NEW YORK—Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state teacher’s union made a deal in February to evaluate teachers based on student achievement.
More than 600 districts across the state have filed local plans to flesh out the evaluation criteria, and hundreds have been approved by the state Education Department (NYSED).
But New York City’s plan has not been filed yet. The deadline is Jan. 17.
Money from the state—$300 million in grants—is at risk if the negotiations between the city’s Department of Education (DOE) and the city teacher’s union (UFT) miss the deadline.
Yet Michael Mulgrew, president of the union, said in a union meeting late last week that the union is prepared to lose the money “if a new evaluation system does not help teachers help kids,” according to an online record from a union member, James Eterno, who was there.
Mulgrew also said that there have been no negotiations since Hurricane Sandy. A union representative declined comment on the post or the negotiations.
The union represents about 200,000 educators, including 75,000 current teachers.
Championed Guidelines Haven’t Manifested Yet in City
State and city officials and state and city teacher union leaders in February hailed a new agreement on teacher evaluation guidelines, ones that would “make New York state a national leader in holding teachers accountable for student achievement,” according to a release from the governor’s office.
The agreement designated four different categories for rating, ranging from “ineffective” to “highly effective.”
Sixty percent of each rating would be mostly based on classroom observations from principals or other administrators. The other points would be based on student achievement—but how to measure half of the 40 points was left up to local school districts and local teacher unions. The state would approve every plan, or reject it. The deadline was set for Jan. 17, 2013.
But complications exist in New York City. One is that the teacher’s union contract, expired since 2009, is considered by some to be tied together with the evaluation agreement. The dispute over a new contract is now in fact-finding by a state commission.
“What’s going to happen is we’re going to have either a settlement on the whole deal or we’re going to have no settlement at all, and then we’re going to get destroyed in the press that we don’t care about the children and the $300 million,” Eterno, a political science and history teacher at Jamaica High School, said. “Or we could just have the side deal.”
Eterno, 51, interprets the state law as saying the evaluation and contract agreement must be done together unless they are separated intentionally. The side deal he discussed would be union head Mulgrew separating the two sets of negotiations, which would be losing leverage, said Eterno.
Alison Gendar, a spokeswoman with the teacher’s union, said in an email that under the law any new contract in New York must contain the new teacher evaluation. “However, districts and unions can negotiate agreements on this issue separately, which will then be folded into the new contracts whenever they are reached,” she added.
The agreement on teacher evaluations is much more pressing than a new contract because of the deadline.
Bringing Negotiations Out Into the Open
With 44 days remaining before Jan. 17, both sides should come forward with “the final sticking points,” said Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of Educators 4 Excellence New York, a teacher advocacy organization.
“Particularly around evaluations—with so much at stake—we think it would be great if they just made public what these specific sticking points are, and then we’d be able to help solve it,” said Schleifer.
Eterno, the political science teacher, says he understands why the union is negotiating this way, because word would spread rapidly if they did. Eterno is afraid, though, that “they’re going to come up with a deal at the last second, and that deal is not going to be favorable to teachers.”
Basing teacher evaluations on student test growth, he added, voicing a widespread concern, is “absolutely absurd,” and “gives those teaching in middle class neighborhoods a huge, huge advantage.”
Final Stages of Negotiations
Retired teacher and current education consultant Peter Goodman said that the negotiations are really between the teacher’s union and the mayor. The mayor appoints the schools chancellor and currently has strong control of schools through mayoral control.
A mayoral representative didn’t respond to an email asking for comment and the Department of Education would say no more than “negotiations are ongoing.”
With things coming down to the wire, Goodman predicts Gov. Cuomo or his staff will get involved soon, if they aren’t already, because it would be seen as a failure for Cuomo if the agreement wasn’t reached in time. When that happens, “I think they’ll quickly get a settlement,” he said.
“It’s a complex issue, but I think on both sides there’s a lot to gain by resolving it,” he added.
Meanwhile, Dennis Walcott, schools chancellor, said on Nov. 27 that it is his goal to wrap up negotiations before the deadline, according to Gotham Schools.
Shael Polakow-Suransky, the Department of Education’s chief academic officer, said on Nov. 30 that not getting the agreement done in time and thus losing the $300 million would be painful.
“It would be terrible in the middle of the school year, when that money is already budgeted, to lose it,” Polakow-Suransky said, according to NY1.
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