eval battles

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

PHOTO: Creative Commons, courtesy JasonParis

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. 

teachers on the ballot

Jahana Hayes, nation’s top teacher in 2016, may be headed to Congress after primary win

2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes answers questions from reporters after being honored at the White House. (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Jahana Hayes, the 2016 national teacher of the year, is one step closer to Congress.

Hayes, who would be the first black Democrat elected to Congress in the state, won the Democratic primary in Connecticut’s fifth district on Tuesday. Her bid is the most high-profile example of efforts by teachers across the country to win elected office this year, with many dissatisfied over their pay and education policies like evaluations and voucher programs.

In an interview with Chalkbeat in May, Hayes said she decided to run because she believes she can represent the interests of students like hers: “I kind of just had an epiphany, like, who’s going to speak for them?”

Hayes taught history and civics in Waterbury Public Schools, a largely low-income district. Her campaign has embraced her upbringing, including her past homelessness and teen pregnancy and her role as a teacher in the district she grew up in.

“Despite being surrounded by abject poverty, drugs and violence, my teachers made me believe that I was college material and planted a seed of hope,” she said.

Hayes faced Mary Glassman, who ran for lieutenant governor twice and worked at Capitol Region Education Council, which operates magnet schools in Hartford.

Hayes ran on a solidly progressive platform, embracing universal healthcare, free college, and a $15 minimum wage.

When it comes to education, though, she has been light on policy details. Asked about what specifically she’d hope to accomplish in Congress, Hayes told Chalkbeat, “I know that I can bring a perspective and knowledge and expertise in that area that is critical. If we start to dismantle public education now, I don’t know how we’ll ever rebuild it.”

On the hot-button issue of school choice, Hayes stumbled on a question about vouchers, appearing to confuse the concept with charter schools. Ultimately, she said, “A charter system can still be public and continue to support the public education system. I think as we increase the number of vouchers that are provided, it takes away from the public school system.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Hayes said she would work with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has been the focus of opposition for many teachers.

“I need for the secretary of education to be successful because if she’s successful that means kids are thriving,” Hayes said. “I would welcome the opportunity to work very closely with her, to share ideas, to just be at the table to give a different perspective, to give some insight into what is happening on the ground.”

To reach Congress, Hayes still must win the general election. Connecticut’s fifth district is the most competitive one in the state, according to Cook Political Report. Hillary Clinton won the district by 4 percentage points in 2016.

She will face Republican Manny Santos, a former mayor of Meriden, Connecticut.

Hayes was not the only teacher to win a primary bid on Tuesday. In Wisconsin, Tony Evers, the state’s school superintendent and a former teacher and principal, will face Scott Walker in the race for governor. And in Minnesota, Congressman Tim Walz, who was a high school geography teacher and football coach, won the Democratic governor’s primary.

Correction: A previous version of this story said that Hayes would be the first black person elected to Congress in Connecticut; in fact, she would be the first black Democrat.

Mended Fences

Despite earlier attack ads, Colorado teachers union endorses Jared Polis for governor

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)

Colorado’s largest teachers union has endorsed Jared Polis, the Democratic candidate for governor.

The endorsement is not a surprise given that teachers unions have traditionally been associated with the Democratic Party. However, the 35,000-member Colorado Education Association had previously endorsed one of Polis’ rivals during the primary, former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, and contributed money toward negative ads that portrayed Polis as a supporter of vouchers based on a 2003 op-ed, in spite of votes in Congress against voucher programs.

With the primary in the past, CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert focused on Polis’ support for more school funding, a priority shared by the union.

“Our members share Jared’s concern that too many communities don’t have the resources they need for every child to succeed,” Baca-Oehlert said in the press release announcing the endorsement. “We have created ‘haves and have-nots’ among our children, and nowhere is that more apparent than with our youngest students who don’t receive the same level of quality early childhood education. Jared impressed us with his strong commitment to give all kids a great start and better prepare them for a successful lifetime of learning.”

Polis has made expanding access to preschool and funding full-day kindergarten a key part of his education platform, along with raising pay for teachers.

Polis is running against Republican Walker Stapleton. As state treasurer, Stapleton advocated for changes to the public employee retirement system, including freezes on benefits and cost-of-living raises, that were opposed by the teachers union, something Baca-Oehlert made note of in the endorsement of Polis.

Read more about the two candidates’ education positions here.