the deets

Cuomo: Process to impose city's eval system would start in May


Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to have state education officials impose teacher evaluations on New York City would begin in just three months, he announced today in Albany.

Premiering a slate of budget amendments that he will formally propose on Thursday, Cuomo said he would ask legislators to approve an amendment that would allow the state education commissioner to select a plan well in advance of Sept. 1, the deadline for districts to have evaluation plans in place for the 2013-2014 school year.

“What this law will say is that the State Education Department must render a decision by June 1 for the September deadline,” Cuomo said.

In late May, the city and United Federation of Teachers would be asked to submit their proposals for what an evaluation system should look like, according to Lawrence Schwartz, Cuomo’s top aide. But all of the details would be fully up to State Education Commissioner John King, as long as they follow the state’s evaluation law, Cuomo said.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew signaled that he would not mind letting King have the final say on the evaluation system that is adopted in the city.

“We’ve seen the kinds of plans the state has approved. We are comfortable with them because they are about helping teachers help kids, which is something that we don’t often hear from the city,” Mulgrew said. “So while I would prefer to get to a negotiated settlement, with this in place I know a deal will get done.”

Under the proposed law, King would have “the same legal authority that any school district has in designing an evaluation system,” Cuomo said. That means he could impose a deal for just one year — as many districts across the state did this year and Mayor Bloomberg has refused to do — or for multiple years.

But a multiyear system system that King imposes could be superseded by a deal in the city, Cuomo said. “That’s the prerogative of the mayor — assuming mayoral control continues,” he said.

The law itself would be permanent, so that if New York City in any year in the future does not have an evaluation system in place, the state education commissioner could step in, Cuomo said.

In a joint statement, King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch indicated that they were not eager to receive new authority over teacher evaluations.

“Hopefully, Governor Cuomo’s leadership will push New York City and its bargaining units to reach an agreement,” King and Tisch said in a joint statement. “But if they can’t meet their responsibility, we stand ready to move forward to meet the parameters the governor has laid out.”

Advocates of new teacher evaluations championed Cuomo’s announcement. But they were also cautious, noting that exactly what King would impose is not yet clear.

“Obviously we await the details of the legislation, which are important, and the decisions that face the State Education Department will be critical,” Micah Lasher of StudentsFirstNY said in a statement. “But this is a big day for New York City’s kids, and New York State’s status as a leader on education reform.”

And Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of Educators 4 Excellence, which this week launched a television ad urging Cuomo to take quicker action, praised Cuomo for “taking the bull by the horns and getting something done” in a saga where stalemate has been the rule. But he urged Cuomo to restore the state aid he withheld from New York City when it failed to adopt new teacher evaluations last month.

“With a state plan now imminent, we are urging the governor to revisit the decision to rescind $250 million in aid to New York City students and teachers, who by no fault of their own will face the unfortunate consequences of the failure of their local leaders to get the job done,” Schleifer said.

Cuomo did not put that option on the table today. Schwartz said the objective in having King impose an evaluation system, in addition to helping teachers improve, would be to ensure that “the schoolkids in New York City won’t lose out on the additional $250 million next year.”

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.


Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.


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.”