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Union won’t accept unfair teacher evaluation agreement

Union won’t accept unfair teacher evaluation agreement Miller Photography

Bonnie Epstein of MS 74 in Queens makes a suggestion during the UFT’s rank-and-file Evaluation Committee meeting at union headquarters on Dec. 5.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said that the union will not be threatened into signing a teacher evaluation plan that is unfair for teachers or damaging to classroom learning after Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, in a speech on Dec. 5, set an arbitrary deadline of Dec. 21 and warned that school budgets would be cut if no agreement was reached.

“Rather than establishing bogus deadlines and threatening parents with the loss of teachers and services, they should be focusing on reaching an agreement that will actually help make the schools better,” Mulgrew said.

The union has been working hard behind the scenes to hammer out an evaluation plan that would have multiple measures, including student work and observations of classroom practice. Subcommittees have been working through the details for almost two years. But the going has been tough.

“We are talking to them but we’re just not there yet,” Mulgrew said.

UFT Secretary Michael Mendel said that the two sides disagree on the fundamental purpose of the evaluations. “We see this as a professional development tool,” he said. “The DOE sees it as a tool to weed out teachers.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo set a deadline of Jan. 17, 2013, for local school districts and unions around the state to agree on a teacher evaluation plan following the parameters set down in state legislation. If not, Cuomo warned, they would lose state aid — $250 million in New York City’s case.

Only about 250 of the state’s 700 districts had approved plans as of Dec. 1.

In February, thanks to the governor’s intervention, the UFT reached a groundbreaking agreement with the city on an appeals process for New York City teacher ratings that includes the third-party, independent validation of teacher ratings that the union insisted upon to ensure fairness. The appeals process takes effect only if and when all the other elements of the evaluation system are negotiated.

Talks between the union and the DOE got under way in earnest in August, but Hurricane Sandy set back the process by a month.

Taking up the chancellor’s rallying cry, Mayor Bloomberg said on his weekly Friday radio show on Dec. 7 that he would rather lose state aid — and make “painful cuts” to public schools or other city agencies — than accept a deal that doesn’t “hold their feet to the fire.”

Mulgrew criticized the DOE for “playing politics” with school funding.

“We’re not going to cut a deal based on politics and ideology or for money, because this evaluation system will far outlast this particular administration,” Mulgrew said. “We are committed to creating a system that is fair, constructive and, most important, will help teachers help students.”

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