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Teacher evaluations in 33 schools subject of intensive negotiations

UFT: We won’t agree to a bad deal

The UFT and the Department of Education have been in intensive negotiations for the past two months over the details of a new teacher evaluation system for schools designated for the “restart” and “transformation” federal intervention models only. With a Dec. 31 deadline looming for finalizing an agreement, both sides are meeting in subcommittees and going back and forth on key issues.

Though it will only be used in these 33 “restart” and “transformation” schools, UFT Secretary Michael Mendel stressed that an evaluation system that treats teachers unfairly or allows administrators to scapegoat their staffs will not see the light of day.

“We are negotiating in good faith, but we won’t agree to a bad deal,” Mendel said.

Mendel said that the evaluation system must be fair, objective, carried out in a safe, collaborative environment and provide for professional growth at the same time that it is being used for evaluation.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott told the press in early November that he would give up $60 million in federal School Improvement Grants rather than come to a bad decision on the program. 

“At the end of the day if we have to return money, I will be willing to do that. I’m not going to be beholden to money as determining a decision,” he said.

Mendel said that he agreed wholeheartedly with the chancellor’s position. “We also will not do what we think is wrong just to get the money,” he said.

The DOE will receive up to $2 million per year per school over the next three years from the federal government if the 33 schools enact broad reforms, including a new evaluation system that goes beyond the simple U or S — unsatisfactory or satisfactory — ratings that are used now.

Though the specifics of negotiations are not public, the issues the two parties must resolve are no secret. Nor are they easy.

Measures of student learning will make up 20 percent of middle and high school teachers’ evaluations. So one major task will be negotiating what will be measured and how.

In addition, for middle schools only, math and English language arts teachers will have a second measure, worth an additional 20 percent, created by the state based on a statewide “growth” metric.

Negotiators must also work out how classroom observations — which make up the other 60 to 80 percent of the evaluation — will be carried out. 

In addition, if the evaluations are to be helpful rather than used simply to label teachers, the law requires a teacher improvement plan be in place for teachers rated ineffective or developing. And there must be a negotiated appeals process.

“We hope it will be a good thing, and we hope to learn from it,” Mendel said of the evaluation system being negotiated for the 33 schools. 

The issues are complex and potentially far-reaching. 

“Prudence and thoughtful decision-making are called for,” Mendel said.

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