How to make new evaluations stick

| New York Daily News | Tim Daly

Last month, Gov. Cuomo offered a new plan to break the impasse between New York City and the United Federation of Teachers over a new teacher evaluation system. Make a deal soon, he said, or you’ll be forced to use a plan designed by the state.

It’s the latest twist in a saga that began in 2010, when Albany legislators passed a law requiring districts to create better teacher evaluations. This was the right thing to do. Current evaluation systems are a total embarrassment, often rating 99% of teachers satisfactory and giving them little useful feedback.

But the state’s evaluation law has some big holes. It didn’t create sufficient consequences for missing the state-set deadline, or include a Plan B for when talks break down.

The result? Even though most districts have reached agreements, two years of bickering in New York City — which educates 38% of the state’s students — have led exactly nowhere. District and union leaders have failed, forcing the governor to clean up the mess.

To his credit, Cuomo has spent the last year trying to get the law back on track. Most notably, he withheld funding increases from districts that failed to reach agreements — and now has set a new deadline with additional dollars attached .

Better, but still not good enough. With time running out to get better evaluations in place for the next school year and the state’s $700 million federal Race to the Top grant now in jeopardy, Cuomo faces a real test. There is a clear path to saving the law, but it requires bold action that will raise the ire of the unions.

First, Cuomo must submit a budget amendment by Feb. 22 that empowers the state to impose its own evaluation system on any districts that are not complying with the evaluation law. This would ensure that the stalemate ends with the final budget passage by April 1.

This power must apply not only to the current situation in New York City, but to any district that falls out of compliance in the future — something that is likely to happen, because many districts and their unions have agreed to new evaluations that self-destruct after a single year.

Second, Cuomo must commit to moving forward with the state’s system in New York City as soon as the budget goes into effect on April 1. There are signs that UFT President Michael Mulgrew wants to delay action until later this spring, after he has secured his own reelection.

With so many teachers and principals to prepare, the city can’t afford to wait that long. Further delays would mean another year of the same old failed system.

Finally, Cuomo should instruct the state Education Department to create the state-designed evaluation system right away. This system should be flexible enough that it could apply to any district, but it should include three important elements.

It should be free of “sunset” or self-destruct provisions. Better evaluations should be permanent, with the understanding that, of course, any regulations can be improved over time.

It should include thoughtfully designed student surveys as one performance measure because students see more of their teachers’ work than anyone else.

And the system should empower principals to evaluate struggling teachers accurately without being forced to spend days away from their school defending those evaluations in hearings.

To speed things along, the state could borrow from existing systems that reflect lessons from research and experience, like those used in Washington, D.C., or New Haven.

The opportunity is Cuomo’s. He can stay the course by letting the squabbling in New York City drag on for months, or by settling for a weak evaluation system that changes almost nothing.

Or he can deliver a decisive signal that New York City’s teachers and students deserve better.

Daly is president of TNTP, a nonprofit organization that is supporting the development of new teacher evaluation systems in New York City and other districts nationwide.

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.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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