up for discussion

In evaluation talks, some not-quite-sticking points remain open

For months, city and union officials have been expressing optimism about reaching a deal on new teacher evaluations by a state deadline in January — with some road bumps, of course. But what is keeping the two sides from reaching an agreement has not been clear.

That has started to change in the last week, as Department of Education officials have spoken publicly on multiple occasions about sticky issues that are still being worked out. The issues include how often observations should take place, what the observations should focus on, and when to schedule hearings of teachers who want to appeal low ratings.

Union officials have declined to comment on open issues, saying that they did not want to discuss negotiations while they are ongoing. But a top official said that no issue would be considered fully closed until the entire evaluation system is set.

David Weiner, the deputy chancellor in charge of teacher quality, stressed that the issues were “not sticking points” when he spoke with teachers at an event last week hosted by the advocacy group Educators 4 Excellence, which supports new evaluations. Department officials made the same assurance Wednesday morning after a panel discussion about teacher evaluations held at the Manhattan Institute, the politically conservative think thank.

Instead, they said, the issues are simply very complicated to resolve.

Though some of the evaluation system is set by state law, the city and the teachers union must negotiate many major points. For example, state law says that 60 percent of teachers’ ratings must be based on “subjective measures,” with at least half of that going to observations by principals. But exactly how the 60 percent is broken down and how the observations should be structured is up for discussion.

The city and the union also have yet to agree on several components of the observation process, including how often observations should take place and the procedure required to document them, city officials said Wednesday.

Currently, a single formal observation is used to generate teachers’ ratings, and the process must include a pre-observation, where the teacher and observer set expectations, and a post-observation to discuss what happened during the observed lesson.

Now, the state is requiring that principals observe each teacher multiple times, at least once without letting him know ahead of time. Weiner said last week that the parameter left much open to debate.

“We’re trying to figure out what seems appropriate,” he told the teachers, before launching into a litany of options. “Should you have five a year of that pre-observation, observation, post-observation? Should there be two pre-observation, observation, post-observation? Should we eliminate the pre-observation and the post-observation and just make it an ongoing cycle of unannounced visits? Should the observations be shorter — should [observers] come in for 15 minutes at a time?”

City and union officials would not say what they hoped would be included in the final agreement. But Micah Lasher, a former top Bloomberg lobbyist who is now pushing for new evaluations as the head of StudentsFirstNY, said last week that their broad positions are easily predictable.

“Generally speaking, the position of the administration is going to be, you know, they want to give principals as much latitude to do more observations with less bureaucracy,” Lasher said. “And I think generally speaking the position of the union is going to be that teachers should have as much notice as possible about those observations and that principals should have a lot of process that they should have to go through both before and after.”

Other questions are less cut and dry. One issue, Weiner told the teachers last week, is that the state requires districts that use the Danielson Rubric for observations, as New York City is planning, must assess teachers on all 22 of the rubric’s “competencies” — or behaviors and skill sets they are supposed to demonstrate.

“That seems like a lot, especially like in year one,” he said, noting that the city’s pilot Danielson program asked teachers to focus on just six important competencies. He suggested that the department and union are discussing phasing the competencies in over time. “Should we start with three and then six and then nine? Is that too slow? Should we start with 10 and then 20? And we’re really actually struggling with this.”

Soliciting feedback last week, Weiner got a wide range of responses from members of Educators 4 Excellence, even though the group is a proponent of more complex evaluation systems. A 15-year veteran said teachers at different points in their careers should be assessed on different skill sets. Another teacher suggested that teachers be allowed to document some competencies outside of observations. A third teacher said she has found it useful to focus on two or three goals at a time. One teacher said her school rendered an observation rubric “meaningless” by focusing on all of its competencies, but yet another educator said looking at all 22 competencies enables her school, a Promise Academy Charter School, to plan effective training sessions for the entire staff.

Another issue under discussion is one that seemed to have been settled months ago: The process for appealing low ratings. The appeals process sunk a smaller-scale evaluations deal a year ago, so when Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched a full-court offensive to get districts to adopt new evaluation systems, he got the city and union to strike a proactive agreement on the issue. Now, an appeals process for New York City teachers only is written into state law, to go into effect when an evaluation system is agreed upon.

But even within that process, which allows the union to appeal up to 13 percent of “ineffective” ratings, there remain some undecided issues. When the appeals hearings will take place and how the department and union will jointly select an impartial third hearing officer are still up for discussion, city officials told reporters.

And officials are signaling that even if an evaluation system is put into place, some elements might still be up in the air.

For 82 percent of city teachers who do teach a tested grade or subject, the city must decide how to assess their student growth over time. Weiner said the city had piloted 12 different options and teachers had not liked using computerized testing or the assessments the city already makes available to them. But he said other options, including compiling portfolios to show students’ growth and setting individual goals for each student, were more popular.

“We are probably going to allow some flexibility in this area for schools and teachers to work on this,” he said.

Detroit week in review

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

PHOTO: DPSCD
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.