Yasmeen Khan is a reporter covering education. You can find her stories on the air and on SchoolBook.org, WNYC’s education website.
New York City education officials and the teachers union say they will not be able to reach an agreement on a new teacher evaluation system by a December 31 deadline. Without an agreement, the city Department of Education will have to forfeit $60 million in federal grant money meant to help 33 struggling schools.
The New York State Department of Education awarded the funds, called School Improvement Grants (SIG), on the condition that school districts and unions revise their collective bargaining agreements to include a new evaluation system for teachers and principals. New York City is one of 10 districts statewide to be promised the funds.
"Sadly, the adults in charge of the city's schools have let the students down," said John B. King, state commissioner of education, in a written statement. "This is beyond disappointing. The city and the unions have known about this deadline for many months, but there’s no evidence of any real progress."
King said he is "left with no choice" but to suspend the funding.
After months of negotiations, a major divide between the two sides revolves around an appeals process for teachers rated as "ineffective" or "developing" by their principals.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, likened the education department's current appeals process to a "kangaroo court." He said the union preferred to have an arbitrator oversee the appeals process because of past instances of principals' abusing their power.
"We've had numerous cases of teacher evaluations that we've had to go to regular court to get them overturned," he said, "because the evidence was so clear that the teacher's bad rating was not based upon their job performance — it was based on intimidation and harassment."
The city DOE said that a deviation from the current appeals protocol could keep sub-standard teachers in the classroom. It also points out that only two percent of the city's teachers are rated "ineffective" each year.
In a letter to schools chancellor Dennis Walcott, Mulgrew proposed that remaining disagreements in the negotiations be submitted to binding arbitration for resolution. But Walcott rejected that proposal.
"As I have made clear, the union's demands are inconsistent with the law and bad for students, and this is frankly too important to leave to an arbitrator," Walcott said.
Saturday's deadline for negotiations apply to teachers and principals in the 33 schools receiving School Improvement Grants. But the city and teacher's union must also meet a June 30 deadline to negotiate new evaluations for teachers system-wide, as defined in New York's application for federal Race to the Top funds.