midnight madness

Evaluations progress seen behind the scenes, despite public spat

Tensions between the city and teachers over their t0-the-wire teacher evaluation talks bubbled over in 140 characters early this morning, sending both sides into their respective corners for most of the day.

But state education officials said the city Department of Education and the UFT had been laying the groundwork for a successful submission before the end of the day on Thursday, the deadline for districts to adopt new evaluations or lose state funding.

After a negotiations-packed weekend in which both city and union officials acknowledged that progress had been made, talks went late into the night on Monday at the union’s headquarters. But a little after 1:30 a.m., Leo Casey, a former vice president for the union who has stayed on to finish the evaluations deal, suggested in a Twitter message that negotiations had fizzled out.

“At UFT. Negotiating team prepared to do round the clock negotiating, with full team present,” Casey wrote. “But DOE leaves.”

Department officials were back in the room again today, despite frustration over a union request filed on Monday for a third-party mediator to assist the negotiations through the last remaining issues on the table. (City and union officials both declined to specify what is still up for discussion, but sticking points in the past have been the city’s implementation plan and whether principals would be required to discuss teachers’ ratings with them in person.)

The city’s lawyers rejected the union’s request today and in a statement, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said seeking an independent mediator was the union’s latest effort to negotiate terms unrelated to an evaluation.

”The UFT’s call for a mediator is designed to insert issues into the deal outside of the evaluation’s scope,” he said in a statement. “Mr. Mulgrew should allow his team to negotiate directly the few remaining issues necessary to reach a teacher evaluation deal.”

In his own statement Mulgrew put the chances of a deal in doubt.

“The city’s blind rejection of outside help in resolving these remaining issues is unexplainable, and poses a serious threat to our ability to reach an agreement before Thursday’s deadline,” he said.

But union leaders continued to prepare its members to review a plan should one be agreed upon before the deadline.

Vice President Leroy Barr called members of the union’s evaluations committee to a meeting on Wednesday afternoon. ”Please note that we need you in attendance on Wednesday, January 16th at 4:15PM,” Barr wrote in an email to the 150-teacher committee this evening. ”As promised, we want to give you updates at that time.”

In an interview, Mulgrew said the evaluation committee meeting should not be taken as a sign that a deal is near.

”I told them I’d keep then updated about roughly where we’re at,” Mulgrew said. “What I’ll have to tell them I guess is we’re at a stalemate.”

If the union’s leadership agrees on a plan, a larger group of union members known as the Delegate Assembly must approve it. The Delegate Assembly is scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon, just hours before the state deadline.

Education Commissioner John King said again this afternoon that state officials are prepared to work overtime to review and, if possible, provide feedback for a resubmission before the deadline.

And Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, confirming for the first time that state education officials were informally approving elements of an evaluation system before it is finalized, said she remained confident that the city and union would submit an approvable plan.

“We have been led to believe that what they are starting to submit piecemeal is actionable in a positive way from the state education department,” Tisch said. “I would really be surprised at the end of the day, with all the technical assistance that has been available to the districts, with their ability to go online and see all the approved plans, with their ability to backchannel with key people who have been involved with masterminding this entire process, that they would not meet the requirements statutorily.”

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.