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.

survey says

More bullying reported at New York City schools, study shows

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

More New York City students say there is bullying in their schools, a report released Monday showed. The findings also revealed that many schools reporting the greatest number of violent incidents on campus have no social workers on staff.

The report was commissioned by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer also released an audit of how school safety matters are recorded, and concluded that the education department should provide more oversight and streamline incident reporting rules.

“The audit found clear breakdowns in communication in the reporting and tracking of incidents and actions taken,” according to a press release from Stringer’s office.

The education department disputed some of the comptroller’s findings, and in a written statement, spokeswoman Miranda Barbot wrote: “We have detailed protocols in place to ensure allegations of bullying are immediately reported, investigated and addressed, and are investing in both anti-bullying initiatives and mental health supports.”

But the pair of reports raises scrutiny of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school discipline reforms, which favor  “restorative” practices that emphasize mediation over punishment, and make it harder to suspend students.

Advocates of the de Blasio reforms say the shift is necessary because black and Hispanic students are more likely to be arrested or disciplined at school. Research has shown such disciplinary action can lead to higher dropout rates. Critics of the reforms, meanwhile, say the changes have created more chaotic schools.

The findings are also likely to add to a chorus of parents and elected officials who say more emotional supports are needed for the city’s most vulnerable students. Students who experience a mental health crisis during the school day may be handcuffed and shuttled to hospitals. The city’s latest budget, which was approved last week, includes an additional $2 million to hire social workers and guidance counselors in schools that currently don’t have any.

Here are some highlights from the reports.

More students report there is bullying in their schools — but the data comes with a catch.

Last year, the education department’s annual survey showed that 82 percent of students said their peers “harass, bully, or intimidate others in school.” That’s up year over year, and up significantly from 65 percent of students in 2012, which was the lowest rate recorded since at least 2010. (De Blasio’s discipline reforms started to take effect around 2015.)

A note about these numbers: Prior to 2017, the survey asked whether students harass, bully or intimidate other students none, some, most, or all of the time. The most recent survey responses were slightly different: none of the time, rarely, some of the time, or most of the time — a change that may have artificially inflated the bullying numbers.

That’s enough to render the survey data unreliable said Max Eden, a researcher who has studied school climate for the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute — a critic of the mayor’s discipline reforms. Still, taken with other findings, it’s reasonable to think that bullying is on the rise at city schools, he said.

Among the other evidence: A first-of-its-kind report, released this month under a new city law, that showed substantiated bullying incidents are on track to increase this year.

Schools that log the most violent incidents often lack mental health supports.

Guidance counselors and social workers are key when it comes to creating safe schools because they can help address the root cause of violent or troublesome behavior, advocates who want more mental health supports say.

But many of the city’s neediest schools go without that help.

Of the schools reporting the most violent incidents on campus, 36 percent lack a full-time social worker, the comptroller found. On campuses where there are social workers, caseloads are a staggering 700 to one. That far exceeds the recommended ratio from the National Association of Social Workers of 250 general education students per social worker — and it’s higher than the citywide average of 612 students per social worker, according to the comptroller.

The comptroller’ compares that to the ratio of New York Police Department school safety agents who are placed in schools: There is one safety agent per 228 students, according to the report.

“Our city is failing to meet the social and emotional needs of our students,” Councilman Mark Treyger, of Brooklyn, who has pushed the city to report more up-to-date bullying data and to hire more school counselors, said in an emailed statement.

Schools may be underreporting violent incidents, something the education department disputes.

In a separate audit, the comptroller compared logs kept by school safety agents to incident reports filed by school leaders. In 21 percent of cases, incidents that were noted by safety agents were not reflected in the school reports.

The school data, in turn, are used to report incidents to the state for its Violent and Disruptive Incident Report, or VADIR. The discrepancy could raise questions about the already-controversial reporting system. (VADIR has been criticized for classifying schoolyard incidents as serious offenses, and the state has tweaked its definitions in response to those kinds of concerns.)

This finding also comes with some caveats. The comptroller looked at only 10 schools — a tiny sample of the city’s portfolio of about 1,800. And the education department took issue with the methodology.

In its response to the audit, education department officials said that the police data doesn’t align with the state’s reporting categories, and that the information may not be comparable because of student privacy concerns and recordkeeping issues on campuses where multiple schools share a building.  

guide to the battle

With days left in this year’s session, what will happen with teacher evaluations?

PHOTO: Photo by Jonathan Fickies for UFT
UFT President Michael Mulgrew interviews New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

As the clock ticks on this year’s legislative session, the fate of New York’s teacher evaluations hangs in the balance.

The teachers union has been waging a spirited battle to decouple state standardized test scores from teacher evaluations this year, which would mark the culmination of years of fighting against a system they say unfairly stigmatizes teachers. The legislation has already cleared the Democratic Assembly, but it remains at an impasse in the Republican-led Senate, which wants to tie the changes to benefits for charter schools.

As end-of-session haggling gets into full swing, it’s unclear whether the union will be able to secure a bill with “no strings attached.” Alternatively, lawmakers may agree to help charter schools in exchange for the bill’s passage, or they could be unable to settle their differences and shelve the measure until next year.

Here’s what you need to know about the upcoming battle:

Why are we talking about teacher evaluations again?

New Yorkers have spent years (and years) fighting about teacher evaluations.

In 2010, New York adopted a new teacher evaluation system that included state standardized test scores. Supporters of the policy argue it is the best way to objectively measure whether teachers are helping students learn. Opponents, including teachers unions, argue test scores lead to unreliable evaluations and often mean teachers are being rated based on subjects they don’t teach.

The debate took another turn in 2015 when Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed for a new teacher evaluation system in which as much as half of an educator’s evaluation could be based on test scores. That law technically remains on the books today, but in response to fervent pushback from parents and the union, the state’s education policymaking body paused the use of grades 3-8 math and English test scores in teacher evaluations.

Lawmakers, policymakers, and the union jumped back into the charged conversation this year in part because the temporary pause on the use of certain test scores in the evaluations is set to expire in 2019.

What exactly does the union want this year?

The union-backed bill would forbid any requirement that districts use state standardized test scores in teacher evaluations. Instead, local districts would collectively bargain the assessments used to rate teachers.

Paradoxically, this major political shift will likely make little difference in the lives of New York City teachers. That’s because for the last several years the city has already been using a system of local tests to rate educators.

New York City created a slate of assessments called “Measures of Student Learning,” which test students on everything from English to art. Michael Mulgrew, the city teachers union president, said he is happy with the current system and has already vowed, “Nothing will change for New York City teachers.”

Critics, however, point out that very few teachers are given poor ratings under this system. In New York City last year, 97 percent of teachers were given one of the top two ratings of “highly effective” or “effective,” according to Mulgrew.

What are the chances that this bill passes?

There’s a good chance some teacher evaluation legislation will pass before the end of the session but if history is any indication, it will cost something.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has already staked out his position: He is willing to go even farther than the Assembly, scrapping the 2015 law all-together and leaving virtually every major decision about teacher ratings up to local collective bargaining. But in order to do that, he wants to dramatically expand the number of charter schools that can open in New York City and across the state. (The Senate introduced a second bill that the union also criticized for being friendly to charter schools.)

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has already called the bill “cyanide,” cuing the l back-and-forth that typically proceeds a larger deal each year in Albany. Last year, for instance, shortly after the mayor won a two-year extension of mayoral control, he made it easier for charter schools to expand and pay for space. The year before, mayoral control was attached to a provision that made it easier for charter schools to switch between authorizers.

Though Senate Republicans are typically able to secure at least a small victory, it’s unclear how much they can demand in an election year when their control of the chamber is in jeopardy. That is particularly a problem in Long Island, home to some of the most fierce resistance to standardized testing that will also be an electoral battleground this fall.

What might a compromise look like?

Anything is possible in Albany, but something charter school-related is a good bet.

Advocates have expressed concern that they will soon hit the cap on how many charter schools can open in New York City. Historically, they have also pushed to make it easier for charter schools to pay for school space and to allow charter schools to certify their own teachers.

Charter school advocates might also find it a particularly prime year to push for changes. With a major lobbying group out of the picture and the potential for Flanagan  who has been a charter school ally  to lose his majority next year, this could be the sector’s best shot to press for changes.

Also, Flanagan and others have expressed concerns that the legislation will create more testing, since it allows all local districts to create their own tests in addition to the state tests. The final deal could address this concern.