NHPS Teachers Union Head Testifies Before Congress on Contract

New Haven teachers' union president testifies before congressional committee
Published: Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Courtesy of the New Haven Register
By Abbe Smith, Register Staff
NEW HAVEN — Teachers union President David Cicarella was one of four witnesses to testify in front of a congressional committee in Washington D.C. Wednesday about teacher effectiveness and evaluation.
Cicarella delivered testimony about New Haven’s success in getting teachers on board with school reform and the collaboration that went into creating the district’s teacher evaluation system. He appeared before the Committee on Education and the Workforce in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“In New Haven, teachers have no problem being held accountable,” Cicarella told the committee.

However, Cicarella explained evaluation must be based on a system created with input from teachers and rely on multiple factors. New Haven’s system has garnered national attention for the weight it attaches to student performance as measured by standardized test scores and other metrics and for establishing consequences, including the possibility of termination for poorly performing teachers.
Cicarella said teacher evaluation is an important component to professional development, and the new system for evaluating teachers “includes multiple measures of performance and real supports tied to professional development.”

In New Haven, teachers are rated on a scale of 1 to 5 on three components: student performance, classroom practice and teacher values. Teachers flagged as needing improvement midway through the year are given additional support. If there is no sign of improvement by the end of the year, those teachers will be subject to “immediate sanctions,” which could include termination. Anyone labeled as “needing improvement” will have three classroom observations by a third-party educator, a key component sought by the union to protect members.

U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., is the committee chairman but Cicarella said Rep. George Miller of California, ranking Democrat on the committee, reached out to the American Federation of Teachers about sending a representative. Other hearing speakers were Kevin Huffman, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education; Tom Boasberg, superintendent of Denver Public Schools; and Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3, introduced Cicarella at the hearing, calling him “instrumental” in helping to build consensus among teachers on a school reform package that includes innovative evaluation.

Use of standardized test scores to evaluate teachers has been a controversial matter across the country and typically runs into strong opposition from unions. New Haven is unique in that the teachers’ union is on board with major reforms that include use of stronger teacher evaluations.

In New Haven, six teachers were on the citywide committee that crafted the evaluation system. An additional 40 teachers in working groups helped to increase input.

Regarding use of test scores in evaluations, Cicarella stressed other measures also were used. He noted some teachers, such as art, music, first- and second-grade teachers, can’t be evaluated by CMT and CAPT scores because their students don’t take the tests.