race to the race to the top

Hoyt's education reform bill reaches far beyond charter cap

Much of the attention paid to Assemblyman Sam Hoyt’s proposed changes to state education law has focused on its immediate repeal of the charter school cap. But the legislation, introduced in both houses of the state legislature yesterday, seeks much broader changes.

Hoyt told GothamSchools that his proposed law is a kind of “kitchen-sink bill” intended to bring state law into line with the proposed federal Race to the Top regulations.

“I introduced the bill to get the discussion started about the need to change the paradigm in the state of New York and the need to compete on a national scale,” he said.

He said that he aimed high to make it likely that a powerful law could emerge from the legislative negotiation process.

In addition to removing the charter cap, Hoyt’s bill would allow student test scores to be factored into teacher evaluations, increase the number of years before a teacher can earn tenure, and let state funds be used to pay for charter school facilities. (The full list of proposed changes is at the end of this post.)

State Senator Jeffrey Klein, a long-time supporter of charter schools who signed on this week as Senate sponsor of the bill, said he believed all of the various changes were valuable as a package. “I certainly went into this with my eyes wide open,” he said. “I think everything here will enhance our education system.”

Conflict over some of the proposals may be inevitable. The ban on linking student data to teacher tenure decisions, for example, was inserted into the state budget in the spring of 2008 as a response to protests from the city’s teachers union over moves to evaluate teachers using student test scores.

But Klein expressed confidence that the proposals would garner support from across the political spectrum. “I have the utmost respect for teachers and for unions,” he said. “At the same time, I think this legislation is pro-student and not anti-teacher.”

Klein said that the state legislature was unlikely to address the bill during next month’s special session and will wait instead until it reconvenes in January. But both he and Hoyt emphasized that the competition for federal Race to the Top funds gives the legislation urgency.

Last week, Gov. David Paterson said that he did not plan to push for the elimination of the state’s charter school cap, saying that New York state is eligible for the funds without any legislative changes.

“I respectfully disagree with him,” said Hoyt, adding that the state needed to go beyond being merely eligible and instead should be on the forefront of enacting the reforms currently being pushed by the Obama administration.

“We should be in a position to get that money, and all of it,” Klein said. “Why would we gamble with not being as competitive as we can be?”

Hoyt and Klein’s bill would cause the following changes in state education law:

  • Remove the ban on using student test data as a factor in teacher tenure decisions.
  • Extend the length of the school year by a month, starting next school year.
  • Increase the number of years a teacher may be considered for tenure from three to six.
  • Require that teachers have at least a bachelor’s degree in the subject area they teach, and also to pass the subject’s Regents exam.
  • Require the Board of Regents to set state exam proficiency standards at levels analogous to federal NAEP standards.
  • Require the education department to develop a state-wide letter grade system for evaluating schools.
  • Allow charter schools to give admissions preference not just to students residing in the same district as the school, but also to students in neighboring districts.
  • Provide funding to help charter schools pay for facilities and allow charters to teach students of the same grade at different sites.
  • Allow charter schools to run pre-kindergarten programs.
  • Expand routes to alternative certification for teachers.
  • And require the commission of education to publish comprehensive data sets on the results of state tests before the start of the next school year.

Education Reform Act

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.