Bloomberg Unveils Ambitious Proposals for Schools

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Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's state of the city speech on Thursday is devoted largely to educational issues, as he attempts to shape his legacy while rounding the bend of his last term. Here are the highlights of his proposals:

The city will pay up to $25,000 in student loans for college graduates who finish at the top quartile of their college class. The money would be paid in installments of up to $5,000 a year, for a maximum of $25,000 at the end of five years of teaching service.

Teachers who are rated "highly effective" for two consecutive years will receive a $20,000 raise per year. The measure puts pressure on the unions to compromise on the parameters of a new, four-tiered evaluation system to rate teachers and principals in public schools.

Drawing on a provision of the teachers' contract, the city will form school-based committees to evaluate teachers based on their performance in the classroom. The contract allows up to 50 percent of the teachers to be replaced under this arrangement. For the city, it is a bid to restore the roughly $60 million in federal grants for 33 struggling schools, which the state suspended in New York City and nine other school districts because they failed to reach a compromise with their unions over the parameters of an evaluation system for the teachers and principals working in those schools. The evaluation system is a requirement of the grants.

The city will continue its charge to replace large, failing schools with smaller schools by phasing out another 25 schools this year and opening 100 new schools -- including 50 new charter schools -- over the next two years. The city has asked charter operators Mr. Bloomberg defined as "our most successful" to expedite their expansion plans and will move to recruit similar networks that do not have a presence in New York.

The city will open at least 12 new career and technical schools and programs within the next two years, offering training in skills aligned with the demands of the global economy, in areas including computer science and health care. It will give extra money, from private sources, to help 40 schools that have shown success graduating young black and Latino men. (The schools have not yet been selected.) It will also expand partnerships between schools and private companies, similar to a partnership with IBM that led to the opening this year of the Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Brooklyn.

Under a partnership with the Obama administration, the city will help high school graduates who would have qualified for federal financial aid, but did not apply, to turn in their applications. It also intends to lead the charge for passage of the New York State Dream Act, which would give qualified high school graduates who are illegal immigrants to apply for state-sponsored college loans, grants and scholarships.

3:36 p.m. |Update

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott wrote a letter to Dr. John B. King Jr., the state education commissioner, outlining a proposal to convert 27 of the 33 struggling schools, now currently either "transformation" or "restart" schools, into federal "turnaround" schools. The full letter is below.
January 12, 2012

Dr. John B. King, Jr., Commissioner
New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12234

Dear Commissioner King,
As a condition of receiving School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding for the federal Transformation and Restart models, the New York State Education Department (SED) made clear that the City and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) must agree by January 1, 2012 to implement a comprehensive and meaningful teacher evaluation
system in New York City’s 33 Transformation and Restart schools.
We had hoped that after months of intense negotiations we could reach an agreement with the UFT on a teacher evaluation system that would give principals the ability to dramatically improve teacher quality in their schools. However, as you know, despite discussions over the past five months, we did not reach a final agreement with the UFT by the deadline. Nearly every step of the way, the UFT insisted on conditions that I
believe would undercut real accountability.
For example, the UFT wants an outside arbitrator to hear appeals of teachers who receive a rating of ineffective or developing. This would be a major departure from our current appeals process, and stems from the UFT’s dissatisfaction with the low-rate at which teachers’ “Unsatisfactory” ratings are currently overturned during appeals. However, if one considers the fact that less than 2% of all teachers are u-rated in a given year, it is
unsurprising that the overwhelming majority of those would be upheld upon appeal.
Ultimately, the UFT was insisting on conditions that contradict the intent of the law and the State’s guidance by adding a burdensome new procedural layer designed to keep ineffective teachers in the classroom. In your letter sent on January 3, 2012, you indicated that because we had not reached an agreement with the UFT, SED was suspending our School Improvement Grant funding for the 33 Transformation and Restart schools. Though we regret the suspension of $58 million in critical funding for some of the City’s highest-need schools, we understand
your rationale. We cannot, however, accept the consequences. The challenges in these schools are too great, and the need to overcome those challenges is too urgent, to not take immediate action.
Given their current circumstances, and in response to your letter, we have assessed the specific needs of each of our Transformation and Restart schools and developed a proposed plan that would allow us to maximize the improvement work underway in these schools. In summary, we are proposing to:
o Convert 13 Transformation schools to Turnaround; and
o Convert 14 Restart schools to Turnaround while allowing them to maintain their relationships with their EPOs.
Furthermore, we are informing you that we will be using existing funding from non-SIG sources for the remainder of the year to support reforms in place at six schools that are currently in Transformation. Two of these schools have already been proposed for phase out. Two of these schools have deep reforms underway and thus we do not want to implement a different strategy in these schools at this time. And for performance-based reasons, we will not be pursuing Turnaround in two schools currently implementing the Transformation model.
As a requirement of the Turnaround model, the Department is committing in these schools to measure and screen existing staff using rigorous, school-based competencies, and to re-hire a significant portion of them using this criteria. We believe that this requirement is achievable within the DOE’s current collective bargaining agreement with the UFT.
In addition, consistent with Turnaround requirements, these schools will implement instructional and structural reforms which will include a new mission and vision for student success and faculty excellence; a new curriculum and instructional model; academic supports for serving high-needs students; professional development plans for
staff; and structural reforms to create productive learning environments for students.
The DOE’s goal is to ensure that we have the best teachers in our classrooms, since an effective teacher is the key school-based lever of student success. When we originally put these schools into Transformation and Restart, we did so with the belief that we would reach an agreement with the UFT on a teacher evaluation system.
But without an agreement with the UFT, we are obligated to advocate for an alternative approach to ensure that every school is getting the job done for students. We believe that Turnaround provides an aggressive framework to raise the bar for students in our PLA schools.
Finally, because we believe in Turnaround as a powerful lever for change, we are informing you of our intent to apply for Turnaround at six additional PLA schools that are not undergoing a SIG model in the current school year. Therefore, we will be applying to implement Turnaround in a total of 33 schools.
My staff will be following up with your office to further discuss New York City’s plan. We will also be sending you an addendum to this letter that provides a snapshot of the improvement work underway at these schools and our rationale for why we believe you should approve our plan. In addition, we are prepared to submit a full proposal consistent with SED requirements and guidance.
I look forward to speaking with you further.


Dennis M. Walcott