doubling down

Cuomo flip-flops on evaluation ‘safety net’ as he criticizes city’s results

Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested Wednesday that he will not hold up his end of a much-touted bargain with the state teachers union to keep the use of student test scores from dragging down some teacher ratings.

In June, Cuomo agreed to protect English and math teachers in grades 3-8 from being negatively affected by Common Core-aligned test scores for two years. Only a small fraction of teachers would have qualified for the adjustments, but the governor said at the time he was concerned that any ratings based on the new tests might not be reliable enough to use to fire or deny tenure to teachers.

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

But Cuomo never signed the “safety net” legislation, and districts have proceeded without making any changes. On Wednesday, as he criticized the low percentages of teachers who earned low ratings under the evaluation systems, Cuomo suggested publicly for the first time that he didn’t have any plans to sign that bill.

“I don’t know that those changes would make a significant difference to this data,” Cuomo said at a press conference in Albany.

The comments earned a swift rebuke from the New York State United Teachers, for which the deal was a victory after a years-long campaign to delay tying high-stakes for teachers to Common Core-aligned tests.

“This is the governor’s own bill,” NYSUT said in a statement. “He proposed it and it was negotiated in good faith.”

The safety net would have essentially offered a second chance to teachers who received an “ineffective” or “developing” rating on account of the state tests. It would replace the test-score component with other measures, such as observations, when the rating was used for personnel decisions like termination or creating improvement plans.

Cuomo’s comments came one day after the state education department released new teacher-evaluation data that showed far fewer teachers received the top “highly effective” rating in the city than did across the state. State education officials touted the city’s results as more accurate than the results from other districts, where — in some cases — much higher percentages of teachers earned the very highest or lowest rating.

But Cuomo made it clear that the city’s results still did not impress him.

He focused on the relatively few teachers who earned the lowest ratings in the 2013-14 school year, calling out New York City in particular, where 7 percent earned a “developing” rating and 1.2 percent earned an “ineffective” rating. (Just 2.4 percent of teachers in the rest of the state earned one of those low ratings.)

“It is incredible to believe that is an accurate reflection of the state of education in New York,” Cuomo said. “I think everybody knows it doesn’t reflect reality,” he added.

Cuomo did not say what he would consider a more realistic distribution of the four ratings, though he said his vision is to “reward the high performers and give the low performers the help they need.” His comments were the latest indication that he will mount an aggressive charge to change the teacher evaluation law for a fourth consecutive year, this time to make it more difficult for districts to ensure teachers earn top ratings.

The state only determines 20 percent of a teacher’s final rating, leading to a patchwork of plans across the state’s roughly 700 school districts. Cuomo said the current law gave a “disproportionate amount of power” to teachers unions, whose approval is required on all district plans.

In New York City, the union and the Bloomberg administration were unable to negotiate an evaluation system on time in 2013. King stepped in to settle the city-union disagreements, and the resulting plan, implemented a year later than the rest of the state, featured a system that prevented the scoring inflation that led to so many teachers with high ratings elsewhere.

Responding to Cuomo’s remarks, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew defended the city’s system as one that other districts should learn from. Rather than overhauling the law again, Mulgrew said, districts should be given a chance to fix the problems themselves.

“I’m hoping the results from today will alleviate a lot of fears out there,” Mulgrew said Tuesday.

Mulgrew said more than 6,000 teachers rated ineffective or developing are currently following improvement plans, in which teachers and principals establish goals to improve weaknesses cited in their evaluations.

“If the idea of teacher evaluations was first and foremost to help people improve, we’re doing that,” Mulgrew said. Of Cuomo, he added, “How many more teachers on improvement plans would make him happy?”

student teaching

Building a teacher pipeline: How one Aurora school has become a training ground for aspiring teachers

Paraprofessional Sonia Guzman, a student of a teaching program, works with students at Elkhart Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Students at Aurora’s Elkhart Elementary School are getting assistance from three aspiring teachers helping out in classrooms this year, part of a new partnership aimed at building a bigger and more diverse teacher pipeline.

The teachers-to-be, students at the University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education, get training and a paid job while they’re in college. Elkhart principal Ron Schumacher gets paraprofessionals with long-term goals and a possibility that they’ll be better prepared to be Aurora teachers.

For Schumacher, it’s part of a plan to not only help his school, but also others in Aurora Public Schools increase teacher retention.

“Because of the nature of our school demographics, it’s a coin flip with a new teacher,” Schumacher said. “If I lose 50 percent of my teachers over time, I’m being highly inefficient. If these ladies know what they’re getting into and I can have them prepared to be a more effective first-year teacher, there’s more likelihood that I’ll keep them in my school in the long term.”

Elkhart has about 590 students enrolled this year. According to state data from last year, more than 95 percent of the students who attend the school qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. The school, which operates with an International Baccalaureate program, has outperformed the district average on some state tests.

The three paraprofessionals hired by the school this year are part of the teaching program at UNC’s Lowry campus, which has long required students to work in a school for the four years they work on their degree.

Students get paid for their work in schools, allowing them to earn some money while going to college. Students from the program had worked in Aurora schools in the past, but not usually three students at once at the same school, and not as part of a formal partnership.

The teaching program has a high number of students of color and first-generation college students, which Rosanne Fulton, the program director, said is another draw for partnering with schools in the metro area.

Schumacher said every principal and education leader has the responsibility to help expose students to more teachers who can relate to them.

One of this year’s paraprofessionals is Andy Washington, an 18-year-old who attended Elkhart for a few years when she was a child.

“Getting to know the kids on a personal level, I thought I was going to be scared, but they’re cool,” Washington said.

Another paraprofessional, 20-year-old Sonia Guzman, said kids are opening up to them.

“They ask you what college is like,” Guzman said.

Schumacher said there are challenges to hiring the students, including figuring out how to make use of the students during the morning or early afternoon while being able to release them before school is done for the day so they can make it to their college classes.

Schumacher said he and his district director are working to figure out the best ways to work around those problems so they can share lessons learned with other Aurora principals.

“We’re using some people differently and tapping into volunteers a little differently, but if it’s a priority for you, there are ways of accommodating their schedules,” he said.

At Elkhart, full-time interventionists work with students in kindergarten through third grade who need extra help learning to read.

But the school doesn’t have the budget to hire the same professionals to work with older students. The three student paraprofessionals are helping bridge that gap, learning from the interventionists so they can work with fourth and fifth grade students.

Recently, the three started getting groups of students that they pull out during class to give them extra work on reading skills.

One exercise they worked on with fourth grade students recently was helping them identify if words had an “oi” or “oy” spelling based on their sounds. Students sounded out their syllables and used flashcards to group similar words.

Districts across the country have looked at similar approaches to help attract and prepare teachers for their own schools. In Denver, bond money voters approved last year is helping pay to expand a program this year where paraprofessionals can apply for a one-year program to become teachers while they continue working.

In the partnership at Elkhart, students paraprofessionals take longer than that, but in their first and second year are already learning how to write lessons during their afternoon classes and then working with teachers at the school to deliver the lessons and then reflect on how well they worked. Students say the model helps them feel supported.

“It’s really helping me to become more confident,” said Stephanie Richards, 26, the third paraprofessional. “I know I’m a lot more prepared.”

Schumacher said the model could also work in the future with students from other teaching schools or programs. It’s a small but important part, he said, toward helping larger efforts to attract and retain teachers, and also diversify the ranks.

“You’re doing something for the next generation of folks coming in,” he said.

surprise!

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.