Teachers need a real evaluation system

[This op-ed was originally published in the Amsterdam News.]

Despite numerous negotiating sessions, the UFT has been unable to reach an agreement with the Department of Education (DOE) on key points of a new teacher evaluation system.

We are seeking an agreement that meets the spirit of the teacher evaluation legislation in two important ways:

  1. The agreement must focus on creating a process to help teachers improve their performance by providing them with feedback on the specific classroom issues that need to be addressed, recommended strategies to address these issues and specific assistance from supervisors and other school personnel in implementing the recommended strategies.
  2. For teachers rated ineffective, an impartial outside review must be conducted by a qualified and mutually-agreed-upon third party.

The truth is that teachers look forward to the opportunity to improve their practice. If the DOE's major focus is on penalizing its employees for their perceived shortcomings rather than devising a process that will help all teachers improve, it is doing a disservice to the schools and the children they serve.

The DOE's position in these talks has been that principals' judgment is always right and that they should be able to wield unfettered power over their employees. Yet its own investigative arm has documented an instance of a principal urging her deputies to target teachers for dismissal without observing their work (Fordham High School of the Arts); another teacher had to go to court to get an "unsatisfactory" rating overturned after an independent investigator found that he and other teachers had been harassed by the principal (Bronx Science); and there have been repeated allegations that teachers have been pressured by administrators to pass students who had not mastered course material or who barely attended classes (Herbert Lehman, A. Phillip Randolph).

It staggers the imagination to think that, given these facts, the DOE can continue to insist that no principal's judgment can be questioned and that no checks or balances are needed on their powers to destroy a teacher's career.

Because the DOE refused to bargain in a meaningful way, we have offered to engage in binding arbitration over the remaining issues, leaving it up to an impartial third party to resolve these differences. So far, the DOE has refused our offer.

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