live deadline

State sets new deadline to pressure city to submit eval plan

If nearly $300 million wasn’t incentive enough for the city to create an evaluation plan, state Education Commissioner John King said today that he hopes the threat of more than $1 billion will do the trick.

King assailed the city and the teachers union for their failure to reach a deal on evaluations before last night’s deadline and vowed to get them to do so in the coming weeks. In a letter sent to Chancellor Dennis Walcott today, King said he plans to add teeth to the request by taking advantage of a $1 billion pot of funds meant for city schools that the state has the power to withhold or control.

“They have a legal obligation to continue their negotiation,” King said in a call with reporters today. “I’m disappointed that they’re not at the table today…They thought this new system was the right thing for students. If so, shouldn’t they be at the table?”

King set a new deadline for the city. If the city fails to submit a plan by Feb. 15 that shows it is prepared to implement an evaluation by March 1, King said he has the authority to take over more than $800 million in federal Title I and II funding and withhold more than $300 million in Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants. King said the Title I and II money would still be spent in New York City classrooms, but that he would have control over how it is spent.

“It’s not our intention to deprive students of much-needed resources. Part of what we’re trying to convey is that we’ll direct their use of dollars,” King told reporters afternoon.

The $1 billion would come on top of an estimated $240 million in increased state aid that New York City already lost by failing to come to a deal yesterday. King also disclosed for the first time that the funding loss caused by yesterday’s missed deadline includes an additional $45 million in state grants that are eligible only for districts that have an approved evaluation plan.

King’s remarks also challenged Mayor Bloomberg’s statements surrounding yesterday’s failed teacher evaluation negotiations.

King stopped short of saying which side was to blame, but he offered some insight that challenged the mayor’s version of events and supported the union’s.

City officials said the union wrecked any possibility of a deal by trying to insert new terms at the last minute to make it harder to fire ineffective teachers. Bloomberg said he did not want the plan to expire and that one of union’s demands was a “sunset clause,” which would have allowed the system to default back to the current system.

“If the agreement sunset in two years the whole thing would be a joke,” Bloomberg said at a press conference yesterday. “Nobody would ever be able to be removed.”

In his remarks to reporters, King seconded the union’s version of events — that the city had actually intended to sign off on and submit a short-term plan.

“That comment from the mayor was from my perspective a new issue that was raised after they walked away from the table,” King said.

“My understanding, as of yesterday morning, was the submission we would receive officially from them when they completed the agreement was going to cover two years,” King added.

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew immediately embraced King’s remarks. “I want to thank Commissioner King for clarifying many of the issues around the UFT’s negotiations with the DOE over a new teacher evaluation system, particularly the sunset provision,” he said in a statement released late today.

King also sided with another union on another issue: implementation. The union called off negotiations briefly last month over concerns that the city wasn’t properly training principals and teachers in how the new system would work.

King seconded that description.

“Throughout these negotiations what became clear is that principals have not received the training necessary to implement the evaluation system,” King said.

He said that the new Feb. 14 deadline requires that the city submit a plan that shows it is prepared to implement large portions of an evaluation system. The plan would have to include agreements on a teacher observation rubric and a plan to train staff to use the new system, among other things, he said.

The city said it planned to comply with King’s new deadline, but refuted his characterization of its implementation plans so far.

In a conference call with reporters, Deputy Chancellor David Weiner, who led negotiations with the union, cited several programs that the department meant to prepare teachers to be observed on a new instructional rubric, including the Teacher Effectiveness Pilot and the citywide Teacher Effectiveness Intensive.

Speaking in the same call, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky vowed not to cow to pressure to make a deal.

“We’re not going to just do it for show,” Polakow-Suransky said of an evaluation system. “We’re not just going to to do it for money. We’re going to do it right. Until we get a deal that doesn’t undermine us and take us backward, we’re not going to do it.

d Walcott by GothamSchools.org

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

We’ve reached out for reaction from DeVos’s team and will update when we hear back.

teachers with borders

Schools near state lines perform worse — and rules discouraging teachers from moving may be to blame

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Want a leg up in school? Don’t attend one near a state border.

That’s the surprising finding of a new study published in the Economics of Education Review. The likely culprit: certification and pension rules that discourage teachers from moving between states, limiting the labor pool on each side of the border.

The peer-reviewed paper focuses on test scores at public middle schools near a state boundary. Eighth-graders attending those schools, the researchers find, perform consistently worse in math than students at non-boundary schools. (The results are negative in reading, too, but smaller and not always statistically significant.)

One reason the findings ought to catch the attention of policymakers across the country: the data comes from 33 states, including big ones like Florida, New York, and Texas.

“We estimate that roughly 670,000 students are enrolled in middle schools nationally that are [considered] ‘intensely affected’ by a state boundary in our study,” the researchers write.

Of course, schools and students are not randomly assigned to be near state boundaries, so the study can’t definitively conclude that boundaries are the cause of lower performance. But the researchers — Dongwoo Kim, Cory Koedel, Shawn Ni, and Michael Podgursky, all of the University of Missouri — control for a number of student characteristics that might affect performance.

And while the study can’t pinpoint why a boundary seems to hurt test scores, the researchers have a theory: “state-specific pension and licensing policies” that discourage teachers from moving between states, likely forcing border schools to draw from a more limited pool of potential teachers.

In some places, those pension rules mean a substantial loss of retirement wealth if teachers move states mid-career. Complicated licensure rules that in some cases require experienced teachers to take certification exams or obtain additional degrees can also make that kind of switch practically difficult. Other research has found that teachers rarely move across state lines, even if they live near a boundary.

Why might that harm performance of schools near state lines?

Say a school in New York City has two science teachers and no math teachers, while a school right across the river in New Jersey has two math teachers and no science teachers. If each school needs exactly one teacher per subject, the solution is easy in theory: the New York City school gets a math teacher and loses a science one, and vice versa for the New Jersey school. But if certification or pension rules prevent that from happening, both schools lose out — and student achievement might suffer.

States aren’t typically eager to change those policies, though, for several reasons.

For one, states that require prospective teachers to clear a high bar to become certified may worry that making it too easy for an out-of-state teacher to receive a license could reduce teacher quality. A study from North Carolina provides some evidence for this argument, showing that teachers trained elsewhere were less effective than teachers trained in-state, though the difference was very small.

Another argument is that limiting teachers’ ability to bring pension money along with them when they move helps states hold on to their educators — even if they are in turn harmed when they can’t recruit teachers from elsewhere.

The latest study suggests that the net impact of those restrictions are negative. Still, the effects on students are quite small, implying that changes to pension and certification policies are unlikely to lead to large improvements in student performance.

But, the study points out, policies that eliminate the harm from attending school near a state line could help hundreds of thousands of students.

“Although the boundary effects are small on a per-student basis, they are spread across a very large population,” the researchers write.