ain't over til it's over - and it's over

A guide to state lawmakers’ final deal, in which NYC charters emerge as only big winners

As most education groups expressed mild enthusiasm for the end-of-session legislative deal, New York City’s charter school sector looked to be the only clear winner.

Not only does the deal double the number of new charter schools that can open in New York City, from 25 to 50, it also allows them to go through the preferred authorizer of the city’s influential charter school networks. Last-minute changes to teacher certification requirements and enrollment policies further cemented the victory.

The legislation passed in the Senate, 47-12, and in the Assembly, 112-13, and now heads to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for his approval. The tumultuous session officially came to a close after midnight Friday when the Assembly concluded.

We reviewed the bill, introduced just hours before lawmakers were set to vote on it late Thursday night, for the education-related changes. They include new review requirements for state test questions and a short renewal of mayoral control, summarized below.

Charter schools

Fifty additional charter schools will be allowed to open in New York City, up from 25. Applicants for those charters can apply either through the State University of New York or the Board of Regents. Previously, 24 of the 25 available city-designated charters were controlled by the Regents, which supervises the State Education Department.

Lifting that restriction is a big deal because SUNY previously had just one charter left to issue in New York City. As an authorizer, SUNY is regarded as having stricter and more consistent standards and has increasingly favored operators who are replicating schools. It has become the chosen regulator of the city’s large charter school networks like Success Academy, whose schools are uniformly authorized by SUNY.

The bill makes two other changes to the charter school law. The first allows charter schools to employ a significantly larger share of teachers who aren’t certified under the state standards for district school teachers. State teacher certification standards are in the process of changing, and vary based by grade level and subject. But all district teachers must complete credits at an accredited institution and take a series of certification tests.

The previous maximum was five teachers per school. Now, schools can employ an additional 10 uncertified teachers of any subject, five of whom must be teachers of science, technology, or career and technical education subjects. Those teachers still must still meet certain other criteria, such as have previous teaching experience or “exceptional” experience in other professional fields.

The second change allows charter schools to give the children of staff who work for the school or its support network a preference in admissions lotteries. Children of staff could not constitute more than 15 percent of a school’s total enrollment.

Their last-minute inclusion shows just how dramatically the political dynamics have changed in New York State government. In the past, teachers unions were the groups helping lawmakers introduce last-minute changes to bills they were lobbying for or against, but they were unable to do so this time around. The bill does not add any new requirements related to enrolling high-needs students or scrutinizing the finances of charter school networks, which Assembly Democrats had proposed.

“Thankfully, Albany leaders understand that charter schools play a critical role in the delivery of free, public education in New York,” said Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirstNY, whose spending in last year’s state elections helped keep Republicans in control of the State Senate.

The charter school law already requires that charters give preferences to siblings of children already at a school and to students who live in the district where the school is located.

State tests

Starting next year, the state education commissioner must release the questions and answers from the state’s annual English and math tests for grades three through eight by July 1.

It’s not clear how much the law will actually change the state’s current policies, however. The department had already announced it would release questions and answers by July 1 of this year, and the commissioner still won’t have to release all test items. The state will be allowed to limit the release to “avoid hindering or impairing the validity and/or reliability of future examinations,” which is the rationale that the state already has cited for not releasing all exam questions. (The state released about half of the test’s questions and answers last year.)

This year, the state will also have to release the “general student success rate in answering such questions correctly” on the tests by July 1.

Teachers, principals and district administrators will no longer be required to sign a confidentiality agreement requiring them not to discuss the contents of the exam. But they will still have to wait until the test questions are released to the public.

The legislature will provide the department with $8.4 million to cover costs associated with releasing the test items. That’s a budget request that the Board of Regents has made, unsuccessfully, for the last two years.

The State Education Department is now also required to establish a committee that must annually review “all standardized test items” and passages from the English and math tests. The state already has a review committee, but the law requires the group to look out for a few specific things, including whether the questions are “grade level appropriate.”

Mayoral control

The law giving New York City’s mayor control over its school system now expires June 30, 2016. Mayor Bill de Blasio was hoping for at least a three-year extension.

He avoided other changes that could have weakened his power, like changes to the Panel for Educational Policy or checks on the city’s education spending. That relieved some, with Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the Partnership for New York City, saying that the coalition of business leaders she represents was glad the initial agreement reflected “an undiluted extension of mayoral control.”

Teacher evaluations

The legislation includes new language requiring the state’s methodology for evaluating teachers based on their students’ test scores to include “consideration” of high-need student groups, including students with disabilities, low-income students, and English language learners. Those characteristics are already factored into the state’s current methodology, but the legislation cements that approach into law.

The bill does not extend the deadline for school districts to develop new teacher-evaluation systems, which the Senate and Assembly had both pushed for after widespread criticism from districts. That means the process agreed to by the Board of Regents earlier this month stands, and districts will have to apply for waivers to be exempt from the November deadline.

Correction: A previous version misstated the number of uncertified teachers that a charter school can employ.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

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.”