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New York Joins Obama-Backed Movement Tying Teacher Reviews to Test Scores

by Freeman Klopott
February 17, 2011

An agreement between New York (STONY1) and its largest teachers union on evaluations makes the state part of a movement backed by President Barack Obama to hold educators responsible for student performance.

The deal announced yesterday by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a 54-year-old Democrat, may save New York $700 million in federal funding. It’s also an example of how the push to hold teachers accountable has been taken up by both sides of the negotiating table, said Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, a Washington-based group that supports charter schools and diminished union power.

“This is a big step in the right direction that puts New York up there in the top tier of states that have already begun down the road of codifying an evaluation system with some portion based on student test scores,” Allen said in a telephone interview yesterday. “It’s terrific that we have people from both parties finally recognizing that evaluation is an important component of creating student achievement.”

Last month, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan warned that New York would have to return $700 million if it didn’t fulfill its promise to Obama’s Race to the Top program to implement teacher evaluations. The president, a Democrat, has proposed $5 billion in incentives for states and school districts to tie teacher pay to performance as part of his $69.8 billion education-budget proposal.

Cuomo Threat
The deal between the Education Department and New York State United Teachers union was reached after Cuomo threatened to insert his own evaluation plan into the budget. The agreement puts into action a 2010 law and provides a framework for districts to negotiate with local unions.

In a related deal, New York City and its local teachers union, with Cuomo’s help, agreed to an appeals process for educators graded poorly in evaluations that will save the city at least $300 million in state funding, Cuomo said.

“This historic agreement about a statewide teacher evaluation system that is directly linked to student performance ends a two-year-long stalemate and will make New York the national model for education reform,” Larry Schwartz, secretary to the governor, said yesterday at a press conference in Albany.

Under the agreement between the state and United Teachers, which represents 600,000 people, 60 percent of an evaluation will be based on classroom observations by administrators, and peer and parent feedback. The remaining 40 percent will be split between students’ performance on state tests and locally developed exams.

‘Talking About Layoffs’
New York’s more than 700 districts have until Jan. 17 to use the framework to negotiate specifics with local unions or risk losing their share of a 4 percent increase in state funding, Cuomo said when he introduced his $132.5 billion budget last month. Lawmakers approved the extra spending in last year’s budget, bringing the total to $20.3 billion for fiscal 2013, or about $800 million more than the current year.

“If a school district doesn’t get the money, the school district is going to start talking about layoffs,” Cuomo said during a Feb. 14 Cabinet meeting in Albany. “That’s going to affect the union, and so I think that’s an incentive.”

The deal on evaluations is another victory for Cuomo. In his first year, he erased a $10 billion deficit, got New York’s two biggest government-worker unions to agree to pay freezes and furloughs, instituted a property-tax cap and pushed through a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the third-most-populous state. In December, the Legislature passed a Cuomo-endorsed tax package that raised rates on joint filers earning $2 million or more, and cut them for the middle class.

“He’s the first Democratic governor in New York to challenge the unions and step up to the plate,” Allen said.

Not a Cure
Teacher evaluations aren’t a panacea, said Alan Sadovnik, co-director of the Newark Schools Research Collaborative in New Jersey, a joint project between Newark Public Schools and Rutgers University-Newark.

“I don’t think we should fool ourselves to think that value-added teacher-evaluation systems will weed out all the ineffective teachers or are a magic bullet to solving the achievement gap,” Sadovnik said in a telephone interview yesterday. “Unless we address conditions outside of schools, while also addressing conditions inside schools, teacher evaluations, while having some effect, will be limited.”

NYC Sticking Point
Among the rules that New York districts will negotiate is the implementation of an appeals process for fired teachers.

United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi said such a system is best worked out locally.

“One size fitting all is a bad recipe for education,” Iannuzzi said yesterday on WCNY public radio in Albany.

The appeals process had been a sticking point between New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration and United Federation of Teachers, the local union.

The debate grew hostile and that’s “why they asked the governor to sit down and broker an agreement,” Schwartz said during the Feb. 14 meeting.

The Bloomberg administration and the UFT will now work out the remaining details for the city evaluation system, the mayor said at a press conference in New York yesterday.

“The system the governor will put into his budget amendment, which will become effective by the end of the year, will allow us to not only move forward with replacing the broken ’pass/fail’ system with something far more rigorous and far more comprehensible,” Bloomberg said. “It will also help us ensure that teachers who are rated ‘ineffective’ can be given the support they need to grow, or if that doesn’t work, to be moved out of the classroom.”

The mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.