A postmortem on the evaluation deadline

Monday, January 21st, 2013 at 12:50 pm by

All but six of New York’s school districts had teacher and principal evaluation plans approved by the State Education Department by the January 17 deadline prescribed by law at Governor Cuomo’s insistence last year.

We are relieved and surprised by the small number of districts without approved plans.

What superintendents think about the quality of those plans, their impact on teaching and learning, and what had to be done to get approval are questions we will be exploring in the weeks ahead.

The state’s largest district was one of the handful missing the deadline.

New York City’s attempt’s to finalize a plan on the last day ended in nasty recriminations between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew.

Mr. Mulgrew accused the Mayor of “intransigence” and taking a “my way or the highway” approach to the negotiations.

Mayor Bloomberg blamed the UFT for the failure, claiming the union had made last minute demands to have the plan expire in 2015 and give teachers additional opportunities to challenge their evaluations through arbitration hearings.

At a hastily called news conference, the Mayor said, “If the agreement sunset in two years the whole thing would be a joke.  Nobody would ever be able to be removed. The law would be gone before the process could finish. It would essentially sabotage the entire agreement.”

It was noted that roughly 90 percent of the approved plans from other districts were for only a single year.

GothamSchools reported, the Mayor responded, “Those deals are shams.”

New York City now faces the loss of its $250 million state aid increase due from the current state budget.

Speaking on a Friday radio show, State of Politics blog reported Governor Cuomo said,

So they missed the deadline and the city is not going to get the funding. And it’s a tragedy. It really is a tragedy. And they both failed. One is going to point at the other and ask me who is right, who is wrong. I don’t know who is right or wrong. But I know they both failed because we needed an agreement. And now the education system in the city is going to suffer.

The Governor reiterated that he would not extend the deadline – for New York City or any other district.

Subsequently, State Education Commissioner John King directed the City to submit a plan by February 15 describing how the City will implement required evaluation activities starting by March 1.

The Commissioner warned that without these actions, his Department would not approve City plans for the expenditure of over $1 billion in federal funds.

GothamSchools reported that at a Friday afternoon conference call with reporters, the Commissioner, “seconded the union’s version of events — that the city had actually intended to sign off on and submit a short-term plan.”

GothamSchools noted,

 “My understanding, as of yesterday[Thursday] morning, was the submission we would receive officially from them when they completed the agreement was going to cover two years,” King added.

In a statement, UFT President Mulgrew said, “I want to thank Commissioner King for clarifying many of the issues around the UFT’s negotiations with the DOE over a new teacher evaluation system, particularly the sunset provision.”

This is an interesting turn of events.  A year ago, New York State United Teachers, the UFT’s statewide affiliate, was regularly condemning SED’s actions on evaluation controversies.

For example, in a January 17, 2012 response to an SED statement, NYSUT said, “It flushes out that SED is about themselves and their bureaucracy, and care little about the governor, the students or their teachers.”

There are misgivings among superintendents about their districts’ evaluation plans and what they had to concede to get an approvable plan.  We will be exploring that issue, among others, in the weeks ahead.

Still, for the 90 percent of superintendents whose districts negotiated one-year plans on-time, Mayor Bloomberg’s dismissal of their labors as producing “shams” has got to rankle.

As the Wall Street Journal reported,

Other educators in the state said the sunset provision was reasonable because the new system was largely unproven. Nationally, there is no consensus on the best way to determine what makes a great teacher.

Rockville Centre district Superintendent Bill Johnson said he felt the new evaluation system should be “tweaked on an annual basis” for improvements.

“I don’t want to get in a showdown with the mayor,” he said, referring to Mr. Bloomberg. “But there is another perspective. We believe strongly that a one-year plan would work for us.”

The New York Times echoed the point in an editorial, writing,

90 percent of the evaluation systems in the state have similar provisions, which would allow local officials to revisit the newly developed evaluation systems and dismissal policies to make sure that they are fair and working as planned.

New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott expanded on the City’s perspective in a Daily News column.

One district – Harrison, in Westchester County, was 19 minutes late in submitting the required signature of its board president with its plan.  An Education Department spokesman told the Journal News, “It was anticipated that the plan would have been approved before the deadline had the required signatures been included in the plan.”

Another district – Hamburg (south of Buffalo) – submitted its plan without signed agreement from its teacher union president and now faces losing $454,000 in state aid.  Late negotiations fell apart, when union leaders accused district officials of threatening them with job eliminations, if an agreement could not be reached by the deadline.  In an editorial, the Buffalo News wrote,

We don’t know exactly what the district official said or in what tone of voice, and maybe whoever it was shouldn’t have said that. Still, it doesn’t take a high school diploma to figure out that the loss of $454,000 might cost some people their jobs. So was the comment a threat or an observation?

Both the New York Post and New York Daily News published editorials ascribing some of the blame for the breakdown in the City to the evaluation law itself.

The Daily News wrote,

The futile head-butting that passed for negotiations between United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew and schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott on a state-mandated teacher evaluation deal laid bare the fatal flaw in Gov. Cuomo’s approach: letting districts and unions negotiate their plans rather than imposing one from the start.

It’s hard to envision a one-size fits all plan working well for all the state’s nearly 700 districts.  But the Council and the New York State School Boards Association both favored imposition of a state-prescribed evaluation plan, not the state aid threat, if local negotiations failed.

The Governor has said he intends to continue the aid penalty for the coming year.  It seems probable, as well, that federal initiatives will require states and school districts to have teacher and leader evaluation systems like those required this past week by state law.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 21st, 2013 at 12:50 pm and is filed under Finance, Leadership, Legislation, State Budget, Teachers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.