Principals' Union Condemns Plan for 33 Struggling Schools

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Of the unions representing public school teachers and principals in New York City, the principals’ union had played a passive role in the charged and increasingly divisive dispute over an evaluation system to gauge the performance of teachers and principals in 33 struggling schools receiving federal grants to help improve their results.

No longer. On Wednesday, the principals’ union president, Ernest A. Logan, pre-emptively condemned the city’s proposal to close and reopen most of those schools under a new improvement model, saying in a strongly worded letter to the state’s education commissioner, John B. King Jr., that it is simply a ploy to shut out the unions.

The city’s plan, Mr. Logan wrote, “is hasty and arbitrary in that its impetus stems not from concerns about raising student achievement or finding a better way to evaluate teachers, but rather from a desire to avoid negotiations.”

Under the arrangement, the city would be able to remove half of the schools’ teachers, bypassing the need for a teacher evaluation system that was to have been established by the end of last year as a requirement of the federal money, known as school improvement grants. While the unions have to agree to the parameters of an evaluation system in those schools, their role in the teachers’ dismissal is only advisory. (Unlike other school closings, the students would not be dislodged.)

“Removing half of the teaching staff at 33 schools and recruiting replacements from other schools will cause a massive school-by-school destabilization throughout the system, with scant evidence of an ability to do more good than harm,” Mr. Logan wrote.

He also noted that the arrangement could add 1,800 teachers to a reserve pool of teachers who do not have permanent assignments, at a cost of nearly $180 million annually, given that the teachers continue to be paid. Many have been working as substitutes.

The lack of agreement on the evaluation system -- between union leaders and education officials in New York City, as well as in nine other school districts in the state -- led Dr. King to suspend payments on the federal grants as of Jan. 3, as a means to pressure the sides to reach a compromise.

The move still did not help revive talks in the city. The teachers' union has continued to push for changes to the process used by its members to appeal their poor ratings, but education officials have refused to budge.

Pressure has also been mounting on other fronts. On Tuesday, Diane Ravitch, who has been among the most outspoken critics of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s education policies, spoke at an event organized by the city’s principals’ union, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which Mr. Logan described as a morale-booster.

Also, more than 1,300 principals, from the city and elsewhere, have signed an online letter protesting a statewide system that would rely heavily on test scores to assess educators, a requirement of the federal Race to the Top program, which awarded New York $700 million in education aid.

The school improvement grants, which are not part of the package, total $105 million; $58 million was destined to 33 New York City failing schools. Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott decided to shift gears and impose the new turnaround model on most of those schools as a way to avoid losing the money altogether.

He has said he had little hope of reaching a compromise with the teachers’ union by the end of the 30 days Dr. King gave school districts to resolve their differences and request restitution of the funding.

On Wednesday, Natalie Ravitz, a spokeswoman for the city’s Education Department, said in an e-mail, “We are happy to talk with our unions about implementing a rigorous, citywide teacher and principal evaluation system” as part of the Race to the Top requirements, “but with regard to these 33 schools, we are moving forward.”

Not all of the 33 schools that had originally been awarded the grants would undergo Mr. Walcott’s proposed changed. Two of them are set to be closed, two were given reprieves until the end of the year and two others -- Chelsea Career and Technical Education High School in SoHo and Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn -- will not be put through the change because they have shown improvement.

Six different schools were added to the school improvement list, keeping the total at 33.

The schools will receive money from the city to pay for the improvement services they have added, until the end of the school year, but would no longer qualify for the grants if they were reinstated under Mr. Walcott’s terms.

Mr. Walcott notified the state of his plans last month. Ms. Ravitz said the city would most likely submit a formal proposal to Dr. King next week, who would then decide whether to let the scheme go forward.

Here is the letter sent by Mr. Logan to Dr. King: