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Budget basics: How evals, tenure, dismissal, and school oversight are set to change

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie at a 2015 press conference with Democratic colleagues

Legislative leaders are expected to sign off on an ambitious set of education policy changes Tuesday night that will lengthen the probationary period for new teachers, award merit pay, and make it easier to fire a school system’s lowest performers.

Underpinning the changes is a new evaluation system that will be used in a number of high-stakes compensation and employment decisions. Though a number of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s equally ambitious plans were foiled, the changes coming to teacher tenure and dismissal rules are significant, and a school-takeover provision will limit the city’s influence over its most struggling schools in future years.

Emerging after months of intense lobbying, the bill had few fans outside of the Cuomo administration on Tuesday. Charter school advocates said they had been left out; Assembly Democrats said their leadership had agreed to too many of Cuomo’s ideas; and Republicans complained that state government was reaching too far into public education.

“We’re not going to negotiate very bad to bad and say we’re happy with it,” city teachers union President Michael Mulgrew said.

Here’s a rundown of the changes included in the bill.

Teacher evaluations: Teachers will face another new evaluation system next year, and it will include outside evaluators and a heavy emphasis on state tests.

The state education department and the Board of Regents have been tasked with working out many of the details, and other aspects will need to be decided by Chancellor Carmen Fariña and the city teachers union.

The evaluation system still come from combining state test scores and evaluations, but will no longer rely on percentages — as in the current system, with state test scores accounting for 40 percent of an evaluation, while observations count for 60 percent. The scoring rules that determine how those become final ratings will be decided centrally, shifting control away from districts. (To be fair, the state did decide the city’s current system, too, after former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the union could not agree.)

State test scores will make up up to half of the evaluation for city teachers unless the city and Mulgrew agree to add an additional assessment. For teachers of students or subjects not covered by state tests, the state will be determining what assessments are used to calculate evaluations, according to Cuomo administration officials, and it’s unclear what the timeline is for doing so.

School takeovers: The bill separates low-performing schools into “failing schools” that have been bottom-ranked for three years, and “persistently failing” schools that have floundered for a decade. The city has two years to turn around the first camp and just one year to revamp the second, during which time the chancellor gets extra authority to make changes.

If the schools don’t make enough progress, then the city must appoint a receiver, which can be a nonprofit, another district, or an individual. The receivers have broad authority: they can modify a school’s budget or curriculum, increase salaries, or turn district schools into charters, and they must bring in more social and health services.

The receivers can also fire principals and force teachers to reapply for their jobs before a hiring committee. If they want to change parts of the school covered by the teachers contract — such as the length of the day or year, or class size — they must negotiate with the union. The plan will come with $75 million to help the state’s 27 “persistently failing” schools next school year, a larger amount of aid than Cuomo originally proposed.

Teacher tenure: Next year’s new teachers will have to wait four years before becoming eligible for tenure protections, and newly appointed administrators will also have to wait four years. Teachers and administrators already in their positions will still be eligible after three years.

One major objective Gov. Cuomo did achieve: tying tenure to evaluations. Teachers will only be eligible for tenure if they earned an effective or highly effective rating in three of their previous four years in the classroom. If a teacher earns a high rating for three years and then earns an ineffective rating in year four, he or she wouldn’t be eligible for tenure that year. (The city could give the teacher an additional year, but wouldn’t be required to do so.)

Union officials noted that principals have already been looking at evaluations when making tenure recommendations. But the plan puts significant new, formal pressure on rookie teachers to avoid low evaluation ratings.

Teacher dismissal: 3020-a, meet 3020-b, the new teacher-termination provision for teachers who repeatedly earn ineffective ratings.

Districts will be allowed to charge a teacher with incompetence after he or she earns two ineffective ratings in a row, and the proceedings would have an expedited 90-day timeline. A teacher will have to provide evidence that they are effective to win an appeal hearing.

Districts will be required to bring charges against teachers who earn three ineffective ratings in a row, with a 30-day timeline for the proceedings. A teacher will have to prove fraud to win an appeal.

Merit pay: Teachers who receive a highly effective rating next year will be eligible for $20,000 bonuses, administration officials said. The state is setting aside $20 million, which would cover 1,000 teachers — significantly fewer than the more than 5,700 teachers who earned a highly effective rating in New York City alone last year.

Cuomo administration officials said they expected the new evaluation system to result in fewer top ratings in the future.

Loan repayment for top graduates: Up to 500 students each year who agree to teach in New York public schools for at least five years after graduating with a master’s degree in education from SUNY or CUNY will be eligible for loan repayment help from the state. They will have had to achieve “academic excellence” while earning their bachelor’s degree somewhere in New York state.

Teacher education: The state’s graduate-level education schools must establish admissions standards that include a minimum score on the GRE or another admissions test and a 3.0 undergraduate grade point average. Schools wouldn’t be able to exempt more than 15 percent of accepted students from those standards.

The state education department will stop graduate programs from admitting new students if fewer than half of their students pass each test needed for certification for three consecutive years. If those programs don’t quickly improve, they would be shut down when already-admitted students finish their courses.

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Human Resources

A minimum salary for Colorado teachers? State officials may ask lawmakers to consider it.

A teacher reads to her students at the Cole Arts and Science Academy in Denver. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

As part of a broad plan to increase the volume of high-quality teachers in Colorado, state officials are considering asking lawmakers to take the bold step of establishing a minimum teacher salary requirement tied to the cost of living.

Officials from the state departments of education and higher education are finalizing a list of recommendations to address challenges to Colorado’s teacher workforce. Pressing for the legislation on teacher salaries is one of dozens of recommendations included in a draft report.

The report, assembled at the request of the legislature, also proposes a marketing campaign and scholarships to attract new teachers to rural areas.

Representatives from the Colorado Department of Education said they would not discuss the recommendations until they’re final. However, the department earlier this month briefed the State Board of Education on their proposed recommendations in advance of the Dec. 1 deadline for it to be finalized.

The impending report — based on thousands of responses from educators, students and other Colorado residents in online surveys and town halls across the state — is a sort of first step for the state legislature to tackle a problem years in the making. Since 2010, Colorado has seen a 24 percent drop in the number of college students graduating from the state’s traditional teacher colleges. There’s also been a 23 percent drop in enrollment in those programs.

Residency programs, which place graduate students in a classroom for a full year with an experienced teacher, and other alternative licensure programs have seen a 40 percent increase in enrollment. But those programs produce far fewer teachers and can’t keep up with demand.

Colorado faces a shortage of teachers in certain subjects, regions and schools, and circumstances vary. Math and science teachers are in short supply: Only 192 college students in 2016 graduated with credentials to teach those subjects. The same year, 751 students left with a degree to teach elementary school.

And rural schools have had an especially hard time finding and keeping teachers.

Here’s a look at what the state departments are considering recommending, based on the presentation from education department officials to the state board:

Provide more and better training to new — and veteran — teachers.

Colorado schools are already required to offer some sort of induction program for new teachers. This training, which lasts between two and three years, is supposed to supplement what they learned during college.

For the last two years, the state education department has been pushing school districts to update their programs. The recommendations in the report could kick things up a notch.

The education departments are asking for updated induction requirements to be written into statute and more money to be provided to districts to pay for the training.

The draft report also calls for more more sustained training for veteran teachers, including competitive grant programs.

An additional suggestion is to create a program to train teachers expressly to teach in rural classrooms.

Increase teacher compensation and benefits.

This will be a hard pill to swallow. According to the presentation to the state board, the education departments want to call on lawmakers to set a minimum salary for teachers based on the school district’s cost of living.

The presentation to the board lacked specifics on how lawmakers and school districts could accomplish this. One board member, Colorado Springs Republican Steve Durham, called it a “mistake” to include such a recommendation.

Keeping up with the rising cost of living is a challenge. A new report shows new teachers in the state’s three largest school districts couldn’t afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

“We hope the report itself is going to talk a lot the cost of living — that’s what we heard from our stakeholders across the field,” Colleen O’Neil, the education department’s executive director of educator talent told the state board. “They literally were not able to meet the cost of living because their salaries did not compensate them fairly enough to find housing.”

Other suggestions the report might highlight to improve teacher compensation include loan forgiveness, housing incentives and creating a differentiated pay scale for teachers — something teachers unions staunchly oppose.

Help schools better plan for hiring and send teachers where they’re needed.

One short-term solution the state is considering recommending is allocating more resources to help schools plan for teacher turnover. This includes providing incentives for teachers to notify school leaders about their plans to leave the classroom earlier.

The education departments are also suggesting the state increase the number of programs that can help teachers get licensed in more than one subject at a time. Other ideas include offering scholarships to potential teachers to complete licensing requirements for content areas that are lacking viable candidates — likely math and science — and providing transportation and technology stipends for rural teachers.

Make the teaching profession more attractive.

Teachers “feel they’re not treated like professionals,” O’Neil told the board. So the education departments want the legislature to allow them to partner with private entities to launch a marketing campaign to lift the profile of teaching as a career in the state.

The education departments also hope the legislature considers creating more opportunities for middle and high school students to consider teaching as a viable career path. This could include reinvigorating the state’s Educators Rising program, a program for high school students interested in teaching.

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.