Arne Duncan

New York

Merryl Tisch challenges Obama, Duncan to a public debate

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents (file photo) Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch is challenging President Obama and his secretary of education to a verbal duel over New York's access to a special pot of federal stimulus dollars for schools. "I am willing to debate the president and Arne Duncan in public space at any time of their choosing on the impact of this law in New York State," Tisch said in a telephone interview this evening. Obama administration officials have said that states that ban the use of test scores to evaluate teachers will not be eligible for the dollars, called the Race to the Top fund. A New York law prohibits something very similar, using student test scores to decide whether teachers deserve tenure. A nonprofit group, The New Teacher Project, today said the law should exclude New York from receiving Race to the Top funds. (Founded by Michelle Rhee, the D.C. schools chancellor, The New Teacher Project brings non-traditionally trained teachers into school districts and advocates for teaching policies that often clash with teachers unions' positions.) Duncan himself has suggested that New York's law does not make the cut. "Believe it or not, several states including New York, Wisconsin, and California, have laws, they have laws that create a firewall between students and teacher data," Duncan said at a June conference where he previewed the guidelines around the fund. The administration's aim is to spur states to change laws and policies it disapproves of. Duncan has vowed to dole out the dollars in two batches, one this fall and the next in 2010, in order to give state legislatures time to change their laws. But New York officials, including Governor Paterson and Tisch, have refused to accept that the state might be disqualified. Teachers union officials, including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who lobbied state lawmakers to pass the law last year, are also lobbying hard for New York not to be disqualified.
New York

Arne Duncan's push to change teacher laws posts Hoosier victory

Will Obama officials succeed in their mission to use the Race to the Top fund to re-write state education laws? The state of Indiana, where a recent down-to-the-wire budget session featured a teacher-evaluation mini drama, offers some clues. The drama began with pressure from the Obama administration to repeal a law banning the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. Alarmed, state education officials lobbied the state legislature, and lawmakers acted, inserting a repeal of the law into the state's budget. But mere hours before the new budget passed, lawmakers at the state House removed the repeal at the request of the teachers' union. The final budget includes a roundabout compromise allowing districts to use student data to assess teachers — but only in cases where federal grant money requires it. "We had a clear message from the secretary [Arne Duncan] that we were putting our ability to compete for the Race to the Top Funds at risk," a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education, Cam Savage, said. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has communicated frequently with the federal education department about Indiana's strengths in the competition for grant funds, Savage said. Bans on using student test scores to assess teachers seem to be the next group of laws on the Department of Education's watch list. States and districts already took note after Obama administration officials used the threat of denying Race to the Top funds to push against state laws limiting the spread of charter schools. Lawmakers in at least eight states have passed or introduced legislation since the end of May to lift their charter caps.
New York

Obama official to New York: Change your tenure law or else

PHOTO: Kayleigh SkinnerJoanne Weiss The Obama administration official in charge of an educational innovation fund yesterday issued a warning to a New York audience: Unless the state legislature revises a law now on the books about teacher tenure, the state could lose out on the $4.35 billion fund she controls. Joanne Weiss said the Obama administration aims to reward states that use student achievement as a "predominant" part of teacher evaluations with the extra stimulus funds — and pass over those that don't. New York state law currently bans using student data as a factor in tenure decisions. Test scores aren't everything, Weiss said. "But it seems illogical and indefensible to assume that those aren't part of the solution at all," she said, echoing nearly word-for-word Education Secretary Arne Duncan's remarks last week to the National Education Association. The pessimism about New York's policies is a departure from Duncan's tone during a visit to New York City in February, when he was cheery about the state's chances in the competition. Duncan also briefly mentioned New York as one of several states whose firewalls around student and teacher data need to come down in a recent speech, and he indicated that New York's cap on charter schools may also hurt the state's chances at a slice of the stimulus pie. Weiss, who worked at the New Schools Venture Fund before heading to Washington, said the "disadvantage" of the tenure law to New York could be counterbalanced by efforts here that the Obama administration admires. She praised a New York City program that is evaluating individual teachers based on their students' test scores.  One strength of the program, Weiss said, is that city teachers generally accept the evaluations as an accurate and fair assessment of their performance.
New York

The lobbying group challenging teachers unions takes on America

A screenshot from ##http://www.dfer.org/##DFER's web site## advertises four new branches. (The Florida branch is yet to be official, according to executive director Joe Williams.) The lobbying group whose H.R. recommendations virtually staffed President Obama's Education Department is spreading its "reform" tentacles. Democrats for Education Reform now has branches in Missouri, Colorado, and Wisconsin, in addition to its hometown, New York, and the organization plans to be in 10 states by 2011, executive director Joe Williams told me earlier this week. "We have very good conditions at the federal level right now for at least talking about reform, but we're really talking about what at the end of the day is a local issue," Williams said. "So the strength of any national organization like ours is really going to come down to how strong its local units are." The new branches are mostly self-sustaining, relying on leadership from volunteer boards and local residents already active in education. "It's a lot of people who were doing a lot of work on reform, but there was no political arm to engage at the political level," Williams said. What Williams calls DFER's "outpost" in Colorado is a case study for its plans elsewhere. Rather than generate policy ideas, the organization focuses on raising money for candidates who support its favored brand of changes to education — policies like charter schools, merit pay, and higher teaching standards. Among the Colorado officials DFER supports is Mike Johnston, who advised candidate Obama's presidential campaign and replaced the president of Colorado's state senate, Peter Groff, after he joined President Obama's education department.
New York

Betsy Gotbaum warns Arne Duncan not to believe all about NYC

New York

Jon Schnur, "ideolocrat" poster boy, will not work for Obama

[This post has been updated to include a comment from Jon Schnur.] WASHINGTON, D.C. —  Jon Schnur, the education policy expert who has been working as an advisor to President Barack Obama and played a pivotal role in writing the federal stimulus plan for schools, will not serve in the Obama administration. He will instead return to running the nonprofit principal-training program New Leaders for New Schools group that he co-founded, according to an e-mail he sent recently to members of New Leaders. Schnur is one of the most high-profile members of the next-generation "reform" camp of Democrats, who push for dramatic changes in public schools, including strong accountability measures. He had been named as a likely chief of staff to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and was serving as a senior adviser to Duncan, helping him craft the education part of the stimulus bill. Schnur's close role in the administration had been seen as a signal of its direction on education, suggesting that the president was siding with the camp of education advocates that includes Schnur (and for which we singled Schnur out as a spokesman), rather than with the camp that is more skeptical of recent accountability efforts. As word of Schnur's plans spread around Washington, D.C., the major question I'm hearing people ask is why he is not entering the administration — and what that says about the administration's direction. (I am in D.C. for the annual meeting of the Education Writers Association, where I am becoming a board member.)