new year's resolutions

Praising "consensus" report, Cuomo hints at education agenda

Embracing recommendations by a commission that he convened, Governor Cuomo yesterday offered a first glimpse of what his education agenda might look like when he rolls it out in his State of the State address next week.

His comments suggested that, unlike in previous years, in 2013 he will avoid taking a stand on some of the more divisive education issues, including teacher tenure and charter schools.

Cuomo formed the education reform commission last year as the engine to drive his promise to shake up the state’s school system, which, in his 2012 State of the State address, he painted as excessively expensive, under-performing, and driven by interest groups.

Exactly a year later, the commission’s first set of recommendations struck a less acerbic tone, endorsing policies that won the approval of a diverse set of groups — and a much more tepid reaction from the most aggressive reformers.

The headline recommendations included consolidating small school districts; strengthening teacher and principal preparation, including creating a bar-like exam for teachers; rewarding teachers for good performance, without clearly defining what that looks like; extending the school day and year; and creating community schools offering nonacademic services to low-income students.

“I think that, by and large, this was a consensus document,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, a member of the commission. Weingarten said she would have liked if the report focused more on state education funding, but added, “There’s no one who dissented from it.”

Although he stopped short of vowing to push for the policies suggested in the report — he said he’d make a final announcement in his State of the State address next Wednesday — Cuomo lavished the recommendations with praise. He singled out the report’s endorsements of consolidation, performance-based pay, and community schools.

He offered more measured support for the commission’s endorsement of full-day pre-kindergarten classes for low-income students and an extended school day and year, which he said might turn out to be too expensive to implement. “That’s something we’re going to have to weigh,” he said of the early education idea.

The positioning reflects a departure for Cuomo, who early on in his term aligned himself with education groups that advocated for aggressive reforms to the school system. Cuomo campaigned as an ardent supporter of charter schools and was twice named an “Ed Reformer of the Month” by Democrats for Education Reform after he advocated successfully for test scores to play a larger role in evaluations.

In Wednesday’s report, the words “charter schools” appeared only as footnotes, including one that noted that “some Commission members” wanted charter schools to be allowed to operate the pre-K programs, which state law currently prohibits.

The report also avoided making recommendations about tenure and teacher evaluations, two contentious issues. The only reference to tenure appears in a background section that calls the protection “frequently misunderstood” as a “job guarantee” and suggests tenure could be granted more effectively once stronger teacher evaluations are in place. Richard Parsons, the chairman of the commission, said the group would not weigh in on evaluations until it publishes a second report in the fall.

One reason for the absence of charter schools might be that the sector’s most contentious issues are no longer as pressing at the state level. Two of the charter school fights that Cuomo campaigned in support of — raising the cap and keeping SUNY as a charter authorizer — have been settled.

Most education groups from around the state, including the heads of both the city and state teachers unions, praised the report’s recommendations. Other education advocates, including professors Diane Ravitch and David Bloomfield, expressed dissent on recommendations to boost online learning. And Class Size Matters’ Leonie Haimson criticized the report’s absence of any mention of class size.

Two groups that have spent months advocating for stronger teacher evaluation systems in New York City — one of the nine districts out of 689 still without an evaluation deal just two weeks before a deadline threatens to withhold funding — sounded cautious notes. And the New York City Charter School Center declined to make a statement at all.

“It’s hard to look forward when we may soon take a giant step backward,” StudentsFirstNY spokeswoman Chandra Hayslett. “We need a deal on teacher evaluations in every school district by Jan. 17, and then all New Yorkers should focus on the broader agenda that the Commission has begun to explore.”

Educators 4 Excellence-New York Executive Director Jonathan Schleifer said he supported recommendations that focused on teacher preparation, but said it was “impossible to have a serious discussion about many of these recommendations” until evaluation systems were in place.

Cuomo was heavily involved in helping the two sides come to an agreement on one part of the deal last year. But he has stayed out of negotiations entirely this time around, though he said yesterday that since he wrote the law that ties state funding to an evaluation deal, his presence at the negotiating table is felt.

“The city and the union know very well that if they don’t have an agreement by the deadline, they will lose hundreds of millions of dollars from the state, and in many ways they will both fail,” said Cuomo. “They will have failed the students and the union will have failed the membership because you’ll have a significant loss.”

In statements yesterday, Geoffrey Canada, the commission member with the strongest ties to the reform camp, said the group had so far agreed to put “petty politics” aside. But he reminded Cuomo that it will surface again as the commission digs deeper into policy implementation.

“I won’t warn the governor, because that’s too strong, but there’s some politics contained in why we haven’t been able to move education forward,” said Canada, the CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, an organization that runs three charter schools.

Joe Williams, Executive Director of Democrats for Education Reform, called the recommendations a “solid first step” and also forecast a political battle ahead.

“Drilling down on the specifics of how to make it work is undoubtedly going to kick up quite a bit of political dust,” Williams said in a statement.

Weingarten said that she was heartened by Cuomo’s shift in rhetoric about education policy.

“This administration walked away from ideology,” Weingarten said today, “and towards the really pragmatic and constructive ideas presented by the commission. And hopefully he adopts many of them.”

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.