eval battles

Senate Majority Leader proposes new teacher evaluation bill — but it comes with charter school concessions

PHOTO: Creative Commons, courtesy JasonParis
Albany statehouse.

The most powerful man in the New York State Senate released his own version of a bill that would overhaul teacher evaluations but it has strings attached that will make it hard for some lawmakers to accept.

The bill still includes a lot of elements the teachers union has been pushing for, including eliminating a requirement that state test scores are used in teacher evaluations. But the legislation also increases the charter school cap which limits the number of charter schools that can open in the state by 100 schools and lessens oversight for private yeshivas.

“We have achieved a complete repeal of APPR, permanently decoupling student test scores from the evaluation of teachers, and rightly returning to a system of local control of education,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan in a statement on Tuesday.

A bill delinking state scores from teacher evaluations, a top priority for the union this year, has already passed the Assembly with overwhelming support, and the governor has signaled he will not block the legislation. That leaves the Senate as the major obstacle to the bill’s passage.

But it’s unclear whether Assembly lawmakers are willing to sacrifice anything to ensure the legislation passes. In response to Flanagan’s bill, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has reportedly already said he does not want to attach extra provisions to the bill. Union officials have also made it clear they want to see the bill pass without any concessions. (In fact, they purchased balloons to send the message that they want it passed with “no strings attached.”)

“Instead of passing a clean bill  that has 55 sponsors to reduce testing and fix the evaluation system, Sen. Flanagan is tying it to millions of dollars for the charter industry and his donors, and loopholes for private, religious schools,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta in a statement on Tuesday. “Our message has not changed. The Senate must pass S.8301 with no strings attached.”

The current teacher evaluation law dates back to 2015 when Gov. Andrew Cuomo backed a plan in which state test scores could count for as much as half of an educator’s evaluation. Though the law technically remains on the books, the state’s Board of Regents passed a moratorium on the use of grades 3-8 math and English test scores in teacher evaluations. Without further action, the moratorium will expire in 2019.

The Senate’s bill — unlike the Assembly’s proposal — would repeal the teacher evaluation law passed in 2015, dramatically expanding the power of local unions to help craft their own evaluation systems. Though teachers would still be rated on a scale from “highly effective” to “ineffective,” how teachers receive those ratings would be completely up to local communities to collectively bargain. That means local communities would have the power to figure out how much tests should count for evaluations — or whether they should count at all.

Putting so much power in the hands of local unions is opposed by some advocacy groups.

“We have grave concerns about the expansion of collective bargaining as it relates to employee evaluations,” said Julie Marlette, Director of Governmental Relations for the New York State School Boards Association.

Meanwhile, the provisions about charter and private schools are being forcefully fought by the unions. In addition to increasing the charter school cap statewide, the bill would allow more charter schools to open in New York City, where demand for the schools is greater. 

Charter school advocates say lifting the charter school cap this year is critical for the sector’s growth.

“Limiting the number of potentially high performing public schools that can be created has never made sense,” said James Merriman, Chief Executive Officer of the New York City Charter School Center. “But now, with high demand from parents, a dwindling number of charters available, an increasing number of skilled educators willing to do the hard work of starting a new school, and an increasingly long record of charter schools improving achievement, lifting the cap doesn’t just make sense. It is an imperative.”

Additionally, the bill would reduce oversight of yeshivas, some of which have come under fire for failing to offer an adequate education. A powerful Brooklyn Senator that represents an Orthodox Jewish community has been pushing for the change. This bill would take power away from the State Education Commissioner to regulate the schools.

A spokesman for the Alliance for Yeshiva Education pushed back on the notion that this bill would reduce oversight at the private schools.

“Concerning oversight of Yeshiva education, this legislation would provide common sense protections for schools, and the state, by providing for a qualified and professional accreditation intermediary, as well as a clear process for remedying deficiencies,” said Michael Tobman, the alliance’s spokesman.

The union has organized a series of musical guests, including bagpipers, a gypsy jazz trio and a brass marching band to serenade Flanagan Wednesday so that he Senate will stop playing “such sour notes.”

However, another piece of the bill may be welcome news to the union. It repeals a requirement that teachers can only earn tenure after working four year and would return that time limit to three years.

This story has been updated with a statement from the New York City Charter School Center and from a spokesman for the Alliance for Yeshiva Education. 

comings and goings

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has a new education leader

Sandra Liu Huang speaks onstage during the Fortune Most Powerful Women Next Gen conference at Monarch Beach Resort on November 14, 2017 in Dana Point, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Fortune)

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s education work has a new leader: Sandra Liu Huang, who has worked as the organization’s head of product and technology.

Huang now holds one of the most influential jobs in education: overseeing how CZI — which has already spent more than $300 million on education and is set to receive Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s fortune — tries to influence schools and classrooms.

Huang takes over for Jim Shelton, the former deputy education secretary under President Obama. Unlike Shelton, her background is in technology, and she ran product teams at Quora, Facebook, and Google before moving to CZI in 2017.

There, she oversaw the education team’s partnership with the Summit Learning platform, the personalized learning program that Facebook engineers helped build and is now supported by CZI. (The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative also supports Chalkbeat.)

CZI announced the hire Tuesday.

“With her deep background in managing complex, interdisciplinary teams and building tools and products that help people learn, Sandra Liu Huang is the ideal leader to carry forward our vision for what’s possible in education,” Priscilla Chan, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s co-founder, said in a statement.

Huang’s appointment ties CZI’s education work even more closely to Summit, which CZI says is now used in 380 schools nationwide. Offered free to schools, Summit has emerged as a poster child for the personalized learning approach — and attracted some backlash from students and parents, too.

CZI says its education mission remains the same, and Summit is a key part of its work.

“Since my tours at Google and then at Facebook, I’ve essentially been on a pursuit to build the products and platforms that I see as inevitable — the Jetsons world is at hand,” Huang said in a 2015 interview with the website Brit + Co describing her career. “I’m inspired by how technology massively accelerates knowledge sharing, but I also think the web can be more than ways to pass time.”

New leader

District chief Joris Ray named Memphis schools’ interim leader

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Joris Ray, center, was appointed interim superintendent for Shelby County Schools.

Joris Ray, who started his 22-year career as a teacher in Memphis schools, will be the interim superintendent for Shelby County Schools.

The school board voted 5-4 Tuesday evening to appoint Ray, who as a member of Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s cabinet oversees the district’s academic operations and student support. An audience composed mostly of educators applauded the announcement.

“A lot of people call Dr. Ray, and he gets things done,” Hopson said at the meeting.

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Dorsey Hopson and Joris Ray, right.

Ray could be at the helm of Tennessee’s largest district for anywhere from 8 months to 18 months, as the board looks to hire a permanent leader, Board Chair Shante Avant said. Hopson is leaving the 200-school, 111,600-student district after nearly six years; he will lead an education initiative at the health insurer Cigna, effective Jan. 8.

Hopson will still help Ray transition into his new role a few weeks after his resignation takes effect because of his current contract terms.

Ray, a graduate of Whitehaven High School, said he intends to apply for the permanent position.

“I’m about pushing things forward. No sense in looking back,” told reporters Tuesday, noting that his goal, as he gets started, is “to listen, to get out to various community groups and transition with the superintendent … but also I want to talk to teachers and I want to talk to students because oftentimes they’re left out of the education process.”

The other two nominees to serve as interim superintendent were Lin Johnson, the district’s chief of finance, and Carol Johnson, a former superintendent of Memphis schools.

Hopson commended both Lin Johnson and Ray as “truly my brothers in this work.” He also acknowledged the work Carol Johnson has done in recent years to train teachers in her role as director of New Leaders in Memphis.

Some school board members wanted to preclude the interim appointee from applying for the permanent post — especially if the interim selection was an in-district hire — but a resolution formalizing that position failed in a 6-3 vote.

“If it were me… I’d think twice about going up against that person to take the job. I really would,” Teresa Jones, a board member, said. But she said she wants to create an environment “where individuals feel where they can come forward and apply” for the superintendent job.

The appointment comes one day after Hopson presented a plan to combine 28 aging school buildings into 10 new ones. Ray said he will look to get community input before pursuing the plan while he is at the helm.

“We need to continue to unpack the plan,” Ray said after the meeting. “And I rely on the community to get their input. But most of all, it’s what’s best for students.”

There’s more from the meeting in this Twitter thread: