Recent comments

Search News & Views

Related links

Ask Judy

Think of the best teacher you have ever had. She convinced you you could do it. He visited your home when something went wrong. She gave you hard feedback on an essay. He spoke to you with great respect. She engaged and pushed your thinking, and made you "smarter."

How would you want him or her to be evaluated? Educators and policymakers across the country are considering legislation that could make standardized test scores one of the only -- if not THE only-- measures of teacher effectiveness. While I think it is clear that our teacher evaluation system currently does not reflect what we know about good teacher practice, I know that I am not alone in believing this should not be the only measure.

But, it begs the question: what would a better system look like? A national conversation is just getting started on this topic. There was a recent agreement between Superintendent Michelle Rhee of Washington DC with their teachers' union about a new evaluation system; in New York City, there are working groups and studies underway to increase the effectiveness of the system, especially considering that the use of test scores to evaluate teacher performance is linked to billions of Federal dollars through the Race to the Top competition.

If I could design the perfect teacher evaluation system ( is anyone asking principals and teachers to do this?)  I would include: relationship-building with adults and students, grades and test scores, ability to collaborate, reflectiveness and consistent effort to improve, curriculum and unit planning, among others. I would require teachers to self-evaluate yearly, and to provide a continually developing portfolio of their work.

In my opinion, the best teacher evaluation system would ensure that teachers learn how to be reflective enough in their practice that they hold themselves accountable for high standards and high student achievement, just as the best possible outcome for students is intrinsic motivation towards success.

What would you include in a teacher evaluation system? Why?

Published in News and views
Thursday, 15 April 2010 10:06

Rubber rooms to be abolished

The City and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT ) the union representing the New York City's more than 80.000 members, reached an agreement today to close the city's notorious Rubber Rooms, where teachers awaiting disposition of charges against them languish while the system stalls. Under the agreement, the teachers will now be assigned to clerical duty, either in central offices or schools.

The new agreement includes other key changes:

  • More arbitrators hired to expedite the hearing process, which now can take years to play out.
  • Formal charges of misconduct must be made within 60 days, or teachers will return to classrooms.
  • Formal charges of incompetence must be made within 10 days.

The city has agreed to clear up backlogged cases by the end of the year.

Teachers in rubber rooms receive full salary while waiting for their case to come to a hearing. Assigning accused teachers to work in offices is a return to former practice where they were usually assigned to district offices to perform non-teaching assignments.

For details, see the Department of Education website.

And let us know what you think of the plan in comments below. Do you know any teachers who have been spending time in rubber rooms?

Published in News and views

While the New York City Department of Education faces up to $1.2 billion in budget cuts, rookie teachers across the city are fearing the loss of their jobs due to seniority rules, a policy known as "last in, first out."

However, a bill sponsored by two Democratic state lawmakers aims to rewrite these standards to make layoff decisions more equitable. If passed, each New York City school would be tasked with forming a collective of administrators, teachers, and parents to decide which teachers should be laid off.

The 8,500 expected layoffs will be most concentrated in Manhattan's District 2 and the South Bronx's District 7. District 2, one of the city's wealthiest, will lose 19% of its teaching force; District 7, one of its poorest, will lost 21%

"Experience matters, but it cannot be the sole or even principal factor considered in layoff decisions," said Chancellor Klein in a statement last month.

Read more in today's New York Times.

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 16 September 2009 12:12

Klein pressures schools to hire excessed teachers

Last spring we reported that the Department of Education issued a ban on hiring new teachers due to budget cuts. Instead, principals were urged to hire teachers from the pool of excessed teachers -- those who lost their jobs due to schools closing, or staff cuts, but who continue to receive a full salary, even though they are not in the classroom.

A week into the new school year, Chancellor Klein reiterated his call for principals to hire excessed teachers. In his weekly letter to principals, Klein said there are 1,500 teachers in the excessed pool, 500 more than last year. "This is a fiscal liability in this budget climate, and we must reduce it," he writes. He goes on to point out there are 1,100 teacher vacancies in the city's schools.

Klein imposed a hiring deadline of Oct. 30 and insists that most vacancies be filled with "internal staff." For those schools which are unable to fill the positions by that date, the DOE "may be be forced to take back the dollars budgeted for those positions to pay for the increase in teachers in the excess pool."

These mandates fly in the face of the mayor and chancellor's moves to grant more autonomy to principals; however, Klein maintains they are necessary to "control costs." "Nobody dislikes this situation more than I do," Klein writes. "Limiting your hiring freedom goes against what I stand for, but because of the economic reality we must control costs and protect our schools from deeper budget cuts.

According to WABC News, Klein would like to negotiate a time limit for how long teachers can stay in the reserve pool when the teachers' union contract comes up for renewal in October. But before then, there will be hiring fairs in all boroughs. The fairs are mandatory for all excessed teachers; principals are strongly encouraged to attend.

Since these are just the latest in a series of hiring fairs, it may be that the teachers in the pool do not meet the requirements of the schools looking for teachers. With the already steep budget cuts, and higher class size all around, principals may not welcome the added pressure of choosing from a limited pool of applicants.

Published in News and views
Thursday, 27 August 2009 05:23

Putting gift cards to good use

GothamSchools led us to a post on The New York Times Bits Blog about a partnership between two innovative websites that allows you to turn unused gift cards into donations for schools.

According to Plastic Jungle, which buys, sells and trades gift cards, the average American household has around $400 worth in unused cards. Plastic Jungle's users typically exchange cards for crash or a credit at, but now they have another option: allied with, the site allows users to donate the face value of a gift card to schools in need.

Back in 2007, our blogger Jennifer Freeman introduced us to DonorsChoose, which offers public school teachers the opportunity to post their needs for classroom projects in the hopes of receiving funding. You can browse the project requests and donate to the cause of your choice -- and thanks to Plastic Jungle, not just with your credit card, but with your unused gift cards, too!

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 25 August 2009 12:55

Leadership graduates leading the pack?

A study released yesterday by NYU's Institute for Education and Social Policy takes a look at graduates of the city's controversial Leadership Academy, which offers educators an alternative route to becoming school principals.

According to the study, graduates of the Leadership Academy's 14-month Aspiring Principals Program (APP) tend to be younger educators with fewer years of teaching experience than other new principals who were traditionally trained. In keeping with the program's mission to place its graduates in the hardest-to-staff schools, they are also  more likely to serve at troubled schools with a history of poor student achievement. Nonetheless, the study says, program veterans showed gains comparable to those of their traditional peers, and on elementary and middle school ELA exams, their increases outpaced those of other new principals.

Although this report is largely positive, a May analysis by The New York Times showed that schools headed by Leadership Academy graduates have not done as well on the city's  A-F report card grading system as schools led by experienced principals or by new principals who came through traditional routes. In fact, the Times found that schools with academy graduates were less than half as likely to earn As on their report card and almost twice as likely to earn Cs or worse.

In its coverage of the NYU study, the Times notes that, while NYU just compared academy graduates with new principals, its May analysis compared them with both new and experienced principals. Additionally, the Times examined all program graduates  while NYU's study focused on a group of principals over a three-year period.

Is your school led by an academy graduate? Tell us about your experiences below!

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 29 July 2009 10:01

Eva Moskowitz jumps into teaching aide fray

In an editorial in today's Daily News, Eva Moskowitz weighs in on the controversial  decision by the Department of Education to  clamp down on parent associations paying for non-union teaching aides in their children's classrooms. Her take? Schools benefit from parent fund-raising that helps lower class size, especially in middle class schools which get less funding than those with a high percentage of low income students.  She posits, "The UFT doesn't like it because these aspiring teachers aren't union members."

Commenters on Insideschools have been debating the merits of the practice, which according to the New York Times, only affects about 18 highly desirable city schools. Some argue that this is "another example of  Bloomberg steamrolling important parent input,"  that  will "drive more  middle class [families] out of the city. " Others argue that, "It’s a public system and there should be a level playing field." A few commenters suggest ways in which schools across the city can "pool fundraising." Others note the role of the powerful teachers union, which filed a grievance last fall about the hiring practice.

Moskowitz, a former chair of the New York City Council Education Committee, now runs a network of high-performing charter schools, Harlem Success Academy Charter Schools. Interestingly, a New York Times article earlier this week reports the efforts of teachers at some charter schools to unionize, noting that charter school teachers frequently work much longer hours than their counterparts at public schools. Wonder whether there is any union movement on the part of Harlem Success teachers?

Published in News and views

A group of Upper West Side parents, elected officials and other concerned citizens has been meeting this summer to plan a new, academically challenging high school focused on journalism and writing to open with a 9th grade class in fall, 2010, in the Brandeis High School building on West 84th Street. The group, organized by City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, hopes the school will be named in honor of Frank McCourt, a former Stuyvesant High School teacher and author of the bestseller Angela's Ashes ,who died on Sunday.

The school is still in the planning stages, but the parents, led by Tom Allon, publisher of the West Side Spirit who taught with Frank McCourt at Stuyvesant, hope it will grow to serve between 800 to 1,000 students. That's small enough to give students a sense of community, but large enough to offer art, drama, several foreign languages, Advanced Placement, special education and services for English Language Learners that are often missing at the new small schools that have been created in recent years. The Department of Education is interviewing prospective "project directors" for the school this summer. The "project director" will be hired part-time in the fall and, if the school is approved by the DOE, will likely be assigned as principal early in 2010.

Some questions remain unresolved: Will the school give preference to District 3 residents, as the popular Upper West Side Beacon High School used to do? Most New York City high schools are open to applicants from all five boroughs, but some of the most sought-after small schools in the city are located in Manhattan's District 2. Many of these schools limit admissions to District 2 students, sparking complaints from parents in other districts.

Other elected leaders involved with planning include: Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, State Senator Bill Perkins, State Senator Tom Duane, Assemblymember Daniel O'Donnell and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

Brandeis, which had an enrollment of 2,348 last year, is closing because of poor performance. Current Brandeis students will be allowed to stay until graduation, but no new 9th-graders are being admitted this fall. The DOE has already announced two new, small schools will open in September with 108 students each: the Urban Assembly for Green Careers and the Global Learning Initiative. In addition, the DOE plans to open a transfer school, Innovation Diploma Plus, for students who have been unsuccessful or unhappy at other schools.

For further information contact Tom Allon at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Published in News and views
Thursday, 25 June 2009 06:32

School's almost out -- and so is Randi

United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten will be leaving the NYC-based teachers union, as has been widely rumored and reported, to focus on her duties as president of the national union, the American Federation of Teachers, a post she's held since last July.  UFT VP Michael Mulgrew, who began his professional life as a carpenter and is a long-time advocate for career and technical education, will step up and serve as president until elections are held in 2010.

Weingarten's most recent achievements cap her decade of service with the UFT: She succeeded in negotiating a new contract that gives teachers Labor Day weekend off (and which succeeded in angering the Principals Union), and she worked with the Department of Education's  Charter Office and Green Dot Public Schools, the California-based charter school entrepreneurs, to secure well-paying union contracts for the new charter's teachers.

Published in News and views

Sean Keaton, the controversial principal of PS 20 in the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill neighborhood in Brooklyn, was arrested Thursday after allegedly knocking a kindergarten teacher off a chair, kicking him in the head, and stomping on him. The teacher, Robert Segerra, is the teachers' union representative at PS 20, and, at the time of the assault, had been in Keaton's office, discussing the case of a special education teacher who had been accused of using corporal punishment against a student.

"Every time I said I'm not hitting you, I got another hit in the head or another punch in the neck or another scrap or another drag me across the floor," Segerra told WABC. (For Segerra's full account of the incident, click here.)

Keaton was charged with misdemeanor assault and reassigned to administrative duties while the investigation is pending, according to the Department of Education.

Keaton has taught at the school since the 1990s and served as principal since 2005, but parents have been sharply divided over his leadership. While test scores have risen, enrollment has declined, and now only 27 percent of eligible kindergarten students in the zone are attending PS 20.

One of the three new citywide gifted and talented programs is scheduled to open as part of PS 20 next fall, which will be under the purview of the PS 20 principal. Parents whose students scored at the 97th percentile or higher on the gifted and talented exam were able to rank the PS 20 program on their forms, which were due on Tuesday. We are following up with the DOE to see if there will be an opportunity for parents to reconsider their choices after new leadership is announced.

The debate over Keaton's administration turned particularly vehement on the New York Times Local Fort Greene/Clinton Hill blog this spring. Yesterday, the Local described the debate's racial and class undertones: "The community conversation about him [Keaton] often seemed to break down along class lines, with new-to-the-neighborhood, more affluent parents finding him difficult to work with and working-class parents defending him. There was often a racial component to the debate as well (Mr. Keaton is black)."

The comments on the Insideschools profile of PS 20 reflect parents' polarized opinions on Kean. Below are excerpts from several of the comments; go to our PS 20 review to read the full text.

"...the principal is a disaster. He is authoritarian, defensive, and almost incapable of taking input seriously. He has been hostile and even abusive to some parents (including the president of the PTA!), sent angry emails to parents who dared challenge his authority, and responded defensively to any suggestions that things might change. He has pitted parents against each other (he was heard complaining about the "nouveau riche" parents who have moved into the neighborhood and are "trying to take over the school") and done nothing to defuse any tension among parents." (May 19, 2008)

"...Although PS.20 has promise which is reflected in the enthusiastic teaching staff and great art and music programs, the principal is overzealous and runs the school with a totalitarian zeal," writes a parent. "He is verbally abusive to the staff and has little respect for the children that attend the school. I have witnessed him verbally abusing children and aggressively pulling them into his office..."(June 6, 2008)

"...I saw comments on here about Mr Keaton, I have never had a negative experience with him. Although we haven't always agreed, but he was always there to listen to my concerns. He is a strong principal very big on discipline & accountability which as a board of Education employee I can tell u is missing from many schoools. Keaton also made me feel as if he cared about not only my child but my family..." (Sept. 20, 2008)

Published in News and views