talking points

After accord, fault lines on where New York's teacher evaluations go from here

Albany’s deal to lower the stakes attached to Common Core tests for teachers on Thursday drew praise from both sides of the negotiating table—but for two very different reasons.

Federal and state education officials, who have resisted changes to New York’s new teacher evaluation system, framed the two-year deal as a small roadblock to reduce anxiety as the state moves toward tougher accountability measures. For state teachers union officials, it is a first step toward a bigger overhaul of the evaluation system that could reduce the use of student test scores even further.

The dueling motivations hint that the consensus among the teachers unions and the State Education Department that state test scores should play some role in teacher evaluations in New York is unraveling, and the union is planning to re-start the debate over whether test scores can help identify teacher quality.

“We must continue these discussions about fixing what’s not working,” New York State United Teachers  Vice President Andrew Pallotta said Thursday in a statement. “That has to include reducing over-testing and recognizing that a student is not a test score—and neither is a teacher.”

The legislative agreement, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign today, keeps Common Core-aligned state tests from being used to fire or deny tenure to teachers this year and next year. Teachers rated “ineffective” or “developing” will have their evaluations recalculated based on local tests and principal observations before their ratings can be used to fire them.

NYSUT suggested its next step will be to further reduce the role that state tests should play in a teacher’s evaluation. Teacher scores are based on a 100-point scale, with at least 20 points based on state tests (it will increase to 25 points next year). Another 20 points can be based on another set of tests that are locally decided.

Meanwhile, State Education Commissioner John King and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who both played pivotal roles in pushing New York’s evaluation system, said the deal would allow their reforms to move forward. They indirectly acknowledged that the delay lowers the issue’s political temperature without changing the structure of the system they negotiated.

It upholds “New York’s commitment to be leaders in education reform,” Duncan said.

Duncan’s statement comes just two days after the U.S. Department of Education suggested New York was dangerously close to breaking its Race to the Top promises, signaling that the threat was—as some observers predicted—meant as a bargaining chip for state lawmakers to use against the union, which sought more sweeping protections from poor evaluations.

King said he supported the deal because it would ease anxiety while “preserving a multiple measures evaluation system that includes student performance”—an about-face from his stance over the last year, when he repeatedly rebuffed calls to adjust the evaluation system to account for the state’s quick transition to Common Core-aligned tests.

The two-year agreement has left critics saying it didn’t go far enough or shouldn’t have happened at all. StudentsFirstNY and the Daily News editorial board both panned the deal as election-year pandering, and a loss that would set back the effort to be able to fire teachers for ineffectiveness.

But NYS Allies for Public Education, a coalition of 50 parent groups, has argued that New York’s testing policies and use of the Common Core standards need to be entirely overhauled. The group sent out a statement criticizing the deal for not doing more to address those issues.

For the next two years, the legislative agreement comes down clearly on the side of the union. It says that the scores from this year and next year’s grades 3-8 English and math state tests aren’t reliable enough to be used for negative consequences, though they will still be used for decisions about giving teachers bonuses and other types of pay raises. High school teachers will also still be evaluated based on student scores on Regents exams.

At a press conference on Thursday, Cuomo offered something to both sides of the debate. Test scores might not be reliable because of a “flawed” rollout of the Common Core learning standards, Cuomo said. But he insisted that the evaluation system was moving forward.

“People’s lives are being judged by this instrument,” Cuomo said, “so you want the instrument in the evaluation to be correct.”

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Teachers in Millington and Knoxville just won the Oscar awards of education

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Millington English teacher Katherine Watkins reacts after learning that she is the recipient of a 2017 Milken Educator Award.

Two Tennessee teachers were surprised during school assemblies Thursday with a prestigious national teaching award, $25,000 checks, and a visit from the state’s education chief.

Katherine Watkins teaches high school English in Millington Municipal Schools in Shelby County. She serves as the English department chair and professional learning community coordinator at Millington Central High School. She is also a trained jazz pianist, published poet, and STEM teacher by summer.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Paula Franklin learns she is among the recipients.

Paula Franklin teaches Advanced Placement government at West High School in Knoxville. Since she took on the course, its enrollment has doubled, and 82 percent of her students pass with an average score that exceeds the national average.

The teachers are two of 45 educators being honored nationally with this year’s Milken Educator Awards from the Milken Family Foundation. The award includes a no-strings-attached check for $25,000.

“It is an honor to celebrate two exceptional Tennessee educators today on each end of the state,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who attended each assembly. “Paula Franklin and Katherine Watkins should be proud of the work they have done to build positive relationships with students and prepare them with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce.”

Foundation chairman Lowell Milken was present to present the awards, which have been given to thousands of teachers since 1987.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Students gather around Millington teacher Katherine Watkins as she receives a check as part of her Milken Educator Award.

The Milken awards process starts with recommendations from sources that the foundation won’t identify. Names are then reviewed by committees appointed by state departments of education, and their recommendations are vetted by the foundation, which picks the winners.

Last year, Chattanooga elementary school teacher Katie Baker was Tennessee’s sole winner.

In all, 66 Tennessee educators have been recognized by the Milken Foundation and received a total of $1.6 million since the program began in the state in 1992.

You can learn more about the Milken Educator Awards here.

Colorado Vote 2018

Polis campaign releases education plan, including new promise about teacher raises

Congressman Jared Polis meets with teachers, parents and students at the Academy of Urban Learning in Denver after announcing his gubernatorial campaign. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Congressman Jared Polis, one of several Democrats running for governor, released an education plan for the state Wednesday that includes new details on tackling teacher shortages and better preparing high school students for work.

The Boulder Democrat wants to help school districts build affordable housing for teachers, increase teacher pay and make sure that “100 percent of Colorado’s school districts are able to offer dual and concurrent enrollment programs through an associate’s degree or professional certification, and work to boost enrollment in them.”

The education plan includes the congressman’s initial campaign promise to deliver free and universal preschool and kindergarten.

“Part of my frustration is that politicians have been talking about preschool and kindergarten for decades,” Polis said in an interview with Chalkbeat. “It’s time to stop talking … and actually do it.”

Big questions remain, however, about how Colorado would pay for Polis’s plans.

Free universal preschool and kindergarten would cost hundreds of millions of tax dollars the state does not have. Polis has acknowledged that voters will need to approve a tax increase to secure the funding necessary — and voters rejected Colorado’s last big statewide ask to fund education initiatives.

His additional promises, especially providing schools with more money to pay teachers, only adds to the price tag for his education plan. The campaign did not release any projections of how much his teacher pay raise proposal would cost.

“If a teacher can’t afford to live in the community they work in, that is not going to be an attractive profession,” he said. “We need to do a better job in Colorado making sure teachers are rewarded for their hard work.”

Other components to Polis’s plan includes providing student loan relief for teachers who commit to serving in high-need and rural areas, increasing teacher training and building and renovating more.

Polis is the latest Democrat to roll out an education platform.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston released more details earlier this week about his campaign promise for tuition-free community college and job training.

Johnston’s campaign estimates that the initiative would cost about $47 million annually. The campaign provided specifics on how the state would pay for it: by combining existing federal grants and state scholarships, revenue from online sales tax, and state workforce development funding. Savings from volunteer hours put in by tuition recipients also are factored in.

Former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy released her education plan last month.

Like Polis, Kennedy is calling for teacher raises. She wants the state’s average salary to be closer to the national average. The former state treasurer also wants to expand preschool and job training for high school students. A key piece of Kennedy’s proposal to pay for her initiatives: reforming the state’s tax laws to generate more revenue.

Other Democrats running to replace Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, include Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and businessman Noel Ginsburg.

The Republican field to replace Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is also crowded. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced earlier this month that she’s running. Other leading Republican candidates include former Congressman Tom Tancredo, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, and businessmen Doug Robinson and Victor Mitchell. George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, dropped out of the race to instead run for attorney general.