the state have so far failed to implement key provisions of the state’s Race to the Top laws. These laws passed with bi-partisan support in our state’s successful attempt to win $700 million in federal funds for public schools.

It has been widely documented that one of the reasons New York beat out so many other states in President Obama’s RTTT competition was the enthusiastic pledge by leaders of both education labor and management to work collaboratively to implement new teacher evaluations which would highlight the exceptional work done by effective classroom teachers.  See video of New York’s representatives promising to work together to implement the RTTT plan here.

Like other winning states, New York promised it would implement the reforms that came with the money. Nearly two years later, however, all that the students of New York’s public schools have to show for this grand bargain is foot-dragging and politicking by the same grownups who assured the federal government we were serious.

To avert a situation where New York is forced to return hundreds of millions of sorely-needed federal dollars, we urge you to consider introducing “shot clock” style measures to ensure that all school districts will fully implement the state’s new teacher evaluation framework in accordance with the Race to the Top timeline.

New York cannot afford to leave federal money on the table at a time when its schools are already facing budgetary hardships.  Federal education officials have made clear their intention to hold states accountable to their Race to the Top programs, as seen recently in the case of Hawaii.  Hawaii’s failure to secure a collective bargaining agreement with its teachers’ union contributed to it being placed on “high-risk status,” in danger of losing its grant and subject to extensive review and reporting requirements.

Aside from the fact that we believe that implementing these new, modernized teacher evaluation systems is the right thing to do, we are also mindful there are other federal funding streams which could be jeopardized by this high-profile impasse.  New York City, alone, has almost $60 million in federal School Improvement Grants at risk after its negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers around a pilot system for evaluating teacher performance broke down this past Friday.  It is also endangering tens of millions of dollars in federal Teacher Incentive Fund grants earmarked for its teachers, because it has not adopted a system which recognizes and highlights great teaching.

To ensure that the City and the state’s other districts fulfill New York’s promises to its schoolchildren, we request that you introduce a back-stop measure that requires districts to develop teacher evaluation plans by August 31, 2012.  Any district that has not successfully negotiated its own plan by that date will have to automatically carry out a “default” plan, to be created by the State Education Department.  Those districts would have one year (until August 31, 2013) to install and fully implement their default plan systems.

Governor, we thank you for your efforts to date to strengthen New York’s focus on educational  measures and accountability, most recently by introducing your School District Performance Improvement Awards program to incentivize districts to make innovative reforms that improve student performance.

Research studies have demonstrated, time and again, that the most impactful factor on the level of learning in a classroom is the quality of its teacher.  At this critical juncture when the state faces a key deadline in implementing a teacher evaluation framework that will impact its students for years to come, we ask that you step up again to ensure that the task gets accomplished.

Sincerely,

Buffalo ReformED: Press Contact:  Hannya Boulos – Hannya@BuffaloReformED.com716-783-3372
Civic Builders: Press Contact:  David Umansky – Umansky@civicbuilders.org – 212-571-7260
Democracy Builders: Press Contact:  Rev. Jamaal Nelson – jnelson@democracybuilders.org – 646-281-9164
Democrats for Education Reform: Press Contact:  Elizabeth Ling – elizabeth@dfer.org – 646-599-6123
Education Reform Now: Press Contact:  Myles Mendoza – myles@edreformnow.org – 303-912-0267
Educators 4 Excellence: Press Contact:  Sydney Morris – sydneymorris@educators4excellence.org212-279-8510 ext. 10
National Council on Teacher Quality: Press Contact:  Sandi Jacobs – sjacobs@nctq.org – 202-393-0020
The New Teacher Project: Press Contact:  Andy Jacob – ajacob@tntp.org – 347-987-0749
NYCAN: The New York Campaign for Achievement Now: Press Contact:  Christina Grant – Christina.Grant@NYCAN.org – 516-749-9462
Parent Power Project: Press Contact:  Carrie Remis – carrie.remis@parentpowerproject.org585-350-8306
StudentsFirst: Press Contact:  Nancy Zuckerbrod – nancy@studentsfirst.org301-204-9391
Students for Education Reform: Press Contact:  Alexis Morin – alexis@studentsforedreform.org774-258-0024
Turnaround for Children: Press Contact:  Pamela Cantor, MD – pacantormd@tfcusa.org – 646-786-6200