race to the race to the top

Paterson proposes a bill to abolish New York's charter cap

With roughly a week to go before the deadline to apply for Race to the Top funds, David Paterson proposed a bill he hopes will put New York State in a better position to win the $700 million grant.

The bill calls for eliminating the state’s charter cap, which currently limits the number of charter schools to 200, and offers several other proposals, many of which are deeply unpopular with the state teachers union. Among these is a proposal to move up the sunset date for a state law that bars the use of student test scores in teacher tenure decisions from June to January 15, four days before the grant application is due.

Two other proposals in the bill call for giving the Board of Regents the power to temporarily takeover failing school districts by appointing a “receiver” to oversee them, and giving the state Dormitory Authority the power to give charter schools money to build facilities.

The governor said he wants the bill passed by January 14.

“After consulting with the Obama Administration, legislative leaders and the New York State Department of Education, I am confident that this piece of legislation will increase our competitiveness to be awarded funding in the first round of Race to the Top grants,” Paterson said in a statement.

“I urge my colleagues in the Legislature to swiftly pass this bill so that our application is as strong as possible.”

How swift that passage will be depends on a legislature that is, by nature, slow-moving. Thus far, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has given no indication that he would support eliminating the charter cap or any of the other measures in the governor’s bill.

The bill may get a friendlier reception in the State Senate, where the three leaders of the Democratic body have endorsed, or will soon endorse, increasing the number of charter schools in the state.

Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson announced his support for raising the charter cap on Monday, Senate President Malcolm Smith has long been a vocal supporter of lifting the charter cap, and Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada will announce his support for the governor’s bill at a charter school in the Bronx tomorrow.

President of the New York State United Teachers Richard Iannuzzi told the Albany Times Union today that lifting the charter cap was a “bogus issue.”

“The bottom line here is that nothing of value is going to get done in seven calendar days, which I’m going to guess is two or three legislative session days,” Iannuzzi said.

Though the governor’s bill calls for eliminating the charter cap, the state’s Education Department has taken a more moderate tactic: calling for the cap to be increased. Both State Education Commissioner David Steiner and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch have said they favor increasing the cap rather than doing away with it entirely.

Steiner and Tisch have, however, supported allowing the law that bans the use of student test scores in teacher tenure decisions to expire.

In response to calls for the charter chap to be lifted, New York City’s teachers union is attempting to push certain restrictions on charter schools, possibly in exchange for increasing the number of them. UFT President Michael Mulgrew wants laws that will force charter schools to admit more high needs students — those who are not proficient in English or are special education students. Overall, district schools enroll more of these students.

“The real issue should not be whether to lift the cap, but about how the state can make sure that these inequities are addressed as New York moves forward with its Race to the Top application,” Mulgrew said in a statement.

Paterson’s press release:

Governor David A. Paterson today submitted Program Bill No. 214 to maximize New York’s opportunity to receive as much as $700 million in Race to the Top competitive grant funding included in The America Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

“It is incumbent upon us as lawmakers to take any and all action necessary to ensure that we are successful in this process,” Governor Paterson said. “I have personally spoken with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and federal officials about New York’s eligibility for Race to the Top funds and the specific steps we need to take to be competitive in this process. After consulting with the Obama Administration, legislative leaders and the New York State Department of Education, I am confident that this piece of legislation will increase our competitiveness to be awarded funding in the first round of Race to the Top grants. I urge my colleagues in the Legislature to swiftly pass this bill so that our application is as strong as possible.”

The Governor has asked the Legislature to pass his proposed bill by January 14 in order to have the specific Race to the Top requirements signed into law by the January 19 application deadline. The legislation includes:

  • Eliminating the Charter School Cap that is presently set at 200 and of which fewer than 40 are still available;
  • Allowing the Dormitory Authority to finance charter school capital funding for approved charter schools;
  • Allowing the Regents to appoint a temporary receiver to address chronically under-performing schools;
  • Changing the sunset date from July 1, 2010 to January 15, 2010 of a law which limits student performance data for teacher tenure determinations.

Race to the Top awards will go to states that are leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive education reforms. The Regents and the State Education Department are creating a highly competitive application for the January 19 deadline. The inclusion of the Governor’s proposed legislation will ensure that New York State is a true competitor for the funding.

“Our children, our schools and the economy of the State of New York cannot afford to wait for the Legislature to implement these changes. For the sake of our children, we must not risk the opportunity to compete for, and win, Round 1 funds,” the Governor added. “The money received will benefit all of our children, not just those who attend charter schools.”

Race to the Top winners will help trail-blaze effective reforms and provide examples for states and local school districts throughout the country as they, too, are hard at work on reforms that can transform our schools for decades to come. The funding from Race to the Top will benefit public schools as well as charter schools across New York State.

Current State law includes a 200 charter school cap. By eliminating this cap, New York State will maximize its ability to receive application points tied to charter schools. With respect to the assessment of teacher and leader effectiveness, the application requires that there be no impediments to using student performance data. By advancing the sunset to expressly permit full use of this data as part of the tools to be available for reviewing performance, New York stands to gain significant application points.

In addition, while the State Education Department currently is empowered to take over poorly performing schools, this bill would provide a new streamlined approach to enable the Regents to act more swiftly and to appoint a temporary receiver to take-over chronically poor performing schools.

“Race to the Top provides an unprecedented opportunity to reform our schools and challenge an educational status quo that is failing too many children. President Obama and Congress have provided significant financial support for school reform,” Governor Paterson said. “This is a chance to change our schools and to accelerate student achievement, and I will do everything in my power to ensure that we are more than eligible to receive as much federal funding as possible.”

First Person

First Person: Why my education nonprofit is bucking the coastal trend and setting up shop in Oklahoma

PHOTO: Creative Commons

“Oklahoma?! Why are you expanding to Oklahoma?!”

The response when I told some people that Generation Citizen, the nonprofit I run, was expanding to central Texas and Oklahoma, quickly became predictable. They could understand Texas, probably because our headquarters will be in the blue-dot-in-sea-of-red Austin. But Oklahoma?

My answer: Generation Citizen is expanding to Oklahoma City because no one would expect us to expand to Oklahoma City.

Our nonprofit is dedicated to empowering young people to become engaged citizens by reviving civics education in schools. We help middle and high school students learn about local politics by guiding them as they take action on issues they care about, like funding for teen jobs or state resources for teenage moms.

I founded the organization after graduating from Brown University in Rhode Island in 2009. Since then, we’ve expanded our programming to Boston, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area. All are urban areas with wide swaths of low-income young people, unequal schools, and disparate power dynamics. Our work is needed in those areas.

At the same time, all of these areas have predominantly liberal populations. In fact, according to The Economist, they are among the 10 most liberal cities in the country.

Generation Citizen is a non-partisan organization. We do not wish to convince young people to support a particular candidate or party — we just want them to engage politically, period. But the fact that we are preparing low-income young people in liberal urban centers to become politically active complicates this narrative.

So despite the fact that we could work with many more students in our existing cities, we made a conscious decision to expand to a more politically diverse region. A city that had real Republicans.

As we started talking about expansion, I realized the extent to which the dialogue about political and geographic diversity was a rarity in national nonprofit circles. While several large education organizations, like Teach for America and City Year, have done an admirable job of in working in conservative and rural regions across the country, a lot of other organizations follow a more predictable path, sticking largely to cities on the east and west coasts and sometimes, if folks feel crazy, an Atlanta or Miami.

There is nothing wrong with these decisions (and we were originally following this trajectory). A big reason for the coastal-focused expansion strategy is the availability of financial resources. Nonprofits want to raise money locally to sustain themselves, and those cities are home to a lot of people and foundations who can fund nonprofits.

But a more problematic reason seems related to our increasing ideological self-segregation. Nonprofits lean toward expanding to places that are comfortable, places that their leaders visit, places where people tend to hold similar values and political views.

One of the fault lines in our democracy is our inability to talk to people who disagree with us (highlighted daily by this presidential election). And non-profits may be exacerbating this reality.

This schism actually became more apparent to me when our board of directors started having conversations about expansion. Oklahoma City had come to the top of my proposed list because of my personal and professional contacts there. But I quickly realized that no one on my board lived more than five miles from an ocean, and save a board member from Oklahoma, none had stepped foot in the state.

“Are we sure we want to expand there? Why not a gateway city?” (I still don’t know what a gateway city is.)

“We can hire a Republican to run the site, but they can’t be a Trump supporter.”

“Are we sure that we can raise enough money to operate there?”

It wasn’t just my board. Whenever I talked to friends about our plans, they’d offer the same resistance.

The stereotypes I heard were twofold: Oklahoma was full of bigoted conservatives, and it was an incredibly boring location. (The dullness narrative got an unquestionable boost this year when star basketball player Kevin Durant left the hometown Thunder. It became quite clear that a main rationale for his leaving the team was Oklahoma City itself.)

But as I met with folks about Generation Citizen’s work, I met citizen after citizen who was excited about our mission. The state is facing tremendous budget challenges, and its voter participation rates amongst the worst in the country. Given these realities, there seemed to be widespread recognition that a program like ours could actually be helpful.

I did not talk about national politics with most people I met. Indeed, we might disagree on whom to support. But we did agree on the importance of educating young people to be politically active, shared concerns about public school budget cuts, and bonded over excitement for the Thunder’s playoff chances.

Still, the actual expansion to Oklahoma will be a challenge for our organization. Despite our local ties, we are coming in from the outside, and we do have the perception of being a progressively minded organization. What will happen if one of our classes wants to advocate for open carry at schools in response to a shooting? How will my board handle working in a site where they wouldn’t ordinarily visit?

I am excited to tackle all of these challenges. And I would push other similarly sized non-profits to think about working in a more diverse set of areas. It is not possible to be a national organization and avoid entire swaths of the country. But more importantly, given these tenuous political times, it feels important to interact with people who may not hold our beliefs.

Nonprofits can’t fix our national dialogue alone. But by expanding where we work, we might help improve the conversation.

honor system

Meet Derek Voiles, the Morristown educator who is Tennessee’s newest Teacher of the Year

PHOTO: Tennessee Department of Education
Derek Voiles, Tennessee's 2016-17 Teacher of the Year

Derek Voiles, a seventh-grade English language arts teacher in Morristown, is Tennessee’s 2016-17 Teacher of the Year, the State Department of Education announced Thursday.

One of nine finalists for this year’s award, Voiles teaches at Lincoln Heights Middle in Hamblen County Schools in East Tennessee. He received the top teacher honor at a banquet in Nashville.

Voiles, who has been teaching for six years, has long shared his teaching practices publicly — on Twitter, through a blog he wrote with a colleague, and as a state ambassador for the Common Core standards. In recent years, according to a state news release, his classroom became a hub as teachers from across his district observed his teaching in hopes of replicating his practices, which often improved the performance of students far behind their peers.

“All students are capable of achieving great things, and all students deserve a teacher who believes this and will do whatever it takes to make it happen,” Voiles said in the release. He is also a doctoral candidate at East Tennessee State University.

Now, Voiles will gain an even wider stage, as Tennessee’s representative to the National Teacher of the Year program. He will also share insight from the classroom as part of committees and working groups with the Tennessee Department of Education.

All nine Teacher of the Year finalists, representing each of the state’s regions, will serve on the Commissioner Candice McQueen’s Teacher Advisory Council during the 2016-17 school year.

The department also recognized two division winners from Middle and West Tennessee. Cord Martin, a music education and enrichment teacher at Whitthorne Middle School in Maury County, was recognized for his innovative teaching strategies and connecting content to contemporary culture. Christy McManus, a fifth-grade English language arts and social studies teacher at Chester County Middle School in Henderson was honored for equipping her students with the end goal in mind: a college-ready twelfth grader.

Voiles follows Cathy Whitehead, a third-grade teacher from Chester County, who served as Tennessee’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year. Whitehead teaches at West Chester Elementary School in Henderson in West Tennessee.