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April 24, 2014
David Weiner, city's former teacher evaluation czar, decamps for nonprofit
David Weiner, who joined the department in 2011 to oversee the lead-up to a new teacher evaluation system, will become the next president of PENCIL, a nonprofit that creates partnerships between public schools and local businesses.
October 18, 2013
Help on the way for schools struggling with evaluation changes
Department of Education leaders, from left, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, Deputy Chancellor David Weiner and Deputy Chief Academic Officer Josh Thomases spoke to teachers about evaluation challenges this week. It's never too late to help schools figure out how to implement a complicated teacher evaluation system. At least that's the theory at the Department of Education, which is planning to put out a comprehensive guide to navigating the city's new evaluation system this week, more than four months after the details were set. It's now six weeks into the school year, and teachers and principals have been raising red flags about the new teacher evaluations since even before the first day of school. They've complained about not having enough time, resources, and information to confront logistical challenges related to evaluations. Department officials are aware of the gripes, and this week they acknowledged that the process hasn't always been smooth. "I think we have done a somewhat decent job," Chancellor Dennis Walcott said of the rollout this week. They're responding with a series of stopgap fixes to aid with the rollout. They've extended deadlines, allocated millions in overtime pay, and consolidated the state's 243-page evaluation plan for New York City into a 45-page guide. Even teachers eager for the new evaluations, which will judge teachers on a four-rating score and be based on multiple measures, say they feel overwhelmed by the many changes happening at once this year. At an event hosted this week by Educators 4 Excellence, which supports new evaluations and is generally optimistic about school reforms under the Bloomberg administration, nearly 60 percent of teachers said they had been "poorly informed" or "very poorly informed" about the evaluation system. "I think it's been a huge lift for us to get information out there," said Deputy Chancellor David Weiner, who added that he was actually surprised at how many teachers said they had been informed about the changes.
May 28, 2013
Gap App winners think they can solve low middle school scores
Winners of the Gap App Challenge pose with Chancellor Dennis Walcott at Tweed Courthouse on Tuesday morning. The city Department of Education thinks it has found software developers who are solving the perpetual problem of middle school math. The department today announced four winners from its Gap App challenge — a competition inviting developers to submit programs that could help middle schools raise math scores, which remain stubbornly low. Developers submitted 200 apps to the challenge since it was first announced in January. The developer of the "Best Instructional App," KnowRe, has created an adaptive learning platform that offers Algebra 1 students different questions and challenges based on their previous answers. In the "Best Administrative and Engagement App" category, top-rated developer Hapara has created an interface that lets teachers see their students' work easily. "Our product is built exclusively on teacher and student feedback," the group says in an informational video.
December 6, 2012
In evaluation talks, some not-quite-sticking points remain open
For months, city and union officials have been expressing optimism about reaching a deal on new teacher evaluations by a state deadline in January — with some road bumps, of course. But what is keeping the two sides from reaching an agreement has not been clear. That has started to change in the last week, as Department of Education officials have spoken publicly on multiple occasions about sticky issues that are still being worked out. The issues include how often observations should take place, what the observations should focus on, and when to schedule hearings of teachers who want to appeal low ratings. Union officials have declined to comment on open issues, saying that they did not want to discuss negotiations while they are ongoing. But a top official said that no issue would be considered fully closed until the entire evaluation system is set. David Weiner, the deputy chancellor in charge of teacher quality, stressed that the issues were "not sticking points" when he spoke with teachers at an event last week hosted by the advocacy group Educators 4 Excellence, which supports new evaluations. Department officials made the same assurance Wednesday morning after a panel discussion about teacher evaluations held at the Manhattan Institute, the politically conservative think thank. Instead, they said, the issues are simply very complicated to resolve.
November 28, 2012
Even if deal on teacher evals is reached, logistical matters loom
Negotiations between the city and teachers union over new teacher evaluations appear likely to come down to the wire yet again. Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he would withdraw increased state aid from any district that does not negotiate a teacher evaluation system with its union by Jan. 17, 2013. As the deadline nears, state education officials have said repeatedly that they need weeks to review systems that are submitted for approval. Districts should submit plans by the first week of December, they have urged. Most districts have responded to the urgency. About 85 percent of New York State's 700 school districts have turned in at least the first draft of required teacher evaluation plans, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said today. In New York City, where $300 million in state aid is at stake this year, city officials say they feel confident that they will reach a deal before Cuomo's deadline, and union leaders say constructive discussions are back on track after a nearly monthlong hiatus following Hurricane Sandy. But both said there is significant ground yet to cover. Comparing the introduction of new teacher evaluations to a 26.2-mile marathon, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said on Tuesday, "We're at mile five, and our goal is to make this a long-distance run."
November 14, 2012
City's Race to the Top-District bid centered on iZone expansion
Students at Brooklyn's Olympus Academy, a transfer high school, use online learning to move ahead at their own pace. The city is asking the U.S. Department of Education for funds to support additional efforts to "personalize education." Pitting itself against school districts across the country, the city has asked the U.S. Department of Education for $40 million to expand and augment its existing education technology programs. The city's biggest commitment in its application for Race to the Top-District, which city education officials filed last week, is to add as many as 100 schools to its three-year-old “Innovation Zone.” The application also promises to build innovative schools from the ground up and train teachers on how to use technology to improve instruction. Race to the Top-District is the latest effort by the Obama administration to entice state and local education officials to adopt its preferred policies. In the first Race to the Top grant competition, in 2010, New York State netted $700 million to overhaul teacher evaluations, add more charter schools, bulk up teacher preparation programs, and develop a statewide data system. Last year, the state fell short in its bid to win Race to the Top funds earmarked just for early childhood education. The current round — the first open to individual districts — is focused on "personalized education." City Department of Education officials say the Innovation Zone, which this year contains nearly 250 schools, makes the department uniquely positioned to turn federal funds into higher student achievement. "It’s something that we’ve been doing for three years," said David Weiner, the Department of Education deputy chancellor in charge of innovation. "We really believe that that puts us in a great place to capitalize on what we’ve learned."
September 21, 2012
Union: City's evaluation demands torpedoed ATR buyout option
For the last six months, teachers whose permanent positions were eliminated have known that the city might offer to pay them to leave the city's payroll. But they haven't known how much the option could yield, complicating their job-hunting calculus. Now, we know, sort of — a day after UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the Wall Street Journal that the option was "dead in the water." The option might have been $14,000, or $25,000, or 25 percent of a teacher's annual salary, or 20 percent, according to conflicting information the union and city released today. But both sides agreed that the deal stalled after the city made the buyout offer contingent on a different city proposal to give raises to top-rated teachers, a plan that the union had rejected back in January. In dueling press releases, city and union officials sparred over what terms they had discussed for the buyout. City officials said they had offered to pay $25,000 to teachers who had spent more than one year in the Absent Teacher Reserve if the teachers would resign from the Department of Education. But union officials said the city's numbers were misleading. The $25,000 option, they said, would only have applied to ATRs with enough education and experience to put them at the top of the city's salary scale. Other teachers who had spent more than a decade working in city schools would have netted much less, they said, because the city wanted to cap the offer at 20 percent of each teacher's annual salary. (The city said the cap was 25 percent of the annual salary.) One-fifth of the average salary of mid-career teachers in the ATR pool, union officials said, would have amounted to just a $14,000 payout. The city-union dispute over numbers reflected far more significant ideological differences over how to reward excellent teaching and urge weak teachers out of the system.
September 13, 2012
City says teachers improved during pilot observation process
Distribution, by effectiveness rating, of 300 teachers who were part of a two-year observation pilot. City teachers got better when they participated in a two-year teacher evaluation pilot program, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced today. Of 300 teachers who were observed and given systematic feedback multiple times for consecutive years, the number with the lowest rating on a four-tiered evaluation system fell by half and the number with the highest rating more than doubled. Officials said the trends were evidence that when used correctly, a citywide evaluation system would help teachers improve. The teachers were among 5,000 who participated last year in the city's Teacher Effectiveness Pilot, in which some schools practiced using a style of teacher observations called the Danielson Framework. The model is a way of advising and assessing teachers based on multiple observations throughout the year and is seen as likely to count for a significant component of teachers' annual ratings in the future. Walcott announced the numbers during an address at the Schools for Tomorrow conference hosted by the New York Times. His speech centered on the city's efforts to boost teacher quality and took a gentler tone about the purpose of teacher evaluations at a time when city and union officials are expressing optimism about reaching a deal on instituting a new evaluation system. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will withhold some state aid from districts that have not adopted new teacher evaluations by January 2013. "Across all categories, from the weakest to the strongest, we saw teacher improvement," Walcott said during his address. "It’s time to bring these results to every student in every school through a citywide evaluation deal."
May 21, 2012
Wired Olympus students race toward diploma at their own pace
Danielle Boone at work in her U.S. History class. Danielle Boone's U.S. History class at Olympus Academy High School had just begun, but she didn't need a teacher to tell her what to do. The glowing screen looking back at her told her everything she needed to know. Boone typed out the final section of an assignment on immigration – "a FIVE-sentence summary paragraph (including analysis sentence) about immigration and urbanization" – which she emailed to her teacher, sitting nearby, for grading. She then watched a short video online about the Civil War to research her next assignment, an essay on the Transcontinental Railroad. Boone will continue knocking off these assignments on her school-issued Mac computer at her own blistering pace until, finally, she's completed what is required to pass the course and earn a credit. The day after she completes the last assignment for the U.S. History class, she'll start working on another course she needs to pass to graduate. "I'm a student who works fast and this school helps me get credits," Boone said during a brief break in her work. "The faster you go, the faster you get credits." Boone is the kind of self-starter that city officials envisioned when they tasked Olympus Academy, a transfer school, with creating an online learning model in its school for its over-aged population two years ago. Olympus is part of the iLearnNYC initiative, a division of the city's Innovation Zone. Until now, the initiative, which included 124 schools this year, mainly provided technological resources to schools that were devising ways to mix traditional classroom instruction with online curriculum, an approach known as blended learning.
March 19, 2012
Mulgrew spells conditions for backing college loan forgiveness
The UFT would consider supporting Mayor Bloomberg's plan to pay back the loans of top college graduates who become city teachers — but only under certain conditions. In a letter to Chancellor Dennis Walcott today, UFT President Michael Mulgrew spelled out what it would take for him to support a loan forgiveness program of the type Bloomberg proposed in January during his State of the City address. At the time, Bloomberg said the city would give teachers in the "top tier" of their college class $25,000 to repay their loans. A Department of Education spokeswoman said Bloomberg's proposal would likely apply to students in the top quarter of their class. Other proposals Bloomberg made at the time — closing and reopening 33 struggling schools, increasing the salaries of teachers who earn high ratings in a new evaluation system — immediately drew union censure. But Mulgrew did not dismiss the loan forgiveness proposal. In today's letter, he explains what it would take to bring the union on board. The program should be focused as much on retention as on recruitment of teachers, he writes, and should not give teachers the full $25,000 at one time, so that they have an incentive to remain in the classroom. Plus, the department should commit to mentoring all new teachers, not just the ones who did well in college.
March 8, 2012
Revamped principal evals could reshape superintendents' role
Attention has focused squarely on teacher evaluations in recent months. But the state’s evaluation law applies to principals, too, meaning that major changes could be on the way for the way city principals are assessed. In some ways, principals in New York City have been preparing for the state’s evaluation system for years. Since 2008, the city has rated principals according to a tiered system based “multiple measures” that include student test scores — exactly as the state’s evaluation law requires. The city’s current teacher evaluation system is “an old, antiquated process that has to take leaps and bounds to move forward,” said David Weiner, a top Department of Education deputy, during a discussion for about 50 principals affiliated with Teachers College’s Cahn Fellows program in January. “Our principals process is in a much better place.” But that doesn’t mean a new system for principal evaluations is likely to come easily. The law’s requirements mean the city and principals union will have to settle on some major adjustments — adjustments that some question whether the city has the capacity to make. The biggest adjustment will have to be to the role of the superintendent, who must formally observe principals under the state’s new evaluations framework. The city will have to restore authority and support to the offices of the city’s 38 superintendents, which have seen both of those things disappear during the Bloomberg administration.
September 6, 2011
Comptroller's audit criticizes city's handling of ATR pool
Chart from Comptroller John Liu's audit of the Absent Teacher Reserve. The Department of Education could potentially be doing more to help teachers whose positions have been eliminated find new jobs. That's one conclusion of an audit conducted by Comptroller John Liu of the DOE's efforts to help members of the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of teachers whose jobs were lost to budget cuts, enrollment changes, or school closures. The audit concluded that the vast majority of ATRs — 95 percent — are working full-time in teaching jobs, but that the department doesn't maintain data sufficient to conclude whether its efforts to help the teachers find permanent positions are paying off. "Without such information, we believe that DOE is significantly hindered in its ability to evaluate the success of its efforts in helping ATR teachers find permanent positions," the report concludes. The audit is not meant to dictate policy and is intended only to draw attention to what the report said was an information gap within the DOE on the ATR pool. But an unwritten conclusion also seems to be that the city is wasting money by hiring new teachers when ATRs are licensed to do the job.
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