Failed Evaluation Talks Widely Denounced

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UFT president Michael Mulgrew on the scuttled teacher evaluation deal
NYU Prof. Pedro Noguera assesses the failed talks
SchoolBook reporters explain the failed talks on The Brian Lehrer Show

As the details and opposing versions of the failed negotiations emerge, it seems there is enough blame to go around. Education officials, teachers, editorial writers and others lambasted both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, for failing to agree on a teacher evaluation plan by the governor's deadline of midnight Thursday.

The missed deadline means a loss of up to $450 million in state funding and grants which New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch called "devastating."

"But just as devastating is the failure to implement an evaluation plan to give educators the feedback they need to improve their practice and help their students learn and succeed," she said. "Unfortunately, the adults couldn't or wouldn't come together for the sake of New York's 1.1 million school children."

State Education Commissioner John King, Jr. said he and his staff worked with both sides for several days. He didn't fault one side or the other, but he told them they have "a legal obligation" to return to the negotiating table and come up with a system to fairly evaluate teachers.

"We tried to get the City and UFT to 'yes,'" he said. "More than 680 districts large and small from across the state, including the rest of the Big Five, were able to reach an agreement, but the City and UFT just couldn't get there."

The Daily News editorial board wrote a scathing critique of the union but also of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's law which allowed there to be a negotiation to begin with.

"Because while the governor set up a basic framework — teachers to be ranked on a four-tier scale based on student test score gains and other performance measures; professional help for those rated poorly; the boot for those who couldn’t improve after two years — he left it to the districts and their unions to work out the details. Which, as everyone knows, is where the devil is. Especially given the chronically obstinate UFT," the Daily News said.

But a postmortem blog post from MORE Caucus NYC, a group that opposes using students test scores to evaluate teachers, put the blame on Bloomberg for failing "to negotiate in good faith." The post reads: "The passing of the January 17 deadline for a new evaluation agreement is not an ending but a beginning. Now the DOE will work overtime to spin doctor the failure to reach an agreement on new teacher evaluations, mandated by New York State’s version of Race to the Top, as the fault of Michael Mulgrew and union leadership."

In the end, teachers are the ones still left in the middle on the issue.

Zeynep Memecan, a special education teacher at P.S. 28 Wright Brothers in Washington Heights and a member of the teacher group Educators 4 Excellence, said she wants a more meaningful evaluation than the two-tier rating system of either "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory." That, she noted, was something both the teachers' union and Department of Education agreed was inadequate.

"I think both sides are really pushing for the same goal at the end of the day," she said. "It's just a matter of figuring out the details and I'm really disappointed that that did not occur."

Those of you who commented on SchoolBook had strong words for the parties involved. Parent activist Leonie Haimson wrote: "Mayor for life wannabe. Apparently 90% of NYS districts have a one year sunset; two years weren't good enough for this megalomaniac."

"Grown men & women fail to come to an agreement and who takes the brunt of the $450 million shortfall? The children," wrote Elizabeth Ellis who ended her comment with one word: "Pathetic."