"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

When Bribes Don't Buy Buy-In, New York Ed Commish Tries the Extortion Route

From the NY Times, by Fernanda Santos:
New York State’s education commissioner threatened on Tuesday to withhold tens of millions of dollars in federal grants to struggling schools in New York City and nine other districts statewide if they do not prove by Saturday that they will carry out new evaluation systems for teachers and principals.

Officials and union leaders in each district must first agree on the details of the evaluation systems, like how much weight students’ standardized test scores will have on the annual ratings that teachers and principals receive. Compromise has thus far proved elusive.

Of the 10 districts, which are the only recipients of the federal grants in New York, only Rochester and Syracuse as of Tuesday had submitted proposals for the state’s review, the commissioner, John B. King Jr., said in a statement. “When the ball drops at midnight on New Year’s Eve,” he said, “the money drops off the table, and it will be difficult to get it back.”

For New York City, it would mean losing roughly $60 million for 33 schools whose graduation rates and test scores put them among the state’s worst.

The money, known as school improvement grants, is supposed to help the schools lift their results through a series of changes, like replacing principals and at least half the staff members; giving teachers extra time for training and preparation; and extending the school day. In New York City, it offers, in essence, an alternative to the most common approach to dealing with failing schools, which has been to close them.

And there might be more at stake. Dr. King said Tuesday that the 10 districts could also lose their shares of the $700 million in federal financing that New York State won through the Race to the Top competition, because carrying out an evaluation system in struggling schools is among its requirements.

The Race to the Top program requires a new statewide teacher-evaluation system, and the methods used in the struggling schools could shape it, because districts are unlikely to want competing processes.

The State Legislature passed a bill last year calling for new evaluation systems, but the unions and the Board of Regents have been battling in court over the role of standardized test scores.

In response to Dr. King’s threat on Tuesday, New York City’s schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, released a statement saying that city and teachers’ union officials had been in discussions for months and were all “cognizant of the deadline.”

The two sides are scheduled to meet on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the evaluation system, and the union’s president, Michael Mulgrew, said Tuesday that there was still hope for a deal.

The school improvement grants have been the subject of increased scrutiny in recent weeks, after Dr. King and the chancellor of the Board of Regents, Merryl H. Tisch, visited several of the beneficiary schools and then expressed their frustrations over the way the money was being used.

In biting remarks, Dr. Tisch called the schools “warehouses” for struggling students, who were pushed there after the city shut the schools they used to attend.

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