Will New York’s RttT Mandates Sideline Charter Schools?

October 19th, 2010

By B. Jason Brooks

As noted here yesterday, there is a lot of chatter among the charter school community about the New York State Education Department mandating that all charter schools participating in the state’s Race to the Top (RttT) program adopt new teacher evaluation criteria.  The mandate may have a significant impact how charter schools are permitted to evaluate, promote, retain, and compensate teachers.

While the State Education Department (SED) denies that the mandates encroach upon the autonomy that was intended for charter schools, a closer analysis of the criteria that charter school teacher evaluation plans will have to meet shows a different story.

Charter schools receiving RttT funds must change or replace their teacher evaluation system to include the following:

● Implement a teacher evaluation system that considers multiple measures for evaluating teacher effectiveness, including at least 40 percent based on student achievement measures.  The details of what multiple measures might be required and how many is left unclear.  Charter schools that base student evaluation solely on student achievement, for example, may be required to scrap their chosen evaluation measures and adopt additional criteria to meet the “multiple measures” requirement for evaluating teachers.

● Schools must create a scoring system that includes as a final product an “effectiveness score” that results in a rank of teachers.  This eliminates charter schools’ ability to include other measures deemed desirable.

● Implement a system that labels teachers based on their effectiveness using the following four rating categories: “Highly Effective,” “Effective,” “Developing,” and “Ineffective.”  Any variation from these labels must be approved by the State Education Department.

● Require these evaluations to serve as the base for teacher promotion, retention, and compensation, as well as providing professional development to those receiving unsatisfactory ratings.  Again, this control of “inputs” takes away charter schools’ flexibility to design their own personnel and evaluation models instead of being held accountable only for the ultimate outcome: student achievement.

● Develop and implement an improvement plan for teachers receiving an unsatisfactory rating.  This means that charter schools may be prohibited from removing an unsatisfactory teacher from the classroom without following each of the detailed steps.

It’s fair to say that these burdensome mandates will require charter schools participating in RttT to scrap their current teacher evaluation programs and replace them with new ones that meet the SED-proscribed criteria. S ED’s overreaching on this issue may very well result in a significant number of the state’s charter schools sitting on the sidelines for Race to the Top.

The few-thousand dollars a year each charter school participating in RttT is slated to receive won’t come close to covering the costs of staff time, supplies, paper, and copying that will be required to meet all the new bureaucratic reporting requirements and other stings attached to these grants

Even worse, in addition to these mandates for charter schools participating in RttT, SED has indicated that it intends to apply the same teacher evaluation mandate to all charters that come before the Board of Regents for initial authorization and existing schools seeking reauthorization.

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan intended for RttT to drive significant reform among the nation’s chronically failing traditional district schools which have historically excluded student outcomes from being considered a factor in evaluating teachers.  In fact, RttT funding enticed New York’s union leaders and SED to reach an agreement that changed New York’s law that previously prohibited schools from considering student outcomes as part of the criteria for evaluating teachers.

Since 1999, New York’s charter schools have been trailblazers in education reform, implementing school models utilizing longer school days and extended school years, requiring students to wear uniforms, offering single-gender learning environments, using data to drive decision making, and, importantly, utilizing the autonomy granted them to implement their own results-oriented teacher evaluation systems.

SED’s teacher evaluation mandate for charter schools participating in RttT will do more harm than good and may end up embarrassingly making New York’s RttT program largely void of innovative charter schools.

B. Jason Brooks is director of research at the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability and may be followed on Twitter at @bjbrooksNY.

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