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.


  • 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.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

Town Hall

Hopson promises more flexibility as Memphis school leaders clear the air with teachers on new curriculum

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson answers questions from Memphis teachers at a town hall hosted by United Education Association of Shelby County on Monday.

The Shelby County Schools superintendent told passionate teachers at a union town hall Monday that they can expect more flexibility in how they teach the district’s newest curriculums.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the teachers who score highest on their evaluations should not feel like they need to read from a script to meet district requirements, although he didn’t have an immediate answer to how that would work.

Teacher frustrations were reaching a boiling point on district curriculums introduced this school year. Although the state requirements have changed several times over the last eight years, this change was particularly bothersome to teachers because they feel they are teaching to a “script.”

“Teachers have to be given the autonomy,” Hopson said. Although he cited the need for the district to have some control as teachers are learning, “at the end of the day, if you’re a level 4 or level 5 teacher, and you know your students, there needs to be some flexibility.”

Vocal teachers at the meeting cited check-ins from central office staff as evidence of the overreach.

“I keep hearing people say it’s supplemental but we have people coming into my room making sure we’re following it to a T,” said Amy Dixon a teacher at Snowden School. “We’re expected to follow it … like a script.”

The 90-minute meeting sponsored by the United Education Association of Shelby County drew a crowd of about 100 people to talk about curriculum and what Hopson called “a culture of fear” throughout the district of making a mistake.

Hopson said his team is still working on how to strike the right balance between creativity and continuity across nearly 150 district-run schools because so many students move during the school year.

He reassured despondent teachers he would come up with a plan to meet the needs of teachers and keep curriculums consistent. He said some continuity is needed across schools because many students move a lot during the school year.

“We know we got to make sure that I’m coming from Binghampton and going over to Whitehaven it’s got to be at least somewhat aligned,” he said. “I wish we were a stable, middle-class, not the poorest city in the country, then we wouldn’t have a lot of these issues.”

Ever since Tennessee’s largest district began phasing in parts of an English curriculum called Expeditionary Learning, teachers have complained of being micromanaged, instead of being able to tailor content for their students. The same goes for the new math curriculum Eureka Math.

The district’s changes are meant to line it up with the state. Tennessee’s new language arts and math standards replaced the Common Core curriculum, but in fact, did not deviate much when the final version was released last fall. This is the third change in eight years to state education requirements.

Still, Shelby County Schools cannot fully switch to the new curriculums until they are approved by the Tennessee State Board of Education. District leaders hope both curriculums, which received high marks from a national group that measures curriculum alignment to Common Core, will be added when textbooks are vetted for the 2019-20 school year.

Some urged educators to not think of the new curriculums as “scripts,” and admitted to poorly communicating the changes to teachers.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Pam Harris-Giles

“It’s not an expectation that we stand in front of our children and read off a piece of paper,” said Pam Harris-Giles, one of the district’s instructional support directors, who helps coordinate curriculum training and professional development.

Fredricka Vaughn, a teacher at Kirby High School, said that won’t be easy without clear communication of what flexibility will look like for high-performing teachers.

“If you don’t want us to use the word script, then bring back the autonomy,” she said.

Hopson stressed that the state’s largest school district could be a model for public education if everyone can work together to make the new curriculums work.

“It’s going to take work, hard work, everyone aligned from the top, everyone rowing in the same direction.”