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March 6, 2012
With different views, city and union resume evaluation talks
They might have returned to the negotiating table, but officials from the teachers union and the Department of Education still can't agree on what they're talking about. Union and city officials met this afternoon to discuss teacher evaluations for the first time in months without a imminent deadline hanging over their heads. The city said the meeting was a first step toward a citywide evaluation deal, but the union indicated that it would continue to push for talks that focus on evaluations in just 33 schools. Earlier in the day, the union petitioned the state's employee relations board to force the DOE back into talks over a system for the 33 schools, which were supposed to be using evaluations this year. In an earlier petition, the union wanted the Public Employee Relations Board to assign a mediator to deal with a sticking point over teacher rating appeals. This petition is designed to finish the job. The 33 schools at the center of the disagreement were part of a federal school reform program that promised $60 million in funding in exchange for the evaluations. Both sides agreed this summer to work toward a deal on the pilot and to use it as a model for the citywide system, but those talks broke down at the end of last year. Shortly after, Mayor Bloomberg announced plans to close and reopen the 33 schools with new teachers, and the city has insisted ever since that it only needs to negotiate a citywide deal. The city's insistence came only after Gov. Cuomo helped break a standoff on how teachers should be able to appeal their low ratings. In a letter sent to Mulgrew shortly after, Chancellor Walcott said that was all it would take to negotiate a citywide system. "With all major issues resolved, it is incumbent on us to finalize an agreement for a new evaluation system for all teachers in New York City, and to do so without delay," Walcott said in the letter.
March 2, 2012
Following Bloomberg, Walcott shifts on teacher ratings release
Big-city mayors and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan during a panel discussion today in Washington, D.C. Last week, Chancellor Dennis Walcott spent Friday morning cautioning reporters not to take the city's Teacher Data Reports too seriously. The city was releasing the information only because news organizations had won a legal battle for it, he said. This morning, after a week in which Mayor Bloomberg defended the release, Walcott revised his message. "It's all about accountability," he said, appearing on a panel in Washington, D.C., with Bloomberg and the mayors and schools chiefs of Chicago and Los Angeles. "It's all about accountability," Walcott added. "And as the mayor indicated, parents have a right to have this information. What I've been trying to do is making sure that the entire New York City community understands that this is a limited piece of information and they have to view the teachers in their full context." Bloomberg jumped in to rebut philanthropist Bill Gates' argument, made in a New York Times column just before the release, that no other industries release the results of employee evaluations. "Incidentally Gates does give information at Microsoft to the people that need it, namely the managers to the people being evaluated," Bloomberg said. "In our case it's the principals and the parents who need that information. So we're not doing anything differently from what Microsoft does."
February 24, 2012
City releases Teacher Data Reports — and a slew of caveats
When the Department of Education's embargo of Teacher Data Reports details lifted at noon today, news organizations across the city rushed to make the data available. The Teacher Data Reports are “value-added” assessments of teachers’ effectiveness that were produced from 2008 to 2010 for reading and math teachers in grades 3 to 8. This morning, department officials including Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky met with reporters to offer caution about how the data reports should be used. They emphasized the reports' wide margins of error — 35 percentage points for math teachers and 53 percentage points for reading teachers, on average — and that the reports reflect only a small portion of teachers' work. "We would never advise anyone — parent, reporter, principal, teacher — to draw a conclusion based on this score alone," Polakow-Suransky said. Most of the news organizations that filed Freedom of Information Law requests for the ratings plan to publish them in searchable or streamlined databases, with the teachers' names attached. GothamSchools does not plan to publish the data with teachers' names or identifying characteristics included because of concerns about the data's reliability. At least two other news organizations that cover education are also not publishing the data: the local affiliate of Fox News, according to a representative of Fox, and the nonprofit school information website Insideschools. Department officials are asking schools not to release the reports to parents. They issued a guide today advising principals about how to handle parents who demand that their child be removed from the class of a teacher rated ineffective.
February 23, 2012
City alters Regents grading, credit recovery policies after audit
The Department of Education is cracking down on graduation rate inflation, following an internal audit that uncovered errors and possible evidence of cheating at 60 high schools. The audits, conducted by the department's internal auditor, scrutinized data at 60 high schools that had posted unusual or striking results. Of the 9,582 students who graduated from the schools in 2010, the audit found that 292 did not have the exam grades or course credits required under state regulations. At one school, Landmark High School, 35 students had graduated without earning all of the academic credits required for graduation. At another, Pablo Neruda Academy for Architecture and World Studies, 19 students had gotten credits through "credit recovery" that the school could not prove complied with state requirements. At two schools, Fort Hamilton High School and Hillcrest High School, an examination of Regents exams uncovered problems in the scoring of multiple students' tests. Department officials said they had asked Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon to launch inquiries at nine schools based on issues raised during the audits. (Schools where investigations were already underway were excluded from the audit.) Students who graduated without sufficient credits won't have their diplomas revoked, officials said. And schools won't have their graduation rates revised to reflect the audited numbers, either, except potentially where the city found schools had purged students from their rolls without confirming that they had enrolled elsewhere. Instead, department officials are cracking down on loopholes in city and state regulations about how to graduate students. Among the major policy changes are revisions to Regents exam scoring procedures, new limitations on "credit recovery" options for students who fail courses, and an alteration to the way schools determine whether a student has met graduation requirements. The changes reflect a new understanding of the degree to which principals had become confused with — or, in some cases, ignorant of — graduation policies. They also reflect an unusual acknowledgment from the Department of Education that its strategies for delivering support to schools and holding them accountable are not always successful.
February 21, 2012
City calls off state hearing to restore federal improvement grants
City officials won't be heading to Albany this week after all to petition State Education Commissioner John King to restore federal funding for 33 struggling schools. King cut off the funds, known as School Improvement Grants, last month when New York City failed to settle on new teacher evaluations by his end-of-2011 deadline. Nine other districts lost their funding for the same reason. All asked for hearings to appeal King's decree, and those hearings were set to begin last Friday. City officials were due to make their case for the funds Wednesday morning. But starting just hours after the news broke on Thursday that the state and its main teachers union, NYSUT, had agreed on a framework for new evaluations, all of the districts asked for their hearings to be adjourned, according to an SED spokesman, Dennis Tompkins. It's not clear exactly how the state's evaluations deal would change what districts planned to say during their hearings.
February 14, 2012
Month after turnaround news, official applications still not done
More than a month after Mayor Bloomberg announced that he would fulfill a state requirement by overhauling 33 struggling schools, the city still has not officially informed the state of its plans. The announcement, which came during Bloomberg’s State of the City address Jan. 12, was an attempt to circumvent a requirement that the city and teachers union agree on new teacher evaluations. New evaluations were a condition of the previous improvement processes the schools were undergoing with funding from federal School Improvement Grants. But turnaround, which requires schools to replace at least half of their teachers, does not call for new evaluations. The turnaround switch isn't up to the city alone. State Education Commissioner John King must sign off on the plans if they are to get the federal funds. King has said the turnaround model Bloomberg described is "approvable." But he still hasn't seen any details. That's because the city hasn't supplied them. For weeks, city officials — including Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott — had cited Feb. 10 as the deadline to complete applications detailing the turnaround plans, but the day came and went with no completed applications in sight. Department officials now say the deadline was only internal, and now the city is aiming to finish them up by the end of this week. That way, the officials said, the applications can be on the table next week when the city has its hearing about the SIG grants with state education officials.
February 6, 2012
Poll: Wide approval for Cuomo's plan to link school aid to evals
Nearly three-quarters of New Yorkers approve of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's carrot-and-stick approach to getting new teacher evaluations in place, according to poll results released today. Last month, Cuomo vowed to withhold increases in state school aid to districts that do not settle in short order on new teacher evaluations that take test scores into account. The poll, conducted last week by the Siena Research Institute, asked respondents, "Do you support or oppose the Governor's plan to link school aid increases to the implementation of an enhanced teacher evaluation process?" Seventy-one percent said they support that plan. (The poll of 807 registered voters had a margin of error of 3.4 percent.) The support was evenly split between respondents in New York City and the rest of the state and was especially high among black New Yorkers (77 percent) and young people between 18 and 34 (78 percent). Households with union members (61 percent) and Jews (63 percent) supported Cuomo's plan least often, but even they stood by it in large numbers.
January 30, 2012
Walcott calls state evaluation law "broken" during lobbying trip
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued his state budget speech two weeks ago, he offered a stark choice to districts and unions working on new teacher evaluations: agree, or face the consequences. In Albany today, Chancellor Dennis Walcott suggested that the city would prefer the consequences — widely assumed to be an effort by Cuomo to use his budgeting process to impose new evaluations without the consent of local teachers unions "I think the law, and the governor is so right about this, is broken," Walcott said. "It’s not going to work as constructed." Walcott would not comment on the status of negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers but said that the issue dividing them — the appeals process for teachers rated ineffective — had not been solved. Cuomo, who has said the 2010 evaluation law was "destined to fail," seemed willing but not eager to expend political capital on changing the law when he delivered his budget address. He said he preferred districts and their unions to agree on a "protocol" for new evaluations within 30 days. But, Cuomo said, "If they can’t do that then we’ll do it for them." Walcott's comments reflect pessimism about the state of negotiations in the city just days after UFT President Michael Mulgrew praised Cuomo for his "intervention" to induce the city back to the table. Walcott said he was in Albany to lobby them about changing the law.
January 27, 2012
City could try to replace fewer teachers at 33 turnaround schools
Two weeks after Mayor Bloomberg announced a plan to to replace half of all teachers at 33 struggling schools, efforts are underway to soften the threat. Department of Education officials said today that the city is exploring the option of replacing fewer teachers at the schools under an allowance included in federal guidelines for the school improvement strategy known as "turnaround." The turnaround process, which Bloomberg announced two weeks ago to sidestep a requirement of other school improvement strategies to negotiate new teacher evaluations with the teachers union, mandates that 50 percent of teachers be replaced. But the U.S. Department of Education makes special allowances for some teachers who have been hired in the last two years. Now the city is looking to take advantage of that flexibility when it files formal turnaround applications with the state next month. The catch is that not every teacher hired in the last two years is automatically eligible for the exemption.The federal guidelines make an allowance only for teachers who were selected "according to locally adopted competencies as part of a school reform effort" headed by a principal handpicked to lead it. That means, according to the guidelines, the teachers should have been screened for an ability to "be effective in a turnaround situation." It's not clear how many of the roughly 3,400 teachers at the 33 schools would fall into this category. As recently as Monday, Chancellor Dennis Walcott told state legislators that there would be "possibly up to 1,500, 1,700 teachers" cut loose from the schools.
January 23, 2012
In hearing, King calls for curbing Cuomo's competitive grants
Chancellor Dennis Walcott testifies before legislators during a hearing about Gov. Cuomo's proposed education budget. State Education Commissioner John King spent most of his time before legislators today going to bat for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed schools budget. But on one key point, he said the Board of Regents would prefer a change. The Regents would rather not hinge so much of the state's funds on a competition among districts, King said. Cuomo proposed using $250 million of a proposed $800 million school aid increase to reward districts for strong academic performance and management efficiency. King said the Regents, whose agenda is similar but not identical to Cuomo's, would slash that number by 80 percent. They would still hand out $50 million through a competition but think the remaining $200 million would be better used helping high-needs districts cover their expenses, he said. The proposal is similar to what was proposed by the Alliance for Quality Education, a group that Cuomo's office has named as a nemesis, and augurs a possible battle over the budget in the two months before it must be approved.
January 18, 2012
Union opposition won't stop school changes, city officials vow
"Everything you ever do, there's going to be days where it just doesn't work," Mayor Bloomberg told a group of high school students today. "There's going to be days where somebody says something you don't like or something goes the wrong way." Bloomberg's message to an 11th-grade English class was meant to inspire students for the future. But it could have just as easily been a self-esteem booster as he slogs through a battle over teacher quality that he started waging when he became mayor 10 years ago. "Successful people," Bloomberg told the students about adversity, "recover from that and they learn how to deal with that." The visit to the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science was the mayor's latest stop on a publicity tour to promote a strategy to retain effective teachers and fire the least effective ones. It began in the Bronx last week, at the Morris High School Campus with his State of the City Speech, and continued into this week with a speech on Martin Luther King Day. In the process, he has picked up substantial support from state officials. Yesterday, both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and State Education Commissioner John King demanded that the state teachers union, NYSUT, drop a lawsuit challenging the state's teacher evaluation law. King also backed Bloomberg's plan to win back suspended federal funds by removing teachers at 33 low-performing schools through a process called "turnaround."
January 3, 2012
Disagreement over next steps follows impasse over evaluations
UFT President Michael Mulgrew appears on Inside City Hall on NY1 On the first workday after negotiations with the city over new teacher evaluations broke down shortly before a deadline to maintain federal funding, UFT President Michael Mulgrew is defending his call for a third-party negotiator to broker a compromise. Chancellor Dennis Walcott laid out a case against the union's request in a New York Post op/ed today. Mulgrew, in contrast, has taken to the airwaves, appearing Monday night on NY1's Inside City Hall and this morning on John Gambling's radio show. Whether third-party arbitrators would rule on appeals for teachers who get low ratings was a key sticking point in negotiations between the city and the union. Now, a secondary impasse has opened over arbitration about the arbitration — that is, whether a third-party negotiator should figure out final teacher evaluation details for the city and union. Both Inside City Hall host Errol Louis and Gambling, whose show airs daily on WOR 710, pushed Mulgrew to explain how third-party arbitration would close the ideological divide separating the city and union. "Tens of thousands of teachers elect you, millions of New Yorkers elect the mayor, and yet some third unelected person now has to decide one of the most important questions?" Louis asked.
December 14, 2011
With great fanfare, WHEELS seniors mail college applications
In a school sweatshirt, Chancellor Dennis Walcott congratulates WHEELS seniors as they approach the local post office. When William Taveras approached the Washington Bridge Post Office on West 180th Street, college applications in hand, with whoops and applause from hundreds of classmates in the background, it was a step toward a goal he set five years ago. As a member of the first class of sixth-graders at the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, Taversas said he often heard founding principal Brett Kimmel tell students his main objective was to get everyone into college. Kimmel brought Taveras's cohort a few steps closer to that goal today, when all 76 seniors marched the three blocks from their Upper Manhattan school to the post office that would mail their transcripts and applications to universities. Each student was required to apply to CUNY and SUNY colleges, and some said they were applying to other schools as well. WHEELS — which lists "high-dose" tutoring as one of its strategies to build college readiness — required each student to apply to a minimum of six colleges.
December 14, 2011
Poll: As NYers get to know Walcott more, they like him less
Eight months on the job has done little to boost Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott's image in the eye of New Yorkers. A Quinnipiac poll released today shows Walcott's approval rating as essentially unchanged since he became chancellor in April. But his disapproval rating is way up. According to the poll, 33 percent of New Yorkers approve of Walcott's handling of his job. That's up just 2 points from a similar poll in May, a month after he became chancellor. During the same period, his disapproval rating swung from from 21 percent to 34 percent. His disapproval rating among public school parents rose from 32 percent to 45 percent. It appears that many of the people who have made up their minds about Walcott since April have decided they do not approve of his job performance.
December 9, 2011
After panel on school choice, critique of city’s system of schools
Chancellor Dennis Walcott is interviewed by WNYC's Brian Lehrer at a forum on public school options. Many of the parents and teachers attending a forum last night about school choice said it was their first time hearing Chancellor Dennis Walcott talk about the Bloomberg administration's school policies. Walcott defended the school choice model that has developed during Bloomberg's tenure at the event, which was organized by the New York Times and WNYC in conjunction with their SchoolBook reporting project. (Listen to WNYC's coverage of the event.) The event took place against the backdrop of a spate of school closures announced by the Department of Education earlier in the day. The city's closure strategy, meant to clear space for better school options, has in large part fueled the increasing number of choices that families face, especially when applying in middle and high school. Parents and teachers we spoke to said the apparent options could be dizzying, even for the most involved families. educators, some parents said they didn't think Walcott's answers got to the root of their concerns. "It's very confusing. The whole process reminds me of voting. People don't engage because there's too much information out there. They don't know how to process all of it," said Tania Cade, who has a child in third grade at P.S. 278 and another in seventh-grade at a gifted-and-talented program in Washington Heights. "I don't think that [Walcott] addressed that issue at all. It's all up to the parents, and God bless those parents who don't have the time or don't speak the language."
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