Sticks, carrots, and familiar policies in state's NCLB waiver plan

New York will get new terms for high- and low-performing schools — and new ways to define good and bad performance — under a proposed accountability plan designed to replace the requirements of No Child Left Behind.

The proposal, which was released in draft form late today and will be discussed by the Board of Regents on Monday, is the result of two months of planning in response to the Obama administration’s offer to waive some of the decade-old federal law’s requirements, including one that requires full proficiency by 2014. In exchange, states must to commit to prioritizing college readiness, setting guidelines for teacher and principal evaluations, and holding schools and districts accountable for their students’ performance on state tests.

Under the proposal, the bulk of the state’s testing program would remain unchanged. But elementary and middle school students would take science tests; the bar to be considered proficient on high school exams would be raised; and proficiency would be calculated not just by whether students met certain benchmarks, but by how much they improved.

Schools that fall short would not get extra funding to pay for tutoring services, an arrangement that has shown mixed results. Instead, they would get extra money to carry out more of the initiatives that the Regents themselves have endorsed, such as improving teacher training and revising curriculum standards.

Five percent of low-scoring schools would become Priority Schools and have to undergo federally mandated school overhaul approaches. Another 10 percent would become Focus Schools, and their districts would have to develop plans to improve them.

For the first time, school districts will be evaluated with the same scrutiny as schools were under NCLB.

“Since district policies often contribute to why schools have low performance for specific groups of students,” the proposal says, “districts must play a lead role in helping schools to address this issue.”

New York City, a district certain to house many Focus and Priority schools, will not be evaluated as one entire district, according to a provision. Instead, each of the city’s 32 districts would be evaluated based on state test scores for its schools.  

The distinction was a point of debate at last month’s meeting and could be a bureaucratic headache for the Department of Education, which has spent years restructuring its school system in a way that has detached accountability from geography-based districts and the superintendents that run them.

In another first, top-performing schools would be named Reward Schools and given the chance for $100,000 state grants.

In many ways, the new accountability measures that the state is suggesting are not surprising. An advisory “think tank” that helped formulate the plan was circumscribed both by the Obama administration’s stringent guidelines and by the State Education Department’s own policy agenda. Commissioner John King emphasized from the start that he, not the think tank, would make the final determination about what would be proposed.

The broad alignment between the Obama administration’s education priorities and the state’s has made New York seem like a strong contender for a waiver. But recent setbacks in implementing new teacher evaluations, required to receive an NCLB waiver, could hurt the state’s chances.

NYSUT, the statewide union that sued to stop the state from increasing the weight of test scores in teacher evaluations, is planning a protest to coincide with the Regents meeting on Monday. The group says a coalition of union leaders, board members and superintendents from the 10 school districts that didn’t fully adopt new teacher evaluations last week will join to protest King’s decision to cut off their federal School Improvement Grants. New York City is one of the districts that lost out on the money, but district officials will not be a part of it.

The state is asking the Regents to approve the plan next week to enable 10 days of public comment in late January before finalizing the waiver application, which is due in mid-February.

The full proposal, which includes a before-and-after chart summarizing the changes, is below.


Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.