catching up

What we know about the evaluation plan that will hit on Saturday

When State Education Commissioner John King sets New York City’s teacher evaluation system on Saturday, it will have been a while — three years and three weeks, to be precise — since legislators first set out the parameters.

The basic shape of what lawmakers signed off on in May 2010 hasn’t changed: 40 percent of ratings will be based on student growth, with half of the section coming from the state’s calculation and the other half from a locally determined calculation. The other 60 percent will come from “subjective measures,” including but not limited to in-class observations. All classroom teachers will get ratings on a four-tiered system, and districts can move to fire teachers who score “ineffective” for two straight years.

But three years of jousting over the specifics have added up. In that time, city and teachers union officials have sat down to negotiate and stormed away, multiple times; legislators have revisited their work, adding new stringencies; principals and teachers have prepared for implementation. What King announces tomorrow will reflect all of those changes — as well as the arguments that the Department of Education and the teachers and principals unions included in pitches to him this month.

Because King has only about 24 hours to publish the evaluation system after hearing the final presentation, made by the Council on School Supervisors and Administrators this morning, it seems reasonable to assume that he is focusing his efforts on areas where the parties have failed to agree in the past. Here’s a refresher on what we’re likely to see on Saturday — and what we’re not.

What we will definitely see:

  • Test scores count. The state produces growth scores, which attempt to isolate a teacher’s impact on student growth, for teachers in tested grades and subjects. By law, those scores have to count for 20 percent of ratings for teachers who have them, and if the Board of Regents approves a more sophisticated “value-added” algorithm, that weight will increase to 25 percent. For the three years that teacher evaluations have been under debate, the reliability of value-added models has continued to draw a significant amount of debate. While those questions haven’t been resolved, King won’t consider them when writing New York City’s plan. Growth and value-added models are in the law and not up for discussion.
  • Student Learning Objectives. For the 82 percent of teachers who do not work in tested grades or subjects, the state’s strategy for calculating student growth is to use Student Learning Objectives, in which teachers and principals set goals for each student and then measure how many get there by the end of the year. Other districts around the state used SLOs this year, but the city hasn’t trained educators yet about how to use them.
  • The appeals process that was written into state law in 2012. In a quixotic effort to move the city’s evaluations process along, Gov. Andrew Cuomo convinced the city and union to agree to an appeals process back in February 2012. Mayor Bloomberg especially made clear that he never liked the process, but it’s part of the law and scheduled to kick in as soon as the city has a teacher evaluation plan. Some related issues, such as when appeals hearings would take place and how the department and union would jointly select an impartial third hearing officer, were still unresolved late last year.

What we can probably count on:

  • The Danielson Framework. This rubric for assessing instruction is a favorite of the UFT because of its capacity for improving teacher practice, and the Department of Education went along with it early on. Both the city and union have invested serious time, money, and energy into preparing principals and teachers for Danielson, and there’s no reason that King would want to shake this issue up.
  • No expiration date. Mayor Bloomberg blamed the UFT’s insistence on a “sunset clause” when he spiked a deal in January. The State Education Department approved hundreds of evaluation plans with limited terms, but under pressure from Cuomo, legislators revised the law this year to say that districts cannot let their evaluation systems expire. That means no expiration date in the city’s plan. But look out for language that says the system can be replaced with a lawful agreement between the city and the UFT in the future. The conversation won’t reopen automatically, but it could easily be reopened if, for example, the UFT and a new mayor want to revisit the evaluation system at the same time as they negotiate a new contract.
  • State tests kept to a minimum. Under the law, districts can cut state test scores in different ways to come up with the second 20 percent of teachers’ ratings, and many districts have. But the UFT said all along that it would resist additional weight for state test scores, and department officials never argued publicly with them. In fact, last fall, when a deal looked likely, the department started paying teachers to develop “performance-based assessments” that would measure students’ improvement over time. Those assessments, which usually take the form of an in-class assignment, would introduce new issues for teachers and students, but the possibility of being penalized — or rewarded – twice for the same scores isn’t one of them.

What we just won’t know until Saturday:

  • The role of student surveys. Factoring student surveys into teacher ratings has a wide array of supporters, from the Gates Foundation to student advocates. The Department of Education seemed interested in the idea. But UFT officials signaled that allowing student surveys could be a line they would not cross. Where King will fall on the issue is unclear.
  • How teachers whose students don’t take state tests will be measured. Again, the district was quietly working on performance assessments late last year. But it was also working on other possibilities, Department of Education officials said at the time. Other districts have used off-the-shelf third-party assessments or developed their own, and some districts opted to use school-wide growth scores for all teachers in a school, even if their students took no tests. Any of those options are possible here, and what King chooses is crucial to determining just how satisfied or dissatisfied the city or unions will be.
  • Whether principals will have to talk to teachers before rating them. This was a key sticking point throughout much of the last round of negotiations: The UFT’s position is that conversations should be required as a matter of professional development, but the city wanted a minimum of bureaucracy to gum up evaluations. There’s no way for King to split the difference here, so where he falls is likely to be interpreted as a solid win by the party he sides with.
  • How observations will be structured. Back in December, a top Department of Education official who was involved in evaluation talks said details about the structure of required observations remained unresolved. “We’re trying to figure out what seems appropriate,” the official said. “Should you have five a year of that pre-observation, observation, post-observation? Should there be two pre-observation, observation, post-observation? Should we eliminate the pre-observation and the post-observation and just make it an ongoing cycle of unannounced visits? Should the observations be shorter — should [observers] come in for 15 minutes at a time?” What got almost-decided in January, if anything, has never been made public.

Check back on Saturday afternoon, when we’ll report exactly how King’s plan answers these questions.

Teacher votes

Memphis teacher groups want annual pay raises and more say in how they teach their students

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Keith Williams (left) and Tikeila Rucker lead the teacher associations representing licensed educators in Shelby County Schools.

Memphis teachers will soon have the opportunity to change compensation, work hours, health benefits, and how they teach if they vote to negotiate a new agreement with Shelby County Schools.

The district’s two organizations, which represent teachers and other licensed educators, say their priorities are restoring automatic pay increases and higher pay for educators with advanced degrees, and giving more flexibility to teachers in the classroom.

United Education Association and Memphis-Shelby County Education Association have been talking with district leaders about making these changes, but amending the employee agreement with the district — through a process known as “collaborative conferencing” in Tennessee law — would ensure the changes will take place with a written agreement.

The United Education Association plans to hold a teacher rally to talk about the process from 4:30 to 6 Tuesday evening at the district’s central office. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson is scheduled to be the guest speaker.

Collaborative conferencing replaced union bargaining rights in a 2011 law. The law tossed the requirement that districts and organizations representing employees have to reach an agreement. If there’s an impasse, the school board gets the final word.

The law also narrowed the topics that could be discussed between teacher organizations and the school district. Their agreements cannot address teacher evaluations, district decisions on bonuses and raises based on teacher performance, or requiring districts to base personnel decisions on tenure or seniority.

If educators vote to negotiate, it will be the first negotiation for the Memphis school district since 2015, and the first since the city’s teacher group split into two. Last year, the groups tried to get enough votes for talks, but fell short by about 10 percent. (The current agreement is still in effect.)

Related: Why the Janus Supreme Court case won’t have much impact in Tennessee

Garnering enough support to start talks requires two steps.

First, 15 percent of employees are required by state law to sign a petition requesting a district-wide vote on whether teacher representatives should negotiate a new agreement, also known as a memorandum of understanding. The two teacher organizations, which collectively represent about 4,500 members, have gathered at least 2,600 signatures, well above the number needed.

Next, half of the district’s licensed educators must vote by email to start negotiations. Educators will also be asked in early November to choose which organization will represent them at the negotiating table. The organizations will have a percentage of seats on a committee based on which organization educators voted for.

The resulting agreement would not be sent back for a vote from teachers, but Tikeila Rucker, the president of the United Education Association, said her organization plans to conduct surveys throughout the process “that ensures us that we really have teacher input.”

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson answers questions from Memphis teachers at a town hall hosted by United Education Association of Shelby County on in March.

Hopson has tried for several years to switch teacher pay to a merit system based on evaluation scores that include student test scores. That would mean only teachers with high evaluation scores would be eligible for raises. But Hopson did not want to base those decisions on a state test that has experienced a multitude of problems. So, for the last three years, all educators have received 3 percent raises.

Keith Williams, the executive director of Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, said the district should combine merit pay and annual increases in base pay.

“I think we should do step and merit pay,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of issues to work out for teacher compensation, including advanced degree pay and people who are nationally board certified.”

Hopson also has brought back some pay for advanced degrees. But only teachers with high evaluation scores are eligible.

Related: The salary slide: as other professionals see growth, teachers’ pay stagnates, new report finds

Rucker said she also wants to push for more flexibility in how teachers use the district’s new curriculum, which more closely aligns with Tennessee’s new requirements for what students should learn.

“Teachers are mandated to teach based on district-selected curriculum and it’s kind of like a script,” Rucker said. “That takes away from a lot of the creativity for teachers to reach their students for academic success.”

Hopson did allow some flexibility based on feedback from Rucker’s organization, but said teachers had to earn that autonomy based on their evaluation scores.

dollars and cents

New York City teacher salaries to range from $61,070 to $128,657 in new contract

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
The pay increases included in the new contract are marginal. UFT President Michael Mulgrew (right) and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza (left) announced the new agreement Thursday along with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Starting salaries for a first-year New York City teacher will increase over the next three years to $61,070, up from $56,711 this year, according to a salary schedule released Friday by the United Federation of Teachers.

Unlike the first contract under Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in 2014, the pay increases included in the new contract are marginal. In that contract, starting teacher pay jumped by almost 20 percent — nearly $10,000 — because city teachers had gone without an updated contract for five years.

[Related: More money for New York City teachers in contract deal, but is it a raise? Some are pushing back]

The 2019-2022 contract, announced four months before the current one is due to expire, includes annual raises of 2, 2.5, and 3 percent. Teachers have criticized the increases as insufficient to keep up with rising living costs.

“Furious my beloved @UFT wants me to support a contract that doesn’t even include cost of living increases when I teach in one of most expensive housing markets in USA,” tweeted Samantha Rubin.

Under the contract agreement, which still needs to be ratified by the UFT’s members, the maximum salary for teachers will rise from $119,565 to $128,657. The proposed salary schedule details how much teachers earn based on how many years they’ve been working and how many education credits they’ve accrued.

The union posted the schedule as part of a massive document dump aimed at explaining the new contract. Those documents include an outline of the proposed changes and the agreement signed by UFT President Michael Mulgrew and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, which also made several policy changes that will affect schools and classrooms.

Friday afternoon, the UFT’s 3,400-member delegate assembly will meet and vote to recommend the proposed contract to all 129,000 members.

Some members have complained that the vote feels rushed. The agreement was announced Thursday afternoon and the memorandum was still being finalized in the hours before the delegate vote.

“It strikes me as sort of Republican Senate power play to just ram something through before anyone has a chance to read the contract,” said Will Ehrenfeld, an American history teacher at P-Tech and a union delegate. “I think it’s really unacceptable to not get details.”

Mulgrew defended the process, saying “everyone is going to have a couple of weeks to read the entire memorandum.”

You can read the full memorandum below.

Christina Veiga and Alex Zimmerman contributed.