Future of Teaching

Here are all of the policy changes proposed in Tisch and Berlin’s response to Cuomo

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.

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and soon-to-be acting Education Commissioner Elizabeth Berlin offered a host of proposals that would dramatically change education policy in New York state in a 20-page letter released Wednesday.

The letter, a response to a series of pointed questions from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, is the first comprehensive look at the changes that the Board of Regents and State Education Department are willing to throw their support behind as Cuomo continues to push for aggressive changes to the way teachers are hired, fired, and evaluated.

While some of the changes were in direct response to issues raised by Cuomo’s office, others were unsolicited. The letter includes proposals around school funding, improving school integration and passing the DREAM Act.

The complete letter is below. We’ll be sorting through it today — but first, here are all of Tisch and Berlin’s suggested policy changes.

Teacher evaluation

  • Change the law so that state-determined test scores count for 40 percent of evaluations, instead of 20 percent.
  • Establish standardized “scoring ranges” for principal observations, instead of allowing local districts to determine those scoring ranges.
  • Make it easier to remove teachers who receive two consecutive “ineffective” ratings.

Removal of poorly performing teachers

  • Replace the independent hearing officers who oversee the termination process for teachers and principals with state employees.
  • Bar students from being assigned two teachers in a row with ineffective ratings. That policy has been proposed or adopted in other states, including Rhode Island, Indiana, and Florida.

Teacher training and certification

  • Establish year-long internships in schools and a statewide teacher residency program modeled on a New York pilot program created with Race to the Top funds.

Incentives for high‐performing teachers

  • Use $20 million apportioned to Cuomo’s Teacher Excellence Fund in last year’s budget to fund existing programs that compensate teachers for taking on leadership roles.
  • Increase total funding for teacher leadership programs in next year’s budget by as much as $80 million.

Probationary periods

  • Require teachers to work in a classroom for five years before being eligible for tenure.
  • Change the law to explicitly state that non-tenured teachers can be fired at will, regardless of their evaluation ratings. State education officials have already made some changes to reassure district officials who say the law is too vague on this issue.

Struggling schools

  • Allow the State Education Department to more forcefully intervene in “chronically underperforming districts” like Buffalo. Tisch and Berlin ask Cuomo to support an existing bill that would put districts on oversight plans.
  • Implement an intervention model used in Massachusetts that appoints receivers for struggling schools or districts and authorizing them to “take numerous aggressive actions.”

Charter schools

  • Eliminate the regional distinctions under the current cap or raise the cap on charter schools in New York City.
  • Make it easier to close charter schools that do not improve student performance to close, and change the law so that any closed charter schools are not counted toward the cap.

Mayoral control

  • Renew mayoral control in New York City.

Regionalization

  • Consolidate high schools in districts with declining student enrollment.
  • Encourage school districts to merge programs and services by boosting the funding formulas that help minimize the effects of changes in tax rates that can result from reorganizations.

Selection process for the Board of Regents

  • Do not change the selection and appointment process for Regents.

Selection process for the education commissioner

  • Do not change the selection process for the commissioner.

School funding

  • Adopt the Regents’ state aid proposal released earlier this month, which calls for an increase of $2 billion and targeted at the highest-need districts, as well as those hit hardest by the 2007-2009 economic recession.
  • The extra $2 billion would set aside $86 million for districts to improve their services for English language learners and $251 million more for the state’s universal pre-K program.
  • Boost funding for districts offering Career and Technical Education programs.

Socioeconomic diversity

  • Expand programs like the Rochester Urban-Suburban program designed to increase socioeconomic integration.
  • Require districts to establish enrollment policies meant to increase socioeconomic integration.

DREAMers Act

  • Pass the DREAMers Act, which would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities and to qualify for state financial aid.

Who Is In Charge

CPS to enforce nine training sessions for local school council members

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Local school council members at a training session on Tuesday

In a classroom at Bogan High School Tuesday, trainer Jose Ortiz quizzed four local school council members on why they have to hold public meetings before approving their school improvement plan, a key document outlining school priorities and direction. The room fell silent.

“Because,” he answered himself, “the worst thing that the local school council could do is not consult the community.”

Ortiz’s training session illustrated the challenges that Chicago Public Schools faces in ensuring that all members of the powerful councils understand their roles and responsibilities.

The district requires those who help govern its 646 schools each attend around 18 hours of in-person training, or nine online modules. But not everyone complies: Ortiz said that last week, around 10 people attended each module he taught, and on Tuesday, only four people sat through his class. Most council members take the training online, but the effectiveness of those modules is questionable, council members said.

In a district whose school board is appointed by the mayor instead of elected by city residents, the councils, as Ortiz pointed out, serve as important channels enabling residents to drive the direction of their children’s education. Normally consisting of 12 members, including the principal, teachers, parents, and community members, the councils hire and evaluate the principal, approve the budget, and help craft two-year school improvement plans for their schools.

Chicago schools have another problem with the councils: 47 percent of schools have failed to field enough candidates to fill seats, which then allows sitting council members to fill the vacancies. That means less electoral control for residents. It’s unclear if the training requirement deters people from seeking council seats.

Nevertheless, district officials said that this year they will enforce the training requirement and will contact members who fail to finish it.

“We are going to start removing people this year, but it will be after contacting them by email, through phone and then giving them an opportunity before we schedule a hearing, and then we will consider removing them,” said Guillermo Montes de Oca, director of the Office of Local School Council Relations.

As Ortiz continued with his training, he asked if members remember approving their school improvement plan in the past school year. The attendees looked at him with puzzled faces.

“Oh yes, I remember now,” said Andrea Sanchez, a council member at Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy. But, she added, “it’s just overwhelming because you’re looking at numbers and pages, especially when you’re not used to seeing it.” Sanchez has been a council member since December, but she had attended only one out of the nine mandatory training modules before Tuesday, because most of the two-hour sessions were held in various locations throughout the city far from her home.

According to the Illinois School Code, council members must finish all modules within six months of taking office, so newly elected members who take office on July 1 have until Dec. 31 to complete the modules. CPS has never removed a council member for not finishing the training, said Guillermo Montes de Oca. However, that’s changing.

This year, CPS has also been encouraging council members to finish the modules by July 31, he said, because “if you’re going to be seated, discussing the budget and everything, you need to be informed.”

Sanchez said she didn’t know know about the six-month deadline until Tuesday. She wishes the nine modules would be held all at once at her school. “The information in the modules should be given to us right away [upon joining the council],” she said.

Montes de Oca said that the Office of Local School Council Relations encourages council members to take the training online. Especially because the office only offers a few modules per month, to meet the July 31 deadline, council members would have to take most of their training online.

But the attendees Tuesday seemed to prefer the in-person trainings . Denishia Perkins, a council member at Shields Middle School for almost two years, said that she had taken all the training modules online, but they “didn’t do much for me.” The online training consists of clicking through slides of bullet-pointed information and then taking a short quiz at the end of each module.

“It’s so possible to get elected and not know about this stuff,” Perkins said. So she decided to attend the in-person training on Tuesday.

Sanchez said of Ortiz’s class, “It felt one-on-one, and he’s really explaining it to you.”

The trainings are not the only impediment to filling local school council seats.

A representative from the parent group Raise Your Hand told the Sun-Times that people may not want to run for a council position because “people are a little frustrated at the weakening of the local school council.” Currently, 50 percent of principals’ evaluations rely on CPS’ data and metrics, when previously the evaluations relied solely on the council members’ judgment.

Sanchez said that the work of councils are just not advertised enough, and many parents like  her already are involved with jobs or other organizations.

“I don’t think the parents know that we’re that important,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t know either.”

fight another day

In union defeat, lawmakers end session without revamping teacher evaluation law

After a hard-fought battle by the state teachers union, New York lawmakers went home for the summer without overhauling a controversial teacher evaluation law that ties state test scores to educator ratings.

The bill pushed by the unions would have left decisions about whether to use state test scores in teacher evaluations up to local union negotiations. While the bill cleared the Assembly, it was bottled up by the Senate’s leadership, which demanded charter school concessions in return that Assembly Democrats wouldn’t agree to.

The effort to decouple test scores from teacher evaluations was one of several that fizzled out at the end of a lackluster session characterized by lawmaker gridlock.

“Sen. Flanagan, his caucus and five Democrats chose to betray the state’s teachers,”  said New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta in a statement. “Make no mistake, New York teachers, parents and public school students will remember which senators voted against their public schools when we head to the polls this September and again in November.”

There is some possibility that lawmakers could return to finish a few unresolved issues this summer, but Pallotta told Chalkbeat he is not holding out hope for that outcome.

The lack of action is a defeat for the state teachers union, which fought hard for the bill since the beginning of the session. Union officials have staged musical rallies, bought balloons, rented a truck with a message urging lawmakers to pass the bill, and capped off the last day of session handing out ice cream for the cause.

However, the legislative loss gives the union something to rally around during this fall’s elections. Also, other education advocacy organizations are content to engage in a longer process to revamp evaluations.

“Inaction isn’t always the worst outcome,” said Julie Marlette, Director of Governmental Relations for the New York State School Boards Association.“Now we can continue to work with both legislative and regulatory figures to hopefully craft an update to evaluations that is thoughtful and comprehensive and includes all the stakeholders.”  

The news also means that New York’s teacher evaluation saga which has been raging for eight years will spill over into at least next year. Policymakers have been battling about state teacher evaluations since 2010, when New York adopted a system that started using state test scores to rate teachers in order to win federal “Race to the Top” money.

Teacher evaluations were altered again in 2015 when Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for a more stringent evaluation system, saying evaluations as they existed were “baloney.” The new system was met with resistance from the teachers unions and parents across the state. Nearly one in five families boycotted state tests in response to evaluation changes and a handful of other education policies.

The state’s Board of Regents acted quickly, passing a moratorium on the use of grades three to eight math and English tests in teacher evaluations. But the original 2015 law remains on the books. It was a central plank in that law which could require as much as half of an educator’s evaluation to be based on test scores that the unions targeted during this session.

With the moratorium set to expire in 2019, the fight over teacher evaluations will likely become more pressing next year. It may also allow the state education department to play a greater role in shaping the final product. State education department officials had begun to lay out a longer roadmap for redesigning teacher evaluations that involved surveys and workgroups, but the legislative battle threatened to short-circuit their process.

Now officials at the state education department say they will restart their work and pointed out that they could extend the moratorium to provide extra time if needed.

“We will resume the work we started earlier this year to engage teachers, principals and others as we seek input in moving toward developing a new educator evaluation system,” said state education department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis.

For some education advocates, slowing down the process sounds like a good idea.

“Our reaction on the NYSUT Assembly teacher evaluation bill is that you could do worse but that you could also do better and that we should take time to try,” said Bob Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

What seems to be a setback for the union now may be a galvanizing force during elections this fall. Republican lawmakers will likely struggle to keep control of the state Senate, and NYSUT is promising to use this inaction against them. That could be particularly consequential in Long Island, which is a hotbed of the testing opt-out movement.

It’s unclear whether the failure to act will also prove problematic for Cuomo, who is also seeking re-election. Cuomo, who pushed for the 2015 law the unions despise, is facing competition from the left in gubernatorial challenger Cynthia Nixon.

But at least so far, it seems like the union is reserving the blame for Senate Republicans and not for the governor.

Cuomo is “making it clear that he has heard the outcry,” said Pallotta. “I blame Senator Flanagan, I blame his conference and I blame 5 [Senate] Democrats.”