ALBANY, N.Y. October 8, 2009 - New York State United Teachers, in a collaborative partnership with school districts and local teachers' unions in Albany, Hastings, Marlboro, Plattsburgh and Poughkeepsie, will create meaningful teacher evaluation systems that improve teacher effectiveness and increase student learning under a grant awarded today by the American Federation of Teachers' Innovation Fund.
The AFT Innovation Fund is the first union-initiated effort to provide funding to develop bold education innovations in public schools. It is supported by AFT funding and grants from, among others, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Carnegie Corporation of New York; Ford Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.
"This is a step in a new direction - teachers and their unions leading classroom reforms. This project is exciting because it underscores the importance of collaboration and teamwork in improving teaching, and calls on both administrators and local unions to take risks," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "We believe by creating partnerships aimed at improving teacher quality, those risks will pay off in more effective teaching that will help end the achievement gap and enable more students to reach world-class standards."
NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said the AFT Innovation grant will assist union-district teams in creating comprehensive teaching standards and evaluation systems in Albany, Plattsburgh, Marlboro, Hastings and Poughkeepsie. The program will be developed by local teachers' unions and administrators, developed around a simple principle: students learn better when their teachers are well-trained and supported by their colleagues and administrators.
Neira said NYSUT will use the first-year, $200,000 planning grant to assist school districts and its local unions to develop programs modeled after successful pilot Peer Assistance and Review programs already in place in several districts, including Hamburg and Kenmore in Western New York.
NYSUT will help to create programs that link three critical elements: high teaching standards, a comprehensive teacher evaluation system and professional development that targets individual teachers' needs. The program will help the five school districts make better decisions about who earns tenure; could lead to changes in teaching assignments and how teachers are prepared; and enable teachers to receive more effective professional training, Neira said.
Programs like the one NYSUT and its local teams will develop typically:
set high standards for measuring teacher effectiveness;
provide more effective, research-based professional development for teachers;
engage teachers as peer reviewers, often pairing probationary teachers with expert teachers who provide ongoing support through observation, modeling and shared instructional strategies;
provide educators with more meaningful feedback about their instructional practices; and
remove low-performing teachers from the profession.
"Students in participating school districts will not only benefit from better-trained teachers, but from the union-management collaboration and cooperation that must be present in order for this new evaluation system to work," Neira said. "Local communities and taxpayers will also benefit from what we strongly believe will be more support for beginning teachers that will keep the best teachers on the job."
Neira added, "This project has the potential to transform teacher evaluations in New York State. It recognizes that teacher evaluations should include administrators and teachers, working together with a shared responsibility to enhance classroom practice, raise student performance and identify those who are not measuring up even with repeated, quality individualized support."
The AFT Innovation Fund was created by AFT President Randi Weingarten, who launched the $2.8 million fund in April as a way to put both the AFT and some of the nation's largest foundations behind reforms designed by teachers and the unions who support them. More than 125 grant applications were submitted for the first round of funding.
"Many out there will be surprised to learn these proposals come from unions. Teachers and their unions are not afraid to take risks and share the responsibility for student success," Weingarten said. "They are teacher- and union-designed collaborative programs that have the potential to be sustainable and improve student outcomes. That's the real promise of these exciting initiatives."
NYSUT, the state's largest union, represents more than 600,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education and health care and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.