September 18, 2011

Make This Year The Year We Finally Change Teaching: We Need to Fix Tenure and Improve Evaluations

Original article in the New York Daily News by Evan Stone and Sydney Morris


Across New York City, 76,000 public school teachers are doing their part to get the school year off to a successful start. Whether they're staying late to craft their lesson plans, phoning parents to introduce themselves or buying classroom supplies, teachers are firmly committed to doing what it takes to help their students make progress.

They do all this despite the fact that for the past two years, they've worked without a contract. They still have no formal evaluation system to provide them consistent support to improve their performance in the classroom. They face a tenure-granting process that, while finally improving, is still rife with inconsistency and a lack of transparency. And budget cuts are asking them to do more with less.

It's time that those in power - the mayor, the chancellor and union leaders - show teachers the same level of commitment to fixing our schools that teachers themselves display day in and day out.

For starters, the Bloomberg administration and the United Federation of Teachers must get back to the bargaining table and negotiate a meaningful, multimeasure teacher evaluation system. Last year, New York State won federal dollars under the Race to the Top program, in part because of legislation that mandates each district negotiate a new evaluation system - but a lawsuit filed by the state teachers union has held up implementation statewide and in New York City, largely because of political posturing.

Second, tenure must become a more significant professional milestone, earned only after demonstrated success with students. New changes to the tenure-granting process were introduced last school year. In theory, these changes were a step in the right direction. Only 58% of eligible teachers earned tenure this year, down from 94% in 2009. In practice, however, there are still inconsistent standards across schools and little feedback about how decisions are ultimately made. Just as great educators do for their students, our system must ensure that there's not only a higher bar, but clear expectations for teachers and administrators.

Finally, decision-makers must help build a profession that not only attracts but also retains the most talented educators to stand in front of our classrooms. Nationally, more than 50% of teachers leave the classroom within their first five years. We've heard great ideas about how to change this from educators across the city: pay raises for mentor teachers and teachers who assume administrative responsibilities while still in the classroom, incentives to teach in high-needs areas and low-performing schools and salary steps based on fair evaluations.

At Educators 4 Excellence, an organization of more than 3,000 teachers, our teacher policy teams have proposed a comprehensive evaluation system and are currently exploring more effective tenure processes and educator rewards and incentives. These proposals deserve serious consideration at the bargaining table because for too long, teachers have been treated as subjects - rather than agents - of educational change.

The nation's eyes are rightly focused on the quality of teachers. Unfortunately, this focus all too often turns into a conversation that polarizes communities and takes us further away from what is best for students. With a new school year comes a new opportunity to find common ground on how to elevate the teaching profession and improve outcomes for students.

Great teachers welcome feedback and accountability. But politicians and policy makers need to give teachers the tools and support they need to succeed.

Morris and Stone are Co-Founders of Educators 4 Excellence, an organization that works to ensure teachers' voices are included in the creation of policies that affect their profession and their students.  Read the original version of this article on the New York Daily News.

Evan Stone and Sydney Morris

Across New York City, 76,000 public school teachers are doing their part to get the school year off to a successful start. Whether they're staying late to craft their lesson plans, phoning parents to introduce themselves or buying classroom supplies, teachers are firmly committed to doing what it takes to help their students make progress.

They do all this despite the fact that for the past two years, they've worked without a contract. They still have no formal evaluation system to provide them consistent support to improve their performance in the classroom. They face a tenure-granting process that, while finally improving, is still rife with inconsistency and a lack of transparency. And budget cuts are asking them to do more with less.

It's time that those in power - the mayor, the chancellor and union leaders - show teachers the same level of commitment to fixing our schools that teachers themselves display day in and day out.

For starters, the Bloomberg administration and the United Federation of Teachers must get back to the bargaining table and negotiate a meaningful, multimeasure teacher evaluation system. Last year, New York State won federal dollars under the Race to the Top program, in part because of legislation that mandates each district negotiate a new evaluation system - but a lawsuit filed by the state teachers union has held up implementation statewide and in New York City, largely because of political posturing.

Second, tenure must become a more significant professional milestone, earned only after demonstrated success with students. New changes to the tenure-granting process were introduced last school year. In theory, these changes were a step in the right direction. Only 58% of eligible teachers earned tenure this year, down from 94% in 2009. In practice, however, there are still inconsistent standards across schools and little feedback about how decisions are ultimately made. Just as great educators do for their students, our system must ensure that there's not only a higher bar, but clear expectations for teachers and administrators.

Finally, decision-makers must help build a profession that not only attracts but also retains the most talented educators to stand in front of our classrooms. Nationally, more than 50% of teachers leave the classroom within their first five years. We've heard great ideas about how to change this from educators across the city: pay raises for mentor teachers and teachers who assume administrative responsibilities while still in the classroom, incentives to teach in high-needs areas and low-performing schools and salary steps based on fair evaluations.

At Educators 4 Excellence, an organization of more than 3,000 teachers, our teacher policy teams have proposed a comprehensive evaluation system and are currently exploring more effective tenure processes and educator rewards and incentives. These proposals deserve serious consideration at the bargaining table because for too long, teachers have been treated as subjects - rather than agents - of educational change.

The nation's eyes are rightly focused on the quality of teachers. Unfortunately, this focus all too often turns into a conversation that polarizes communities and takes us further away from what is best for students. With a new school year comes a new opportunity to find common ground on how to elevate the teaching profession and improve outcomes for students.

Great teachers welcome feedback and accountability. But politicians and policy makers need to give teachers the tools and support they need to succeed.

Morris and Stone are Co-Founders of Educators 4 Excellence, an organization that works to ensure teachers' voices are included in the creation of policies that affect their profession and their students.