race to the race to the top

New York State could have hope for elite $5 billion stimulus fund

The fact that New York prohibits the use of student test scores in teacher tenure decisions would seem to axe the state from the race for Race to the Top dollars. But there are growing suggestions that the state could take home a share after all.

Race to the Top is a special $5 billion federal stimulus fund meant to spur innovation in public schools. It is available only to states and districts that meet certain requirements. One of those requirements is that they allow teacher evaluations to be tied to student performance.

New York State’s tenure law, passed last year under pressure from teachers unions, says student test score data can’t be the sole determinant of whether a teacher gets tenure. But three top officials — teachers union president Randi Weingarten, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, and incoming State Education Commissioner David Steiner — are arguing that the law will not disqualify New York from the fund.

“It is our firm belief that the language of Race to the Top funding does not preclude New York,” Steiner said today. “New York has a law on the books that relates strictly to tenure.”

Weingarten noted that a second section of the same law explicitly requires teachers’ annual evaluations, which take place even after they receive tenure, to be based in part on how they use test score data to improve their instruction.

“The way in which teachers use data in their classroom instruction is specifically included in the definition of what confers tenure onto a classroom teacher,” she said. “How teachers use data is one of the criteria for getting tenure. Just not the data in and of itself.”

A spokesman for the federal Department of Education would not say whether or not the draft regulations would disqualify New York.

“Just in the same way that we’re not going to pre-judge who’s going to win, we’re not going to pre-judge who isn’t,” Justin Hamilton, a USDOE spokesman said.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has continued to emphasize the teacher evaluation requirement as a non-negotiable element of the Race to the Top requirements, saying that states that need time to change their laws can apply for a second round of funding. The make-or-break stipulation was personally approved by President Obama himself, Education Week reported.

The responsibility of determining whether a state meets the eligibility requirements will fall to its attorney general, who must sign off on the application, according to the draft regulations. 

Here’s the relevant section of the state education law, found in Section 3012-B: 

The regents shall, prescribe rules for the manner in which the process for evaluation of a candidate for tenure is to be conducted. Such rules shall include a combination of the following minimum standards: 

a. evaluation of the extent to which the teacher successfully utilized analysis of available student performance data and other relevant information when providing instruction but the teacher shall not be granted or denied tenure based on student performance data; 

The second half of clause a, beginning with the word “but,” is set to expire on July 1, 2010, two years after going into effect.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.