Union Calls on Speaker Silver to Save the Teacher Centers

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Concerned that lawmakers could pass a state budget that eliminates teacher training centers in public schools, the city's teachers' union is pressing Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to restore the financing.

A teacher specialist is now on hand at more than 140 public schools to act as an adviser to colleagues, run workshops on teaching strategies, and open her own classroom to observers from her school and around the city. Typically, this person also teaches several classes of students, and his or her salary is paid for by the school.

In a letter to Mr. Silver, the union president, Michael Mulgrew, called the teacher centers "the strongest program of professional development in the State."

But the cost of the conferences and seminars organized by the various teacher centers is funded by the state, and neither Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo nor the leaders of the Senate and Assembly have included it in their proposed budgets. According to the union, the program received $20.4 million last year, but discussion of its future has been absent from this spring's budget negotiations.

Mr. Silver's office issued a statement in response to the union's appeal: "The Assembly strongly supports New York State Teacher Centers. Since their inception, they have proven to be an effective model for improving teacher performance and will be vital in order to implement a system which will properly evaluate educators."

In his letter, Mr. Mulgrew insisted that schools need the teacher centers now more than ever because of the new teacher evaluation system, which would necessitate additional training for both teachers and principals. Although that evaluation system has been signed into law, the city teachers' union and New York City's Education Department have yet to reach an agreement on the details of its implementation.

"Without this kind of training, the new evaluation systems will fail," he warned.

March 23, 2012

Sheldon Silver, Speaker
NYS Assembly
Capitol, Room 342
Albany, NY

Dear Speaker Silver,

I write to urge you to insure that New York State Teacher Centers are fully funded in this year’s budget, which will be enacted shortly. Last year the Teacher Centers received $20.4 million in funding. This year the Governor did not propose any funding for Teacher Centers when he submitted his Executive Budget. Therefore the task falls to the Legislature once again to provide these funds.

As you know, the Teacher Centers provide the strongest program of professional development in the State. In New York City alone, Teacher Centers are embedded in more than 140 low performing schools, providing constant help to tens of thousands of teachers.

New York’s application for Race to the Top funding, which was successful, requires that the Teacher Centers be able to provide the development threaded throughout the proposal.

But this year, we have an even more urgent need for the Teacher Centers. Governor Cuomo’s new evaluation system, of which he is so proud, cannot possible be implemented in the established time frames without the Teacher Centers. In order to implement complex new evaluation systems, both administrators and teachers will have to be trained in the new systems, both what is included and how to implement them. In fact, in New York City, where we were attempting to pilot the new evaluation in a group of schools, our Teacher Centers have been holding multiple training sessions for the teachers and administrators in those schools.

Without this kind of training, the new evaluation systems will fail. We know that you are committed to improving our schools and therefore will do everything possible to make sure the Teacher Centers are there next year to do these crucial tasks.

Michael Mulgrew