public speaking

Arne Duncan urges New Yorkers to stick with Cuomo on teacher evals

Arne Duncan speaking at Al Sharpton's National Action Network conference in 2014.

At a time when even Gov. Andrew Cuomo is considering changes to the state’s rollout of new teacher evaluations, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is urging New Yorkers to stay the course.

“I challenge you to support your governor as he challenges the status quo and tries to raise standards, raise expectations, and evaluate and support your teachers and principals,” Duncan said near the end of a brief speech at the National Action Network conference in New York City Wednesday night.

Duncan’s speech focused on racial inequities in urban school districts, but he made sure to praise both Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for their efforts to improve education. 

Duncan lauded de Blasio’s aggressive pursuit of expanded pre-kindergarten access, an agenda item that the Obama administration has also pushed, though with less success at the federal level.

“I challenge you to support your mayor as he tries to create a new world of opportunity for our babies and get them off to a good start,” Duncan said.

The Obama administration’s push for teacher evaluations that consider student performance long predates its more recent pre-K push. Duncan, a former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, came to Washington, D.C. with Obama in 2009  and quickly went to work in trying to push states to overhaul their education policies through billions of dollars in competitive grants.

New York State won $700 million in 2010’s Race to the Top competition after it raised the state’s charter school cap, passed a new teacher evaluation law, and agreed to implement new Common Core learning standards. Under the Bloomberg administration, New York City eagerly used federal money to close schools, open charter schools, and pilot new evaluations.

Some of those changes have stoked fierce opposition, lawsuits from the state and city teachers unions and, most recently, a legislative backlash prompted by parents angry about the state’s Common Core-aligned assessments.

Duncan has frequently chimed in during the debates, though he’s typically avoided taking a strong stand on issues. He threatened to pull federal funds after a state delay over teacher evaluations, then praised the state for pulling off a deal. Two years ago, amid a new delay in New York City, he chided city and union officials for their political bickering.

Asked Wednesday about the state’s decision to simultaneously implement teacher evaluations and overhaul tests, Duncan returned to Cuomo.

“I think the governor has actually shown real courage and has frankly been a leader nationally,” he said.

Cuomo has recently conceded that it might be time to make some changes to the state teacher evaluation law to address concerns that new Common Core assessments might not be a fair way to rate teachers as the implementation continues. The state teachers union, under new leadership, has long called for a moratorium on using the new tests for evaluations.

“It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be rocky, there is going to be mistakes,” Duncan continued. “People need to listen, they need to be humble in this and be nimble and make changes. But to sort of stop and go back to the bad old days simply doesn’t make sense to me.”

Detroit week in review

Week in review: The state’s year-round scramble to fill teaching jobs

Miss Michigan Heather Heather Kendrick spent the day with students at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Science in Detroit

While much of the media attention has been focused this year on the severe teacher shortage in the main Detroit district, our story this week looks at how district and charter schools throughout the region are now scrambling year-round to fill vacant teaching jobs — an instability driven by liberal school choice laws, a decentralized school system and a shrinking pool of available teachers.

The teacher shortage has also made it difficult for schools to find substitutes as many are filling in on long-term assignments while schools try to fill vacancies. Two bills proposed in a state senate committee would make it easier for schools to hire retirees and reduce the requirements for certifying subs.  

Also, don’t forget to reserve your seat for Wednesday’s State of the Schools address. The event will be one of the first times in recent years when the leader of the city’s main district — Nikolai Vitti — will appear on the same stage as the leaders of the city’s two largest charter school authorizers. For those who can’t make it, we will carry it live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

Have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

STATE OF THE SCHOOLS: The State of the Schools address will pair Vitti with the leaders of the schools he’s publicly vowed to put out of business, even as schools advocates say city kids could benefit if the leaders of the city’s fractured school system worked together to solve common problems.

LOOKING FOR TEACHERS: The city’s teacher shortage mirrors similar challenges across the country but the problem in Detroit is exacerbated by liberal school choice policies that have forced schools to compete with each other for students and teachers.

Hiring efforts continue at Detroit’s main school district, which is planning another job fair. Head Start centers are also looking for teachers. Three new teachers talk about the challenges, rewards and obstacles of the classroom.

WHOSE MONEY IS IT? The state Senate sent a bill to the House that would allow charters to receive a portion of property tax hikes approved by voters. Those funds have historically gone only to traditional district schools.

UNITED THEY STAND: Teachers in this southwest Detroit charter school voted to join a union, but nationally, union membership for teachers has been falling for two decades.

COLLEGE AND CAREERS: A national foundation based in Michigan granted $450,000 to a major Detroit business coalition to help more students finish college.

High school seniors across the state will be encouraged to apply to at least one college this month. The main Detroit district meanwhile showed off a technical center that prepares youngsters and adults for careers in construction, plumbing and carpentry and other fields.  

STEPS TO IMPROVEMENT: A prominent news publisher explains why he told lawmakers he believes eliminating the state board of education is the right thing to do. An advocate urged Michigan to look to other states for K-12 solutions. And one local newspaper says the governor is on the right track to improving education in Michigan.

This think tank believes businesses should be more engaged in education debates.

LISTEN TO US: The newly elected president of a state teachers union says teachers just want to be heard when policy is being made. She wrote in a Detroit newspaper that it takes passion and determination to succeed in today’s classrooms.

A PIONEER: Funeral services for a trailblazing African American educator have been scheduled for Saturday.

Also, the mother-in-law of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died in her west Michigan home.

FARM-TO-SCHOOL:  A state program that provides extra money to school districts for locally grown produce has expanded to include more schools.

BETTER THAN AN APPLE: Nominate your favorite educator for Michigan Teacher of the Year before the 11:59 deadline tonight.

An Ann Arbor schools leader has been named the 2018 Michigan Superintendent of the Year by a state group of school administrators.

MYSTERY SMELL: The odor from a failed light bulb forced a Detroit high school to dismiss students early this week.

EXTRA CREDIT: Miss Michigan encouraged students at one Detroit school to consider the arts as they follow their dreams. The city schools foundation honored two philanthropic leaders as champions for education.

And high school students were inspired by a former college football player. 

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.


Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.