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Teachers at Top Brooklyn Schools Ask Parents to Help Save Their Jobs

By  Leslie Albrecht and Amy Zimmer | February 25, 2015 8:53am 

 Teachers say Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed evalution system could cost some educators their jobs.
Teachers Ask Parents for Help Fighting Cuomo's Proposed School Reforms
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PARK SLOPE — Teachers at some of Brownstone Brooklyn's top-performing schools say Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed teacher evaluation system could cost them their jobs, and they're asking parents to help them protest.

Teachers at Park Slope's P.S. 321 and P.S. 10 and Carroll Gardens' P.S. 58 and Brooklyn New School recently sent letters to families warning that longtime educators could be fired under the teacher evaluation system Cuomo wants to implement as part of a $1.1 billion funding increase for public schools.

“Teachers are feeling worried, scared, demoralized and that their profession is being attacked,” said P.S. 321 teacher Alex Messer. “In an attempt to weed out the bad apples, we’re going to wind up losing some of the best ones.”

Teachers are asking parents to email the governor, call their representatives in the state Assembly and sign an online letter to Cuomo. The online letter had received more than 5,500 signatures from people across the state as of Tuesday afternoon.

Cuomo's teacher evaluation proposal would give more weight to state exams scores, at a time when many parents have been raising concerns about high-stakes testing. The plan would also bring in "independent observers" who don't work at the school to assess teachers instead of letting principals do most of the evaluating, as is done now.

"So what might that do to P.S. 321? Realistically, many of us could be fired," teachers at the highly regarded elementary school warned parents in a letter they emailed Tuesday.

Even though many students at P.S. 321 perform well on standardized tests — the school ranked No. 9 citywide for its fourth-grade state English scores — teachers could still be given poor evaluations because Cuomo's proposed system would judge teachers on how much their students improve from year to year.

That means a teacher could get a poor evaluation if a student who earned a passing score in third grade gets one fewer question right in fourth grade, the letter warned.

The governor has said the existing evaluation system is flawed because too many teachers receive high ratings while their students and schools continue to struggle.

Under his plan, half of a teacher's rating would be based on test scores, up from 20 percent now, and 35 percent would be based on observations by outside "professionals." Principals' observations would account for just 15 percent of the grade, down from 60 percent currently.

Any teacher rated ineffective for two years in a row could be fired — and principals would have no say in the matter, schools said.

Cuomo's proposed state budget would cut funding for schools that don't adopt his teacher evaluation system.

The governor's press office did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña agrees with the teachers' concerns and told Albany lawmakers earlier this month that the governor's plan was "not a good idea."

At the Brooklyn New School, where 80 percent of families opted out of standardized tests last year, the increased focus on testing would mean "losing sight of the whole child," teachers wrote to parents.

"Would we still have time for a fourth grade musical, dance classes with BAX artists, the third grade China museum, the fourth grade Lenape museum, and the fifth grade Mayan museum?" the letter asked. "Would we still have time to devote to the social and emotional needs of our students?"

The state's focus on high-stakes testing has already hurt P.S. 321, said Messer, who's been teaching fourth grade at the school for six years.

“There are teachers who left the school because of feeling so demoralized by their score,” Messer said.

P.S. 321 mom Megan Devir, who has two third-graders and a first-grader at the school, said she is looking to take more aggressive action than just emailing the governor.

“I’m working on learning more about what else we can do because Cuomo hasn’t shown much interest in the voices of public school parents,” Devir said. “I don’t know that emails are going to change much.”

P.S. 321 and its outspoken principal, Liz Phillips, have long been leaders in the movement to end high-stakes testing.

“I’m really glad that [the teachers] reached out to families,” Devir said. “At our school, the teachers are incredibly valued and trusted.”

The education law, which is folded into the state budget, is expected to be voted on April 1. It could go into effect as soon as later that month. 

The city's Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.