Beginning next year, state math and reading tests will be given in May, rather than two months apart in January and March, the state decided earlier this week. But beyond the barest outline of the schedule, details about the change are still unclear. Details up in the air include when exactly the tests will be given and how results will be tabulated in time for the start of the next school year. "Work is now underway to revise current examination calendars and scoring timelines," State Education Department deputy commissioner Johanna Duncan-Poitier said in materials released this week. The schedule change is throwing schools' plans for next year into question just as teachers are leaving for the summer. Steven Evangelista, the principal of Harlem Link Charter School, said his teachers have already planned their lessons for all of next year, and finding out that the state tests are moving is forcing them to revise the plans. "At this late date, when we have already mapped out our entire curriculum and assessment calendar for 2009-10, changing the date of high-stakes tests throws a monkey wrench in our plans," Evangelista said, adding that he wondered whether getting results over the summer would give teachers enough time to use the data to inform their instruction. He said he hadn't heard about the Regents' debate before this week. In the past, some schools have focused more heavily on reading before the state test in January, then shifted their focus to math in the months before the March math test. Some schools also plan different kinds of lessons for after the state tests, when the pressure to prepare students for the exams has lifted. Even schools that shun explicit test prep, including Evangelista's, say the schedule change could pose problems for them.
The city is reversing a back-room deal that would have had teachers and students returning to school on the same day in September, giving staff no official planning time. Now, instead of starting school on the day after Labor Day, students will have their first day on Wednesday, Sept. 9. That will give principals and teachers one day together to plan for the opening of school. Principals union president Ernest Logan had attacked the plan to eliminate the beginning-of-the-year planning days, which he said were the most important days of the year. "No one used common sense here," he told me. After today's schedule adjustment, Logan declared, "Common sense prevails," in a message to principals. He also said his union would continue to discuss the effects of the schedule change with the Department of Education. One effect of the change will be a stray school day for students at the end of next year. Instead of finishing on the last Friday in June, as they are this year, students will be required to report to school the following Monday, as well. Below are Logan's full statement and the city's press release, which emphasizes that other components of the teachers union's deal with the city will save the city $100 million a year.
As early as this Monday, Mayor Bloomberg refused to countenance the possibility that mayoral control could expire June 30, spiraling the system back to a power-share with 32 community school boards and superintendents, plus a citywide Board of Education. But with the state Senate still deadlocked, the mayor is agreeing to meet with the Manhattan borough president, Scott Stringer, and discuss contingency plans, Stringer said this morning. Department of Education officials are also burrowing into education law — and what they're describing is a school system that would become almost anarchical if the 2002 mayoral control law expires. School officials explain a chain of events that would lead to the power vacuum in a memo that is circulating inside Tweed Courthouse and City Hall. The first problem is that if the system abruptly reverts to pre-2002 status, there would be no community school boards. The pre-2002 law prevents board elections from happening until May 2010, and no one has the authority to appoint temporary members: "Therefore, community school boards will exist, but they will have no members — and will thus be incapable of taking any action," the memo says. No community school boards means no acting community superintendents, which means several crucial school matters would be left without anyone to OK them. According to the memo, the matters include filling teaching vacancies, firing school employees who commit crimes, and deciding whether to promote students to the next grade after summer school. Classroom decisions could also be affected, the memo says: "While principals have the authority to make curricular decisions, those decisions will require the superintendent's approval, and without a superintendent, it is not clear how schools can make needed instructional decisions at all." It's important to remember that these predictions are based not just on conversations with lawyers, but also probably political calculations. The department has been pushing strongly for mayoral control to be renewed, and so threatening doomsday if the Senate doesn't act is in their interest. Here's the full document:
A week after principals were required to submit their budgets for next year, the city still doesn't have an answer to the question of how many teachers are losing their positions because of budget cuts. That question is essential for the counterintuitive reason that positions cut at schools actually don't save the system any money. If a principal can't pay for a teacher, the teacher goes into a pool of "excessed" teachers whose salaries are paid by the department. That pool already contains more than 1,700 people and has been criticized as a burden on the city's budget. If the size of the pool swells because of the budget cuts, the department could end up shouldering thousands of teachers' salaries — all while the teachers aren't officially on a school's staff. Department of Education staff are still crunching the budget numbers, officials say. The department's chief operating officer, Photeine Anagnastopoulos, told me on Tuesday that the excess situation was shaping up to be "not as bad" as she and others had anticipated, particularly considering that principals haven't yet launched the bulk of their hiring for the fall. But a source familiar with the budget process says the numbers have been delayed because the department is "scrambling" to check principals' math about whether they need to cut positions. Staff at the department's service centers are "going over budgets in high-excess schools trying to negotiate fewer excesses," the source said.
Teachers union president Randi Weingarten made her New York City goodbye official tonight before a standing-room-only audience of union delegates. The group gave her two standing ovations and spontaneous cheers, including one woman who proclaimed, "You're my hero!" Weingarten said that her resignation from the United Federation of Teachers presidency will be effective on July 31st. For roughly one year, Weingarten has been president of both the United Federation of Teachers local union and the national American Federation of Teachers — “even though each job is more than full-time, deserving 24/7 attention,” she said. Citing the need for each union to have its own full-time president, she said she was stepping aside “to ensure a smooth transition for the UFT.” Weingarten has said that she favors handing the reins of the New York City union to Michael Mulgrew, who now serves as chief operating officer. The union's executive board will decide who to name interim president in the next month.
After years of criticism that its school report cards are too difficult for most parents to understand, the city is redesigning the report cards that give each school a letter grade. Starting this fall, the Department of Education will produce one-page progress reports that contain only the most important pieces of performance data about each school. The new reports are meant to deliver complicated accountability information "in a more parent-friendly way," according to Phil Vaccaro, a representative of the department's accountability office. Vaccaro presented a draft of the new report to the city school board yesterday. The "progress report family summary" has the same content but a different design from the data-packed two-pager currently produced for each school. For example, instead of having eight different numbers to describe student progress, there is just one, the proportion of students who made a year's progress in a single year. A member of the school board, Dmytro Fedkowskyj, worked with the department to develop the new reports. "We need to present them in ways parents can understand," he said, adding that parents who misunderstood the reports could make misinformed school choices. Critics of the progress reports said the family summary might actually be too simple.
For those unfamiliar with the bureaucratic behemoth that is the New York City Department of Education, the term "excessed" is somewhat strange. Most spell check software (including this one) doesn't even recognize it as a word. But, indeed it is. I know because I looked it up two weeks ago, just for kicks. There it is, at the bottom. Number seven. It's a verb (used with object) that means: 7. to dismiss, demote, transfer, or furlough (an employee), esp. as part of a mass layoff. And no, I didn't look it up just for fun. I guess semi-morbid curiosity would be more accurate. It was just over two weeks ago when I was in the classroom and an announcement was made calling three teachers and myself to the principal's office for a brief meeting after school.
Randi Weingarten testifying at a mayoral control hearing in February. (<em>GothamSchools</em>) Ending what might have been one of the city's worst-kept secrets, Randi Weingarten this afternoon is announcing her plan to resign as president of the city teachers union at the end of next month. Weingarten is making the announcement to members of the United Federation of Teachers right now at the union's Lower Manhattan headquarters. Before today, she had not confirmed her intention to step down, even after news of her impending departure leaked to the media. Beginning in August, Weingarten will be devoting herself full-time to the presidency of the second-largest national teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, which she assumed last summer. A union press release (posted in full after the jump) contains praise for Weingarten's 23-year tenure at the UFT from a host of prominent figures, including Gov. Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. One name that doesn't make an appearance in the press release is that of Michael Mulgrew, the union vice president who is widely assumed to be next in line for the presidency. Anna just posted a profile of Mulgrew in which she calls him "the new power broker you probably don't know." From the profile: Mulgrew also couldn’t be more different from Weingarten. Tall and apple-cheeked, he has the physical presence of Mr. Clean (both shave their heads) and a quiet charm. “Women seem to like him,” noted one union member. Still, he’s often bullish and he gained renown in the union for being one of a small number of people to stand up to Weingarten. Read the complete profile. Below the jump, read the union's press release announcing Weingarten's resignation: