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Even if deal on teacher evals is reached, logistical matters loom

Negotiations between the city and teachers union over new teacher evaluations appear likely to come down to the wire yet again.

Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he would withdraw increased state aid from any district that does not negotiate a teacher evaluation system with its union by Jan. 17, 2013. As the deadline nears, state education officials have said repeatedly that they need weeks to review systems that are submitted for approval. Districts should submit plans by the first week of December, they have urged.

Most districts have responded to the urgency. About 85 percent of New York State’s 700 school districts have turned in at least the first draft of required teacher evaluation plans, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said today.

In New York City, where $300 million in state aid is at stake this year, city officials say they feel confident that they will reach a deal before Cuomo’s deadline, and union leaders say constructive discussions are back on track after a nearly monthlong hiatus following Hurricane Sandy. But both said there is significant ground yet to cover.

Comparing the introduction of new teacher evaluations to a 26.2-mile marathon, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said on Tuesday, “We’re at mile five, and our goal is to make this a long-distance run.”

Speaking an event about teacher evaluations hosted by the advocacy group Educators 4 Excellence, Walcott said he aimed to finalize an agreement with the UFT by the end of December, more than two weeks before Cuomo’s deadline.

“It is my goal to ideally wrap this up before the seventeenth of January,” Walcott said. “I’m putting pressure on myself to do that.”

But Deputy Chancellor David Weiner, who is in charge of labor negotiations, signaled that he expected discussions to go until the last possible moment. “I assure you, from about January second to January seventeenth, I have told my wife, I’m not around,” he told the teachers.

The city’s pace has state education officials concerned. “The commissioner [John King] has spoken very clearly that if we get an application on January fifteenth, it’s going to be hard to say yes to it by January seventeenth,” Tisch said.

Advocates for more sophisticated teacher evaluations are working to turn up the heat on the city and union. StudentsFirstNY held a parent rally supporting an evaluation deal earlier this month, and Educators 4 Excellence members are planning a rally of their own for Sunday. On Thursday, college students in a group called Students for Education Reform are planning a protest march from the UFT’s offices to the Department of Education’s headquarters.

But meeting the state’s requirements is no easy task. State law requires not only a deal on the books by January but full implementation of a new evaluation system for the current school year, complete with final scores for each teacher delivered by next fall. That could prove a challenge in a mammoth school system where many schools have little experience with likely components of new evaluations.

Most city schools have been practicing with the Danielson observation rubric, seen as likely to account for a significant portion of teachers’ scores. But less groundwork has been laid for other likely components of new evaluations. Only a handful of teachers have been involved in building local assessments that must count for 20 percent of each teacher’s score, for example. And some required pieces, such as setting “student learning objectives” to measure student growth in classes where there is no state test, would be hard to make happen mid-year.

Tisch suggested that she thought the complexity of implementing an agreement could be one thing stopping the city and union from reaching one. “I don’t know why they are delaying, but if the delay is for the purpose of not implementing this year, I would say to all of them think about that twice,” she said.

Weiner said the city is prepared to begin a full implementation as soon as a teacher evaluation system is approved. But Walcott signaled that getting to full speed could take longer than the state would like.

“We’re going to have ongoing discussions with the state about the implementation timeline, as well, and also our union partners,” Walcott said. “We want to do it the right way. … We need to talk about the reality of what’s doable and what’s not doable, so we’ll see what happens.”

Asked today what could happen if the city and union ink a deal but do not have the systems in place to generate complete teacher ratings this year, Tisch took a deep breath. “Let’s get to that,” she said.

“We have never said that the implementation of evaluation was going to be easy [but] we can work with districts to help them manage the challenges,” Tisch added. “But we can’t manage challenges of implementation if we do not have an agreement.”

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