agenda setting

UFT president wants to renegotiate evaluations with de Blasio

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said Wednesday he wants the next mayor to focus on fixing teacher evaluations.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said Wednesday he wants the next mayor to focus on fixing teacher evaluations.

As mayor-elect Bill de Blasio hashes out his administration’s education to-do list, teachers union chief Michael Mulgrew was ready Wednesday to suggest a top priority – revise the new teacher-evaluation system that the state imposed this June to break a long city-union impasse.

“I’ve got to get evals straightened out quickly, because it’s an unmitigated disaster,” said Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, which filed 17 formal grievances last month over the evaluation system’s rollout.

Mulgrew also suggested that the de Blasio administration reconsider the structure of the school system, which groups schools into multi-borough support networks.

“We’ve got to restructure,” Mulgrew said, adding that the networks do more to enforce school compliance with department regulations than to assist them with instruction.

The DOE “designed a system that’s not about supporting schools,” he said. “They designed a system that’s about accountability.”

De Blasio’s staff would not comment on Mulgrew’s suggestions, but pointed out that de Blasio’s campaign policy book proposes that the teacher-evaulation system could be improved by recruiting and training principals better.

During his victory party Tuesday night, de Blasio met privately with Mulgrew, along with state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and influential Assemblyman Keith Wright, according to a union official.

Mulgrew made his comments Wednesday morning after an event celebrating a group of city high schools that have state waivers allowing them to base student graduation on performance-based assessments – such as research papers and science experiments – rather than the Regents exams. (The schools still must take the English Regents tests.)

Such alternative assessments could play a larger role in measuring student growth – and with it, educator effectiveness – within the teacher-evaluation system, Mulgrew suggested.

“We should be looking at them and saying, ‘What can we take from these schools and make better?” he said at the event at the Upper East Side’s Urban Academy, a member of the New York Performance Standards Consortium.

State Education Commissioner John King imposed the new evaluation system in June after the city Department of Education and the UFT failed to agree on one by a January deadline.

Last month, the union filed the grievances over a wide range perceived flaws in how the system has been put into play, including how observations – which account for 60 percent of teachers’ ratings – are conducted and the role of teacher committees in making ratings recommendations to principals.

King has said that the evaluation system will remain in effect through the 2016-2017 school year – unless the city and UFT negotiate a different plan that follows the state’s evaluation law.

Mulgrew gave few clues Wednesday about what parts of the system he would like changed, but Leo Casey, a former union official who was also at the event, said that just about everything permissible under the state law will likely be on the table.

“The whole thing could be negotiated under the law,” said Casey, the executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, who was involved in the evaluation negotiations before he left his post as UFT vice president last year.

He said possible changes could include adding more performance-based assessments for the local measures of student growth – which make up 20 percent of teachers’ ratings – or allowing teachers to help evaluate their peers.

What Mulgrew will likely avoid, Casey added, is publicly proposing evaluation fixes – a strategy that led nowhere during the back-and-forth with the Bloomberg administration.

“He’s not going to negotiate this stuff in public,” he said.

Under the existing school-support network system, principals join groups led by DOE-run or nonprofit providers that assist with teacher training, budgeting and more.

Mulgrew’s criticism of the networks follows public comments last month by State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who said if she were taking over the city’s school system, she “would look heavily to change the networks.”

Some have suggested that the networks’ oversight-and-support role be returned to district superintendents, who lost much of their authority when the Bloomberg administration overhauled the school-governance system. De Blasio’s policy book says the DOE should recruit “strong” superintendents who can “encourage, coach, support, and hold principals and schools accountable for steady progress toward quality schools.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, also attended Wednesday’s event, where she welcomed “a new era in New York City” under Bill de Blasio.

She predicted that de Blasio, as a public-school parent, would end the “fixation on testing” that she said has been a hallmark of the Bloomberg era.

She added that she was “amazed” that the schools in the performance-assessment consortium, which began during the Giuliani administration and has expanded under Bloomberg, managed to avoid this standardized-testing push.

“They were able to navigate through a lot of different shoals and terrible waves of really bad education policy-making,” said Weingarten, who has batted off rumors that she is in the running to be the next city schools chancellor.

Town Hall

Hopson promises more flexibility as Memphis school leaders clear the air with teachers on new curriculum

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson answers questions from Memphis teachers at a town hall hosted by United Education Association of Shelby County on Monday.

The Shelby County Schools superintendent told passionate teachers at a union town hall Monday that they can expect more flexibility in how they teach the district’s newest curriculums.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the teachers who score highest on their evaluations should not feel like they need to read from a script to meet district requirements, although he didn’t have an immediate answer to how that would work.

Teacher frustrations were reaching a boiling point on district curriculums introduced this school year. Although the state requirements have changed several times over the last eight years, this change was particularly bothersome to teachers because they feel they are teaching to a “script.”

“Teachers have to be given the autonomy,” Hopson said. Although he cited the need for the district to have some control as teachers are learning, “at the end of the day, if you’re a level 4 or level 5 teacher, and you know your students, there needs to be some flexibility.”

Vocal teachers at the meeting cited check-ins from central office staff as evidence of the overreach.

“I keep hearing people say it’s supplemental but we have people coming into my room making sure we’re following it to a T,” said Amy Dixon a teacher at Snowden School. “We’re expected to follow it … like a script.”

The 90-minute meeting sponsored by the United Education Association of Shelby County drew a crowd of about 100 people to talk about curriculum and what Hopson called “a culture of fear” throughout the district of making a mistake.

Hopson said his team is still working on how to strike the right balance between creativity and continuity across nearly 150 district-run schools because so many students move during the school year.

He reassured despondent teachers he would come up with a plan to meet the needs of teachers and keep curriculums consistent. He said some continuity is needed across schools because many students move a lot during the school year.

“We know we got to make sure that I’m coming from Binghampton and going over to Whitehaven it’s got to be at least somewhat aligned,” he said. “I wish we were a stable, middle-class, not the poorest city in the country, then we wouldn’t have a lot of these issues.”

Ever since Tennessee’s largest district began phasing in parts of an English curriculum called Expeditionary Learning, teachers have complained of being micromanaged, instead of being able to tailor content for their students. The same goes for the new math curriculum Eureka Math.

The district’s changes are meant to line it up with the state. Tennessee’s new language arts and math standards replaced the Common Core curriculum, but in fact, did not deviate much when the final version was released last fall. This is the third change in eight years to state education requirements.

Still, Shelby County Schools cannot fully switch to the new curriculums until they are approved by the Tennessee State Board of Education. District leaders hope both curriculums, which received high marks from a national group that measures curriculum alignment to Common Core, will be added when textbooks are vetted for the 2019-20 school year.

Some urged educators to not think of the new curriculums as “scripts,” and admitted to poorly communicating the changes to teachers.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Pam Harris-Giles

“It’s not an expectation that we stand in front of our children and read off a piece of paper,” said Pam Harris-Giles, one of the district’s instructional support directors, who helps coordinate curriculum training and professional development.

Fredricka Vaughn, a teacher at Kirby High School, said that won’t be easy without clear communication of what flexibility will look like for high-performing teachers.

“If you don’t want us to use the word script, then bring back the autonomy,” she said.

Hopson stressed that the state’s largest school district could be a model for public education if everyone can work together to make the new curriculums work.

“It’s going to take work, hard work, everyone aligned from the top, everyone rowing in the same direction.”

Price of entry

Becoming a Colorado teacher could soon require fewer transcripts, more training on English learners

Stephanie Wujek teaches science at Wiggins Middle School , on April 5, 2017 in Wiggins, Colorado. Rural areas are having a hard time finding teachers in areas like math and science. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

The rules for becoming a teacher in Colorado are about to change — and officials hope the moves will help attract more math teachers and better prepare educators to work with students learning English.

The changes, which the Colorado Department of Education proposed this week, would also cut down on the paperwork needed to enter the profession and make it easier for teachers licensed in other states to re-enter the classroom after they move to Colorado.

The package of changes also includes a slimmed-down teacher evaluation rubric, the first major revision to the rules under Colorado’s 2010 teacher effectiveness law.

Among the proposed changes:

  • Less paperwork for new teachers. Applicants for a teaching license would no longer have to provide transcripts for every school they attended, only the transcripts for the school that granted them their highest degree. (Many colleges hold transcripts hostage for unpaid debt, even minor ones like unpaid parking tickets.
  • Less paperwork for teachers coming from other states. Experienced, licensed teachers from outside Colorado would no longer need to provide transcripts or prove that their teacher preparation program met Colorado standards.
  • More flexibility about previous teaching experience. Licensed teachers from other states would no longer need to have previously worked under a full-time contract to qualify for a Colorado license.
  • A new credential limited to middle-school math. Right now, Colorado only has a secondary math endorsement, which requires competency in trigonometry and calculus. That’s a barrier for teachers moving from other states with a math endorsement limited to middle school, and some see it as a roadblock for those who feel comfortable with algebra but not higher-level math.
  • Additional pathways for counselors and nurses to get licensed to work in schools.

Two bills making their way through the Colorado General Assembly this session would remove another barrier for out-of-state teachers. To qualify for a Colorado license today, teachers must have had three years of continuous teaching experience. If those bills are signed into law, applicants would only need three years of experience in the previous seven years.

Together, the proposals indicate how Colorado officials are working to make it a little easier to become a teacher in the state, which is facing a shortage in math teachers, counselors, and school nurses, among other specialties, as well as a shortage in many rural districts.

Colleen O’Neil, executive director of educator talent for the Colorado Department of Education, said many of the proposed changes came out of listening sessions focused on the state’s teacher shortage held around the state.  

The changes still don’t mean that if you’re a teacher anywhere in the country, you can easily become a teacher in Colorado. Just six states have full reciprocity, meaning anyone with a license from another state can teach with no additional requirements, according to the Education Commission of the States. Teachers whose licenses and endorsements don’t have a direct equivalent in Colorado would still need to apply for an interim license and then work to meet the standards of the appropriate Colorado license or endorsement.

The rule changes also add some requirements. Among those changes:

  • Prospective teachers will need more training on how to work with students learning English. Most significantly, all educator preparation programs would have to include six semester hours or 90 clock hours of training.
  • So will teachers renewing their licenses. They will need 45 clock hours, though the requirement wouldn’t kick in until the first full five-year cycle after the teacher’s most recent renewal. A teacher who just got her license renewed this year would have nine years to complete that additional training, as the requirement wouldn’t apply until the next renewal cycle. Superintendents in districts where less than 2 percent of the students are English language learners could apply for a waiver.

Colorado’s educator preparation rules already call for specialized training for teaching English language learners, but the rule change makes the requirements more explicit.

“We’re the sixth-largest state for English language learners,” O’Neil said. “We want to make sure our educators are equipped to teach all our learners.”

The rule changes would also “streamline,” in O’Neil’s words, the teacher evaluation process. Here’s what would change:

  • The five teacher quality standards would become four. “Reflection” and “leadership” are combined into “professionalism.”
  • The underlying elements of those standards would be reduced, too. Twenty-seven elements would become 17.

Fifty school districts and one charter collaborative have been testing the new evaluation system this year in a pilot program. O’Neil said most of the feedback has been positive, and the rest of the feedback has been to urge officials to winnow down the standards even further. That’s not a change she would support, O’Neil said.

“The reality is that teaching actually is rocket science,” she said. “There are a lot of practices and elements that go into good teaching.”

The state is accepting additional public comment on the rules until April 20, and a public hearing will be held in May. The new rules are expected to be adopted this summer.

Submit written feedback online or send an email to the State Board of Education at