Chancellor of New York City Schools Dennis Walcott says that reaching a deal with unions on a teacher evaluation system is a critical part of improving education in the city — and policy detailing teacher evaluation will be forged one way or another. If the current impasse continues to June 1, the State of New York will step in and arbitrate the process.
In an op-ed in the New York Daily News, Walcott writes that the city has been trying to negotiate with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) for some time, but progress has stalled. The UFT, as described by Walcott, is both historically and famously hostile to change. In his view, the union has protected its own interests, and those of its members, as the city's education system suffered.
That approach has driven teacher evaluation policy — or lack thereof — leading to a system in which professional evaluations have lost meaning and that makes management inefficient.
No organization, public or private, can survive if its managers cannot reward good employees or replace poor ones. Under the current rules, though, principals are virtually prevented from assessing their teachers, much less removing them if they fail at their jobs. The evaluation process is widely regarded as a farce.
Walcott points out that other cities have fared better on evaluations and have massaged the approval of unions. But that's not always what it seems, he says — in Buffalo, the deal unofficially includes an agreement not to take the policy seriously:
Some districts, like Buffalo, submitted their proposals with union approval and received their state aid. But they also signed secret side deals with their unions pledging not to enforce the tough new evaluation rules. Mayor Bloomberg and I refused to engage in that charade. Instead of being rewarded, the state withheld a quarter-billion dollars in education funds [from New York City], punishing our schoolchildren.
He and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg won't do that, as Walcott says the stakes are too high for the city's 1.1 million students to warrant compromising such a critically-important policy.
Critics of the city's position on the issue have argued that teachers should drive a plan that evaluates teachers — who could be better-positioned to forge teacher evaluation policy than teachers themselves? Walcott and Bloomberg answer that question by pointing to the status quo in New York as evidence that the union has had their chance for decades and that the dismal results are a testimony to that.
With two weeks left to the deadline, there's little indication that the UFT will find a proposal appealing enough to endorse. When the state takes over the process, they won't have a choice.