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.
That 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