Building Better Teachers

Here are all of the policy changes proposed in Tisch and Berlin’s response to Cuomo

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Commissioner John King and Chancellor Merryl Tisch at this month's Board of Regents meeting. Elizabeth Berlin, right, will take over as interim commissioner at the end of the month.

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and soon-to-be acting Education Commissioner Elizabeth Berlin offered a host of proposals that would dramatically change education policy in New York state in a 20-page letter released Wednesday.

The letter, a response to a series of pointed questions from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, is the first comprehensive look at the changes that the Board of Regents and State Education Department are willing to throw their support behind as Cuomo continues to push for aggressive changes to the way teachers are hired, fired, and evaluated.

While some of the changes were in direct response to issues raised by Cuomo’s office, others were unsolicited. The letter includes proposals around school funding, improving school integration and passing the DREAM Act.

The complete letter is below. We’ll be sorting through it today — but first, here are all of Tisch and Berlin’s suggested policy changes.

Teacher evaluation

  • Change the law so that state-determined test scores count for 40 percent of evaluations, instead of 20 percent.
  • Establish standardized “scoring ranges” for principal observations, instead of allowing local districts to determine those scoring ranges.
  • Make it easier to remove teachers who receive two consecutive “ineffective” ratings.

Removal of poorly performing teachers

  • Replace the independent hearing officers who oversee the termination process for teachers and principals with state employees.
  • Bar students from being assigned two teachers in a row with ineffective ratings. That policy has been proposed or adopted in other states, including Rhode Island, Indiana, and Florida.

Teacher training and certification

  • Establish year-long internships in schools and a statewide teacher residency program modeled on a New York pilot program created with Race to the Top funds.

Incentives for high‐performing teachers

  • Use $20 million apportioned to Cuomo’s Teacher Excellence Fund in last year’s budget to fund existing programs that compensate teachers for taking on leadership roles.
  • Increase total funding for teacher leadership programs in next year’s budget by as much as $80 million.

Probationary periods

  • Require teachers to work in a classroom for five years before being eligible for tenure.
  • Change the law to explicitly state that non-tenured teachers can be fired at will, regardless of their evaluation ratings. State education officials have already made some changes to reassure district officials who say the law is too vague on this issue.

Struggling schools

  • Allow the State Education Department to more forcefully intervene in “chronically underperforming districts” like Buffalo. Tisch and Berlin ask Cuomo to support an existing bill that would put districts on oversight plans.
  • Implement an intervention model used in Massachusetts that appoints receivers for struggling schools or districts and authorizing them to “take numerous aggressive actions.”

Charter schools

  • Eliminate the regional distinctions under the current cap or raise the cap on charter schools in New York City.
  • Make it easier to close charter schools that do not improve student performance to close, and change the law so that any closed charter schools are not counted toward the cap.

Mayoral control

  • Renew mayoral control in New York City.

Regionalization

  • Consolidate high schools in districts with declining student enrollment.
  • Encourage school districts to merge programs and services by boosting the funding formulas that help minimize the effects of changes in tax rates that can result from reorganizations.

Selection process for the Board of Regents

  • Do not change the selection and appointment process for Regents.

Selection process for the education commissioner

  • Do not change the selection process for the commissioner.

School funding

  • Adopt the Regents’ state aid proposal released earlier this month, which calls for an increase of $2 billion and targeted at the highest-need districts, as well as those hit hardest by the 2007-2009 economic recession.
  • The extra $2 billion would set aside $86 million for districts to improve their services for English language learners and $251 million more for the state’s universal pre-K program.
  • Boost funding for districts offering Career and Technical Education programs.

Socioeconomic diversity

  • Expand programs like the Rochester Urban-Suburban program designed to increase socioeconomic integration.
  • Require districts to establish enrollment policies meant to increase socioeconomic integration.

DREAMers Act

  • Pass the DREAMers Act, which would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities and to qualify for state financial aid.

language proficiency

Educators working on creating more bilingual students worry new state requirements aren’t high enough

A second grade class at Bryant Webster K-8 school in Denver (Joe Amon, The Denver Post).

Colorado educators who led the way in developing high school diploma endorsements recognizing bilingual students worry that new legislation establishing statewide standards for such “seals of biliteracy” sets the bar too low.

Two years ago, Denver Public Schools, Eagle County Schools and the Adams County School District 14 started offering the seal of biliteracy to their students. The three districts worked together to find a common way to assess whether students are fluent in English and another language, and recognize that on high school diplomas. Advocates say the seal is supposed to indicate to colleges and employers that students are truly bilingual.

A bill passed by state legislators this year that will go into effect in August sets a path for districts that want to follow that lead by outlining the minimum that students must do to prove they are fluent in English and in another language.

According to the new law, students must meet a 3.0 grade point average in their English classes and also earn a proficient score on the 11th grade state test, or on Advanced Placement or IB tests. For showing proficiency in the second language, students can either earn proficient scores on nationally recognized tests — or meet a 3.0 grade point average after four years of language classes.

Although educators say the law sends a message of support for bilingual education, that last criteria is one part of what has some concerned.

“It allows for proficiency in a world language to be established solely by completing four years of high school language classes,” said Jorge Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education. “Language classes in one school district may have a different degree of rigor than they do in another.”

The second language criteria should be comparable to the English criteria, several educators said. In the requirements set by Denver, Eagle County and Adams 14, students must at a minimum demonstrate language proficiency through a test score, or in some cases with a portfolio review and interview if a test is not available.

The three districts also catered their requirements based on what each community said was important. In Adams 14 and in Eagle schools, students must perform community service using their language skills. Students also have to do an interview in both languages with a community panel.

“Our school district team developed the community service criteria because we wanted our kids to have authentic practice in their languages,” said Jessica Martinez, director of multilingual education for Eagle County Schools. “We also wanted students to be a bridge to another community than their own. For example, one group of students created academic tutoring services for their peers who don’t yet speak a lot of English. Another student started tutoring her mom and her parents’ friends so they could get their GED.”

The state law doesn’t require students to do community service. But it does allow school districts to go above the state’s requirements when setting up their biliteracy programs.

“Thoughtful school districts can absolutely address these concerns,” Garcia said.

Several school districts in the state are looking to start their own programs. In March, the school board for the Roaring Fork School District in Glenwood Springs voted to start offering the seal. Summit School District also began offering the seal this year.

Leslie Davidson, the dual language coordinator for Summit, said that although her program will change in the next year as she forms more clear requirements around some new tests, she will continue to have higher requirements than the state has set.

This year her students had prove proficiency in their second language by taking a test in that language. They also had to demonstrate English proficiency through the ACT. In addition, students did oral presentations to the community in both languages.

“Their expectations aren’t as high as mine are,” Davidson said. “We’ll probably stay with our higher-level proficiencies. I do have some work to do in terms of how that’s going to look for next year, but I certainly don’t want to just use seat time.”

Meanwhile, the districts that started the seal are increasing their commitment to biliteracy so as many students as possible can be eligible to earn seals in the future.

The Adams 14 school district in Commerce City is using Literacy Squared, a framework written by local researchers for teaching students to read English by strengthening literacy in the native language. The program is being rolled up year by year and will serve students in 34 classrooms from preschool through fourth grade in the fall.

In Eagle County, Martinez said parents have shown such a strong demand for biliteracy that most elementary schools are now dual language schools providing instruction to all students in English for half of the school day and in Spanish for the other half.

Both districts are also increasing the offerings of language classes in middle and high school. The options are important for students who are native English speakers so they too can become bilingual and access the seal. For students whose primary language is not English, the classes can help ensure they don’t lose their primary language as they learn English.

Of Eagle’s 25 students who graduated with a seal of biliteracy this year, 17 were native Spanish speakers and eight were native English speakers.

“We want all kids to see their bilingualism is an asset,” Martinez said. “It’s huge for them.”

 

money matters

Why so negative? Colorado lawmakers seek to rebrand controversial tool that limits spending on schools

A student works at Tollgate Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Nic Garcia, Chalkbeat)

Colorado lawmakers are tired of hearing about the “negative factor.”

So they changed its name — at least in statute.

Going forward, the tool that budget writers will use to spend down the state’s financial obligation to public schools to balance the state budget officially will go by its original name: the “budget stabilization factor.”

The change was made when lawmakers passed the state’s annual school funding bill earlier this month.

The negative factor “has been used as a pejorative,” said state Sen. Kevin Priola, the Henderson Republican who put forth the idea of the name change. “The budget is never perfect. But these are the economic realities we have to deal with.”

Some education funding advocates are rolling their eyes. The term, they say, has become so well known and accepted that any attempt to change it will be difficult.

“You can change the name, but the debt’s the same,” said Lisa Weil, executive director of Great Education Colorado, a nonprofit that advocates for more school funding.

The negative factor — oh, sorry, we mean the budget stabilization factor — is just one part of a much larger and complex formula used to determine school funding.

The budget tool was first created in 2009 when state lawmakers were forced to slash the budget after the Great Recession.

School advocates knew they couldn’t escape the cuts the rest of the state was facing. So a team of lawmakers, lobbyists, superintendents and financial officers helped developed the tool.

Here’s how it works: After lawmakers determine how much funding schools should receive based on a formula developed in 1994, they compare that amount to available tax revenue. The difference is that year’s “stabilization factor.”

At the time the tool was created, the group wanted the cuts to be systematic — applied equally across all schools — and transparent. As part of the compromise, the state was required to track how much money it was withholding from schools.

In 2014, funding advocates sued the state, claiming the negative factor was unconstitutional. But the state Supreme Court disagreed.

Since then, Republican lawmakers have become more critical about the provision that requires them to track how much money the state isn’t giving schools. They argue that other state services such as roads, hospitals and parks all share a burden when it comes to balancing the budget.

Lawmakers have withheld about $5.8 billion from schools since the budget balancing tool was created. However, funding has slowly crept up each year, just not as fast as school leaders would hope.