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Live blog of School Board meeting at 4:30 p.m.

Join me for a live blog of the public hearing on a proposed all-girls charter high school at 4:30 p.m., followed by the regular School Board meeting at 5:30 p.m.

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    mpasciak@buffnews.com

What, exactly, are the teachers voting on?

Teachers in every public school in Buffalo today are voting on an agreement with the district that defines teacher evaluations in 2011-12 for teachers in six low-performing schools.

Here are some of the highlights:

- A sticking point in earlier versions of the agreement was a clause in the annual professional performance review's glossary saying that the progress of students absent more than 20 percent of the year would not count toward a teacher's evaluation. State Education Department officials told district administrators they would not approve an agreement that contained such a clause -- and the union's Council of Delegates overwhelmingly voted to keep that clause in.

The proposed agreement comes with a one-page memorandum of understanding that stipulates that clause would remain in the APPR -- but "would be held in abeyance for the 2011-12 school year. However, it remains in effect in the APPR for the 2012-13 school year and all future years until modified in writing by the Buffalo Teachers Federation and district."

- For teachers in fourth to eighth grade who teach math and/or ELA, 20 points of their evaluation would be based on the state's growth measure; 20 points would be based on the locally determined growth measure; and 60 points would be based on a classroom observation.

The state is supposed to establish the growth model for its 20 points.

The local 20 points would be based on schoolwide student growth on the state's fourth- to eighth-grade English and math assessments.

The 60 points would be based on "a minimum of one observation by a Buffalo trained and certified administrator."

- For all other elementary and middle school teachers (such as art teachers, first-grade teachers, etc.), 20 points of their evaluation would be based on a locally selected state growth measure; and 80 points would be based on one of three options.

The 20 points would be based on schoolwide student growth on the state's fourth- to eighth-grade English and math assessments.

For the 80 points, teachers have three options. In each option, some portion consists of a formal classroom observation, which the teacher is notified about ahead of time. The options are:

a. 40 points, classroom observation; 20 points, portfolio demonstrating "progress of the teacher's knowledge and skills"; and 20 points, self-review and self-directed growth plan.

b. 60 points, classroom observation; 20 points, portfolio or self-review and self-directed growth plan.

c. 80 points, classroom observation.

- For high school teachers, 20 points of their evaluation would be based on a locally selected state growth measure; and 80 points would be based on one of three options (see above).

The 20 points would be based on the percentage increase in students in the school passing the five core Regents exams (worth up to 5 points), as well as the percentage increase in students receiving five credits toward graduation (worth up to 15 points).

For a teacher to receive the full 20 points, the school would need to see an increase of greater than 3 percent in students getting five course credits toward graduation, and an increase of greater than 3 percent in students passing the five core Regents exams.

But -- if a school's combined percentage of students missing 10 to 20 percent of the year, plus percentage of students missing more than 20 percent of the year, is greater than the district's combined percentage -- then the required percentage increase on those two measures would be decreased by a certain amount.

The math on this gets a little complicated. Without getting too deeply into the nitty gritty, the target increases for students passing the five exams and for students earning the five credits would be adjusted downward in proportion to how much more severe the school's attendance problem is, in comparison to the district's overall attendance problem.

- Out of 100 possible points, teachers receiving:

a. 91 to 100 points would be rated highly effective

b. 75 to 90 points would be rated effective

c. 65 to 74 points would be rated developing

d. 0 to 64 points would be rated ineffective.

Teachers rated developing or ineffective would be placed on a teacher improvement plan.

- Teachers would have up to 60 days to appeal their evaluation.

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    mpasciak@buffnews.com

Two takes on the BTF vote: Rumore and a building union rep

Teachers in Buffalo schools are voting today on a teacher evaluation plan for this year, for the six grant-funded low-achieving schools, that would incorporate different schoolwide student growth targets, based on the severity of student absenteeism in the building.

A teacher in one of the directly affected schools -- a persistently lowest achieving school -- forwarded me two emails about the vote.

One is from Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore. The other is from that school's BTF rep.

First, the email from Rumore. (The only editing I did involved putting the questions in bold, to make this is easier to read.)

MEMO TO: All Teachers

FROM: Philip Rumore, President, BTF

RE: MOU Q&A

 In response to questions relating to the SIG APPR MOU on which you have been asked to vote:

Q. - Is the MOU only for the six SIG schools and only for this year?

A.  - Yes. In addition, the District has agreed that the current absenteeism language in the APPR that although held in abeyance for this year, will apply in all schools starting in the 2012-2013 school year and that it cannot be changed unless done so in writing by agreement of the BTF (teachers in the schools).

Q. - Is student absenteeism factored into a teachers evaluation for the six schools that the agreement applies to?

A.     - Yes. The number of points needed to obtain a score for Highly Effective, Effective, Developing or Ineffective is offset based upon student absenteeism

Q. - Is there any other factor that offsets student absenteeism?

A.     - Yes. The District has agreed that student absenteeism will not be a factor in 60-80% of a teacher’s evaluation. “In no circumstance shall an evaluator factor student attendance into any portion of the 60%/80% subcomponent of the composite effectiveness score; for example, an administrator can not factor in student participation in grades on teacher developed tests, etc.”

Q. - The Commissioner had said that he would not approve an MOU with student absenteeism as a factor. Will this MOU get approved?

A. - We will soon see. If he rejects it, we will be taking legal action against him and the Department of Education.

Q. - Since the District has made a serious attempt to address absenteeism, if the MOU is rejected will we lose the support of some of those that now support us?

A. - Probably; however; your decision should be based upon whether you think the MOU for the six schools for this year only, is fair.

Q. - Have you signed the MOU?

A. - Yes, but our agreement is subject to the approval of the Council of Delegates on Tuesday, March 27.

Q. - Why did your sign it?

A. - I thought that it deserved your consideration and the Commissioner wouldn’t even at the grant look at it without my signature.

Q. - Did you have to send it out?

A. - Yes. I feel that it is my responsibility to forward any such documents to you. You have a right to see them.

Q. - What are we voting on?

A. - You are voting on whether you support having the MOU in place for the 2011-2012 school year.

Q. - What is your recommendation?

A. - The District has made a serious attempt to address our student absenteeism concerns and the MOU is for this year only. I wouldn’t have sent it to you if I didn’t think it deserved your consideration. However, the decision is yours.

I hope this answers most of the questions that have come to us.

Thank you as always for your solidarity and support.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

And here is the email from the BTF rep in that PLA school. (The only editing I did involved inserting paragraph breaks, to make this easier to read.)

EVEN THOUGH THE MEDIA MADE IT SOUND LIKE A DONE DEAL, THE TEACHERS STILL HAVE TO APPROVE THE MOU NEGOTIATED BETWEEN THE DISTRICT AND THE BTF.

BALLOTS WILL BE IN THE LIBRARY NEXT TO THE PHONE, ON THE BACK OFFICE BOOK SHELF.

PLEASE TAKE TIME TO VOTE! I WILL TAKE YOUR VOTES TO THE BTF DELEGATES MEETING 3/27.

I will try to simplify a complicated matter.

-The MOU is for this year only and only for the PLA schools so we can receive the SIG monies.

-The MOU states that the APPR with the attendance language (only 80% or better attending your classes will be counted toward your passing rate for the APPR) will stay for the 2012-2013 school year for all. 

-This year the PLA schools will have school wide evaluations (based on the chart given on the BTF web site, your home e-mail address and/or the  copies are in the library and on the BTF bulletin board) one for Elementary and one for Secondary. The Secondary evaluation will get a highly qualified mark with a 3% or more passing rate in the Core subject areas. (That's as simple as I could get it. Lots of questions still unanswered or unanswerable.)

-There are 2 sides to this issue.

VOTE NO:

-We haven't had a new contract for 13 yrs.

-The State may still not agree to this MOU

-We're tired of being bullied and of being the scapegoats of why the PLA schools are failing.

-We don't clearly understand how this MOU will be implemented.

-The public is on our side for once.

Vote YES:

-We don't want our colleagues to lose their jobs.

-If we say yes and the State still says no they will look like the bad guys.

-The public will still be on our side.

IN EITHER CASE IT IS NOT THE TEACHERS WITHHOLDING FUNDS, IT IS THE STATE. THE TEACHERS DON'T HAVE THE MONEY, THE STATE DOES. THE STATE HAS NEVER BEEN CLEAR ON WHAT THEY WANT OR NEED TO GRANT US THE SIG FUNDS. THE DISTRICT AND THE UNION HAVE WORKED MANY HOURS TOGETHER TO GIVE THE STATE WHAT WE THINK THEY WANT. IT HAS NOT BEEN GOOD ENOUGH TO DATE. THE STATE IS DEPRIVING THE STUDENTS IN THE CITY OF BUFFALO NOT THE TEACHERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    mpasciak@buffnews.com

Meet the distinguished educator the state still hasn't appointed to Buffalo

Since September, we've been hearing about the state's plan to appoint a "distinguished educator" to Buffalo.

Here's an excerpt from a story we had in late September 2011:

State officials plan to appoint a “distinguished educator” to the Buffalo Public Schools to help the district turn around its low-performing schools.

The educator will act in an advisory capacity to interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon and sit as a nonvoting member of the Board of Education.

“It’s a helper who will work with the superintendent, plain and simple. I think it’s an extra asset for Amber to use wisely,” said Regent Robert M. Bennett. “It’s not imminent, but I would hope by the end of the year.”

Well, here we are at the end of March, and still, no appointment has been made. It's not quite clear what the holdup is, but what does seem clear is that state officials seem to have decided who they are going to appoint.

ElliottThe same name has been floating around for quite awhile as the presumed distinguished-eductator-to-be: Judy Elliott.

She has local ties, having earned her bachelor's in education from Buffalo State College in 1982 and her doctorate from the University at Buffalo. She worked locally as a teacher and then as a school psychologist.

She has held a number of other positions in education, including: chief of teaching and learning in the Portland, Ore., public schools; assistant superintendent for the Long Beach Unified School District; and senior researcher at the National Center on Education Outcomes at the University of Minnesota.

Most recently, she was chief academic officer for the Los Angeles School District.

She seems to have worked quite extensively over the years as a speaker, trainer and consultant. Her publishing credits include "Response to Intervention Blueprint: District Level Edition" and "Improving Test Performance of Students with Disabilities...on District and State Assessments."

In August 2011, the Los Angeles board bought out her contract, paying the remainder of her salary through the end of June 2012, along with paying for unused vacation days. Total compensation: $231,164. The Los Angeles Times wrote:

The Los Angeles Unified School District has bought out the contract of its chief academic officer, a key appointee who worked closely with former Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, but who quickly fell out of favor with his successor, John Deasy.

Among other efforts, Judy Elliott oversaw the selection of a new reading program and an early academic intervention initiative. She also developed a new policy — limiting homework to no more than 10% of a student’s grade — that prompted widespread public debate this summer. Deasy ultimately shelved the idea...

One of Elliott’s goals was to align measures of student performance to portray more precisely what students know. She wanted to end both grade inflation and “deflation” — penalizing students for non-academic factors. One policy now being tested gives students a higher grade for improved or strong performance on state standardized tests and Advanced Placement exams.

The homework policy became official in May, but in July, Deasy put it on hold pending public review and input. School board members criticized Elliott for not bringing the policy forward for public discussion and their approval.

But Elliott had alerted the board and Deasy in writing of her intended direction on homework in March, and apparently no one objected at that time. Deasy, then a deputy superintendent, did not assume the top job until the next month. Former Supt. Cortines said he was fully aware of the impending policy, and others should have been as well. He added that he advised Elliott to confirm that the new policy had Deasy’s support.

Cortines credited Elliott with being “tenacious in improving academic achievement.”

Judy ElliottElliott has written and spoken quite a bit about students with disabilities. Here's an excerpt of one piece, which seems fairly representative of her views:

We now know that students with disabilities can and do achieve. Not reinforcing this through performance targets and graduation goals will allow the clock to be turned back to a time when it was assumed these students could not succeed.

However, performance targets and graduation goals are not enough.

Schools that do not make these goals and targets should be required to address instructional deficiencies in schools. Schools where students are struggling need to monitor and adjust their instructional techniques and expectations for student achievement, implement a robust standards-based curriculum, and offer teacher and administrator professional development to make course corrections and accelerate student achievement.

Inherent within these efforts should be attention to administrator and teacher evaluation, done through valid and reliable assessments that account for the effectiveness of a teacher with all students, and support to improve both leadership and instruction in our classrooms. Without these intentional and targeted efforts, struggling schools doom those students to a life of lowered expectations and achievement, and inequitable opportunities for postsecondary college and career options.

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    mpasciak@buffnews.com

Setting the record straight: Buffalo's deadline for a teacher eval plan

It's disconcerting to see how much incorrect information is floating out there today regarding the situation on Buffalo's deadline for submitting a teacher evaluation plan to Albany.

Channel 7 reported that the district had to submit a plan by the end of Thursday. Channel 2 reported  that the teachers would be voting today on a plan. So did Channel 4.

Here's what I know:

- The district had a hearing scheduled for Thursday regarding the suspension of its school improvement grant funds. (That was after the district had requested an adjournment from its original hearing date in February.)

A State Education Department official told me that the rescheduled hearing could be held no later than March 23. "Buffalo's hearing was originally scheduled for 2/22; however, Buffalo requested an adjournment. Our hearing procedures explain that 'in no event shall the hearing be postponed or rescheduled more than 30 days from the date of the first scheduled hearing date.' Per those procedures, the hearing has to be rescheduled on or before 3/23," Dennis Tompkins wrote to me on March 2.

Nevertheless, State Ed granted Buffalo a one-week extension, scheduling the hearing for March 29.

- The purpose of the hearing is to give the district an opportunity to make the case that the state violated a federal or state law or regulation when it suspended the SIG funds.

The opportunity for the district to resolve its teacher evaluation agreement is prior to that hearing -- not during the hearing.

Here is what the state regulations governing hearing procedures for the suspension of federal school improvement grant funds say: "The parties are strongly encouraged to resolve the issues causing the suspension of SIG funding prior to the hearing. A district may submit evidence to the Office of Innovative School Models that it has cured its SIG grant award deficiencies on or before four business days before the scheduled hearing. No further submissions will be considered by that office after that time." [emphasis added by SED, not by me]

By my count, four business days before a hearing next Thursday would put the deadline today.

- Keep in mind, these are the same state regulations that the State Education Department ignored when it granted Buffalo a one-week extension on its hearing. They outline a process for requesting an adjournment, but then state: "In no event shall the hearing be postponed or rescheduled more than 30 days from the date of the first scheduled hearing date."

Which, of course, was what Tompkins cited in explaining to me that Buffalo's hearing could be held no later than March 23.

Obviously, the state set those rules aside with regard to the hearing.

Will state officials decide to hold fast to the deadline for submission of a revised teacher evaluation plan? That remains to be seen.

- In one of my most recent conversations with BTF President Phil Rumore, he said anything related to teacher evaluations would have to go to the teachers for a vote.

Teachers tell me they will be voting on the evaluation agreement on Tuesday.

Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    mpasciak@buffnews.com

The unauthorized guide to getting your child into a charter school

Back in November, we published the unauthorized guide to getting your child into the Buffalo Public Schools -- basically, a parents' roadmap to what many people find to be an incredibly confusing admissions process.

Now it's time for the sequel: the unauthorized guide to getting your child into a charter school.

Although charter schools have existed for more than a decade, it seems that there's still quite a bit of confusion about what they are and how the admissions process works. And the fact that each school has a slightly different application and process only serves to complicate things a bit more.

Here's an effort to distill the essential information.

Charter school classroomCharter schools, remember, are public schools. They are funded by tax dollars. They do not charge any tuition.

(Each charter school is run independently, by its own board. They are not run by the Buffalo Public Schools. Some charter schools provide transportation; some do not.)

The application process for charter schools is separate from the application process for district schools. If you have already applied to the public schools, you can still apply to a charter school.

Any student can apply to any charter school. If a charter school has more applicants for a particular grade than it has available seats, then it must hold a random lottery to determine which students get those seats. 

Preference in the lottery is given first to students who have a sibling already attending the school, and then to other students living within the geographic boundaries of the school district that the charter school is located in. (That means you can live in Cheektowaga, but send your child to a charter school in Buffalo, for instance. Many charter schools enroll students from several different school districts.)

The lottery must be conducted in public. If you want to, you can go and watch them draw the names for the lottery and find out on the spot whether your child got a seat.

(If a school has fewer applications than it has available seats, then it does not hold a lottery -- it just gives every applicant a seat.)

Students who apply to a charter school but do not get a seat through the lottery are placed on a waiting list. Once the lottery is held, parents are notified by mail as to whether their child has received a seat or has been placed on the waiting list.

There are 17 charter schools in Erie and Niagara counties. You have to submit a separate application to each charter school you want your child to apply to. (The applications are generally just a couple of pages long.) There is no application fee.

You can apply to as many charter schools as you want to.

Many local charter schools have made their applications available online as a downloadable document that you can print, fill out, and either mail in to them or drop off. A couple of schools provide a form you can actually fill out and submit online.

What follows is a list of the local charter schools, with the phone number, address and grade range available in 2012-13 for each, along with information about each school's application, deadline and lottery, to the extent the information was available.

If you have questions about any particular school, please contact the school directly.

Aloma D. Johnson Fruit Belt Community Charter School, 856-4390. 833 Michigan Ave., Buffalo. Grades K-4. There's a link on the school's website to download an application form in English or in Spanish, but neither link works. Call 856-4390 for information. When I called the school, I was told there are spaces available for next year, and there is no application deadline.

Buffalo Academy of Science Charter School, , 854-2490. 190 Franklin St., Buffalo. Grades 7-12. There's a form on the school's website that lets you fill it out and submit it online. The lottery will be held on April 28 in the school's gym.

Buffalo United Charter School, 835-9862. 325 Manhattan Ave., Buffalo. Grades K-8. The school provides the opportunity to fill out and submit the application form, entirely online. The deadline is 5 p.m. April 1.

Charter School for Applied Technologies, 876-7505. 2303 Kenmore Ave., Tonawanda. Grades K-12. Links are available to download an application form in English or in Spanish. Deadline is 10 a.m. April 2. The lottery will be held April 3.

Community Charter School, 833-5967. 404 Edison Ave., Buffalo. Grades K-6. No application form is available on the website. An admissions page provides a phone number and online form for parents to request a registration packet. For information, call 833-5967. Applications must be received prior to the lottery on April 4.

Elmwood Village Charter School, 886-4581. 124 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo. Grades K-7. A pdf application in English is available for download on the website. Applications must be postmarked by March 31 and received by April 2, according to the application. The lottery will be held at 6 p.m. April 4 in the school's atrium.

Enterprise Charter School, 855-2114. 275 Oak St., Buffalo. Grades K-8. An application is available online in English, but it is for the 2011-12 school year.

Global Concepts Charter School, 821-1903. 1001 Ridge Road, Lackawanna. Grades K-11. The only link for an application form on the school's website is for a 2011-12 form, and it yields an error message. Call 821-1903. Application deadline is April 1. The lottery will be held April 17.

Health Sciences Charter School, 888-4080. 1140 Ellicott St., Buffalo. Grades 9-10. The application is available in English and Spanish as a pdf file. The application deadline is March 23. The lottery will be held April 1.

King Center Charter School, 891-7912. 938 Genesee St., Buffalo. Grades K-6. The website includes a link for filling out and submitting an application online. The deadline is 11:59 p.m. April 2. The lottery will be held at 4 p.m. April 3. The school also advertises an "early admission" program for 3- and 4-year-olds.

Niagara Charter School, 297-4520. 2077 Lockport Road, Niagara Falls. Grades K-6. A pdf of the application is available online in English. The school requires that an application for free/reduced lunch be submitted with every application, or the application will not be accepted. The lottery will be held at 4:15 p.m. April 1.

Oracle Charter School, 362-3188. 888 Delaware Ave., Buffalo. Grades 9-12. A pdf of the application is available online in English. Applications must be received by April 1.

Pinnacle Charter School, 842-1244. 115 Ash St., Buffalo. Grades K-8. An application is available online in English. The application indicates a deadline of March 5, and says that "if the number of applications exceeds available space, a random lottery held in late March 2012 will determine admission to the school."

South Buffalo Charter School, 826-7213. 2219 South Park Ave., Buffalo. Grades K-8. An application is available online in English. The application deadline is 3 p.m. April 2. The lottery will be held at 5 p.m. April 18.

Tapestry Charter School, 332-0754. 65 Great Arrow, Buffalo. Grades K-12. A pdf of the application is available online in English. A note writtten in Spanish at the bottom of the application indicates that the school is able to provide a translation upon request. Application deadline is April 2. The lottery will be held at 9 a.m. April 4.

Western New York Maritime Charter School, 842-6289. 266 Genesee St., Buffalo. Grades 9-12. The enrollment form is available online in English.

Westminster Community Charter School, 816-3450. 24 Westminster Ave., Buffalo. Grades K-8. An application is available online in English. The application deadline is April 1. The lottery will be held April 3.

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    mpasciak@buffnews.com

What did Buffalo have to say about the schools -- and the next superintendent?

This week, the School Board got a 38-page report from Cascade Consulting and Say Yes to Education, summarizing the results of 51 focus groups and interviews and more than 100 survey responses.

Today's story provides some of the key findings.

Here's a little bit more -- common answers to three key questions, from the focus groups and interviews. Each of the comments I included below was made by at least five people, according to the consultants' report. Following each comment is the name of the group it came from.

How is the district currently performing?

- Education is under siege: shift the conversation; needs infusion of hopefulness. Agree on fundamentals of transparent, accessible, accountable (higher education)

- We need neighborhood schools and community-based education; stop busing (parents)

- Transparency is critical because it does not exist in this community right now (local community organizations)

- Work is not relevant or rigorous (students)

- Go back to vocational education -- need career readiness (staff)

- Teachers/schools put on a show when board members or authorities come to the school -- the normal situation is not presented (students)

- A big problem has been honesty and transparency (union leadership)

- People have given up; have seen nominal reform initiatives without real results (from business and elected leaders)

- Need to focus on kids' needs (staff)

- Most of the teachers believe in students, go above and beyond for students (students)

What are the immediate challenges facing the district?

- Negotiate new contract (union leadership)

- Need to stop blaming anyone else and start assuming leadership and accountability internally (business and elected leaders)

- Kids are dropping out because they don't see the value in education (parents)

- The silence of the teachers needs to be addressed (local community organizations)

- Supply shortages in schools (students)

- Attendance: create an environment students are comfortable in and adults are comfortable with (staff)

- The labor agreement needs to be equally ratified among all parties consistent with educational standards of today (local community organizations)

- Needs to be more challenging (students)

- Parents don't want to get involved and school is not very welcoming with parents either (students)

What qualities should the next superintendent possess?

- Be careful of ego. We need someone that is humble and trustworthy (local community organizations)

- An understanding of how to engage the parent groups (business and elected leaders)

- Someone who cares about the students' future (students)

- Need someone who is part of the community, be proud to live in Buffalo (parents)

- Cares about the kids and truly wants them to succeed (staff)

- Ability to bring school board, teachers, union together -- that makes people nervous if new superintendent coming from the outside (union leadership)

- Think outside the box, different ideas with same issues, dynamic ways to deal with them (higher education)

- Someone who has fought these same fights in the past and succeeded (local community organizations)

- In Buffalo, need humility, need a "regular person, not elite (higher education)

- Someone from Buffalo who understands Buffalo -- key to reviving the city (staff)

The report also noted that "there was significant expression about keeping Amber Dixon in the superintendent role among teachers and parents. There was also significant expression about looking outside the district among elected leaders, business leaders and parents."

The report is chock full of interesting tidbits and thoughts from various people. It's worth a few minutes to look through it. Here is the entire report.

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    mpasciak@buffnews.com

Setting the record straight: Radford and Rumore on teacher evals

Seeing people engage in passionate dialogue and debate about the schools is a wonderful thing to behold here in Buffalo, and I'm thrilled to see it happening more and more every day -- on Facebook, at Wegmans, in the park, at church, in the blogs, in the paper -- you name it.

I think it's a very encouraging sign.

The one thing that concerns me is when, in the course of that sort of debate, facts get mangled along the way. That becomes of particular concern when the fact-mangling happens in a fairly public way.

Radford_RumoreThat came across my radar twice in the past few days: once in an op-ed piece that Phil Rumore wrote in the Buffalo News, and once in a Q&A interview that Sam Radford did on the Investigative Post. Both dealt with teacher evaluations, although to varying degrees.

I think it's great to see each of them expressing their point of view on the issue. What concerns me is that each of them took liberties with some of the facts.

What I'd like to do is address those factual issues here. I'm going to take the problematic excerpts from each, and then explain what the facts are.

I'll start with Rumore's piece, since it was published first.

He wrote: Other urban unions with similar severe student absenteeism have not, as The News suggests, agreed to overlook absenteeism. The only urban-like Buffalo is New York City. I understand it wants an 85 percent offset.

Rochester’s president has advised me that there will be no future agreements without an absenteeism offset.

Well, let's back up a step here. The commissioner in January suspended school improvement grants for 10 districts, saying none of them had submitted adequate evaluation plans for their SIG schools for 2011-12.

Since then, five districts have submitted revised evaluation plans that met with state approval: Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Poughkeepsie and Schenectady. (You can find copies of each of their evaluation agreements here.)

None of those five districts included a student attendance provision in their teacher evaluation agreements. Buffalo's attendance rates are lower than the other districts', but not drastically so: Buffalo, 87 percent; Rochester and Schenectady, 90 percent; Syracuse and Poughkeepsie, 91 percent; Albany, 92 percent, according to the most recent district-wide figures released by the state.

It is true that Rochester's union president has said he will not sign off on another agreement that does not include an attendance provision -- but he did sign off on an '11-12 agreement that did not include such a provision.

Rumore wrote: It is not just 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation but as much as 60 percent to 80 percent in which absenteeism can be a factor, i.e., an administrator could factor in student participation, grades on teacher-developed tests, etc.

What is currently being negotiated is the 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation based on locally determined student growth measures.

The 60 percent Rumore is referring to is based largely on the classroom observation of a teacher. That is esssentially the same observation system the district adopted at the end of the 2009-10 school year, with one exception: in each of the categories teachers are rated on, instead of just being rated "adequate" or "not adequate," teachers will now be rated "highly effective," "effective," "developing" or "ineffective."

Teachers are not evaluated based on student performance for those 60 points. They are evaluated based on what the teachers do. For example, "instructional delivery that results in active student involvement and meaningful lesson plans that result in student learning." That is the only place in the observation document that seems to come close to addressing "student participation" or "grades on teacher-developed tests."

You can find a copy of the current observation document here.

Rumore wrote: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has announced that he intends to withhold any additional funding if school districts have not done so by January 2014.

Actually, the governor has given districts until Jan. 17, 2013, to come into compliance regarding teacher evaluations. 

And now, let's take a look at what Radford had to say.

Radford said: The current evaluation system does not factor any student’s growth whether they are in class or not.  The change is going from not being evaluated to being evaluated.  Teachers should be evaluated on student growth or lack of student growth of all students.

While it is correct to say student growth is not part of the current teacher evaluation system, it is not true that teachers are "going from not being evaluated to being evaluated."

Teachers now are evaluated based wholly on a principal's classroom observation. The change is that under the new system, that sort of subjective observation will account for 60 percent of a teacher's evaluation; another 20 percent will be the state's measure of student growth; and another 20 percent will be the local measure of student growth.

Radford said: Most school districts in the state have found a workable solution, I would start there.  I think having a weighted evaluation based on attendance would work, as well.  I believe students who don’t have a regular teacher should be given the same weighted consideration on their assessment scores.

Actually, only 10 districts in the state had to submit teacher evaluation plans for 2011-12 for state approval. That's 10 out of about 700 districts.

Of those 10 districts, five have submitted plans that the state has approved. That's a far cry from "most school districts in the state."

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    mpasciak@buffnews.com

Live blog of School Board meeting at 4 p.m.

Join me for a live blog of the School Board committee meetings (executive affairs and finance and operations) this evening. Among the topics expected tonight: the superintendent search, the policy on public speakers at board meetings, and the board's budget priorities.

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    mpasciak@buffnews.com

Untangling the latest on the teacher eval debacle

On Friday, the district presented the teachers union with its latest proposal to settle the student attendance issue in the teacher evaluation agreement.

What does it all mean?

Here's a simplified user's guide to the latest developments:

- Amber Dixon says the state will only allow the district to create two groups of students, based on attendance. We have no way of knowing whether that's the case, seeing as the state is not talking publicly about teacher evaluations.

- According to Dixon, that means there cannot be a "weighting" system -- something that has been discussed more and more lately as a possible solution -- in which a student who attends school more gets counted more heavily.

- The new plan divides students at the elementary level into two groups -- based on the schoolwide attendance overall. That's a significant distinction. The proposal establishes two different targets for elementary schools, based on average daily attendance in the building: one in schools where average daily attendance is 85 percent or higher, and another, lower target in buildings where it's below 85 percent.

- That is different from differentiating between individual students whose attendance is 85 percent or better and those whose attendance falls below 85 percent. It's like the difference between looking at a team's win-loss record and looking at an individual player's stats. Well, kind of. Not a perfect analogy, but hopefully it helps get the distinction across.

- Elementary teachers' local growth measure (20 out of 100 points on the evaluation) would be based on schoolwide growth, Dixon says, not on the growth of the students specifically in that teacher's class.

- This provision would not even make a difference for the two elementary schools affected by this agreement -- MLK and International School 45. Both of those schools' average daily attendance is over 85 percent. Remember, this is a one-year agreement that affects only the six schools funded by the school improvement grants.

- There is no attendance provision for the high schools, where the attendance problem is most severe.

- The money in question is not the full $9.3 million, a state spokesman confirmed on Friday. The state apparently is not questioning the money BPS was due from September through December. The funds in question are those due from Jan. 1 on -- about $5.6 million.

- The district last week requested an adjournment of its Thursday hearing in Albany. State officials previously said federal regulations stipulated the hearing could be held no later than March 23. That's Friday.

We'll have more of an update soon, probably in tomorrow's paper.

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    mpasciak@buffnews.com

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee | djgee@buffnews.com


Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes | tlankes@buffnews.com


Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone | stan@buffnews.com


Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB | dswilliams@buffnews.com

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