What King decreed, Part II: Growth measures, surveys, and more

The teacher evaluation plan that State Education Commissioner John King set for the city over the weekend has prompted both city and union officials to claim victories.

But a point-by-point analysis of some of the major areas of dispute shows that the truth is more complex than either side has proclaimed. We’ve rounded up some of the biggest disputes and how King settled them. In our first installment, we looked at King’s decisions on issues relating to teacher observations. In the second installment, we look at other issues where King bridged gaps between the city’s and union’s positions.

School-based committees to decide student growth measures
Outcome: Shared UFT/DOE win

Both the city and the UFT agreed that figuring how to calculate the “locally selected” piece of student growth should be decided at the school level. But they disagreed about who should make that decision and about one of the options they should have.

The UFT wanted a team of teachers to make the choice, but the city wanted principals to have complete discretion. King accepted the union’s suggestion that each school have a committee to draft recommendations for which student growth measure to use. But, siding with the city, he said principals could reject the committee’s recommendations.

The sides agreed that the committees should be able to choose from performance assessments or third-party tests. They also both agreed that there should be a “school-wide” option where all teachers would be rated on student growth in certain areas.

But the union also wanted portfolios of student work to be included as a possible measure of student growth, too. Both performance assessments and portfolios compare authentic student work, such as an essay or a science experiment, produced at different points over the course of the year. But portfolios traditionally reflect work that has been revised with teacher feedback, while a performance assessment is considered a more pure reflection of students’ skills. King rejected the union’s request, although he allowed for portfolios of student work to be considered in a different portion of the evaluation system.

The scorecard that the UFT sent out Sunday afternoon listed the portfolios issue as a “win.”

“Somehow the UFT must not have read the plan, because what they’ve stated is simply not true,” said David Weiner, the deputy chancellor in charge of teacher quality.

Outcome: UFT win

The law allows teachers to challenge their ratings, but another open question was whether King would let teachers challenge the way their principals carried out their evaluations, too.

The Department of Education argued that no additional time needed to be set aside for arbitration of procedural issues, such as the timing of observations. The union, on the other hand, asked for 100 days of arbitration, which could allow for a thousand teachers to challenge their evaluations each year.

King was not obligated to grant any days at all. But King, who has previously expressed concerns about the city’s preparedness to carry out evaluations, allotted 150 slots over 15 days, which city officials said they had offered in January shortly before negotiations with the union broke down. On Saturday, King made it clear in a conference call with reporters that it was inevitable that disputes would arise because of the plan’s complexity.

King also rejected an overarching proposal by the union to establish a “policy committee” that would be “responsible for all decision-making and policy-making related to aspects of the NYCDOE’s APPR plan.”

Sunset clause
Outcome: Cuomo

Another issue that stymied negotiations in January was the union’s request for a “sunset clause” or expiration date for the plan. Most districts in the state set their plans for just one or two years, which distressed Mayor Bloomberg so much that he ended talks.

The dispute was rendered moot in March, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo pressured lawmakers to amend the evaluation law. Now, plans remain in effect unless and until districts negotiate new plans with their teachers unions.

Pointing to the “in perpetuity” amendment that Cuomo pushed through, the city didn’t suggest a timeline for when the plan should expire in its proposal to King. But the UFT asked, as it did in January, for the plan to expire after one year.

In his decision, King did set an expiration date: after the 2016-2017 school year, unless he approves a new plan submitted by the union and a new mayor before then.

Bloomberg said on Sunday that the timeline was a victory for the city. But King said explicitly that he had chosen the extended timeline because of the city’s and union’s intransigence over evaluations up to now.

Student surveys
Outcome: DOE win

Bolstered by the Gates Foundation’s finding that student surveys effectively predict teacher impact on student learning when used in conjunction with other measures, the Department of Education has long advocated for including student surveys in teacher evaluations.

The UFT, on the other hand, has staunchly opposed the option, and department officials said they had conceded the point in negotiations with the union in January. Still, the officials made the case in their paper to King last month that surveys yield useful information about teacher quality, and according to King, they asked that survey results count for a full 10 points of the 60 allocated to “subjective measures.”

King sided with the city, but he carved out only a 5 percent role for student surveys. But he acknowledged the union’s resistance to the measure by requiring the city to conduct a one-year pilot before counting survey results in teacher ratings. The move creates a window for the UFT potentially to negotiate away the surveys with the next mayoral administration before the surveys count in ratings.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.


Westminster district will give bonuses if state ratings rise, teachers wonder whether performance pay system is coming

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students work on an English assignment at M. Scott Carpenter Middle School in Westminster.

Teachers and employees in Westminster Public Schools will be able to earn a bonus if they help the struggling district improve its state ratings next year.

The district’s school board on Tuesday unanimously approved the $1.7 million plan for the one-year performance stipends, the district’s latest attempt to lift the quality of its schools.

School employees can earn $1,000 if their school meets a district-set score, or up to $2,000 if they reach a more ambitious goal the school sets. District employees, including the superintendent, can earn $1,000 if the district as a whole jumps up a rating next year.

“We recognize that everyone plays a critical role in increasing student achievement and we decided that if a particular school or the district as a whole can reach that next academic accreditation level, the employees directly responsible should be rewarded,” board president Dino Valente said in a statement.

The district is one of five that was flagged by the state for chronic low performance and was put on a state-ordered improvement plan this spring.

District officials have disputed state ratings, claiming the state’s system is not fairly assessing the performance of Westminster schools. Middle school teacher Melissa Duran, who also used to be president of the teacher’s union, drew a connection between that stance and the new stipends, saying any extra pay she gets would be based on one score.

“The district has gone to the state saying, ‘Why are you rating us on these tests, look at all the other things we’re doing’” Duran said. “Well, it’s the same thing for teachers. They’re still basing our effectiveness on a test score.”

Teachers interviewed Thursday said their first thoughts upon learning of the plan was that it sounded like the beginnings of performance pay.

“I already get the point that we are in need of having our test scores come up,” said math teacher Andy Hartman, who is also head of negotiations for the teacher’s union. “Putting this little carrot out there isn’t going to change anything. I personally do not like performance pay. It’s a very slippery slope.”

District leaders say they talked to all district principals after the announcement Wednesday, and heard positive feedback.

“A lot of the teachers think this is a good thing,” said Steve Saunders, the district’s spokesman.

National studies on the effectiveness of performance pay stipends and merit pay have shown mixed results. One recent study from Vanderbilt University concluded that they can be effective, but that the design of the systems makes a difference.

In Denver Public Schools, the district has a performance-pay system to give raises and bonuses to teachers in various situations. Studies of that model have found that some teachers don’t completely understand the system and that it’s not always tied to better student outcomes.

Westminster officials said they have never formally discussed performance pay, and said that these stipends are being funded for one year with an unanticipated IRS refund.

Westminster teachers said they have ideas for other strategies that could make a quick impact, such as higher pay for substitutes so teachers aren’t losing their planning periods filling in for each other when subs are difficult to find.

Waiting on a bonus that might come next year is not providing any new motivation, teachers said.

“It’s a slap in the face,” Duran said. “It’s not like we are not already working hard enough. Personally, I already give 110 percent. I’ve always given 110 percent.”

Last month, the school board also approved a new contract for teachers and staff. Under the new agreement, teachers and staff got a raise of at least 1 percent. They received a similar raise last year.