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

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”


What you should know about the White House’s proposal to merge the education department into a new agency

PHOTO: Gabriel Scarlett/The Denver Post

The White House is proposing the federal education department merge with the labor department to form the Department of Education and the Workforce, officials announced Thursday.

It’s an eye-catching plan, given how relatively rare changes to the Cabinet are and the current prominence of Betsy DeVos, the current head of the education department who has proven deeply unpopular with educators since her confirmation hearings last year. Education Week first reported the proposed merger on Wednesday.

Here’s what we know so far about what’s going on and why it matters.

The news

The Trump administration announced a big-picture government reorganization Thursday, and the education-labor merger is one part of that.

The new department will have four main sub-agencies: K-12; higher education and workforce development; enforcement; and research, evaluation and administration.

It comes after DeVos proposed acquiring programs from the labor department that have to do with educational programs for unemployed adult workers, reintegrating ex-prisoners, and “out-of-school” youth, according to the New York Times.

The two departments already work together on some adult education and vocational training programs, according to the the Wall Street Journal. In an interview with the Associated Press, director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney said that there are currently 40 different job training programs spread over 16 agencies. This merger would be one attempt to change that.

DeVos said she supports the plan.

“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools. I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality,” DeVos said in a statement.

The implications for K-12 education

Today, the department distributes K-12 education money and enforces civil rights laws. It’s small for a federal agency, at 3,900 employees. On a symbolic level, a merged department would be de-emphasizing education.

The existing set of offices overseeing K-12 education would move into the new agency, according to the document, which says those offices will be “improved” but not how.

The education department’s Office of Civil Rights will become a part of the new department’s “enforcement” sub-agency.

The plan doesn’t mention any cuts to the agency or its offices, though Secretary DeVos has proposed cuts in the past.

Why this might not happen

The proposal would require congressional approval, which will likely be a difficult battle. Past attempts to eliminate the Department of Education in the 1980s and 1990s didn’t gain any traction, and both lawmakers and unions have expressed skepticism toward the new plan.

Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate labor and education committee, quickly put out a statement criticizing the plan.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress have rejected President Trump’s proposals to drastically gut investments in education, health care, and workers — and he should expect the same result for this latest attempt to make government work worse for the people it serves,” she said