The High Cost of Teacher Evaluations
by Anthony Stasi
Jun 04, 2013 | 1740 views | 0 0 comments | 216 216 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The city and state finally came to an understanding about teacher evaluations last week, although the real concern should be why this took so long.

The city lost a very important funding opportunity from the state to the tune of $250 million because of this delay. Mike Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, may have been defending his union, but the city lost a major amount of money because of this. Smart public policy would suggest that City Hall and the union make sure this never happens again.

As an enthusiast of how government can operate better, I track policies and procedures in other cities, none of which are as large as ours. In a smaller city, such as Portland, Maine, perhaps an impasse like this could cost some serious money, but doubtfully to the tune of $250 million.

When that kind of funding is at stake, politics should have to wait while schools get the benefits they need. Remember how irate New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was when his state lost valuable Race to the Top money over a bureaucratic snafu?

The agreement that state Education Commissioner John B. King engineered breaks the teacher evaluation process into three parts: student test scores, an evaluation from the individual school, and observational evaluations. The way it sounds, it could take a while to root out under-performing teachers, but the plan is said to speed up the process.

Some people wanted this plan to be temporary, which goes to show you how political this can get. Opponents of the evaluation process know that a new administration is likely to put up less of a fight than Bloomberg & Company.

Evaluating teacher performance is complicated because so much of it depends on variables, such as how involved parents are with their children. A lot of what matters is out of the teacher’s control. But there needs to be a sign that no person’s career is so safe that noticeable drop-offs in performance are tolerated.

In states where there are already new evaluation processes, most teachers score well above the average, so one would think there is nothing for teachers to really worry about. The important thing is to find a way to root out truly problematic educators in a timely fashion.

This could be an interesting issue for candidates running for mayor. Where would they stand on how teachers are evaluated if the new plan goes away through collective bargaining? What is each candidate’s plan to deal with the performances of teachers and students? Do they want mayoral control of the schools system?

It would be wise to drill down and get answers to these questions now rather than later.

The Homes for Heroes Act

Recently, Congressman Al Green (D-Texas) got behind a bill called the Homes for Heroes Act that would make it easier for low income veterans to get housing.

Structurally, this asks that the position of Special Assistant for Veterans Affairs be folded into the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The bill passed in the House by a 420-to-3 margin. This is a good bill, but another important element of housing veterans is giving them the financial muscle toward home ownership.

There is so much housing stock in foreclosure that enticing veterans to own would be beneficial. In cities like Detroit, where the population has dropped by about 200,000, there are too many properties sitting empty.

Veterans have the G.I Bill, which is one of the best things our government has ever achieved. Not all veterans use the G.I. Bill, however. There may be a way to allow veterans to use that benefit differently. If a veteran can go to college and earn an education for $80,000 (that is a conservative estimate), could we allow that to be waived for a $50,000 housing voucher?

This may virtually eliminate the tragedy of having veterans return from serving our country and live in poverty. College is not for everyone, but having a roof over your head is. Maybe a good bill like Homes for Heroes will have a follow-up that would focus on giving them even more.

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