forward march

Fans of tougher evals urge Cuomo to press forward anyway

After the collapse of teacher evaluation negotiations in New York City and across the state, education reform groups are asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to install a “shot clock” on future talks.

When the clock expires, a teacher evaluation system devised by the State Education Department would go into effect, according to the plan outlined in a letter signed by 13 reform organizations from across the state and country. The groups — which include Democrats for Education Reform and and StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee’s new lobbying outfit — argue both that more stringent evaluations are needed and that the state cannot afford to leave funding on the table during tough budget times.

The state’s teacher evaluation law, passed in 2010in order to secure Race to the Top funding, requires districts to adopt tougher evaluations when they renegotiate teachers contracts. But if they want to draw on several pools of federal funds, they have to finalize the new evaluations sooner. Dec. 31 was the deadline for one set of funds, School Improvement Grants. Another deadline, for Race to the Top funds, is coming on June 30.

Now the reform groups want the state to set another deadline — Aug. 31 — and they want it to apply to all districts, not just ones seeking federal funding. The groups are suggesting to Cuomo that districts that haven’t negotiated a plan by then would have to adopt a “default” plan and put it in place by the following year.

In some ways, the proposal is redolent of city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s request last week that State Education Commissioner John King help the city hammer out an evaluation system without the union’s help. But in this case, both the districts and the unions would be cut out of the process to devise new evaluations.

The proposal doesn’t outline what exactly the default plan would look like. But the lack of a default option makes New York’s evaluation negotiations more complicated than in some other states receiving Race to the Top funding, representatives of reform groups told GothamSchools last year.

Putting a default option in place would require an amendment to the state’s teacher evaluation law, according to SED officials.

The idea of a plan B on evaluations is likely to find a receptive audience in Cuomo, who is expected to propose education policy changes in his second “State of the State” address tomorrow. But the governor, who said last week that he was “disappointed” that districts had not been able to agree on teacher evaluations and urged them to return to the negotiating table, has had mixed results when trying to push specific education policies. In May 2011, the Board of Regents approved a policy change he sought, to make teacher evaluations depend even more heavily on state test scores than the law requires. That regulation was rolled back after a lawsuit by the state teachers union.

The full letter from the reform groups is below:

Dear Governor Cuomo:

We are gravely concerned about New York’s credibility when it comes to living up to our promise of providing every child in the state with an outstanding classroom teacher. As you are aware, labor and management from school districts in many parts of the state have so far failed to implement key provisions of the state’s Race to the Top laws. These laws passed with bi-partisan support in our state’s successful attempt to win $700 million in federal funds for public schools.

It has been widely documented that one of the reasons New York beat out so many other states in President Obama’s RTTT competition was the enthusiastic pledge by leaders of both education labor and management to work collaboratively to implement new teacher evaluations which would highlight the exceptional work done by effective classroom teachers.  See video of New York’s representatives promising to work together to implement the RTTT plan here.

Like other winning states, New York promised it would implement the reforms that came with the money. Nearly two years later, however, all that the students of New York’s public schools have to show for this grand bargain is foot-dragging and politicking by the same grownups who assured the federal government we were serious.

To avert a situation where New York is forced to return hundreds of millions of sorely-needed federal dollars, we urge you to consider introducing “shot clock” style measures to ensure that all school districts will fully implement the state’s new teacher evaluation framework in accordance with the Race to the Top timeline.

New York cannot afford to leave federal money on the table at a time when its schools are already facing budgetary hardships.  Federal education officials have made clear their intention to hold states accountable to their Race to the Top programs, as seen recently in the case of Hawaii.  Hawaii’s failure to secure a collective bargaining agreement with its teachers’ union contributed to it being placed on “high-risk status,” in danger of losing its grant and subject to extensive review and reporting requirements.

Aside from the fact that we believe that implementing these new, modernized teacher evaluation systems is the right thing to do, we are also mindful there are other federal funding streams which could be jeopardized by this high-profile impasse.  New York City, alone, has almost $60 million in federal School Improvement Grants at risk after its negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers around a pilot system for evaluating teacher performance broke down this past Friday.  It is also endangering tens of millions of dollars in federal Teacher Incentive Fund grants earmarked for its teachers, because it has not adopted a system which recognizes and highlights great teaching.

To ensure that the City and the state’s other districts fulfill New York’s promises to its schoolchildren, we request that you introduce a back-stop measure that requires districts to develop teacher evaluation plans by August 31, 2012.  Any district that has not successfully negotiated its own plan by that date will have to automatically carry out a “default” plan, to be created by the State Education Department.  Those districts would have one year (until August 31, 2013) to install and fully implement their default plan systems.

Governor, we thank you for your efforts to date to strengthen New York’s focus on educational  measures and accountability, most recently by introducing your School District Performance Improvement Awards program to incentivize districts to make innovative reforms that improve student performance.

Research studies have demonstrated, time and again, that the most impactful factor on the level of learning in a classroom is the quality of its teacher.  At this critical juncture when the state faces a key deadline in implementing a teacher evaluation framework that will impact its students for years to come, we ask that you step up again to ensure that the task gets accomplished.

Sincerely,

Buffalo ReformED: Press Contact:  Hannya Boulos – [email protected]716-783-3372
Civic Builders: Press Contact:  David Umansky – [email protected] – 212-571-7260
Democracy Builders: Press Contact:  Rev. Jamaal Nelson – [email protected] – 646-281-9164
Democrats for Education Reform: Press Contact:  Elizabeth Ling – [email protected] – 646-599-6123
Education Reform Now: Press Contact:  Myles Mendoza – [email protected] – 303-912-0267
Educators 4 Excellence: Press Contact:  Sydney Morris – [email protected]212-279-8510 ext. 10
National Council on Teacher Quality: Press Contact:  Sandi Jacobs – [email protected] – 202-393-0020
The New Teacher Project: Press Contact:  Andy Jacob – [email protected] – 347-987-0749
NYCAN: The New York Campaign for Achievement Now: Press Contact:  Christina Grant – [email protected] – 516-749-9462
Parent Power Project: Press Contact:  Carrie Remis – [email protected]585-350-8306
StudentsFirst: Press Contact:  Nancy Zuckerbrod – [email protected]301-204-9391
Students for Education Reform: Press Contact:  Alexis Morin – [email protected]774-258-0024
Turnaround for Children: Press Contact:  Pamela Cantor, MD – [email protected] – 646-786-6200

Newsroom

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 Spokane, 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.”

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.