John King

New York

A warm reception greets King and the Common Core in Brooklyn

PHOTO: Monica DisareSupporters of the Common Core standards greeted State Education Commissioner John King at the forum in Brooklyn Tuesday. Many members of the parent advocacy group, StudentsFirstNY, arrived early to the meeting, snatched up many of the speaking slots and hoisted similar signs during the forum. A well-organized coalition of parents, teachers and advocates turned out in full force to public forums Tuesday night to support Commissioner John King and his push for tougher learning standards that have sparked opposition in most other parts of the state this fall. The groups, which included StudentsFirstNY, Families for Excellent Schools and Educators 4 Excellence, used the hearings in Brooklyn and the Bronx to make arguments in favor of the Common Core standards that they feel have been left out of recent debates. In particular, some parents argued that the tougher standards are urgently needed to improve the quality of struggling schools, while some teachers said they enhanced their instruction. “To those of you who are calling to slow it down or stop the movement for these high standards, you do not speak for me or many of these parents,” said Mery Melendez, a charter-school parent and organizer with Families for Excellent Schools who spoke at the Brooklyn hearing. “We’re tired of waiting for change.” The supportive presence was most apparent in a packed Medgar Evers College auditorium in Crown Heights where the Brooklyn forum was held. A much smaller audience showed up in the Bronx, though it offered more mixed reviews of state education policies. Critics at the events – who in Brooklyn were vastly outnumbered – challenged the notion that the standards benefit students. Others argued they were too quickly incorporated into the state tests and that they leave some students behind.
New York

King to hit Harlem schools circuit with top Democratic lawmaker

Commissioner John King has a busy day scheduled in New York City tomorrow. First, King and Chancellor Merryl Tisch are meeting up in Harlem where they'll visit schools in the district of Assemblyman Keith Wright, a senior legislative member with influential positions in the state's Democratic Party. Wright will take them to P.S. 180 and Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing & Visual Arts, an embattled middle and high school that nearly closed last year and posted some of the lowest test scores in the state. In the afternoon, King will travel to midtown Manhattan for what could be a more tense encounter: a panel conversation with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, one of his fiercest critics. The panel is hosted by Teaching Matters at The Harvard Club starting at 12 p.m. The events are scheduled on the day after King released evaluation data that showed barely any teachers received low ratings, which he said he hoped would ease concerns of teachers union leaders. For months, Weingarten and local union leaders called on King to hold off on tying high stakes to teacher evaluations until after schools fully adopted new Common Core learning standards, which students were tested on in April. Test scores plummeted and critics reprised calls for a moratorium in recent weeks. On Tuesday, the state teachers union said today that the evaluation data did not sway their concerns. "The state’s rushed implementation of Common Core and last April’s testing debacle call into question the use of these scores in any high-stakes decisions affecting individual teachers or students," said New York State United Teachers President Dick Iannuzzi. Such a change would require a change to state law, which would require support from legislators like Wright. In an interview today, Wright said he recognized that the issue was a "hot topic" but said such a change wasn't a priority among his parent constituents.
New York

Principal, King frame tensions over school choice changes

A back-and-forth between State Education Commissioner John King and a Brooklyn high school principal today provided a window into the tensions at play when high-needs students are placed in city schools — at a moment when additional shifts in enrollment policies may be imminent. As King toured the High School for Public Service, principal Sean Rice outlined his worries about serving 35 special education students, up from "almost none" two years ago, in a school with about 440 students. Five or six have been added to his rolls in just the past week, he said. Commissioner John King spoke with principal Sean Rice, center, about special needs students at his school. "It is a major concern," Rice said. "It's going to be challenging for us this year, because we have a teaching staff that has not had extensive experience with students with disabilities." But Rice's situation is rare for how few special education students he has, since some high schools, like William E. Grady High, have more than 20 percent special education students. Figures like that have created a schism between the city and the state for years, as King has criticized the city's school choice policies for allowing some schools to become overloaded with needy students. "I think this is the balance, though, between our concern—which we've long expressed—of students being concentrated in isolated buildings, and attempts by the city, which I think is the right direction, to try and avoid those overconcentrations of students," King said to Rice during a discussion with Chancellor Merryl Tisch and other state education officials.
New York

With evaluation standoff past, city wins new round of grants

New York City is getting nearly $75 million in federal grants to help 16 struggling schools improve and support another six school buildings where schools are shuttering, the state announced today. The grants are the second round of New York State's disbursements from its share of the U.S. Department of Education's $3.5 billion grant program known as School Improvement Grants, or SIG. The grants are designed to improve outcomes in schools with large numbers of students in poverty. Two years ago, the city forfeited a large chunk of the first round of grants after failing to reach a deal with the teachers union on teacher evaluations, which was required to qualify for the majority of the funding. Officials said today that of $58 million awarded to the city, just $15 million was spent that year. The rest was returned back to the state. Those funds may be reallocated to future grant winners, a state spokesman said. Now that evaluations are in place for the 2013-2014 school year, teachers union leaders endorsed this year's grant applications. Union officials cited other reasons this year's applications were an improvement over the previous round, too. They said that this year, individual schools had a more prominent role in determining how the grant money will be spent. In previous years, the city Department of Education applied centrally. "It's more targeted to the needs of the students versus the needs of the administration," United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said of the new grants. Mulgrew said he was "very happy" with this year's version.
New York

King won't change cut score advice for new Common Core tests

Contrasting his administration to previous ones, which have been criticized for inflating state test scores, State Education Commissioner John King agreed to accept proficiency bars recommended by a committee of educators with no revisions, as captured in this simple slide. Commissioner John King pledged this week to accept the "cut scores" recommended to him by a committee of educators, one of the final steps remaining before the state releases results from the state tests. Cut scores determine the number of right answers students need on state English and math tests to be deemed proficient in the subjects. The announcement at this month's Board of Regents meeting came in the middle of a detailed 46-page slideshow presentation outlining how the "cut score" recommendations were made. But while the other slides were packed with numbers, graphs, and paragraphs, King's 10-word acceptance of the standards got its own simple slide: "The Commissioner accepted recommendations from Day 5 with no changes." (The full slideshow is below the jump.) The flourish was a signal of the new transparency the department is trying to project around test scoring. In 2009, under then-Commissioner Richard Mills, dramatic improvements on state tests that had been seen as signs of academic progress across the state came under scrutiny for being inflated — not representing actual learning gains. The inflation seems to have been the result of several factors, including focused test prep by teachers who became increasingly familiar with the tests. But at least one observer, Sol Stern, has reported that state officials might have deliberately inflated results by lowering cut scores so that more students would be deemed proficient. Commissioners do not have to accept the recommendations of the committee of educators that suggests where to set the scores.
New York

City's evaluation rollout plan ignores state's latest requests

The city Department of Education delivered a plan for how it will implement new teacher and principal evaluations to the state ahead of schedule today — but without giving state officials much of the information they asked for. According to a memo that Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent today to the state, the city plans to spend $23 million in the next six months preparing city educators for a new evaluation system. The memo is a response to State Education Commissioner John King's demand, made last month after the city and teachers union failed to agree on a new teacher evaluation system, that the city detail its implementation plans or lose state funds. The plan that Walcott delivered today is broader than the highlights that city officials released last week. In addition to dealing just with teacher and administrator training about the observation model the city is planning to use to assess teachers in action, the memo also explains how city educators will learn about some components of evaluations that must be based on student performance. It also delineates different training programs for teachers, principals, department officials and attaches a price tag to each one. But for the most part, the plan contains only the bare minimum of what city officials were told on Friday should be included in their implementation plan. In response to requests for guidance from the city, the state official overseeing review and approval of all evaluation plans, Julia Rafal-Baer, sent a chart to Chancellor Dennis Walcott with dozens of "key questions" whose answers do not appear in the plan the city submitted today.