albany or bust

Principals ramp up evaluations protest with a lobbying effort

Signing on to a petition wasn’t enough for some principals across the state who oppose the state’s impending teacher evaluation requirements.

The Long Island principals who launched a policy paper and signature drive against the teacher evaluation system last fall are ramping up their resistance with a lobbying effort. Bringing together colleagues from across the region, including from New York City, the principals plan to take out an ad in the Legislative Gazette, a small Albany publication, asking lawmakers to revise the framework that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed for new teacher and principal evaluations.

The framework that Cuomo proposed was set with the support of the state’s main teachers union, NYSUT, but it doesn’t become law until legislators sign off on it when they set the new budget. That must happen by the end of this month, and until then, legislators could conceivably make revisions.

The principals have broad concerns about the educational value of the evaluation requirements, but they are limiting their ask to three main changes. They want lawmakers to shield teachers’ evaluations from being subject to transparency laws; revise the scoring ranges so teachers whose students do not make academic progress are not automatically rated ineffective; and institute a pilot period before the new system goes statewide.

“This new evaluation system is untested, and needs a pilot time period to try it out, before it is rolled out to every school in the state,” said Nate Dudley, principal of New York City’s Harbor School, in a press release the group distributed today. “The inaccuracies in the recently released city data reports make any new system suspect.”

State officials are already thinking about how to protect teacher ratings from being released through Freedom of Information Law requests, the tool that news organizations used to obtain numerical ratings New York City calculated for some of its teachers. Those ratings were published last month to wide criticism, both about the value of releasing the information and about the validity of the scores, which were subject to wide margins of error and other issues.

Getting legislators to agree to a pilot period and changes to scoring ranges could be tougher to achieve, especially because going to battle with Cuomo over the issues would requiring potentially jeopardizing the entire state budget. Cuomo has placed districts under the gun to put new evaluations in place by the 2012-2013 school year. Plus, state education officials characterized adjustments in the scoring criteria to ensure that teachers whose students make no progress cannot get a passing grade as a major win in the negotiations that culminated in the new framework last month.

More generally, lawmakers are likely to be reluctant about expending political capital on pushing back against a plan that won union approval, particularly as they are taking a stand against a different Cuomo education budget item, a plan to make districts compete for $200 million in state funds.

Today, the group of principals will be meeting on Long Island to plan their campaign. The lobbying effort marks a new phase for their protest, which has gathered support from more than a third of principals across the state and about 10 percent of city principals.


Teachers in Millington and Knoxville just won the Oscar awards of education

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Millington English teacher Katherine Watkins reacts after learning that she is the recipient of a 2017 Milken Educator Award.

Two Tennessee teachers were surprised during school assemblies Thursday with a prestigious national teaching award, $25,000 checks, and a visit from the state’s education chief.

Katherine Watkins teaches high school English in Millington Municipal Schools in Shelby County. She serves as the English department chair and professional learning community coordinator at Millington Central High School. She is also a trained jazz pianist, published poet, and STEM teacher by summer.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Paula Franklin learns she is among the recipients.

Paula Franklin teaches Advanced Placement government at West High School in Knoxville. Since she took on the course, its enrollment has doubled, and 82 percent of her students pass with an average score that exceeds the national average.

The teachers are two of 45 educators being honored nationally with this year’s Milken Educator Awards from the Milken Family Foundation. The award includes a no-strings-attached check for $25,000.

“It is an honor to celebrate two exceptional Tennessee educators today on each end of the state,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who attended each assembly. “Paula Franklin and Katherine Watkins should be proud of the work they have done to build positive relationships with students and prepare them with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce.”

Foundation chairman Lowell Milken was present to present the awards, which have been given to thousands of teachers since 1987.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Students gather around Millington teacher Katherine Watkins as she receives a check as part of her Milken Educator Award.

The Milken awards process starts with recommendations from sources that the foundation won’t identify. Names are then reviewed by committees appointed by state departments of education, and their recommendations are vetted by the foundation, which picks the winners.

Last year, Chattanooga elementary school teacher Katie Baker was Tennessee’s sole winner.

In all, 66 Tennessee educators have been recognized by the Milken Foundation and received a total of $1.6 million since the program began in the state in 1992.

You can learn more about the Milken Educator Awards here.

Colorado Vote 2018

Polis campaign releases education plan, including new promise about teacher raises

Congressman Jared Polis meets with teachers, parents and students at the Academy of Urban Learning in Denver after announcing his gubernatorial campaign. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Congressman Jared Polis, one of several Democrats running for governor, released an education plan for the state Wednesday that includes new details on tackling teacher shortages and better preparing high school students for work.

The Boulder Democrat wants to help school districts build affordable housing for teachers, increase teacher pay and make sure that “100 percent of Colorado’s school districts are able to offer dual and concurrent enrollment programs through an associate’s degree or professional certification, and work to boost enrollment in them.”

The education plan includes the congressman’s initial campaign promise to deliver free and universal preschool and kindergarten.

“Part of my frustration is that politicians have been talking about preschool and kindergarten for decades,” Polis said in an interview with Chalkbeat. “It’s time to stop talking … and actually do it.”

Big questions remain, however, about how Colorado would pay for Polis’s plans.

Free universal preschool and kindergarten would cost hundreds of millions of tax dollars the state does not have. Polis has acknowledged that voters will need to approve a tax increase to secure the funding necessary — and voters rejected Colorado’s last big statewide ask to fund education initiatives.

His additional promises, especially providing schools with more money to pay teachers, only adds to the price tag for his education plan. The campaign did not release any projections of how much his teacher pay raise proposal would cost.

“If a teacher can’t afford to live in the community they work in, that is not going to be an attractive profession,” he said. “We need to do a better job in Colorado making sure teachers are rewarded for their hard work.”

Other components to Polis’s plan includes providing student loan relief for teachers who commit to serving in high-need and rural areas, increasing teacher training and building and renovating more.

Polis is the latest Democrat to roll out an education platform.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston released more details earlier this week about his campaign promise for tuition-free community college and job training.

Johnston’s campaign estimates that the initiative would cost about $47 million annually. The campaign provided specifics on how the state would pay for it: by combining existing federal grants and state scholarships, revenue from online sales tax, and state workforce development funding. Savings from volunteer hours put in by tuition recipients also are factored in.

Former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy released her education plan last month.

Like Polis, Kennedy is calling for teacher raises. She wants the state’s average salary to be closer to the national average. The former state treasurer also wants to expand preschool and job training for high school students. A key piece of Kennedy’s proposal to pay for her initiatives: reforming the state’s tax laws to generate more revenue.

Other Democrats running to replace Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, include Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and businessman Noel Ginsburg.

The Republican field to replace Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is also crowded. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced earlier this month that she’s running. Other leading Republican candidates include former Congressman Tom Tancredo, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, and businessmen Doug Robinson and Victor Mitchell. George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, dropped out of the race to instead run for attorney general.