A Deadline on Evaluations in NYC

For two years in New York City, the Bloomberg administration and representatives from the teachers' union have clashed over how to implement a new teacher evaluation system, required under a 2010 state law. The current system fails to provide teachers with valuable feedback and considers nearly everyone “satisfactory.”

This week marks an important milestone: if the city and the union cannot agree on new evaluations, New York State Education Commissional John B. King, Jr. will need to impose a new system.

Along with 10 other groups involved in education in New York, we have signed and sent a letter to King encouraging him to impose a system that will live up to the spirit of the state law, ensure more students get to learn from effective teachers and provide city teachers with the feedback they deserve as professionals. The best way to do that is to resist to urge to split the difference between both parties' demands, and instead focus on the aspects that will provide strong and fair evaluations, including:

  • A concise evaluation rubric.
  • Student surveys.
  • A manageable administrative burden.
  • A fair, efficient appeals process.

See below to read the full letter, which was also signed by Democrats for Education Reform, Education Reform Now, Educators 4 Excellence, Families for Excellent Schools, National Council on Teacher Quality, NYCAN, StudentsFirst NY, Students for Education Reform—New York, Teach Plus, and Turnaround for Children.


May 28, 2013

Dr. John B. King, Jr.
New York State Education Department
89 Washington Ave.
Albany, NY 12234


Dear Commissioner King,

We are writing to thank you again for your leadership over the last two years in making New York’s teacher evaluation law benefit teachers and students across the state—and to urge you to make good on that commitment again as you develop a teacher evaluation system for New York City.

Recent news accounts suggest that the New York City Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers are unlikely to agree on a new teacher evaluation system that complies with State law by May 29. As you know, if the deadlock continues, you will need to impose an evaluation system on New York City by June 1.

The details of the system you impose will be critically important. If you make the right choices—based on the latest research and lessons from other evaluation systems across the country—teachers in New York City will finally get the regular feedback they deserve as professionals, and more students will get to learn from effective teachers who can prepare them for success in college and beyond.

If you simply split the difference between the two parties’ demands, however, you risk diluting the impact of the 2010 state law and making little improvement on the City’s current evaluation system, which rates nearly all teachers “satisfactory” and gives them little useful feedback.

Nobody wants New York City to become the latest example of a school system that replaces an old, flawed evaluation system with an equally flawed new one. We believe that the system you impose must include four important attributes in order to live up to the spirit of the State’s evaluation law:

  • A concise evaluation rubric: We recommend a rubric with no more than 10 rating areas or competencies—and preferably fewer. Observation rubrics that cover too many skill areas are difficult for teachers to incorporate into their everyday work, and they make it nearly impossible for principals to accomplish one of the main goals of any new evaluation system: giving teachers more meaningful and focused feedback.
  • Student surveys: Student surveys give teachers an opportunity to hear directly from their students about what’s working in their classroom and what needs to improve. In addition, research has shown that student surveys, when combined with classroom observations and student learning data, help paint a more complete picture of teacher performance. This makes sense, because students see more of their teachers’ work than anyone else.
  • A manageable administrative burden: Evaluations can only help teachers and principals spend more time reflecting on classroom performance if they don’t create an unreasonable administrative burden. For example, teachers and principals shouldn’t have to complete formal pre- and post-observation conferences for every evaluation. Although principals should be required to give teachers feedback after every observation, they should have flexibility in how they do it, recognizing that different teachers need different supports. And while teachers should reflect on their practice regularly, that may be best completed in team meetings or peer observations.
  • A fair, efficient appeals process: Any credible evaluation system needs a fair and efficient appeals process for teachers who believe their rating is unwarranted. However, the new system should also empower principals to evaluate struggling teachers honestly and accurately without forcing them to spend days away from their school defending evaluations in hearings. Teachers should only be allowed to appeal “Ineffective” ratings, since these are the only ratings that could lead to dismissal.

Any evaluation system that strays from these principles would deal a major blow to the goal of helping all New York students learn from effective teachers every day—a cause both you and Governor Cuomo have championed—and would likely require the Governor to intervene yet again to salvage the evaluation law. Please don’t let this extraordinary opportunity to improve New York City’s schools pass. We urge you to think beyond simply mediating a political dispute and create an evaluation system that will benefit the City’s teachers and students for years to come.

Thank you again for your continued leadership on this important issue.


Democrats for Education Reform
Education Reform Now
Educators 4 Excellence—New York
Families for Excellent Schools
National Council on Teacher Quality
Students for Education Reform—New York
Teach Plus
Turnaround for Children

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

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