As midwinter recess for New York City public schools wrapped up last week, evaluations for 18,000 teachers were released. Some teachers were likely enjoying the break and paid no attention to the news, but the topic of conversation in teachers’ lounges across the city on Monday surely focused more on the data reports than what they did on vacation.

After months of debate, legal skirmishes and fierce opposition from the teacher’s union, which has argued the new evaluations paint an unfair and incomplete picture of teacher effectiveness, the reports were released last Friday in response to a Freedom of Information request by several news organizations. The data, however, only appraised about 20 percent of teachers in grades 4 through 8 in reading and math. The reports identify successful teachers, struggling teachers and those who can’t seem to help failing students and perhaps should be removed.

Due to pressure from Governor Andrew Cuomo, who vowed to offer his own proposal if the impasses were not resolved, the evaluations system has undergone a major reform. For better or worse, the changes probably won’t be accurately assessed for years, but, for now, the winds of change are gusting through public school hallways.

It’s easy to see why the union and teachers object to a method that gauges teacher effectiveness, as opposed to prior ratings that habitually gave 97 percent of city teachers a “satisfactory.”

On the other hand, correctly analyzed teacher evaluations could prove to be an indispensable factor in transforming public education.

New York City’s teachers’ union has exerted too much influence for too long, as it showed more concern for wages and benefits than recommending input to enhance the quality of education.

Under the new system, teachers will be ranked ineffective, developing, effective or highly effective. Under the current system unsatisfactory or satisfactory are the only ratings.

“Ineffective” teachers will subsequently be required to follow a plan to deal with rated weaknesses. They will be monitored by principals and outside observers. If observers support the principals’ findings, the city could fire the teacher for incompetence. Under current standards, the city has the burden of proof, making dismissal much more difficult.

For the first time, all school districts will have to stick to demanding guidelines to assess teachers and principals, using a scoring system intended to take into account performance and student achievement. The union will no longer be able to defend unsuccessful teachers and keep them on the job due to contracts that were negotiated under deadline pressures.

Even so, the unions aren’t the only culprits to blame for the problems that inhibited progress. When the schools were operated by the defunct Board of Education, decades of mismanagement and overlooked waste preoccupied its managers, as students and schools suffered. With the makeover and name change to the Department of Education, some progress is evident, but there’s still a long way to go in a process that keeps evolving.

Furthermore, while many parents and guardians welcome the evaluations, they must also assume responsibility to ensure a student’s education doesn’t end when the school day does. They also bear accountability in a child’s education and must make a concerted effort to make certain a child uses sufficient time at home and after school to supplement classroom work.

After all, teachers are not glorified babysitters or temporary child custodians. If they have to constantly discipline a few troublemakers and contain unnecessary distractions, the rest of the class suffers and is ultimately deprived of time to learn.

While the teacher evaluation system has its flaws and shortcomings — as does the education system — it is a means to expose and get rid of educators who may not be as committed as they need to be when they have scores of young minds in their control.

For those teachers who dread the new evaluation system because it may expose their deficiencies, it’s perhaps time they retired and collected comfortable pensions, because they may have been doing more harm than good for those students whose intellectual curiosity and creativity  went unfulfilled.

Above all, teachers who do their jobs with appropriate degrees of commitment and responsibility shouldn’t be concerned because the results will demonstrate their efforts and hard work. On the other hand, their peers, who may be getting by just by showing up, might soon learn that they are in for a conspicuous wake up call.

At last, the union’s hands are tied and it won’t be able to keep the apples polished for the rotten ones in the education barrel.

Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes occasional columns on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.

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  • Rpell1

    This comment is NOT intended to defend ALL teachers.   However, relying on people who are under the gun themselves, to evaluate teachers by spending 20 minutes in a classroom is far from fair.   Teachers, who are dedicated and motivated if not competent, fear for their jobs based on WHO will be evaluating them and HOW they will be evaluated.   It has become obvious that Emperor Bloomberg has “loaded” certain schools with “problem” students in order to justify converting to Charter Schools.    How can we possibly trust him not to employ these same tactics to “thin out” the number of experienced teachers that have earned their highter salaries over the many years they have devoted to teaching?   There are way too many uncontrolled variables for teachers and administrators to deal with in this new wave of “solutions”.   Of course, those few teachers that should not be in the system should be somehow eliminated.

    These are the reasons teachers and their inefective union are fearful.

    • NSF

      Let’s remember, some students also don’t test well “under the gun,” but an exam grade is used heavily to evaluate a student’s performance.
      As I emphasized above, the data reports are flawed, but a lot better than the ones previously used to determine a teacher’s effectiveness. For now the purpose is to weed out the bad from the good and hope the quality of education improves. 

  • guest

    There are definitely bad teachers out there. There always have been and there always will be. However there are also good teachers, extremely bright, intelligent ones who may be given an unfair wrap simply because of how their students preform on standardized testing. This is an extremely unfair and biased program conjured up by the Emperor to promote his charter school agenda which continues to destroy our city schools.

    What about many, not all of course but many of the “teaching fellows” that come from out of city and state who are enticed by a decent starting salary. Most of these individuals do not even finish the first year before jumping ship. Will they be judged or given a free pass because they are part of the emperor’s program?

    I agree with the sentiments of parents needing to take responsibility and fear that these evaluations will just place all the blame on teachers. This gives parents a free pass and allows them to say “My child isn’t doing well because Mrs. X is a bad teacher.”  Just ship your kids off to school, have them come home and do nothing to become involved. Then when their child does terrible at school, lets place the blame solely on the teacher.

    The school system only works when EVERYONE works together. Parents, students and teachers. Everyone needs to share the responsibility. Allowing blame to be placed on only one party is inexcusable. This is how everything went for years until the emperor seized control. One has to wonder if this isn’t backlash from the whole Cathie Black fiasco.

    • Guest

      Everything you stated are probably true. However, it still does not indicate how we get rid of bad teachers. This system is only trying to find a way to get rid of some of these bad teachers. There has to be a way to get rid of the teachers who believe they are entitled to a job. This evaluation system is directly the fault of the old union members who did not compromise and figure out a way to get rid of bad teachers.

      • Rpell1

        Unfortunately, this system is NOT…”only trying to find a way to get rid of these bad teachers”. 

        The Emperor ALWAYS has an ulterior motive.   Again, just look at his “procedures” for converting to Charter Schools.

  • http://spurninglearning.blogspot.com/ Ryan

    I want to believe that the evaluations are designed to give kids the best education possible.  The unfortunate reality is that most evaluations are based on things that do not always reflect teacher quality.  Worse yet, most teachers do not teach at the same effectiveness level two years in a row, so the USE of these evaluations to fire or give bonuses is really problematic.  I just looked at a proposal from the New Teacher Project on my blog (http://spurninglearning.blogspot.com/2012/02/how-do-teachers-measure-up.html), and I think there is a lot that needs to be done to make the evaluation a tool for supporting teachers to do the best job they can.  There are bad teachers that need to be coached out of teaching, but for most teachers who can, given certain conditions and support, do a great job, we need to give that support.

  • JC

    As a parent of one current school-age child in public school (and another one inbound), I agree that there are poor teachers, no method to identify them, and no method to remove them. Here there is great opportunity for improvement.

    I have to say, though, that the methodology for these particular evaluations is severely flawed. As there are plenty of online articles detailing these flaws, I won’t labor to offer them again here.

    I hope that good teachers who were poorly evaluated will not suffer – and particularly that parents and schools use what they already know about individual teachers to evaluate them.

    I also hold out hope that a formal, better (and public) evaluation method will soon be identified.

    I do think the teachers’ union should go, but also that public school teacher salaries need to be raised greatly to attract and maintain quality professionals.