Thirteen city “master teachers” to receive $60,000 bonuses over four years

Updated at 6:02 p.m. — Thirteen “master teachers” working in New York City schools will receive a $60,000 bonus paid over the next four years, the state announced Monday, part of a statewide teacher retention strategy launched last year by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The New York State Master Teacher Program was established as a way to encourage top teachers to stay in the classroom and to offer more support for new teachers. No New York City teachers were selected in the program’s first round, announced last spring, because then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city teachers union had failed to negotiate a teacher evaluation plan in time to qualify.

City teachers were allowed to apply this year through Math for America, an organization that already offers fellowships to math and science teachers and which helped set up the statewide program last year. The city cohort represents a disproportionately small share — just 4 percent — of the 319 teachers selected statewide.

Below is a list of the names of teachers who won the grants, which will be administered in four $15,000 annual bonuses.

Last year, teachers were supposed to have received a top rating on their evaluations, in addition to at least four years of experience teaching math or science—though officials said they later scrapped the evaluation requirement because ratings weren’t released in time. Since the 13 city teachers haven’t yet received ratings this year, because they are still in their first year of being evaluated, a spokesman for the State University of New York said that other criteria were considered, including college transcripts, resumes, observation reports, supervisor recommendations and an “extensive interview.”

The state has struggled to attract teachers eligible to receive the grants. Last year, Cuomo hoped to give out 250 grants, but ended up selecting just 104 teachers from a pool of more than 300 applications. Today’s announcement added 215 more teachers, bringing the total to 319. Officials said that 399 applications were submitted for the latest round of grants.   

In exchange for the bonuses, the master teachers will mentor and coach new teachers in science and math subjects.

The program is one of many that have cropped up in recent years at the city, state and national levels with the aim of improving teacher quality. Mayor Bill de Blasio and the teachers union have both said that teacher retention is a top priority for them as they negotiate terms of a new contract.

“The Master Teacher Program creates a community of teacher experts dedicated to providing a first-rate learning experience for students across New York, and contributes to our efforts to attract and retain the best and the brightest in our STEM classrooms,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Here are the names of New York City’s “master teachers” who will receive the state’s grant:

Rayhan Ahmed

Kate Belin

Lauren Brady

Michael Holmes

Alia Jackson

Yelena Khevelev

Chris Luzniak

Bushra Makiya

Mackenzie Rossi

Bruce Samuels

Laginne Walker

Steve Watson

Eszter Weisz

Here’s the full breakdown:

The total number of Master Teachers in each region and the respective SUNY partner campuses are:

· Capital Region: 23 (University at Albany)

· Central New York: 62 (SUNY Cortland)

· Finger Lakes: 18 (SUNY Geneseo)

· Long Island: 42 (Stony Brook University)

· Mid-Hudson: 37 (SUNY New Paltz)

· Mohawk Valley: 19 (SUNY Oneonta)

· New York City: 13 (in partnership with Math for America)

· North Country: 34 (SUNY Plattsburgh)

· Southern Tier: 23 (Binghamton University)

· Western New York: 48 (SUNY Buffalo State)

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.