Teachers group asks for an evaluation system, in advance of a state deadline

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An education advocacy group founded by two New York City teachers and backed financially by Bill Gates is launching a public-relations push to pressure the city and the local teachers union to strike a deal on a new teacher evaluation system, two weeks before a state-mandated deadline that could cost the city millions of dollars in education funding.

The group, Educators4Excellence, was founded by Evan Stone and Sydney Morris in 2010, and later received a six-figure donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which hopes to see the group act as a counterweight to the teachers unions.

The three one-minute videos feature teachers who say the current evaluation system is inadequate. Each one says they'll seek more feedback as one of their New Year's resolutions.

The videos could provide a politically helpful, from-the-classroom voice to support Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his allies, who argue that teachers need to be evaluated more thoroughly. Their arguments echo what Bloomberg and other education reformers have said, namely that more evaluations of teachers are needed and that $300 million in state funding is too much money to miss out on by not striking a deal.

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Critics of the self-styled reformers, like education historian Diane Ravitch, say good teachers are important, but schools need more resources to deal with a more challenging student population.

UPDATE: An interested reader emailed to say the teachers union doesn't disagree with the need for a new teacher evaluation plan, but that the stalemate with the city is over what form that should take.

In one video, Kate Schuster, a third grade ESL teacher in Harlem, said she's having trouble getting her students to write more sophisticated articles for the school newspaper. The solution? "A new teacher evaluation system will allow me a more diverse perspective on what my students are needing in order to write those texts that I know they can write," she said.

She twice said she wanted "the union and the city" to reach a deal.

Another features Kelly Roche, middle and high school match teacher in the Bronx. She said a more rigorous evaluation system was needed because the feedback she's getting now is infrequent and unproductive. She said she gets evaluations and "feedback from my principal, typically one or two per year, that lead to a rating but not much actionable feedback that i can really improve my classroom with."

Her New Year's resolution, she said, is to be "more proactive" in seeking feedback from "my administrators, but also from my peers and my students." She said she would prefer to see a "a meaningful, multi-faceted evaluation system" in place citywide.

Olinka Crusoe, a third grade teacher in the Bronx, said she's a new teacher and is "trying to figure out" how to teach better.

"I'm not able to apply the feedback I'm getting from my current evaluation system because there is no dialogue going on." She said a new "meaningful and comprehensive evaluation system will help build learning environments and help build my confidence in the classroom."