fariña's fix

Fariña to state officials: Cuomo’s evaluation plan needs changes

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch (left) and city schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new evaluation law could mean more city teachers will earn a top rating, not fewer, city officials warned the state last month.

According to an analysis conducted by the city Department of Education, the state’s new evaluation system is “drastically more” skewed toward awarding teachers the top rating when compared to the system New York City has used for the past two years. In a 14-page letter sent to state education officials on April 27, Chancellor Carmen Fariña wrote that the “matrix” included in the law should be changed to correct the positive bias — one of a number of pointed recommendations offered by the city.

The letter, which the department kept under wraps for weeks, was sent as the state began the process of finalizing a new evaluation system for New York’s teachers and principals. Lengthy and detailed, it shows that city officials have been working behind the scenes to make the case for preserving much of the city’s current evaluation system while avoiding public criticism of the law as the city navigates a contentious legislative session.

The letter’s most surprising takeaway is that, in New York City, Cuomo may be about to exacerbate the problem he sought to fix through his new evaluation law. Cuomo complained for months leading up to this year’s state budget that the current evaluation system was flawed because it was too easy for teachers to receive a good rating. Last year, 9.2 percent of city teachers received the top rating of highly effective, compared to 58 percent of teachers outside of the city.

Under the new legislation, evaluations will be are based on two main components: student performance and classroom observations. Teachers can earn a highly effective rating by earning that rating on one component and an effective rating on the second. (Here’s how ratings from the two categories get combined into a single rating in the state’s new matrix.)

But Fariña argued that teachers should only be eligible for a highly effective rating if they earn that on both main components.

“This change would also eliminate the extremely strong bias toward highly effective that the currently specified matrix unintentionally introduces,” Fariña wrote.

The city Department of Education's proposal to change the state's evaluation matrix, from its letter. The yellow boxes indicate the city's changes, which would ensure that only two "highly effective" subscores could result in an overall "highly effective" rating.
The city Department of Education’s proposal to change the state’s evaluation matrix, from its letter. The yellow boxes indicate the city’s changes, which would ensure that only two “highly effective” subscores could result in an overall “highly effective” rating.

Meanwhile, she said, the state should also take a hard look at the quality of the tests that will play such a significant role in the evaluations.

The city “does not feel confident that they fully capture student achievement growth,” Fariña said.

The State Education Department did not respond to questions about the city’s feedback, and the governor’s office declined to comment.

The letter is among dozens of documents and more than 3,000 emails sent to the State Education Department in the weeks after the legislature passed the controversial evaluation changes in April. After the law left many of the details of the new system to be decided by state officials, the education department requested feedback from districts, teachers, principals, parents, and other education groups about the design of the new evaluation system. That process culminated in a much-touted summit earlier this month, and most of the feedback was posted to the state’s website.

The city declined to share its recommendations, which were not posted online, though they were part of the public feedback process. A spokeswoman said the department was “entirely focused” on creating its evaluation system. State officials released the documents on Friday after requests from Chalkbeat.

On Monday, state officials are expected to unveil their own recommendations for the evaluation system, with final regulations to be approved no earlier than mid-June. Under the current law, districts have until Nov. 15 to implement their new evaluation systems, a timeline Fariña called “unrealistic and potentially detrimental” to a successful rollout of the new system.

The city is particularly concerned about the outside evaluators required by the new law, the letter shows. One way to comply with the regulation that every teacher be observed by someone who works outside of their building would be to hire least 320 full-time independent evaluators — an “extremely expensive” proposition given that the city already employs 900 operational and instructional support staff people.

To avoid that, the city is recommending that principals, assistant principals, and top-rated teachers be allowed to become certified evaluators for teachers at other schools, in addition to retired teachers, university faculty, superintendents, and superintendents’ staff members. The department is also asking for the state to allow the city to experiment with using outside evaluators for only a subset of teachers in the system’s first year.

The outside evaluation should count for between 5 and 20 percent of a teacher’s observation score, the city said, in line with the city teachers union’s suggestion that principals’ evaluations remain paramount.

The United Federation of Teachers, in its own advocacy letter, asked state officials to eliminate the “group measures” that allowed teachers of non-tested subjects like art to have their student performance scores calculated using students and subjects they didn’t teach. The city said that tactic should remain, along with another method that would restrict those calculations to a teacher’s own students, until more appropriate assessments became available.

Among the department’s other recommendations were to allow the use of student surveys as a “significant factor” in evaluations, something that would also require a law change. The city has piloted student surveys over the past two years, rolling them out in all schools this year.

Read the city’s entire letter below:

Detroit week in review

Week in review: The state’s year-round scramble to fill teaching jobs

Miss Michigan Heather Heather Kendrick spent the day with students at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Science in Detroit

While much of the media attention has been focused this year on the severe teacher shortage in the main Detroit district, our story this week looks at how district and charter schools throughout the region are now scrambling year-round to fill vacant teaching jobs — an instability driven by liberal school choice laws, a decentralized school system and a shrinking pool of available teachers.

The teacher shortage has also made it difficult for schools to find substitutes as many are filling in on long-term assignments while schools try to fill vacancies. Two bills proposed in a state senate committee would make it easier for schools to hire retirees and reduce the requirements for certifying subs.  

Also, don’t forget to reserve your seat for Wednesday’s State of the Schools address. The event will be one of the first times in recent years when the leader of the city’s main district — Nikolai Vitti — will appear on the same stage as the leaders of the city’s two largest charter school authorizers. For those who can’t make it, we will carry it live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

Have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

STATE OF THE SCHOOLS: The State of the Schools address will pair Vitti with the leaders of the schools he’s publicly vowed to put out of business, even as schools advocates say city kids could benefit if the leaders of the city’s fractured school system worked together to solve common problems.

LOOKING FOR TEACHERS: The city’s teacher shortage mirrors similar challenges across the country but the problem in Detroit is exacerbated by liberal school choice policies that have forced schools to compete with each other for students and teachers.

Hiring efforts continue at Detroit’s main school district, which is planning another job fair. Head Start centers are also looking for teachers. Three new teachers talk about the challenges, rewards and obstacles of the classroom.

WHOSE MONEY IS IT? The state Senate sent a bill to the House that would allow charters to receive a portion of property tax hikes approved by voters. Those funds have historically gone only to traditional district schools.

UNITED THEY STAND: Teachers in this southwest Detroit charter school voted to join a union, but nationally, union membership for teachers has been falling for two decades.

COLLEGE AND CAREERS: A national foundation based in Michigan granted $450,000 to a major Detroit business coalition to help more students finish college.

High school seniors across the state will be encouraged to apply to at least one college this month. The main Detroit district meanwhile showed off a technical center that prepares youngsters and adults for careers in construction, plumbing and carpentry and other fields.  

STEPS TO IMPROVEMENT: A prominent news publisher explains why he told lawmakers he believes eliminating the state board of education is the right thing to do. An advocate urged Michigan to look to other states for K-12 solutions. And one local newspaper says the governor is on the right track to improving education in Michigan.

This think tank believes businesses should be more engaged in education debates.

LISTEN TO US: The newly elected president of a state teachers union says teachers just want to be heard when policy is being made. She wrote in a Detroit newspaper that it takes passion and determination to succeed in today’s classrooms.

A PIONEER: Funeral services for a trailblazing African American educator have been scheduled for Saturday.

Also, the mother-in-law of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died in her west Michigan home.

FARM-TO-SCHOOL:  A state program that provides extra money to school districts for locally grown produce has expanded to include more schools.

BETTER THAN AN APPLE: Nominate your favorite educator for Michigan Teacher of the Year before the 11:59 deadline tonight.

An Ann Arbor schools leader has been named the 2018 Michigan Superintendent of the Year by a state group of school administrators.

MYSTERY SMELL: The odor from a failed light bulb forced a Detroit high school to dismiss students early this week.

EXTRA CREDIT: Miss Michigan encouraged students at one Detroit school to consider the arts as they follow their dreams. The city schools foundation honored two philanthropic leaders as champions for education.

And high school students were inspired by a former college football player. 

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.


Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.