By Jason Zwara
It is welcome news that the Buffalo School District and the Buffalo Teachers Federation finally reached agreement on a new multifactor evaluation system, just before the state-appointed deadline. Had Buffalo failed to reach an agreement by Jan. 17, it would have lost out on nearly $34 million in additional state aid, prompting layoffs and devastating program cuts.
The significant delay in reaching an agreement has cost the district the opportunity to apply for nearly $5 million in grant funding by missing deadlines in the fall of 2012. With an agreement finally approved by the State Education Department, the district will secure $33.4 million in additional state aid and eligibility to apply for School Improvement Grants for low-performing schools, amounting to up to $17 million for the 2013-14 school year alone.
Throughout the debate over evaluations, the focus on funding has overshadowed the significance of an improved evaluation system: Parents and students will have meaningful data on teacher quality, and the district will have rigorous means of evaluating, and supporting, teachers.
The evaluation system, however, will have little impact if never implemented. Less than a year ago, Buffalo went through a nearly identical negotiation to reach an agreement on an evaluation system in six low-achieving schools in order to restore critical school improvement grant funding.
When the evaluation agreement impacting those schools was reached in June 2012 and the funding restored, it seemed to be the end of the story as far as the public was concerned. The district has yet to provide any update on whether the evaluations were conducted as required for the 2011-12 school year, nor has it published any information regarding the results.
Neither the public, nor the media, nor the State Education Department has demanded transparency or accountability from the district to provide followup information. All interested stakeholders seem satisfied knowing that an agreement was reached and the grant funding was restored, with little concern over whether the evaluation system fought over is being to put to work in order to improve teaching and learning in the district.
With the recent districtwide agreement approved, now is a vital time to demand accountability from the administration.
The public’s concern over the new evaluation system cannot stop with last week’s news of an agreement. This announcement is only the first step toward ensuring that every classroom in the district is taught by an effective teacher and every school led by an effective principal.
Jason Zwara is Buffalo research and policy analyst at ReformED.