President's perspective

Mayor doesn’t get his way

Michael Mulgrew - 155 x 230 New York City has a new teacher evaluation system. After months of deadlock during which the city Department of Education refused to negotiate with us over a new system, State Education Commissioner John King stepped in on June 1 and ruled on a new system. King heard proposals from both us and the DOE during a series of hearings at the end of May, and his decision takes elements from those proposals as well as incorporating new material.

There is no reason King should have had to step in. Last year the governor set a Jan. 17 deadline for us to reach agreement with the DOE on a new system, and we worked furiously to meet that deadline. At the 11th hour we did, in fact, strike a deal — or so we thought. But when the chancellor brought our agreement back to City Hall, they scuttled it. The mayor was unwilling to approve a system that supports teachers or improves our working conditions — and his stubbornness caused the city to lose $240 million in state school aid.

The UFT has stood ready to negotiate ever since — but the city and the DOE refused. That’s why King had to step in and bring us to binding arbitration.

Now Mayor Bloomberg has declared the new system a major victory for his administration and for “education reform.” But the mayor wanted a system that would allow him to fire teachers at will, and that is far from what he got. As Commissioner King himself said in announcing his plan, “New York City is not going to fire its way to academic success.” Instead, the commissioner said that the key to the new system is “support and professional development” for teachers. That’s what we have always wanted — a system that supports teachers rather than penalizes them — and it is what we have gotten.

The new system includes numerous protections for teachers. Under the old system, principals had sole discretion over ratings and teachers rated Unsatisfactory had little recourse. Now, however, teachers rated Ineffective will have an independent validator observe them three times during the following year to provide an objective assessment. In addition, we will be able to bring 13 percent of all teachers rated Ineffective before a neutral panel if we have reason to believe that their principal gave them that rating as punishment or for other reasons unrelated to pedagogy. If the panel rules in favor of the teacher, his or her principal must submit a new rating to the panel within 10 days. However, the panel may reject the new rating if it does not agree with the principal’s assessment. We have also won 150 arbitration slots through which we can challenge the procedure if the DOE is not following the rules.

Most significantly, in the new system, only 20 percent of teachers’ ratings can be based on students’ standardized test scores. That is far lower than in many states including our neighbor New Jersey, where student test scores will account for 30 percent of teachers’ ratings. An additional 20 percent will be based on local measures of student learning, and the remaining 60 percent will be based on observations, which have also been restructured to better support teacher development.

If Mayor Bloomberg had his way, teachers’ entire ratings would be based on student test scores. That’s why the mayor hates the statewide evaluation law we passed in Albany in 2010 that capped student test scores at 20 percent. Real teaching and learning can’t be measured by standardized tests alone. Our students are more than just test scores.

Unfortunately, it is doubtful that the DOE will be able to implement the new evaluation system without mangling it as they have mangled so many other initiatives before this. The system is complicated by any standard: The document from Commissioner King is a full 241 pages. But the DOE would likely bungle implementing even a much simpler system. Two examples that come immediately to mind: SESIS and the Teacher Effectiveness Program (the no-stakes pilot study of teacher evaluation and development). The DOE managed to fail miserably implementing both of those, and there’s little reason to believe they’ll do any better with the new evaluation system.

Luckily, we have less than seven months remaining of the Bloomberg administration. In November, we will elect a new mayor, and on Jan. 1 that mayor-elect will take office. That means a real chance to work out any kinks in the new system and to improve it.

The Bloomberg administration will just be a bad memory then, and one that we’ll all be eager to put behind us.

Related topics: evaluation
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