looking for ideas

Cuomo seeks King’s ‘best advice’ on crafting aggressive education agenda

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Commissioner John King and Chancellor Merryl Tisch at this month's Board of Regents meeting. Elizabeth Berlin, right, will take over as interim commissioner at the end of the month.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is crafting an aggressive education agenda for his second term, and he’s asking outgoing Education Commissioner John King for his “best advice” about how to do it.

In a three-page letter to sent to King and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch on Thursday, Jim Malatras, an aide to the governor, writes that Cuomo plans to “pursue an aggressive legislative package to improve public education.” Malatras then asks them to offer their own ideas about a variety of education issues, including how to change teacher evaluations, what should be done about the state’s charter-school cap, and what to do about New York City’s absent teacher reserve pool.

“How is the current teacher evaluation system credible when only one percent of teachers are rated ineffective?” Malatras asks. “How would you address the problem of removing poor-performing educators when the current 3020-a process makes it virtually impossible to do so?”

The scope of Malatras’ letter suggests that Cuomo wants to get involved in a much broader set of education policy debates than ever before. It also puts pressure on Tisch and the education department to produce specific policy suggestions as a leadership vacuum is emerging there, with King preparing to leave for the federal education department at the end of the month.

Cuomo has been increasingly outspoken in his criticism of the current state of the education system — saying recently that the newest teacher evaluation results do not “reflect reality” — though he has never been shy about his disdain for what he has termed the “monopoly of the education bureaucracy.” He has also often expressed frustration over the Board of Regents, a 17-member volunteer board that appoints the commissioner and controls policy.

In his first term, Cuomo has occasionally subverted the state’s governance structure by diverting funds or threatening to pull aid from districts to support his priorities.

But Malatras indicates that even more issues are on the table in the months ahead. He wants to know if King and Tisch believe teachers should be required to spend more time in the classroom before being eligible for tenure, for example, and wades into the debate over why the city pays the salaries of thousands of excessed teachers.

The scrutiny of teacher-protection laws also suggests that Cuomo is ready to take up an issue that he avoided during his first term. Cuomo declined to back a legislative effort in 2011 to end the requirement that seniority be the sole factor in layoff decisions.

The letter also ratchets up pressure on Tisch as she oversees the search for a new education commissioner. It asks if there is a better way to select the Regents, whose members are currently appointed by the legislature, and if there should be more transparency around the commissioner-search process.

In response, Tisch said she looked forward to responding to Malatras’ letter. She has defended the Regents’ governance structure and the hiring process for the next commissioner in an interview last week.

“I leave the politics to the legislature and the governor,” Tisch told Chalkbeat last week. “We have our own sphere. I think we stick to it and we do a pretty good job.”

Tisch also said that a secret search for the commissioner is necessary because many candidates are afraid to jeopardize their current jobs by applying publicly.

One potential change not broached in the letter is increasing funding for low-income districts, whose students receive less state funding than districts with higher-income students do. Critics say Cuomo has ignored the issue in favor an agenda backed by political donors who want to undermine public education.

“This letter comes right out of the playbook of the hedge funders for whom education ‘reform’ has become a pet cause and who poured money into the Cuomo re-election campaign,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said.


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.