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Looking beyond the charter cap

The lion’s share of the recent attention devoted to the state’s Race to the Top plan has focused on whether or not Albany should lift the cap on charter schools.

But some dispute that the charter cap deserves so much of the spotlight. The city and state teachers union, who oppose lifting the cap, argue that a state’s friendliness toward charter schools is worth relatively few points in the overall grant application. Others argue that there are other, more important elements of the plan that help make the state more competitive for the grants.

A prominent member of the second camp is Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. Tish does support raising the charter cap and told me last week she thought it vital that the state do so before the January 19 deadline, but she also argued that it’s not the most important thing.

“The charter piece is what I believe to be a very minor piece of this,” Tisch said.

So what else should we be talking about?

Tisch said the heart of New York’s application is the upgraded data system, new ways of training and certifying teachers and revised curriculum standards and tests.

But there are also other interesting parts of the plan that have received barely any attention.

Today, for example, I noticed that the state’s summary of the Race to the Top plan references a plan to cut down on the costs of the removal hearings for tenured teachers. The state education department pays for these hearings, and at the past couple of Regents meetings in Albany, state education department officials have noted that they don’t have enough money for them. (At the Regents meeting this week, officials noted they’re running low on funds.)

And so as part of their Race to the Top plan, the Regents are putting this on their legislative agenda:

Section 3020-a of Education Law requires the State Education Department to pay the expense of the tenured teacher hearings. These costs include the costs of hearing officers, stenographers, and panel members participating in the hearing process. These hearings often tend to be expensive and lengthy.

To streamline the 3020-a process, the Regents recommend:

  • Developing financial incentives to expeditiously resolve cases and reduce the State’s financial burden;
  • Addressing the issue of mutual disclosure to ensure that the process is efficient and fair; and
  • Eliminating the need for a full 3020-a process to excess a teacher who is not appropriately certified.

These recommendations would require legislative change, though the Regents don’t plan to push for amendments to state education law until the spring, according to their meeting notes. It’s worth noting that, while the Regents’ recommendations may not overlap, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is pushing his own set of recommendations for changing the process of hiring and firing teachers.

Notice anything of interest that deserves more attention? Here’s the state’s full summary of its Race to the Top proposals. Comment below or email us at tips@gothamschools.org.

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