public speaking

Arne Duncan urges New Yorkers to stick with Cuomo on teacher evals

Arne Duncan speaking at Al Sharpton's National Action Network conference in 2014.

At a time when even Gov. Andrew Cuomo is considering changes to the state’s rollout of new teacher evaluations, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is urging New Yorkers to stay the course.

“I challenge you to support your governor as he challenges the status quo and tries to raise standards, raise expectations, and evaluate and support your teachers and principals,” Duncan said near the end of a brief speech at the National Action Network conference in New York City Wednesday night.

Duncan’s speech focused on racial inequities in urban school districts, but he made sure to praise both Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for their efforts to improve education. 

Duncan lauded de Blasio’s aggressive pursuit of expanded pre-kindergarten access, an agenda item that the Obama administration has also pushed, though with less success at the federal level.

“I challenge you to support your mayor as he tries to create a new world of opportunity for our babies and get them off to a good start,” Duncan said.

The Obama administration’s push for teacher evaluations that consider student performance long predates its more recent pre-K push. Duncan, a former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, came to Washington, D.C. with Obama in 2009  and quickly went to work in trying to push states to overhaul their education policies through billions of dollars in competitive grants.

New York State won $700 million in 2010’s Race to the Top competition after it raised the state’s charter school cap, passed a new teacher evaluation law, and agreed to implement new Common Core learning standards. Under the Bloomberg administration, New York City eagerly used federal money to close schools, open charter schools, and pilot new evaluations.

Some of those changes have stoked fierce opposition, lawsuits from the state and city teachers unions and, most recently, a legislative backlash prompted by parents angry about the state’s Common Core-aligned assessments.

Duncan has frequently chimed in during the debates, though he’s typically avoided taking a strong stand on issues. He threatened to pull federal funds after a state delay over teacher evaluations, then praised the state for pulling off a deal. Two years ago, amid a new delay in New York City, he chided city and union officials for their political bickering.

Asked Wednesday about the state’s decision to simultaneously implement teacher evaluations and overhaul tests, Duncan returned to Cuomo.

“I think the governor has actually shown real courage and has frankly been a leader nationally,” he said.

Cuomo has recently conceded that it might be time to make some changes to the state teacher evaluation law to address concerns that new Common Core assessments might not be a fair way to rate teachers as the implementation continues. The state teachers union, under new leadership, has long called for a moratorium on using the new tests for evaluations.

“It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be rocky, there is going to be mistakes,” Duncan continued. “People need to listen, they need to be humble in this and be nimble and make changes. But to sort of stop and go back to the bad old days simply doesn’t make sense to me.”


Aurora school board reverses course, accepts finding that district should have negotiated bonuses with union

Students in a math class at Aurora Central High School in April 2017. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Following weeks of criticism, the Aurora school board on Tuesday reversed course and accepted an arbitrator’s finding that a pilot bonus system violated the district’s agreement with the teachers union.

The Aurora school district rolled out an experiment last year to offer bonuses to some teachers and other staff in hard-to-fill positions, such as psychologists, nurses and speech language pathologists.

The teachers union argued that the plan should have been negotiated first. An arbitrator agreed and issued a report recommending that the pilot program stop immediately and that the district negotiate any future offerings. The union and school board are set to start negotiations next month about how to change teacher pay, using new money voters approved in November.

When school board members first considered the arbitrator’s report last month, they declined to accept the findings, which were not binding. That raised concerns for union members that the district might implement bonuses again without first negotiating them.

Tuesday’s new resolution, approved on a 5-1 vote, accepted the full arbitrator’s report and its recommendations. Board member Monica Colbert voted against the motion, and board member Kevin Cox was absent.

Back in January 2018, school board members approved a budget amendment that included $1.8 million to create the pilot for incentivizing hard-to-fill positions. On Tuesday, board member Cathy Wildman said she thought through the budget vote, the school board may have allowed the district to create that incentive program, even though the board now accepts the finding that they should have worked with union before trying this experiment.

“It was a board decision at that time to spend that amount on hard-to-fill positions,” Wildman said.

Board president Marques Ivey said he was not initially convinced by the arbitrator’s position, but said that he later read more and felt he could change his vote based on having more information.

Last month, the Aurora school board discussed the report with its attorney in a closed-door executive session. When the board met in public afterward, it chose not to uphold the entire report, saying that the board could not “come to an agreement.” Instead board members voted on a resolution that asked the school district to negotiate any future “long-term” incentive programs.

Union president Bruce Wilcox called the resolution “poorly worded” and slammed the board for not having the discussion in public, calling it a “backroom deal.” Several other teachers also spoke to the board earlier this month, reminding the newest board members’ of their campaign promises to increase transparency.

Board members responded by saying that they did not hold an official vote; rather the board was only deciding how to proceed in public. Colorado law prohibits schools boards from taking positions, or votes, in private.

The board on Tuesday also pushed the district to provide more detailed information about the results of the pilot and survey results that tried to quantify how it affected teachers deciding to work in Aurora.

story slam

The state of teacher pay in Indiana: Hear true stories told by local educators

It’s time to hear directly from educators about the state of teacher pay in Indiana.

Join us for another Teacher Story Slam, co-hosted by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Chalkbeat Indiana, and Teachers Lounge Indy. Teacher salaries are the hot topic in education these days, in Indiana and across the country. Hear from Indianapolis-area teachers who will tell true stories about how they live on a teacher’s salary.

Over the past two years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from the teachers, students, and leaders of Indianapolis through our occasional series, What’s Your Education Story? Some of our favorites were told live during teacher story slams hosted by Teachers Lounge Indy.

Those stories include one teacher’s brutally honest reflection on the first year of teaching and another teacher’s uphill battle to win the trust of her most skeptical student.

Event details

The event will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, March 15, at Clowes Court at the Eiteljorg, 500 W Washington St. in Indianapolis. It is free and open to the public — please RSVP.

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