Regents rundown

What New York’s top education policymakers are talking about in May

In the second meeting with Chancellor Betty Rosa at the helm, the state’s education policy-making body will tackle charter school renewals, the metric for calculating violence in schools and computer-based testing.

A number of these issues are familiar, but they take on a new meaning as the board continues to chart its course under a new leader. For instance, will the board be tougher on charter schools that enroll a low percentage of high-needs students? Will Regents try to be more careful as they roll out new assessments, like computerized testing?

Here’s what you need to know about Monday’s meeting:

Another round of teacher evaluation tweaks

It’s become a tradition for the board to revisit aspects of the state’s 2012 teacher evaluation law, and this meeting is no different. Most of the changes appear to be small tweaks, but the very fact that there’s still hammering out to do underscores the fact that New York’s approach to measuring teacher quality remains complicated and unresolved.

A new look at charter schools?

At a recent forum, Rosa said the state education department is “very concerned” that some charter schools do not serve a population of students that reflects their communities, which is required by law. Several charter school renewals on the table could put that concern to the test.

The State Education Department is requesting a five-year renewal, the longest possible, for Harriet Tubman Charter School in the Bronx. The school has made considerable progress towards enrolling more poor students, but it still enrolls far fewer English language learners than other schools in the district. What Rosa says — or doesn’t say — about that gap at Harriet Tubman and other schools will provide useful information about how she plans to act on her concern.

The state is recommending that two charter schools get the right to operate only for a short time, three more years, with any further extensions contingent on improved performance — typically a high-stakes arrangement. One of those schools, a Montessori charter school in the South Bronx, had only 5 percent of students meet the state’s proficiency standards in reading last year and also lags the district average in serving poor students, English language learners, and students with disabilities. Rosa has said little about what should happen to charter schools that are not performing well since becoming chancellor, so her reaction to the renewal recommendations could illuminate her approach to accountability.

How to measure violence in schools

Taking a new look at the way the state calculates school violence could take the board into surprisingly tricky waters. Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter advocacy group, has used the state’s count of violent school incidents to criticize Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school safety record. But the state itself has called the metric problematic. Monday’s report will help explain how officials want to fix it.

The actual proposed changes to the current system, for now, involve revising the categories of violent incidents based on task force recommendations. The state is also piloting a program in 12 districts to use measures like surveys and attendance data to look beyond violent incidents to rate schools.

Testing with computers

To kick off the state’s switch to computer-based testing, over 950 schools have agreed to participate in field testing this year. The Regents are scheduled to discuss that switch, what schools need to be prepared, and how to support schools through the transition.

The board discussed the switch to computer-based testing at the last meeting, too. Their careful move towards computerized testing shows how sensitive they are to ensuring that schools have what they need to make the transition and an effort to avoid the pitfalls of other state that have switched to computerized testing.

Also on the docket: a proposal to make it possible for people who are not U.S. citizens to teach in New York schools. Not on the agenda this time, despite calls from lawmakers for more discussion: the challenges, and potentially unintended consequences, of creating additional ways for students to meet high school graduation requirements. Stay tuned for the most important developments from the two-day meeting.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”