setting the agenda

Cuomo will push to raise charter cap, slow tenure, revamp evals in sweeping overhaul tied to new funding

PHOTO: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor
Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed for a broad overhaul of state education policy last year.

Gov. Cuomo promised an aggressive education agenda this year, and he delivered.

Cuomo announced plans to push for a broad overhaul of state education policy on Wednesday, which will include raising the state’s cap on charter schools, increasing the state’s role in teacher evaluations, and lengthening the time it takes for teachers to earn tenure.

Cuomo’s plans aren’t guaranteed to become policy: The changes require legislative action, and the negotiations that precede a final budget deal often lead to unexpected outcomes and concessions. But they form the broadest, most ambitious set of changes he’s proposed as governor, and set the stage for fierce policy fights with teachers unions and other advocates.

“Our education system needs dramatic reform, and it has for years,” Cuomo said. “This is the year to roll up our sleeves and take on the dramatic challenge that has eluded us for so many years and for so many reasons.”

In exchange for the legislative changes, Cuomo said he would increase funding by $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent — essentially meeting teacher unions halfway, as they have requested a $2.2 billion increase.

Here’s a breakdown of the governor’s proposals.

Teacher evaluations: Cuomo’s proposal would increase the portion of a teacher evaluation controlled by the state from 20 percent to 50 percent, which for many teachers would boost the significance of state test scores. It would also diminish the principals’ role by relying on the observation of an independent evaluator.

The state’s roughly 700 school districts have a patchwork of evaluation plans, which Cuomo described as “baloney” on Wednesday. His proposal is an attempt to stop what he has called “local inflation” of scores, which has been more evident outside of New York City.

Cuomo’s proposal would restrict district plans by requiring the other half of a teacher’s rating to come from classroom observations, and would make high scores on both halves necessary to earn an overall “effective” or “highly effective” rating.

Cuomo stressed that he wants the evaluations to create incentives, too. He proposed offering bonuses of up to $20,000 to teachers with highly effective ratings, just as he did in last year’s speech. Those bonuses would require the agreement of the district and the local teachers union, though, and UFT President Michael Mulgrew said he still wasn’t interested.

“Individual merit pay? It’s been completely debunked,” Mulgrew said.

Teacher tenure: Cuomo is proposing that teachers only become eligible for tenure after five consecutive years of “highly effective” or “effective ratings.” That would be a significant increase from the current three-year probation period, and if a single “developing” rating could derail a teacher’s path to those job protections, it would add to the pressure associated with teacher evaluations.

Other legislation Cuomo is proposing would keep a student from being assigned two teachers with “ineffective” ratings two years in a row. (The plan does not specify how that would work for middle and high-school students with multiple teachers.)

Charter schools: Cuomo’s proposal would add 100 charter schools to the state limit, bringing the total to 560, and remove the regional distinctions that restricted some charters to New York City and others to parts of the state where there was less demand. That could set up future fights over the cap the next time the limit nears — and with the Success Academy network recently applying for 14 charters at once, for example, that might not be so far into the future.

The governor said he would also be proposing “anti-creaming legislation” to ensure charter schools are teaching their “fair share” of English language learners, low-income students, and students with disabilities. The provision would require schools to submit enrollment rates for each of those groups of students to the state at the beginning and end of each school year and bi-monthly — providing a trove of new data to support or refute the idea that high-needs students leave charter schools during the school year. It would also require charter schools to add lottery preferences for low-income students, students enrolled “in a failing school,” and children of staff members.

Cuomo would also increase per-pupil funding for charters by $75 — not a full win for charter school advocates, who want their school funding increases to be commensurate with increases for district schools.

Struggling schools: Cuomo called for a new law that would appoint nonprofit groups, school-turnaround experts, or other school districts to oversee schools that have fallen on the state’s lowest performing list for three years.

Based on a turnaround model used in Massachusetts, the law would give those “receivers” the authority of local superintendents, allowing them to restructure struggling schools, overhaul their curriculums, and offer extra pay to attract successful teachers. It would also let them to override labor agreements in order to hire “underperforming” teachers and administrators.

The receivers would be required to bring a bevy of support services for students and their families to the schools — a plan to turn them into “community schools” that mirrors New York City’s program for troubled schools.

Cuomo proposed setting aside $8 million for those overhauls. The schools would also get priority for state grants that fund pre-kindergarten, extra learning time, and early-college high school programs.

Teacher training: Cuomo proposed closing down teacher training programs where 50 percent of graduates fail to pass a state certification exam in three consecutive years.

He also proposed paying the CUNY or SUNY tuition to “top candidates” who commit to teaching in state schools for five years after graduation, creating a statewide teacher residency program, and mandating new GPA and GRE requirements for education programs.

School governance: Cuomo threw support behind the renewal of mayoral control of New York City schools, and encouraged other cities to apply for mayoral control as well.

Teacher discipline: Teachers facing accusations of physical or sexual abuse should get an expedited hearing process, Cuomo said.

power players

Who’s who in Indiana education: Sen. Dennis Kruse

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos and Sarah Glen

Find more entries on education power players as they publish here.

Vitals: Republican representing District 14 and parts of Allen and Dekalb counties. So far, has served 13 years in the Senate (current) and 15 years in the House. Kruse began his career as a teacher in 1970, spending five years in the classroom. Once he left education, he became an auctioneer and got involved in real estate.

What he’s known for: Kruse has served as Senate Education Committee chairman for eight years. While he is a less vocal advocate for choice-based education reform measures than his House counterpart, Kruse is a staunch conservative who has pushed — with varying levels of success — for incorporating more religion in public schools.

Career highlights: In 2011, Kruse was the author of Senate Bill 1, a massive bill that established the state’s formal teacher evaluation system. He has also consistently supported bills seeking to improve school discipline, before- and after-school programs and teacher preparation. This year, Kruse has authored bills dealing with school start dates, contracts for district superintendents, school employee background checks and testing.

On religion in schools: Kruse and fellow Sen. Jeff Raatz introduced a resolution this year that, according to the National Center for Science Education, has the “teaching of evolution” as “the specific target of the bill.” Previously, Kruse has put forward other legislation that would encourage the teaching of creationism and the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer at the start of the school day, but none of the bills passed. In 2015, Kruse was also a co-author of the controversial religious freedom bill.

On toeing the party line: Despite his conservative politics, Kruse doesn’t always line up with the will of his party. Republican leaders this year are calling for making the state superintendent an appointed, rather than elected, position, but Kruse won’t back the switch. Instead, Kruse has said he believes in elections and that people should get to make choices about their representation.

For that reason, some have speculated that’s why the senate’s version of the bill bypassed his education committee and instead was heard through the elections committee.

Who supports him: Kruse has received campaign contributions from Hoosiers for Quality Education, an advocacy group that supports school choice, charter schools and vouchers; K12, one of the largest online school providers in the country; and Education Networks of America, a private education technology company.

Legislative highlights via Chalkbeat:

Bills in past years: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

Also check out our list of bills to watch this year.

Trade offs

Indianapolis is experimenting with a new kind of teacher — and it’s transforming this school

PHOTO: Teachers and coaches meet at Indianapolis Public Schools Lew Wallace School 107.
Paige Sowders (left) is one of three multi-classroom leaders who are helping teachers at School 107.

Teachers at School 107 are up against a steep tower of challenges: test scores are chronically low, student turnover is high and more than a third of kids are still learning English.

All the school’s difficulties are compounded by the struggle to hire and retain experienced teachers, said principal Jeremy Baugh, who joined School 107 two years ago. At one of the most challenging schools in Indianapolis Public Schools, many of the educators are in their first year in the classroom.

“It’s a tough learning environment,” Baugh said. “We needed to find a way to support new teachers to be highly effective right away.”

This year, Baugh and the staff of School 107 are tackling those challenges with a new teacher leadership model designed to attract experienced educators and support those who are new to the classroom. School 107 is one of six district schools piloting the opportunity culture program, which allows principals to pay experienced teachers as much as $18,000 extra each year to support other classrooms. Next year, the program will expand to 10 more schools.

The push to create opportunities for teachers to take on leadership and earn more money without leaving the classroom is gaining momentum in Indiana — where the House budget includes $1.5 million for developing educator “career pathways” — and across the country in places from Denver to Washington. The IPS program is modeled on similar efforts in North Carolina led by the education consulting firm Public Impact.

At School 107, Baugh hired three new teachers, called multi-classroom leaders, who are responsible for the performance of several classes. Each class has a dedicated, full-time teacher. But the classroom leader is there to help them plan lessons, improve their teaching and look at data on where students are struggling. And unlike traditional coaches, they also spend time in the classroom, working directly with students.

As classroom leaders, they are directly responsible for the test scores of the students in their classes, said Jesse Pratt, who is overseeing opportunity culture for the district.

“They own that data,” Pratt said. “They are invested in those kids and making sure they are successful.”

At School 107, the program is part of a focus on using data to track student performance that Baugh began rolling out when he took over last school year. It’s already starting to bear fruit: Students still struggle on state tests, but they had so much individual improvement that the school’s letter grade from the state jumped from a D to a B last year.

Paige Sowders, who works with classes in grades 3 through 6, is one of the experienced teachers the program attracted to School 107. After 9 years in the classroom, she went back to school to earn an administrator’s license. But Sowders wasn’t quite ready to leave teaching for the principal’s office, she said. She was planning to continue teaching in Washington Township. Then, she learned about the classroom leader position at School 107, and it seemed like a perfect opportunity to move up the ladder without moving out of the classroom.

“I wanted something in the middle before becoming an administrator,” she said. “I get to be a leader and work with teachers and with children.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
The multi-classroom leaders meet regularly with teachers and district coaches to review data and plan lessons.

The new approaches to teacher leadership are part of a districtwide move to give principals more freedom to set priorities and choose how to spend funding. But those decisions aren’t always easy. Since schools don’t get extra funding to hire classroom leaders, Baugh had to find money in his existing budget. That meant cutting several vacant part-time positions, including a media specialist, a gym teacher and a music teacher.

It also meant slightly increasing class sizes. Initially, that seemed fine to Baugh, but then enrollment unexpectedly ballooned at the school — going from 368 students at the start of the year to 549 in February. With so many new students, class sizes started to go up, and the school had to hire several new teachers, Baugh said.

Some of those teachers were fresh out of college when they started in January, with little experience in such challenging schools. But because the school had classroom leaders, new teachers weren’t expected to lead classes without support. Instead, they are working with leaders like Sowders, who can take the time to mentor them throughout the year.

With teachers who are just out of school, Sowders spends a lot of time focusing on basics, she said. She went over what their days would be like and how to prepare. During the first week of the semester, she went into one of the new teacher’s classes to teach English every day so he could see the model lessons. And she is working with him on improving discipline in his class by setting expectations in the first hour of class.

Ultimately, Baugh thinks the tradeoffs the school made were worth it. The extra money helped them hold on to talented staff, and they have the bandwidth to train new teachers.

“If I’m a novice teacher just learning my craft, I can’t be expected to be a super star best teacher year one,” he said. “We learn our skill.”