As mayor-elect Bill de Blasio hashes out his administration’s education to-do list, teachers union chief Michael Mulgrew was ready Wednesday to suggest a top priority – revise the new teacher-evaluation system that the state imposed this June to break a long city-union impasse.
“I’ve got to get evals straightened out quickly, because it’s an unmitigated disaster,” said Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, which filed 17 formal grievances last month over the evaluation system’s rollout.
Mulgrew also suggested that the de Blasio administration reconsider the structure of the school system, which groups schools into multi-borough support networks.
“We’ve got to restructure,” Mulgrew said, adding that the networks do more to enforce school compliance with department regulations than to assist them with instruction.
The DOE “designed a system that’s not about supporting schools,” he said. “They designed a system that’s about accountability.”
De Blasio’s staff would not comment on Mulgrew’s suggestions, but pointed out that de Blasio’s campaign policy book proposes that the teacher-evaulation system could be improved by recruiting and training principals better.
During his victory party Tuesday night, de Blasio met privately with Mulgrew, along with state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and influential Assemblyman Keith Wright, according to a union official.
Mulgrew made his comments Wednesday morning after an event celebrating a group of city high schools that have state waivers allowing them to base student graduation on performance-based assessments – such as research papers and science experiments – rather than the Regents exams. (The schools still must take the English Regents tests.)
Such alternative assessments could play a larger role in measuring student growth – and with it, educator effectiveness – within the teacher-evaluation system, Mulgrew suggested.
“We should be looking at them and saying, ‘What can we take from these schools and make better?” he said at the event at the Upper East Side’s Urban Academy, a member of the New York Performance Standards Consortium.
State Education Commissioner John King imposed the new evaluation system in June after the city Department of Education and the UFT failed to agree on one by a January deadline.
Last month, the union filed the grievances over a wide range perceived flaws in how the system has been put into play, including how observations – which account for 60 percent of teachers’ ratings – are conducted and the role of teacher committees in making ratings recommendations to principals.
King has said that the evaluation system will remain in effect through the 2016-2017 school year – unless the city and UFT negotiate a different plan that follows the state’s evaluation law.
Mulgrew gave few clues Wednesday about what parts of the system he would like changed, but Leo Casey, a former union official who was also at the event, said that just about everything permissible under the state law will likely be on the table.
“The whole thing could be negotiated under the law,” said Casey, the executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, who was involved in the evaluation negotiations before he left his post as UFT vice president last year.
He said possible changes could include adding more performance-based assessments for the local measures of student growth – which make up 20 percent of teachers’ ratings – or allowing teachers to help evaluate their peers.
What Mulgrew will likely avoid, Casey added, is publicly proposing evaluation fixes – a strategy that led nowhere during the back-and-forth with the Bloomberg administration.
“He’s not going to negotiate this stuff in public,” he said.
Under the existing school-support network system, principals join groups led by DOE-run or nonprofit providers that assist with teacher training, budgeting and more.
Mulgrew’s criticism of the networks follows public comments last month by State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who said if she were taking over the city’s school system, she “would look heavily to change the networks.”
Some have suggested that the networks’ oversight-and-support role be returned to district superintendents, who lost much of their authority when the Bloomberg administration overhauled the school-governance system. De Blasio’s policy book says the DOE should recruit “strong” superintendents who can “encourage, coach, support, and hold principals and schools accountable for steady progress toward quality schools.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, also attended Wednesday’s event, where she welcomed “a new era in New York City” under Bill de Blasio.
She predicted that de Blasio, as a public-school parent, would end the “fixation on testing” that she said has been a hallmark of the Bloomberg era.
She added that she was “amazed” that the schools in the performance-assessment consortium, which began during the Giuliani administration and has expanded under Bloomberg, managed to avoid this standardized-testing push.
“They were able to navigate through a lot of different shoals and terrible waves of really bad education policy-making,” said Weingarten, who has batted off rumors that she is in the running to be the next city schools chancellor.