the rating game

Report: Low-rated teachers more often work with poor students

A new report by the advocacy group StudentsFirstNY found that low-rated teachers work more often in high-poverty schools. The group presented its findings outside City Hall.

The poorer a school’s students are, the more likely they are to be taught by low-rated teachers.

That’s the conclusion of a new report by the education advocacy group StudentsFirstNY. The group, which is critical of the city’s current teacher evaluation system, looked at ratings given to 65,527 teachers during the 2011-2012 school year and found that the low-rated teachers disproportionately worked in schools with high concentrations of poor students.

At schools with relatively few poor students, 1.14 percent of teachers received low ratings last year, according to the report. But at schools where more than 85 percent of students are considered poor, 3.9 percent did.

The inequities were even more pronounced when comparing schools with different demographics. At schools where fewer than a quarter of students are black or Hispanic, just 1.06 percent of teachers got low ratings. At schools where almost all students are black or Hispanic, that figure was 4.13 percent.

The report says the findings support StudentsFirstNY’s position that new teacher evaluations are needed in New York State.

The group has panned the current evaluation system, in which teachers can score either “unsatisfactory” or “satisfactory,” though it used ratings issued under the system for the new report. It is among those pressing the teachers union to make concessions so the city can adopt new evaluations by Jan. 17 and avoid losing $250 million in state aid.

“This report highlights the utter failure of New York City schools to provide quality teachers to those students who need them most,” said Executive Director Micah Lasher, who left the Bloomberg administration last year to start StudentsFirstNY. “A successful deal to implement a meaningful teacher evaluation system is a necessary first step toward righting that wrong.”

The report makes 10 recommendations, mostly aimed at making it easier for schools to hire, fire, and reward teachers more easily.

According to a coalition formed to counter StudentsFirstNY’s influence in the city’s mayoral race, New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, blame for the skew in teacher ratings across schools lies elsewhere.

“The inequitable distribution of quality teachers is the result of Mayor Bloomberg’s refusal to provide adequate support and professional development to teachers,” said Zakiyah Ansari, a spokeswoman, in a statement. “Teacher evaluations and paying for test score performance will not solve the problem.”

Indeed, a new evaluation system that complies with the current state law would not allow the city to act on the report’s findings. It would not allow districts to remove low-scoring teachers any faster: Teachers will still have to have two straight low ratings to face termination. It also won’t redistribute teachers among schools — although a feature of the “value-added” algorithm that will be used to generate part of each rating might make it look like that has happened.

At a press conference outside City Hall this morning to unveil the report, Lasher said that while new evaluations are not a panacea, they are a necessary first step if the city wants to tackle inequities in the way teachers are distributed among schools.

“First we need to get a clear and robust picture [of teacher quality] in all schools,” he said. “New evaluations give more texture and feedback.”

The number of unsatisfactory ratings handed out each year has increased under Mayor Bloomberg, who has aggressively sought to replace the city’s lowest-performing educators. U-rated teachers were more than four times more likely to leave the school system after receiving their ratings last year than teachers rated satisfactory, according to city data.

StudentsFirstNY’s complete “Unsatisfactory” report is below:

SFNY Unsatisfactory Report by GothamSchools.org

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.”