all's quiet

Reform groups are mostly mum on coming teacher rating dump

Contrasted against each other, this week’s two pieces of teacher evaluation news put some education reform groups in a tough spot.

As a deadline on a teacher evaluation deal neared, the groups anxiously supported Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s work to add weight to test scores for assessing teachers. But in the middle of those negotiations, a court decision on the release of the city’s teacher data reports reminded the public of the pitfalls of relying too heavily on data-driven metrics. Research into the reports had revealed a wide margin of error and instability from year to year.

So, for the most part, groups were mum about the legal ruling, which paves the way for a data dump of two-year-old “value-added” ratings for 12,000 city teachers.

The exception was Educators 4 Excellence, an upstart advocacy group that says it has support from thousands of city teachers. Although they are usually a thorn in the side of the United Federation of Teachers because of disagreement over senior-based layoffs and teacher evaluations, the two groups struck common ground on this issue.

E4E co-founder and co-CEO Evan Stone sent over an email Wednesday saying he was “disappointed” with the court’s decision to let the release go forward and said he thought making the ratings public would do little to boost the issue of improving teacher quality.

“While we strongly support teachers receiving quality feedback about their performance, including how much they’re helping their students progress on state tests, publicizing these results on the front page of newspapers will not help improve teacher effectiveness,” Stone said in a statement.

Stone’s comments, while not as sharply worded, echo the sentiments of UFT President Michael Mulgrew. Principals union head Ernest Logan piled on criticism of the decision as well yesterday.

“To rely on these reports to make a public judgment call about a teacher is unfortunate, especially considering that the reports are derived solely from problematic state exams that were administered several years ago,” Logan said in a statement.

E4E is the only reform-oriented group that I reached out to on Wednesday that had someting to say about the ratings’ release. Both TNTP and Teach For America, alternative certification programs whose combined alumni body totals more than 10,000 teachers currently working in the city school system, declined comment. TFA is not an organization that regularly comments on policy news, but TFA CEO Wendy Kopp has been outspoken in opposing the release of similar ratings in Los Angeles. Democrats for Education Reform, the hard-charging political action committee that supports data-driven teacher evaluations, also declined.

“I don’t think anyone supports this,” said Sean Corcoran, the New York University researcher who studied the city’s value-added algorithm and found they lacked reliability.

Corcoran said the prospect of publishing the ratings put teacher groups such as E4E, TNTP, and TFA in an uncomfortable position.

“It puts them all in a bad place,” Corcoran said. “If you can believe in these kinds of data measures, why are you not willing to stand behind them in a more public way?”

The teacher rating release decision came at a delicate time. All of the reform groups have supported a state bid to toughen teacher evaluations that is based in part on a value-added system that is similar to the one once used to devise the city’s teacher ratings. To come out against releasing the information might sound like a vote of no confidence at time when they are on the brink of striking an evalaution deal.

Stone, who applauded Cuomo’s deal yesterday, added in his statement that E4E still supported a more comprehensive evaluation system.

“What will help is finally implementing a meaningful teacher evaluation system that assesses educators based on a variety of measures and that provides support and professional development to help them help their students,” he said.

 

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”

fight another day

In union defeat, lawmakers end session without revamping teacher evaluation law

After a hard-fought battle by the state teachers union, New York lawmakers went home for the summer without overhauling a controversial teacher evaluation law that ties state test scores to educator ratings.

The bill pushed by the unions would have left decisions about whether to use state test scores in teacher evaluations up to local union negotiations. While the bill cleared the Assembly, it was bottled up by the Senate’s leadership, which demanded charter school concessions in return that Assembly Democrats wouldn’t agree to.

The effort to decouple test scores from teacher evaluations was one of several that fizzled out at the end of a lackluster session characterized by lawmaker gridlock.

“Sen. Flanagan, his caucus and five Democrats chose to betray the state’s teachers,”  said New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta in a statement. “Make no mistake, New York teachers, parents and public school students will remember which senators voted against their public schools when we head to the polls this September and again in November.”

There is some possibility that lawmakers could return to finish a few unresolved issues this summer, but Pallotta told Chalkbeat he is not holding out hope for that outcome.

The lack of action is a defeat for the state teachers union, which fought hard for the bill since the beginning of the session. Union officials have staged musical rallies, bought balloons, rented a truck with a message urging lawmakers to pass the bill, and capped off the last day of session handing out ice cream for the cause.

However, the legislative loss gives the union something to rally around during this fall’s elections. Also, other education advocacy organizations are content to engage in a longer process to revamp evaluations.

“Inaction isn’t always the worst outcome,” said Julie Marlette, Director of Governmental Relations for the New York State School Boards Association.“Now we can continue to work with both legislative and regulatory figures to hopefully craft an update to evaluations that is thoughtful and comprehensive and includes all the stakeholders.”  

The news also means that New York’s teacher evaluation saga which has been raging for eight years will spill over into at least next year. Policymakers have been battling about state teacher evaluations since 2010, when New York adopted a system that started using state test scores to rate teachers in order to win federal “Race to the Top” money.

Teacher evaluations were altered again in 2015 when Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for a more stringent evaluation system, saying evaluations as they existed were “baloney.” The new system was met with resistance from the teachers unions and parents across the state. Nearly one in five families boycotted state tests in response to evaluation changes and a handful of other education policies.

The state’s Board of Regents acted quickly, passing a moratorium on the use of grades three to eight math and English tests in teacher evaluations. But the original 2015 law remains on the books. It was a central plank in that law which could require as much as half of an educator’s evaluation to be based on test scores that the unions targeted during this session.

With the moratorium set to expire in 2019, the fight over teacher evaluations will likely become more pressing next year. It may also allow the state education department to play a greater role in shaping the final product. State education department officials had begun to lay out a longer roadmap for redesigning teacher evaluations that involved surveys and workgroups, but the legislative battle threatened to short-circuit their process.

Now officials at the state education department say they will restart their work and pointed out that they could extend the moratorium to provide extra time if needed.

“We will resume the work we started earlier this year to engage teachers, principals and others as we seek input in moving toward developing a new educator evaluation system,” said state education department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis.

For some education advocates, slowing down the process sounds like a good idea.

“Our reaction on the NYSUT Assembly teacher evaluation bill is that you could do worse but that you could also do better and that we should take time to try,” said Bob Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

What seems to be a setback for the union now may be a galvanizing force during elections this fall. Republican lawmakers will likely struggle to keep control of the state Senate, and NYSUT is promising to use this inaction against them. That could be particularly consequential in Long Island, which is a hotbed of the testing opt-out movement.

It’s unclear whether the failure to act will also prove problematic for Cuomo, who is also seeking re-election. Cuomo, who pushed for the 2015 law the unions despise, is facing competition from the left in gubernatorial challenger Cynthia Nixon.

But at least so far, it seems like the union is reserving the blame for Senate Republicans and not for the governor.

Cuomo is “making it clear that he has heard the outcry,” said Pallotta. “I blame Senator Flanagan, I blame his conference and I blame 5 [Senate] Democrats.”