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State officials are ready to fast-track New York City's eval plan

ALBANY — State education officials cleared their schedule in anticipation of a busy week as dozens of school districts, including New York City, scramble to meet a Thursday teacher evaluation deadline.

Over the weekend, they finished assessing the last of the evaluation plans that districts had proposed, Commissioner John King told the Board of Regents this morning.

“As of 5 p.m. [Sunday], our desk was empty,” he said. “We’ve reviewed and provided feedback on everything that’s been submitted.”

Now they are just waiting for six districts to submit their plans for the first time and 29 others to resubmit plans that needed revisions.

King did not name New York City when he mentioned the districts that have not yet submitted plans. But there was no mistaking which district was most on his mind.

“One of them is quite large,” King said, to laughter.

In order to meet a deadline that Gov. Andrew Cuomo set last year to adopt new teacher evaluations or lose state aid, districts must have their plans approved by Jan. 17. In New York City, where $250 million is at stake, officials are still negotiating over evaluations with the teachers union, whose sign-off is necessary before the state will review a proposed plan.

State officials have said repeatedly that they need time to review proposals to ensure that they comply with state law and education department regulations. So far, 656 districts have had their plans approved, and most of the remaining districts are poised to get final approval by the deadline, King said today.

But not a single district has submitted a plan that did not require feedback and resubmission. So unless the city and union officials submit a flawless first draft, they likely can’t wait until the last minute on Thursday.

“The sooner a district submits a plan, the more likely it is we can work with them to ensure that plan is approved,” King said.

Still, King said his staff has grown “very efficient” at reviewing plans and was optimistic that the city would be able to address shortcomings in its proposal quickly. “I expect them to finish on time,” he said.

After exchanging barbs for much of the last month, the Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers returned to the negotiating table last week. This week, several state officials said they assumed that the city and union had struck a deal.

In New York City today, the union recruited teachers to hand out flyers in more than a dozen locations asking people to call 311, the city’s public information phone line, to “tell the mayor to commit to an evaluation system that supports quality teaching.”

As he handed out leaflets at the Brooklyn Bridge subway station in Manhattan, Barry Greenberg, a first-grade teacher and union chapter leader at Manhattan’s P.S. 126, said, “We always have time to have an influence.”

Implementation of a new evaluation plan, once approved, remains a looming concern. State law requires that districts have their plans “fully implemented” this year in order to qualify for the funding. But that would be a tall order for New York City, where teachers and principals have been introduced only to some of the likely components of new evaluations.

But what implementation means could be up for discussion. For example, the original evaluation law says that districts can move to fire teachers who receive two consecutive “ineffective” ratings — but they don’t have to. While city officials have said they intend to take advantage of that allowance, they could decide to start the clock next year and treat this year’s ratings as a practice round.

“The district has to decide how to use the ratings consistent with the law,” King said, adding that personnel decisions based on the ratings were the “district’s discretion.”

Bob Lowry, New York State Council of Superintendents deputy director for advocacy research and communication, said some superintendents in other districts were also struggling to implement the plan for this year. He criticized the timing of the legal deadline as coming too late for districts to implement new evaluation systems this year.

“If the expectation was that they were going to be implementing this year and carrying it out in the ideal fashion, then they would have said you have to have a plan in place at the beginning of the school year,” Lowry said. “But they didn’t say that.”

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