close reading (of the law)

Tisch plays down tests’ role in new evaluations

Catherine Nolan, speaking to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch (right) and Regent Kathleen Cashin.

Responding to concerns that an evaluation law passed Tuesday night could result in state test scores counting for half of a teacher’s final rating, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch stressed that was just one interpretation in a radio interview Wednesday.

“The legislation that has been put forth physically does not say 50 percent,” said Tisch, who the law tasks with determining some details of the new evaluation system. “If that had been the intent, that should have been written into the law.”

The comments, made on the Capitol Pressroom, were Tisch’s first since a budget agreement was announced on Sunday and came just hours after lawmakers approved the state budget. They suggest that she intends to take full advantage of her decision-making role and will look for ways to limit the influence of tests, whose reliability as a measure of a teacher’s job performance has come under increased scrutiny in recent years.

The law does clearly state that only two measures — tests and observations — will be required for evaluations, and a matrix of rules in the legislation implies that both will be given relatively equal footing. For each of 16 possible combinations of the testing and observation measures, the law prescribes a final grade.

But the law also charges the education commissioner and Regents chancellor with determining “the weights and scoring ranges” for the testing and observation components. Tisch, who has said she supports an evaluation system in which test scores count for 40 percent in the past, did not specify what an ideal weight for tests should be. But she repeatedly suggested there is enough flexibility in the legislation for the Regents to keep it at less than 50 percent.

“What we are going to do at the State Education Department is create an evaluation system that takes guidance from the legislation as was intended,” Tisch said. “[Lawmakers] didn’t put in 50 percent, which means they couldn’t agree to 50 percent.”

City teachers union President Michael Mulgrew said in an interview that his reading of the law also left plenty open to interpretation.

“It’s not 50 percent test scores,” Mulgrew said. “It’s not a victory for [Cuomo] at all.”

The 50 percent figure comes from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said tests should account for half of a teacher’s rating in his January budget proposal.

“The tests are the only standard objective,” Cuomo said in a separate radio interview. “You want to be able to compare Buffalo to Manhattan.”

But Tisch said the changes also worried her, and her main concern is that they wouldn’t get the buy-in of teachers, principals, and administrators being told to adjust to an entirely new set of rules just two years after the existing evaluation system debuted.

“Every year there’s a new thing coming out that requires them to jump through hoops,” Tisch said.

New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who criticized several features of Cuomo’s evaluation proposal in recent weeks, has not commented on the new evaluation law.

Final ratings under a new default evaluation system will be determined by matching ratings from testing and observation subcomponents according to the matrix above.
Final ratings under a new default evaluation system will be determined by matching ratings from testing and observation subcomponents according to the matrix above.


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.