forward march

Fans of tougher evals urge Cuomo to press forward anyway

After the collapse of teacher evaluation negotiations in New York City and across the state, education reform groups are asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to install a “shot clock” on future talks.

When the clock expires, a teacher evaluation system devised by the State Education Department would go into effect, according to the plan outlined in a letter signed by 13 reform organizations from across the state and country. The groups — which include Democrats for Education Reform and and StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee’s new lobbying outfit — argue both that more stringent evaluations are needed and that the state cannot afford to leave funding on the table during tough budget times.

The state’s teacher evaluation law, passed in 2010in order to secure Race to the Top funding, requires districts to adopt tougher evaluations when they renegotiate teachers contracts. But if they want to draw on several pools of federal funds, they have to finalize the new evaluations sooner. Dec. 31 was the deadline for one set of funds, School Improvement Grants. Another deadline, for Race to the Top funds, is coming on June 30.

Now the reform groups want the state to set another deadline — Aug. 31 — and they want it to apply to all districts, not just ones seeking federal funding. The groups are suggesting to Cuomo that districts that haven’t negotiated a plan by then would have to adopt a “default” plan and put it in place by the following year.

In some ways, the proposal is redolent of city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s request last week that State Education Commissioner John King help the city hammer out an evaluation system without the union’s help. But in this case, both the districts and the unions would be cut out of the process to devise new evaluations.

The proposal doesn’t outline what exactly the default plan would look like. But the lack of a default option makes New York’s evaluation negotiations more complicated than in some other states receiving Race to the Top funding, representatives of reform groups told GothamSchools last year.

Putting a default option in place would require an amendment to the state’s teacher evaluation law, according to SED officials.

The idea of a plan B on evaluations is likely to find a receptive audience in Cuomo, who is expected to propose education policy changes in his second “State of the State” address tomorrow. But the governor, who said last week that he was “disappointed” that districts had not been able to agree on teacher evaluations and urged them to return to the negotiating table, has had mixed results when trying to push specific education policies. In May 2011, the Board of Regents approved a policy change he sought, to make teacher evaluations depend even more heavily on state test scores than the law requires. That regulation was rolled back after a lawsuit by the state teachers union.

The full letter from the reform groups is below:

Dear Governor Cuomo:

We are gravely concerned about New York’s credibility when it comes to living up to our promise of providing every child in the state with an outstanding classroom teacher. As you are aware, labor and management from school districts in many parts of the state have so far failed to implement key provisions of the state’s Race to the Top laws. These laws passed with bi-partisan support in our state’s successful attempt to win $700 million in federal funds for public schools.

It has been widely documented that one of the reasons New York beat out so many other states in President Obama’s RTTT competition was the enthusiastic pledge by leaders of both education labor and management to work collaboratively to implement new teacher evaluations which would highlight the exceptional work done by effective classroom teachers.  See video of New York’s representatives promising to work together to implement the RTTT plan here.

Like other winning states, New York promised it would implement the reforms that came with the money. Nearly two years later, however, all that the students of New York’s public schools have to show for this grand bargain is foot-dragging and politicking by the same grownups who assured the federal government we were serious.

To avert a situation where New York is forced to return hundreds of millions of sorely-needed federal dollars, we urge you to consider introducing “shot clock” style measures to ensure that all school districts will fully implement the state’s new teacher evaluation framework in accordance with the Race to the Top timeline.

New York cannot afford to leave federal money on the table at a time when its schools are already facing budgetary hardships.  Federal education officials have made clear their intention to hold states accountable to their Race to the Top programs, as seen recently in the case of Hawaii.  Hawaii’s failure to secure a collective bargaining agreement with its teachers’ union contributed to it being placed on “high-risk status,” in danger of losing its grant and subject to extensive review and reporting requirements.

Aside from the fact that we believe that implementing these new, modernized teacher evaluation systems is the right thing to do, we are also mindful there are other federal funding streams which could be jeopardized by this high-profile impasse.  New York City, alone, has almost $60 million in federal School Improvement Grants at risk after its negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers around a pilot system for evaluating teacher performance broke down this past Friday.  It is also endangering tens of millions of dollars in federal Teacher Incentive Fund grants earmarked for its teachers, because it has not adopted a system which recognizes and highlights great teaching.

To ensure that the City and the state’s other districts fulfill New York’s promises to its schoolchildren, we request that you introduce a back-stop measure that requires districts to develop teacher evaluation plans by August 31, 2012.  Any district that has not successfully negotiated its own plan by that date will have to automatically carry out a “default” plan, to be created by the State Education Department.  Those districts would have one year (until August 31, 2013) to install and fully implement their default plan systems.

Governor, we thank you for your efforts to date to strengthen New York’s focus on educational  measures and accountability, most recently by introducing your School District Performance Improvement Awards program to incentivize districts to make innovative reforms that improve student performance.

Research studies have demonstrated, time and again, that the most impactful factor on the level of learning in a classroom is the quality of its teacher.  At this critical juncture when the state faces a key deadline in implementing a teacher evaluation framework that will impact its students for years to come, we ask that you step up again to ensure that the task gets accomplished.


Buffalo ReformED: Press Contact:  Hannya Boulos – [email protected]716-783-3372
Civic Builders: Press Contact:  David Umansky – [email protected] – 212-571-7260
Democracy Builders: Press Contact:  Rev. Jamaal Nelson – [email protected] – 646-281-9164
Democrats for Education Reform: Press Contact:  Elizabeth Ling – [email protected] – 646-599-6123
Education Reform Now: Press Contact:  Myles Mendoza – [email protected] – 303-912-0267
Educators 4 Excellence: Press Contact:  Sydney Morris – [email protected]212-279-8510 ext. 10
National Council on Teacher Quality: Press Contact:  Sandi Jacobs – [email protected] – 202-393-0020
The New Teacher Project: Press Contact:  Andy Jacob – [email protected] – 347-987-0749
NYCAN: The New York Campaign for Achievement Now: Press Contact:  Christina Grant – [email protected] – 516-749-9462
Parent Power Project: Press Contact:  Carrie Remis – [email protected]585-350-8306
StudentsFirst: Press Contact:  Nancy Zuckerbrod – [email protected]301-204-9391
Students for Education Reform: Press Contact:  Alexis Morin – [email protected]774-258-0024
Turnaround for Children: Press Contact:  Pamela Cantor, MD – [email protected] – 646-786-6200

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”