20/40

Regents give districts choice of tougher teacher evaluation

Deputy Commissioner John King, who will soon become commissioner, said that for a teacher to earn a rating of developing, effective, or highly effective, there should be some evidence of student progress on state tests.

Introducing a new option for how to change teacher evaluation, the Board of Regents voted today to allow districts and unions to increase the weight of student test scores on those evaluations to 40 percent.

According to the law passed last summer, which changed how teachers in New York State are evaluated and introduced their students’ test scores as an element for consideration, state tests would count for 20 out of 100 points. Another 20 points would come from local assessments, which school districts could devise on their own. Yet the set of regulations approved in a vote this evening will allow school districts, with the approval of teachers unions, to count students’ progress on state tests for 40 points of a teacher’s evaluation score.

The board voted 14 to 3 to approve the regulations. Regents Betty Rosa, Roger Tilles, and the board’s newest member Kathleen Cashin, voted against the proposal.

The increased emphasis on students’ progress on standardized tests turned up in the final draft of regulations after Governor Andrew Cuomo stepped into the discussions last week. In a letter to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, the governor said he believed that students’ scores on the annual math and reading tests should carry more weight in the evaluation of their teachers. Mayor Bloomberg agreed, saying that an earlier draft of the regulations did not place enough importance on the tests.

Yesterday, a group of 10 prominent education researchers sent the Regents a letter asking them not to place more weight on value-added scores, which measure students’ progress on tests against that of similar types of students.

Before the vote today, New York State Education Department Commissioner David Steiner did not endorse the idea of basing 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on test scores, but he said that districts should have the option of doing so.

“We are not saying that a local district must adopt 40 points on its state tests,” he said. “Should it so choose, we are not going to veto that choice from the state.”

Steiner said the state did not want to be in the position of saying: “You can determine something, but not this. We’re going to give you some district autonomy, but you’re not allowed to choose, even if you so wish, to use a measure that happens to be a state test.”

Tilles, who voted against the regulations, said giving districts the choice of using state tests as their local assessment portion was a false choice because many can’t afford to do otherwise. Tilles represents Long Island school districts.

“You are giving the districts a choice of spending a tremendous amount of money or taking the state tests,” he said. “That’s really what’s happening. The choice of developing a local test…is a very expensive choice.”

In districts such as New York City, where schools are bracing for another round of budget cuts, this choice could put teachers unions in an uncomfortable position. Opposed to the idea of using the state tests for 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, they will have to argue that the city should spend money on the creation of local assessments while teachers are experiencing cuts in their classrooms.

Cashin, a former New York City network leader who is known for quietly challenging the Bloomberg administration, said she was concerned that a greater reliance on the state tests would increase the already-heavy emphasis schools place on math and reading.

“Even 20 percent [reliance on test scores] — and I know that’s lower than a lot of states — even that narrows the curriculum because people teach prep,” Cashin said. “You know this is occurring.”

Steiner countered that the new evaluation system would actually increase the standing of subjects such as art and history, which are rarely tested, because it will force the state — and districts that choose to — to develop ways of testing them.

The state teachers union has opposed the regulations and hinted that it will consider taking legal action. In a statement, New York City teachers union President Michael Mulgrew said that while the United Federation of Teachers supported using test scores for 20 percent of an evaluation, 40 percent was too much.

“While the UFT has supported some role for standardized test results in teacher evaluations, we also know that the more weight put on standardized tests for children or teachers, the more school systems will focus on test prep rather than real learning,” Mulgrew said in a statement.

How Regents voted:

Phillips yes
Young yes
Cofield yes
Bennett yes
Jackson yes
Tallon yes
Chapey yes
Tisch yes
Bendit yes
Cottrell yes
Bottar yes
Norwood yes
Dawson yes
Cea yes

Rosa. no
Tilles no
Cashin no

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.