talking points

After accord, fault lines on where New York's teacher evaluations go from here

Albany’s deal to lower the stakes attached to Common Core tests for teachers on Thursday drew praise from both sides of the negotiating table—but for two very different reasons.

Federal and state education officials, who have resisted changes to New York’s new teacher evaluation system, framed the two-year deal as a small roadblock to reduce anxiety as the state moves toward tougher accountability measures. For state teachers union officials, it is a first step toward a bigger overhaul of the evaluation system that could reduce the use of student test scores even further.

The dueling motivations hint that the consensus among the teachers unions and the State Education Department that state test scores should play some role in teacher evaluations in New York is unraveling, and the union is planning to re-start the debate over whether test scores can help identify teacher quality.

“We must continue these discussions about fixing what’s not working,” New York State United Teachers  Vice President Andrew Pallotta said Thursday in a statement. “That has to include reducing over-testing and recognizing that a student is not a test score—and neither is a teacher.”

The legislative agreement, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign today, keeps Common Core-aligned state tests from being used to fire or deny tenure to teachers this year and next year. Teachers rated “ineffective” or “developing” will have their evaluations recalculated based on local tests and principal observations before their ratings can be used to fire them.

NYSUT suggested its next step will be to further reduce the role that state tests should play in a teacher’s evaluation. Teacher scores are based on a 100-point scale, with at least 20 points based on state tests (it will increase to 25 points next year). Another 20 points can be based on another set of tests that are locally decided.

Meanwhile, State Education Commissioner John King and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who both played pivotal roles in pushing New York’s evaluation system, said the deal would allow their reforms to move forward. They indirectly acknowledged that the delay lowers the issue’s political temperature without changing the structure of the system they negotiated.

It upholds “New York’s commitment to be leaders in education reform,” Duncan said.

Duncan’s statement comes just two days after the U.S. Department of Education suggested New York was dangerously close to breaking its Race to the Top promises, signaling that the threat was—as some observers predicted—meant as a bargaining chip for state lawmakers to use against the union, which sought more sweeping protections from poor evaluations.

King said he supported the deal because it would ease anxiety while “preserving a multiple measures evaluation system that includes student performance”—an about-face from his stance over the last year, when he repeatedly rebuffed calls to adjust the evaluation system to account for the state’s quick transition to Common Core-aligned tests.

The two-year agreement has left critics saying it didn’t go far enough or shouldn’t have happened at all. StudentsFirstNY and the Daily News editorial board both panned the deal as election-year pandering, and a loss that would set back the effort to be able to fire teachers for ineffectiveness.

But NYS Allies for Public Education, a coalition of 50 parent groups, has argued that New York’s testing policies and use of the Common Core standards need to be entirely overhauled. The group sent out a statement criticizing the deal for not doing more to address those issues.

For the next two years, the legislative agreement comes down clearly on the side of the union. It says that the scores from this year and next year’s grades 3-8 English and math state tests aren’t reliable enough to be used for negative consequences, though they will still be used for decisions about giving teachers bonuses and other types of pay raises. High school teachers will also still be evaluated based on student scores on Regents exams.

At a press conference on Thursday, Cuomo offered something to both sides of the debate. Test scores might not be reliable because of a “flawed” rollout of the Common Core learning standards, Cuomo said. But he insisted that the evaluation system was moving forward.

“People’s lives are being judged by this instrument,” Cuomo said, “so you want the instrument in the evaluation to be correct.”

Want the latest in New York City education news? Follow Chalkbeat on Facebook or @ChalkbeatNY on Twitter.

teacher prep

Tennessee’s mediocre teacher training programs prompt ‘interventions’ with university presidents

PHOTO: Austin Peay
Austin Peay State University in Clarksville is among four Tennessee schools that have undergone "interventions" with state officials over the quality of their teacher training programs.

Armed with sobering data about the performance of teacher training programs in Tennessee, state officials are holding meetings with top brass at universities where they say programs have grown out of touch with the needs of K-12 classrooms.

About 40 programs in Tennessee feed the state’s teacher pipeline with about 4,000 new teachers annually. The largest are based at colleges and universities.

But those same traditional programs generally aren’t attracting enough high-quality candidates or producing enough effective or diverse teachers. Not a single public university in Tennessee scored in the top fifth of teacher training programs under a state report card issued in 2016. And the outlook isn’t expected to improve much under the 2017 report card being released early next month, officials say.

“This data is sobering. It tells us that higher education must do better,” said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “I worry our higher education faculty in colleges of education get disconnected from what a K-12 classroom looks like.”

Krause outlined the challenges to state lawmakers during a presentation on Tuesday with Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Their first “intervention meetings” were with the presidents and education deans at four universities: Austin Peay, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee-Martin, and Tennessee Tech. Similar meetings are scheduled this spring with leadership of private colleges and universities across the state.

Krause described the first meetings as “very productive” — and illuminating. “In many cases, the presidents just didn’t know” about their programs’ shortcomings, he said.

Teacher quality is considered a driving factor in students’ success, making the quality of teacher preparation programs a front-burner issue in Tennessee.  A 2016 report said only a handful of the state’s programs are consistently preparing teachers to improve student achievement based on Tennessee’s TVAAS measure. The State Board’s new grading system also highlighted weaknesses based on racial diversity, candidates’ ACT scores, and whether they are producing teachers for high-need areas such as special education.

Reading instruction is another big challenge. In a state where only a third of students are considered proficient in reading, new teachers are arriving in classrooms ill-prepared to instruct students on Tennessee’s new reading standards. The state is working with higher education institutions so their faculty can take the same professional development on literacy that working teachers are taking.

But for the most part, the State Board has limited levers for improving the quality of teacher prep. The biggest hammer comes every seven years when each program undergoes a comprehensive review for licensure. (In 2014, the state raised its standards and revised its measures for effectiveness to include data such as placement, retention and employer satisfaction.)

Chancellor Keith Carver

Tennessee-Martin Chancellor Keith Carver said his school took its last state report card to heart. As a result of its overall score of 2 out of a possible 4, the university hired an assessment coordinator to help guide decisions based on data. “It’s a really good baseline for improving,” he said of the report card. “We’ve got some work to do in our diversity profile.”

Tennessee’s teacher candidates are overwhelmingly white and female. Of those who completed Tennessee’s programs in 2016, only 14 percent identified themselves as non-white, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population.

“Colleges of education will not stumble into diversity. There has to be a very intentional effort,” Krause said.

View the full presentation from Tuesday’s legislative hearing below.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede