budget deal

Budget agreement will change tenure rules, task state with eval overhaul

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie at a press conference with Democratic colleagues.

Updated — A state budget agreement reached Sunday night will make teachers wait an extra year to become eligible for tenure, establishes a state-imposed model for turning around struggling schools, and increases education spending, according to lawmakers and news reports.

Full details of the agreement will not be available until Monday, officials said. But the announcement indicates that New York’s legislative leaders reached agreement on some thorny education issues before the Wednesday deadline for an on-time budget.

“With this agreement, we address intractable problems that have vexed our state for generations,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in statement.

The consensus came after lawmakers agreed to address many of the aggressive education policy changes Cuomo sought — including an overhaul of teacher evaluations — after or outside of the budget process. Other proposals, such as increasing the number of charter schools allowed to open in New York and renewing mayoral control of the city school system, were dropped from budget negotiations last week.

Some were quick to declare victory. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said most of the policies his union had opposed were not included in the agreement.

Here’s what is included in the deal.

Funding: Education spending will increase by about $1.4 billion, State Senator Dean Skelos said in a statement accompanying the governor’s announcement. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie put the total increase at $1.6 billion. Both are more than the maximum Cuomo had proposed, $1.1 billion, but significantly less than what the Board of Regents, some advocacy groups, and the teachers unions had sought.

It’s unclear how that money will be divvied up. Skelos said his statement that it would include “a dramatic reduction in the Gap Elimination Adjustment,” a cost-cutting program that has affected smaller and suburban school districts more severely than New York City. Cuomo had wanted to tie any funding increase to a full set of policy changes, many of which are not included in the agreement.

Teacher evaluations: The state education department will be tasked with overhauling teacher evaluations, Heastie told reporters. The decision to defer making changes and to tap the department for the job shows just how toxic the issue has become for lawmakers, since the legislature has criticized the department’s handling of various education policy issues for more than a year.

Under the new system, teachers who earn an “ineffective” rating two years in a row could be fired in 90 days unless they can provide evidence that challenges those ratings. Teachers rated “ineffective” three years in a row could be fired in 30 days if they could not prove that fraud played a role in their ratings.

How teachers earn those ratings would also change. The new system won’t dictate that student state test scores and observations count for specific percentages of a final score. (Currently, they count for up to 40 percent and 60 percent, respectively, and combine to form a final rating.) It would also allow several kinds of student assessments to be used.

Teacher who receive the lowest ratings on the student performance segment wouldn’t automatically earn an overall “ineffective” rating, as is the case under the current system. Now, they could also receive a slightly higher “developing” rating.

Cuomo had pushed for specific changes to teacher evaluations be included in the budget, including increasing the role of state test scores to half of a teacher’s overall rating. Last week, lawmakers had debated putting changes in the hands of the Board of Regents or a separate panel.

Teacher tenure: Tenure protections will not be available until after teachers have spent four years in the classroom, up from the current three-year requirement, Heastie told reporters. Teachers now would have to receive a rating of “effective” or “highly effective” in three of those four years in order to receive tenure, State of Politics reported.

Cuomo had sought to make the cutoff five years and tie eligibility to teacher evaluations, with a single low rating derailing a teacher’s progress toward eligibility.

Tenure rules have also been the subject of a lawsuit that is winding its way through the state court system. Parents are suing to overturn several state laws that determine tenure and termination rules, arguing they violate their children’s constitutional right to a quality education. It’s unclear if an overhaul of the termination law for tenured teachers is part of the budget agreement.

Struggling schools: Some version of a proposal to allow for the takeover of persistently low-performing schools is in the budget agreement, but the scope of that plan is not yet clear. Heastie told reporters that schools would have extra time to improve before the state gets authority to take them over.

Cuomo had proposed a model in which struggling schools would be turned over to a state-appointed “receiver,” which could include school-turnaround experts, other school districts, or charter school operators who would be able to get around collective bargaining agreements and city rules.

Mulgrew said in his statement that the budget agreement ensured “local oversight of struggling schools,” and he told his members on Sunday night that “the school chancellor, not the state, will appoint the receiver” and collective bargaining rights would be preserved.

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.