only just begun

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.”

Detroit week in review

Week in review: The state’s year-round scramble to fill teaching jobs

Miss Michigan Heather Heather Kendrick spent the day with students at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Science in Detroit

While much of the media attention has been focused this year on the severe teacher shortage in the main Detroit district, our story this week looks at how district and charter schools throughout the region are now scrambling year-round to fill vacant teaching jobs — an instability driven by liberal school choice laws, a decentralized school system and a shrinking pool of available teachers.

The teacher shortage has also made it difficult for schools to find substitutes as many are filling in on long-term assignments while schools try to fill vacancies. Two bills proposed in a state senate committee would make it easier for schools to hire retirees and reduce the requirements for certifying subs.  

Also, don’t forget to reserve your seat for Wednesday’s State of the Schools address. The event will be one of the first times in recent years when the leader of the city’s main district — Nikolai Vitti — will appear on the same stage as the leaders of the city’s two largest charter school authorizers. For those who can’t make it, we will carry it live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

Have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

STATE OF THE SCHOOLS: The State of the Schools address will pair Vitti with the leaders of the schools he’s publicly vowed to put out of business, even as schools advocates say city kids could benefit if the leaders of the city’s fractured school system worked together to solve common problems.

LOOKING FOR TEACHERS: The city’s teacher shortage mirrors similar challenges across the country but the problem in Detroit is exacerbated by liberal school choice policies that have forced schools to compete with each other for students and teachers.

Hiring efforts continue at Detroit’s main school district, which is planning another job fair. Head Start centers are also looking for teachers. Three new teachers talk about the challenges, rewards and obstacles of the classroom.

WHOSE MONEY IS IT? The state Senate sent a bill to the House that would allow charters to receive a portion of property tax hikes approved by voters. Those funds have historically gone only to traditional district schools.

UNITED THEY STAND: Teachers in this southwest Detroit charter school voted to join a union, but nationally, union membership for teachers has been falling for two decades.

COLLEGE AND CAREERS: A national foundation based in Michigan granted $450,000 to a major Detroit business coalition to help more students finish college.

High school seniors across the state will be encouraged to apply to at least one college this month. The main Detroit district meanwhile showed off a technical center that prepares youngsters and adults for careers in construction, plumbing and carpentry and other fields.  

STEPS TO IMPROVEMENT: A prominent news publisher explains why he told lawmakers he believes eliminating the state board of education is the right thing to do. An advocate urged Michigan to look to other states for K-12 solutions. And one local newspaper says the governor is on the right track to improving education in Michigan.

This think tank believes businesses should be more engaged in education debates.

LISTEN TO US: The newly elected president of a state teachers union says teachers just want to be heard when policy is being made. She wrote in a Detroit newspaper that it takes passion and determination to succeed in today’s classrooms.

A PIONEER: Funeral services for a trailblazing African American educator have been scheduled for Saturday.

Also, the mother-in-law of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died in her west Michigan home.

FARM-TO-SCHOOL:  A state program that provides extra money to school districts for locally grown produce has expanded to include more schools.

BETTER THAN AN APPLE: Nominate your favorite educator for Michigan Teacher of the Year before the 11:59 deadline tonight.

An Ann Arbor schools leader has been named the 2018 Michigan Superintendent of the Year by a state group of school administrators.

MYSTERY SMELL: The odor from a failed light bulb forced a Detroit high school to dismiss students early this week.

EXTRA CREDIT: Miss Michigan encouraged students at one Detroit school to consider the arts as they follow their dreams. The city schools foundation honored two philanthropic leaders as champions for education.

And high school students were inspired by a former college football player. 

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.


Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.