NYC Principals Given More Power to Oust Bad Teachers

Is New York City finally ready for citywide educational reform?

Mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks so, and it all has to do with a new teacher assessment system in the country’s largest city announced this weekend by the New York state education commissioner.

“It gives New York confidence that our schools will be able to give the kids the education they will need going forward,” he told The New York Times.

The New York City school system has more than 1.1 million public school students, 75,000 teachers and 1,700 schools. It has long been in jeopardy and out of compliance with the state for a number of reasons. One primary problem was that it didn’t have a system to identify and deal with poor teachers.

After Saturday’s announcement, gone are the days when a teacher was given a rating of either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”  

Teachers will be graded along a system of “highly effective,” “effective,” “developing,” or “ineffective.” Two “ineffective” ratings trigger an alert to school officials, and a firing is likely.

Principal observations account for 60 percent of the evaluations, while state standardized tests and other measures of learning will account for 40 percent.

“Good teachers will become better ones and ineffective teachers can be removed from the classroom,” Bloomberg, who doesn’t agree with all the changes, said in a statement.

Firing a teacher in New York City hasn’t always been easy. The city created “rubber rooms,” a place where teachers who face misconduct charges sit, read, and stare at the wall while collecting their full paycheck awaiting their disciplinary hearings.

Teachers also get some power in the new system. They can choose one of two options for their classroom observations by principals—either one long formal observation and at least three short ones or six or more short observations. Depending on the teachers’ prerogative, they can opt to have a principal observe in person, or have the class videotaped for later review.

Students in third grade and up, starting in 2014, will also get to rate their teacher on a survey, counting for five percent of a teacher's score

Under the new system, teachers of physical education, English as a second language, special education, and music will also undergo annual performance reviews based upon tests that highlight more critical and creative thinking as well as other methods such as essay writing.

The use of more testing in these subjects is not going over very well.

David Greene of Save Our Schools told TakePart that even the teachers who are already being evaluated in their subject areas are not being evaluated properly by tests. He adds: "So to say phys ed, ESL, music, or art teachers can be is so far from being rational as to border on the absurd."

Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University, said students already take too many tests.

"Already, third graders have to go through six days of testing, 90 minutes a day, in English language arts and math," Naison told TakePart. "Now they want them to take tests in music, art and physical education as well. Can't we let our children create and let their imaginations and bodies run free without constantly subjecting them, and their teachers, to testing?”

Naison also said that students don’t need the stress of evaluating teachers.

“This level of testing, quite frankly, is the sign of a society that is unable to let children be children,” he said.