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Hit-list has begun in New York for educators

Gotta Flunk Three
Union officials fearful of creating hit list

February 13, 2004

For the first time, city school superintendents and principals say they've been told to write up three underlings each as unsatisfactory - and they fear the Education Department is compiling a hit list.

The orders, described by union leaders, supervisors and principals as a way of making room for workers loyal to the chancellor, have been the buzz all week - at a teachers union delegate meeting, an administrators workshop and yesterday at the Chancellor's Parent Advisory Committee meeting, in which Chancellor Joel Klein responded to a parent's question by denying the reports.

Still, several educators said local instructional supervisors were ordered, starting in January, to give unsatisfactory ratings to three principals out of the 10 or 12 each oversees. Also, some school principals and assistant principals were told to identify bad teachers, in some cases three teachers in each subject.

"This is so transparent, it's disgusting," principals union president Jill Levy said, citing what she called a flurry of negative reports inserted in many principals' personnel files to buttress 'U' ratings.

Traditionally, Levy said, superintendents rate principals in November and April, giving the principals time to improve.

"Whoever is pulling the strings here believes anything from the past is bad, so you have to purge the system, and they're going to replace the system with people who are lockstep loyal to them," she said.

Teachers union head Randi Weingarten said she heard supervisors had to come up with a substantial number of bad ratings or "it's your neck, instead."

"I don't know what's going on here," said Weingarten, who confronted city officials yesterday during contract talks. Recently, she said, teachers have begun getting "bizarre letters" of complaint in their files, including one citing a Bronx elementary teacher for having dirty classroom rugs.

Department of Education officials asserted yesterday that there is no new harsh quota afoot.

"The chancellor's said many times that we're looking to create more of a performance-based culture," said Dan Weisberg, executive director of labor policy. "There was no order to find people or to rate people unsatisfactorily. Nobody should feel pressured to come up with 'U' ratings if they don't have people performing unsatisfactorily."

Many who oversee city schools said they have gotten a different message from the department.

"They said to me 'You have to. The chancellor wants it,'" said a local instructional supervisor who did not want to be named, citing concerns about possible reprisal. "I said if I have people who I had to rate 'unsatisfactory,' I would have no qualms, and those people would have known throughout the year that this was coming."

Educators said it appeared some kind of quota must be satisfied and that the rating system is inflexible, allowing only unsatisfactory or satisfactory.

An administrator who attended this week's workshop for administrators said, "Assistant principals had been told they needed to have unsatisfactory teachers. A few of them were saying they were uncomfortable because they didn't have any. There's a difference between a 'U' and teachers needing help."

Some principals and deputy superintendents said they had not received any such orders.

The debate is rooted in decades of frustration that chancellors have experienced in trying to kick out bad employees.

"I hope it's true," Lilly Lopez, a liaison for United Parent Associations of New York City, said of tougher employee evaluations. "I've seen children who are profoundly damaged by teachers and principals."

A local instructional supervisor said department officials are operating too furtively. "It was like so hush-hush," the supervisor said. "If you were in danger, you should know this is happening so you can have an opportunity to fix what's wrong."

— By Ellen Yan






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