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De Blasio urges city not to pass the buck on teacher evaluations

It would be a big mistake for New York City to let Gov. Andrew Cuomo settle its teacher evaluations dispute, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said at a press conference Sunday.

The press conference came four days before Cuomo’s deadline for school districts to agree on new evaluations. If they don’t settle on new evaluations by Feb. 16, he said, he would “do it for them” — presumably by using the budgeting process to change the state’s teacher evaluations law.

In recent weeks, Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott have signaled that they might prefer letting Cuomo take the lead, possibly because they hope he would side with them in a seemingly intractable local dispute. The city and teachers union have been stuck for more than a month on the issue of appeals for teachers who receive low ratings under a new system.

But de Blasio warned that passing the buck could backfire for the city.

“The minute it goes to Albany anything can happen,” he said. “There’s a much better chance of a plan that will work it’s agreed to up front.”

Plus, he said, the city should put a premium on managing its own affairs, no matter how sticky. De Blasio is eyeing a mayoral run in 2013.

“This is the kind of thing New York City should settle,” he said. “It’s up to New York City to solve New York City’s problems. And we can.”

De Blasio was joined by a small group of parents who braved the bitter cold for the press conference at Tweed Courthouse.
Albania Lopez, the mother of a recent graduate of George Washington High School and a current student at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School, delivered a plea for agreement in Spanish. The city schools need the more than $600 million on the line over the evaluations, she said.

Bloomberg has muddied the negotiations process with his attacks on teachers, particularly during his State of the City address last month, de Blasio said.

“My concern, my dismay, is that Mayor Bloomberg has not set the right tone,” de Blasio said. “He could have said things very differently.”

Still, he said, the city and teachers unions are “big boys and girls” who should set aside hurt feelings for the good of students.

“Four days is plenty of time to settle these differences,” he said.

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.

Another error

Missing student data means 900 Tennessee teachers could see their growth scores change


Tennessee’s testing problems continue. This time the issue is missing students.

Students’ test scores are used to evaluate teachers, and the failure of a data processing vendor to include scores for thousands of students may have skewed results for some teachers, officials said.

The scores, known as TVAAS, are based on how students improved under a teacher’s watch. The scores affect a teacher’s overall evaluation and in some districts, like Shelby County Schools, determine if a teacher gets a raise.

The error affects 1,700 teachers statewide, or about 9 percent of the 19,000 Tennessee teachers who receive scores. About 900 of those teachers had five or more students missing from their score, which could change their result.

The latest glitch follows a series of mishaps, including test scanning errors, which also affect teacher evaluations. A delay earlier this summer from the Tennessee Department of Education’s testing vendor, Questar, set off a chain of events that resulted in the missing student scores.

To calculate a teacher’s growth score, students and their test scores are assigned to a teacher. About 3 percent of the 1.5 million student-teacher assignments statewide had to be manually submitted in Excel files after Questar experienced software issues and fell behind on releasing raw scores to districts.

RANDA Solutions, a data processing vendor for the state, failed to input all of those Excel files, leading to the teachers’ scores being calculated without their full roster of students, said Sara Gast, a state spokeswoman. The error will not affect school or district TVAAS scores. (District-level TVAAS scores were released in September.)

Gast did not immediately confirm when the state will finalize those teachers’ scores with corrected student rosters. The state sent letters to districts last week informing them of the error and at least one Memphis teacher was told she had more than 80 of her 120 students missing from her score.

In the past, the process for matching students to the right teachers began at the end of the year, “which does not leave much room for adjustments in the case of unexpected delays,” Gast said in an email. The state had already planned to open the process earlier this year. Teachers can begin to verify their rosters next week, she said.