Teacher evaluation stalemate continues despite rising stakes

Since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg failed to reach an agreement with the United Federation of Teachers regarding teacher evaluations by the Jan. 17 deadline, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has threatened to step in and take over.

By missing this deadline, New York City schools lost $250 million in state education aid, and they stand to lose another $200 million in federal aid if an agreement is not made by September.

The federal aid is part of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program designed to create teacher evaluations that are more meaningful, making it easier to rid schools of ineffective teachers. The New York State legislature approved broad outlines for the new evaluation system, with 20 percent of a teacher’s rating based on students’ growth on state tests, 20 percent on local measures and the remaining 60 percent on classroom observations.

Professor Mark Alter, who teaches educational psychology at NYU, agrees with the state’s outlines.

“I understand the need for acc-ountability in teaching, but I truly believe evaluating teachers by standardized tests will not eliminate the bad teachers but ironica-lly punish the ones who often work the hardest,” he said.

NYU educational psychology professor Jay Gottlieb has a similar view.

“Teachers should be evaluated by having multiple knowledgeable observers conduct multiple observations of a set of lessons,” he said. “There should be some a priori agreement on what type of pedagogy and classroom management practices the observers would like to see or what they expect.”

Unfortunately, the city and the UFT have yet to come to an agreement. In mid-January, after the Department of Education declined to help mediate the talks, UFT President Michael Mulgrew responded with a public statement.

“The city’s blind rejection of outside help in resolving these remaining issues is unexplainable and poses a serious threat to our ability to reach an agreement before Thursday’s deadline,” he said.

After failing to meet that deadline, Mayor Bloomberg blamed the UFT.

“Instead of working with us to tie up loose ends of this agreement, [the UFT has] continued to insert unrelated, extraneous issues in these negotiations. The effect was to set the talks back, time and time again,” he said in a Jan. 17 press release.

According to the press release, the deal fell apart because the UFT demanded a sunset clause for June 2015, allowing for renegotiation after that date. The clause was not granted.

Although the New York City school system has until September to come up with its own agreement, the UFT is not against state involvement.

“I welcome Governor Cuomo’s involvement, and while we would prefer a negotiated settlement, it’s good to know that should the talks fail again, people who actually understand education will be part of the decision-making process,” Mulgrew said in a statement.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Feb. 6 print edition. Lesley Greenberg is a staff writer. Email her at cstate@nyunews.com.

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