race to the race to the top

Bloomberg to Klein: Use student data in tenure decisions this year

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The city’s Department of Education will use student test scores in teacher tenure decisions this year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced this morning.

Speaking at the Center for American Progress, Bloomberg asked Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to follow a new interpretation of the state law that bans the use of student performance in tenure decisions. The law only applies to teachers hired after July 1, 2008, Bloomberg said. Teachers up for tenure this year, who were hired in 2007, are not subject to the rule, according to this interpretation, and so will be evaluated using their students’ test score progress as a factor.

The announcement came as the mayor called on Albany to enact a number of legislative changes, including mandating school districts to evaluate teachers with student performance data and eliminating the charter cap, that would make New York State more competitive in its Race to the Top application.

Much more to come; the full press release accompanying the mayor’s announcement, and the text of his comments this morning, are below the jump.


Mayor’s Proposals Could Net New York City More than $150 million of the $5 Billion Federal Program

Directs Chancellor to Start Using Student Performance Data Immediately to Help Make Teacher Tenure Decisions

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today urged New York State education officials and the State Legislature to implement seven specific measures that will enable New York State to compete effectively for hundreds of millions of dollars that are available through the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top education reform program. The new program will grant $5 billion to states that move to adopt high standards; develop strong data systems that measure student growth and provide feedback to teachers; recruit, develop, reward, and retain effective teachers and principals; and turn around low-achieving schools. The Mayor also announced that he has instructed City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein to begin using student performance data immediately to inform teacher tenure decisions. The Mayor delivered his remarks at an event hosted by the Washington-based Center for American Progress, where he appeared with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Education Trust President Kati Haycock.

The Mayor urged State education officials and the State Legislature to take the following steps, each of which would add points to the State’s Race to the Top application score card – and, therefore, millions of dollars to City and State coffers. The Mayor’s proposals, which together could net the City more than $150 million in badly-needed federal funds, are:

  • Mandate all school districts in New York State develop teacher evaluation systems that use student performance data as one of multiple sources of input.
  • Use State Education Department discretionary grants to attract and retain high-performing math, science, and special needs teachers in low-income schools.
  • End “last-in, first-out” rules requiring principals to layoff or excess the newest teachers, even if they are among the best teachers, and instead allow principals to make such decisions based on merit.
  • Streamline the process for removing bad teachers from the classroom and the payroll, ending the ‘Rubber Room’ as we know it.
  • Ratify the nationwide Common Core Standards as soon as possible and without material alteration.
  • Eliminate the charter school cap and provide facilities funding for charter schools.
  • Impose a one-year limit on the time teachers can remain in an “excess pool,” as was done in Chicago, saving $55 million annually and enabling the City to close and replace the lowest performing 10 percent of its schools.

The following are Mayor Bloomberg’s remarks as delivered at the Center for American Progress.

“Arne, thank you and good morning everyone. Great to see you, Kati thank you for coming. I’m joined by Dennis Walcott, our Deputy Mayor for Education, as well as Joel Klein, our great Chancellor. I’m sure everyone here is thinking about turkey and pumpkin pie, and that’s fine. Tonight I’ll be watching the balloons being blown up. You can watch it on television. It’s an incredible experience. I actually can’t imagine as much hot air in one place, although this is Washington, so perhaps.

“It’s always a pleasure to be in the nation’s capital, particularly since this is the only city whose basketball team is doing as badly as New York’s, so I feel right at home. I ride the subway every day, and the only time anybody has ever yelled at me was one time as I was getting off a big, hulking guy looked at me, glared at me, and screamed: ‘Fix the Knicks!’ There are some things even a mayor can’t do.

“Before President Obama took office earlier this year, Rahm Emanuel told us that we should – quote – ‘Never allow a serious crisis to go to waste.’

“And so the President is not only working to stabilize the financial markets and save the auto industry from immediate collapse; he focused on the long-term economic challenges, including the auto industry’s public sector equivalent, and that is our school system.

“If you think about it, both the auto industry and our school system were built for another era.  Both were very slow to adapt to changing times. And neither can compete in the 21st century without major structural reforms that place consumers at the center of their operations. In the case of our schools, the consumers are the children.  Not the politicians.  Not the labor unions.  And not the ideologues.  Schools exist to ensure that children learn – as much as possible, as well as possible.

“And for the first time, I will say, the federal government is telling states through its ‘Race to the Top’ program: Discard policies that impede learning and adopt policies that promote learning – or forfeit federal funding.

“As Arne had said a number of times, ‘A state can’t enter Race to the Top if it prohibits schools from using student achievement data to evaluate teachers and that’s why California just repealed its prohibition on doing so.’

“In New York, the State Legislature passed a law last year that actually tells principals: You can evaluate teachers on any criteria you want – just not on student achievement data. That’s like saying to hospitals: You can evaluate heart surgeons on any criteria you want – just not patient survival rates! You really can’t make this up!  Thankfully, the law in New York is set to expire this June – but that is not enough.

“We will urge the State not just to prohibit but to require all districts to create data-driven systems to comprehensively evaluate teachers and principals.  And we want New York City to lead the way. As it turns out our lawyers now tell us after a very close reading of New York’s law, the current law does not actually stop us from using student data to evaluate teachers who are up for tenure this particular school year, because the way it was written it covers only teachers hired after July 1st of 2008, and those are not up this year.

“So today, I’ve directed our schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, to ensure that principals actually use student achievement data to help evaluate teachers who are up for tenure this year. It is an aggressive policy, but our obligation is to take care of our kids. And we’ll also begin creating our own comprehensive evaluation system that includes classroom reviews and student achievement data.

“Now, we all know that great teaching is reflected in more than test scores – but we certainly should never dismiss quantitative data in favor of subjective opinions that fit a predetermined conclusion. That might make all of us feel good, but it really doesn’t help our children.

“Using data to help evaluate teachers and principals will get a state into the Race to the Top, but as Secretary Duncan has repeatedly said, unless states take other major steps, they’re not going to get very far off the starting line.

“And for New York City, that’s worrisome from a short-term budget perspective, because in this economic environment, we cannot afford to leave federal money on the table. And it’s even more worrisome from a long-term economic perspective.  Any state that sits out the Race to the Top will lose jobs and revenues just as surely as car companies that sat out the race to build affordable hybrids, not to mention shortchanging our kids on the education they need to compete in an increasingly global and technological world.

“Today, I just want to take a few minutes to walk you through six other steps that New York should take to compete in the Race to the Top – and the more steps we take, the more likely we think we’ll be able to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding that can only go to improve our system.

“The six steps fall into two broad categories: attracting and retaining more great teachers, and creating more great schools. And Mr. Secretary, I hope you hold all states accountable for submitting an application that achieves both. The time for excuses is over and this really is our nation’s future and it is in your hands. We will play our part, you can rest assured.

“The evaluation system that New York City is going to create will lay the foundation for each of the first three steps, including step one: paying higher salaries for higher-performing teachers and principals and for those with skills that are in the greatest demand.

“In New York City, over the last eight years we’ve raised teacher salaries by 43 percent, and veteran teachers in New York City now make more than $100,000 a year. I’ve always believed that if you want the best, you’ve got to pay for it and we really are improving the quality of teaching in New York City and the quality of those who are providing the service. We’ve also adopted, you should know, a bonus program – in partnership with our labor unions – that rewards teachers and principals in schools that meet their benchmarks.

“But sadly, like most places, New York City has difficulty attracting science and math teachers, because they have so many other career options that pay more.  And we’re also prohibited from paying the highest-performing teachers more money. This kind of lock-step pay scale is what you see in factory assembly lines – but teachers, we think, are professionals certified by the State!  And we need to pay based on skills, not just seniority – and we’ll start by demanding that our State Education Department changes the way it awards incentive pay.

“We want to see that money go to where it’s needed the most: to math, science, and special need teachers in low-income schools who receive high ratings on comprehensive evaluations. This would benefit students, schools, teachers, and our Race to the Top application – and rest assured, we will beat the drum among the public to make sure that this happens.

“The second reform that our new evaluation system would make possible – step number two – is ending a layoff policy called, ‘last-in, first out.’ Right now, as everybody knows, State law typically mandates that if layoffs have to be made, the newest teachers are the first to go – even if they are among the best teachers. The only thing worse than having to lay off teachers would be laying off great teachers instead of failing teachers. Remember who this system’s supposed to work for: the students, not its employees. With a transparent new evaluation system, principals will have the knowledge to make layoffs based on merit – but the ability to do so only if the State Legislature gives us the authority to do so, and so we will pressure them to get that authority.

“Third, our evaluation system will also give us the ability to identify the lowest-performing teachers, but it’s also a key criteria for Race to the Top funding. In New York City, removing bad teachers from the classroom is extremely difficult – and moving them off the payroll is even harder. When a teacher is removed from the classroom for multiple negative reviews, or for breaking the law, he or she can go to something known as the ‘rubber room.’ It is basically a suspension hall for teachers – with full pay. Believe it or not, we’re still paying teachers in New York City who have been in the rubber room for seven years – and counting.  Seven years!  This is the public’s money and this is the money that would otherwise go to pay those teachers who are helping our children. This is an absurd and outrageous abuse of tenure – and we’ve got to work with the State representatives to fix it.

“But let me be clear: We are not proposing an end to tenure. We are only proposing that our State Legislature streamline the process for removing failing teachers from classrooms and put an end to the ‘rubber rooms’ as we know it. Now, to ensure that students have more great teachers and more great schools, we are going to take a few more steps.

“Step number four in our list of six is the most important and that is raising standards. I believe that the federal government should require states to adopt a single national standard for all students and all subjects. But as Bill Bennett, one of Arne’s predecessors, once told me the reason we don’t have national testing is that conservatives hate anything with the word ‘national’ in it, and the liberals hate anything with the word ‘testing’ in it.

“Race to the Top very pragmatically skirts this ideological divide by incentivizing states to adopt a Common Core Standard – and I’m glad to say that New York State has signed up to be part of that. When the standards are completed next year, there will undoubtedly be pressure to water them down.  And so today, Chancellor Klein and I are sending a letter to our State Board of Regents urging it to ratify the standards, without material alterations.

“In New York City, we’ve built all of our reforms around raising standards and holding everyone accountable for results. That’s why our kids have made enormous progress on State exams, especially when compared to the rest of the state. The Chancellor of our Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, has been a great champion of raising standards, which account for 14 percent of a state’s Race to the Top application – and we’ll give her all the support we can to raise them as high as she can get done.

“The fifth step we’ve got to take is lifting restrictions on growth of charter schools. This fall, a Stanford University study showed that charter school students in Harlem have performed at nearly the same level as students in suburban Scarsdale – one of the wealthiest districts in the whole country. No wonder the waiting list for charter schools in New York City is upwards of 40,000 children.

“I’m committing to open 100 new charter schools over the next four years – but we do need the State Legislature to lift the cap, just as Illinois and Louisiana have recently done, because we’re about to hit it.

“Arne has said that states with any cap will lose points in the Race to the Top, and I think he’s absolutely right to do so. We’ll also urge the State Legislature to provide charter schools with funding for facilities, just as New York City is doing for other schools. Charter schools are public schools – people forget that – and all public school children deserve to share in the resources that the State has.  To not do so is an outrage, and if the State doesn’t get this done, I’ve directed Chancellor Klein to sue, and see if we can’t get it done in the courts.

“The sixth and final major step that Race to the Top challenges us to take is turning around our lowest-performing schools. Since 2003, we’ve closed 91 schools in New York City — and the new schools that have replaced them have graduation rates 15 points above the citywide average.

“Secretary Duncan has challenged states to turn around their lowest-performing 5 percent of schools.  Arne: We’ll see your 5 percent — and we’re going to double it. Our goal is to turn around the lowest performing 10 percent of city schools over the next four years — by closing them down, and bringing in new leadership, and holding everyone accountable for success.

“But — and this is important — the only way that we can achieve that goal is to reform something called the ‘Absent Teacher Reserve Pool.’ Right now, when we close a school, some teachers don’t get hired back on, and many find jobs elsewhere.  But — some teachers do get hired back on, and many find jobs elsewhere, but some don’t. Those teachers can go to a reserve pool — and stay on the payroll indefinitely. When you combine the reserve pool with the rubber room, it’s costing us more than $100 million a year of monies that don’t produce better education for our kids. We just can’t keep wasting that kind of money. And — as Arne can tell us — Chicago has a one-year limit for displaced teachers — and we’ll urge our State Legislature to adopt the same.

“Now all of the reforms that Secretary Duncan and I have talked about today share something in common: They make sense! They are not Democratic ideas or Republican ideas.  They are common sense ideas.  And the way you make progress in government is by combining common sense with political courage, which the Obama Administration is doing.

“The Race to the Top is challenging the education establishment in a way that I think has never happened before, and New York City is ready, willing, and able to help the charge. The year ahead will tell us a lot about whether we’re going to bring our schools into the 21st century, or whether our schools — and our students — are going to be left clinging to the 20th century, as more and more countries pass us by.

“The President and Secretary Duncan have set the bar high – and if they keep the bar high, and if they keep the bar high, we really can give our children more great teachers, and more great schools.

“They deserve it. Parents demand it — both here as well as in Korea.  And it’s up to us here to deliver it.  So thank you very much, and now you’re going to hear from Kati Haycock. She is the President of the Education Trust, and she is well worth listening to. Kati?”

pre-k for all

New York City will add dual language options in pre-K to attract parents and encourage diversity

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, back right, visits a Mandarin pre-K dual language program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver on the Lower East Side.

Education Department officials on Wednesday announced the addition of 33 dual language pre-K programs in the 2018-19 school year, more than doubling the bilingual opportunities available for New York City’s youngest learners.

The expansion continues an aggressive push under the current administration, which has added 150 new bilingual programs to date. Popular with parents — there were 2,900 applications for about 600 pre-K dual language seats last year — the programs can also be effective in boosting the performance of students who are learning English as a new language.

Another possible benefit: creating more diverse pre-K classrooms, which research has shown are starkly segregated in New York City.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the new programs reflect the city’s commitment to serving all students, even as a national debate rages over immigration reform.

“It’s important to understand that immigrants or people who speak a second language are an asset,” Fariña said. She called bilingual education “a gift that I think all schools should have.”

Included in the expansion are the city’s first dual language pre-K programs in Bengali and Russian, which will open in Jamaica, Queens, and the Upper West Side, Manhattan, respectively. The other additions will build on programs in Spanish, Mandarin and Italian. Every borough is represented in the expansion, with 11 new programs in Manhattan, nine in Brooklyn, six in Queens, five in the Bronx, and two on Staten Island.

In the dual-language model, students split their time between instruction in English and another language. At P.S. 20 Anna Silver, where the recent expansion was announced, pre-K students start the morning in English and transition to Mandarin after nap time. Experts say the model works best when the class includes an equal mix of students who are proficient in each language so they can learn from each other as well as the teacher, though it can often be difficult to strike that balance.

Officials and some advocates view dual-language programs as a tool for integration by drawing middle-class families eager to have their children speak two languages into neighborhood schools that they otherwise may not have considered. Research has shown that New York City’s pre-K classrooms tend to be more segregated than kindergarten. In one in six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of students are from a single racial or ethnic background. That’s compared with one in eight kindergarten classrooms, according to a 2016 report by The Century Foundation.

Sharon Stapel, a mother from Brooklyn, said she knew early on that she wanted her daughter to learn another language and strike relationships across cultures. So she travels to the Lower East Side with her four-year-old, Finch, to attend the Mandarin dual-language pre-K program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver. On Wednesday, the city announced it will add a Spanish dual language program at the school.

“We really see it as how you build community with your neighbors and your friends,” Stapel said. “It was also an opportunity for Finch to become involved and engage in the cultures and in the differences that she could see in the classrooms — and really celebrate that difference.”

Citywide, about 13 percent of students are learning English as a new language. That number does not include pre-K since the state does not have a way to identify students’ language status before kindergarten. However, based on census data, it is estimated that 30 percent of three- and four-year-olds in New York are English learners.

Dual-language programs can benefit students who are still learning English — more so than English-only instruction. Nationally and in New York City, students who are learning English are less likely to pass standardized tests and graduate from high school. In one study, students who enrolled in dual-language courses in kindergarten gained the equivalent of one year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared with their peers who received English-only instruction.

The city has been under pressure to improve outcomes for English learners. Under the previous administration, New York City was placed on a state “corrective action plan” that required the education department to open 125 new bilingual programs by 2013. Though the city fell short of that goal, the current administration has agreed to place every English learner in a bilingual program by the 2018-19 school year.

Among the greatest barriers to achieving that is finding qualified teachers, Fariña said. In some cases, it can be hard to find teachers who are fluent in the target language. In others, teachers who are native in a foreign language may only be certified in their home country, and it can be hard to transfer that certification to New York.

In order to open an Urdu program recently, Fariña said, the teacher, who holds a degree from another country, went through Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program that usually caters to career-changers or recent college grads.

“I think the biggest challenge we have right now is ensuring our teacher preparation courses are keeping up with our need and demand for teachers who can teach another language,” she said.

college plans

As Washington decides their fate, ‘Dreamers’ preparing for college are stuck in limbo

PHOTO: Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Randi Smith, a psychology teacher at Metro State University, marched to support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during a citywide walkout in downtown Denver, CO.

While many high schoolers spend spring of their senior year coasting through classes and waiting to hear back from colleges, undocumented students who hope to attend college spend their time calling lawyers, consulting school counselors, and scouring the internet in search of ways to pay for school without the help of federal financial aid or student loans — assuming they even get in.

That process, anxiety-provoking even in a normal year, has become incalculably more chaotic this admissions season — even traumatic — as these young undocumented immigrants watch President Trump and lawmakers wrangle over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that has until now allowed them to remain in the country without having to fear deportation.

As the policy battle nears a climax, these students aren’t just breathlessly waiting to learn whether they’ll be accepted into college — they’re waiting to see whether they have a future in this country.

“It’s different for me. It’s definitely more stressful and there are times when you want to give up,” said an undocumented student at KIPP NYC College Prep High School, who is graduating this year and applying to colleges. She requested anonymity because of her legal status. “But then I remind myself that regardless of what’s going on, I’m still going to do what I’ve set myself to do.”

High school counselors are also feeling the strain. They already faced the difficult task of helping undocumented students compete for private scholarships, and finding schools that will support those students once they’re on campus. Now those counselors also must monitor each twist and turn of the immigration debate in Washington, while, somehow, trying to keep their undocumented students focused on college.

One of those counselors is John Kearney, who works at Guadalupe Centers Alta Vista High School, a charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. Dozens of his soon-to-graduate students are beneficiaries of DACA, a program created under former President Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to avoid deportation and work here legally. Lately, they have been asking him why they should even consider college when their fate in the U.S. is so uncertain.

“The big question is, ‘Why? Why go to college, and then I can’t even work, then why?’” said Kearney, who also helped start a nonprofit that provides scholarships to undocumented students. “It’s a really tough question.”

As of Friday, President Trump and lawmakers were still locked in heated negotiations over DACA, which Trump said this fall that he would eliminate unless Congress enshrined it in law. Without an agreement, it is set to expire March 5, just as graduating seniors firm up their college plans. If that happens, young immigrants, often called Dreamers, could lose the few crucial protections they have. For many, their DACA status has already lapsed.

Even with DACA’s protections, Dreamers face massive hurdles to enroll in college: They don’t qualify for federal aid or loans, and, in some states, are barred from receiving financial aid or even attending public universities. Out of the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year, only 5-10 percent enroll in college.

Following Trump’s announcement in September, counselors have also had to race against the clock counting down to DACA’s expiration: That meant juggling college application deadlines with the October cutoff for students to apply for renewed DACA status.

The KIPP charter school network received a donation this year to help students pay for the renewal fee, which has been a godsend for many students — including the young woman who is graduating from KIPP NYC College Prep High School.

As soon as she learned the school would pay the fee for her, she immediately called her father, who is also undocumented and repairs beauty-salon equipment for a living.

“My dad was definitely trying to round up the money before the deadline, so it was a blessing that the school was able to find a donor,” she said. “I told him not to worry about it and it was a relief — like a weight off his shoulders.”

If the girl was trying to relieve her father’s stress, her college counselor, Rob Santos, was trying to do the same for her. Even as she balanced college-application essays, transcripts, and the rest, she was also coming to realize how quickly her life would change if DACA is not extended.

“There was definitely extra emotional support that I’ve had to provide this year,” Santos said. “I definitely had my DACA student in my office, and tears were happening.”

Santos keeps a running list of the colleges that accept students who don’t have permanent legal status and the few scholarships available to them. Many of those scholarships require undocumented students to have DACA status. If the program ends, it’s unclear whether students will still be eligible.

Still, Santos said his dreamer student rarely talks about the political furor surrounding her future in the U.S. as she awaits her college-acceptance letter. Instead, she’s more likely to discuss her hope of one day studying business and fashion.

“Our DACA students are resilient. They’re optimistic,” Santos said. “But they’re also realistic for what could actually happen.”