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April 23, 2013
In a familiar spot, Cuomo leaps into latest teacher eval snag
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo found himself in a familiar situation today: Defending his teacher evaluation law against yet another snag. The latest issue is the revelation, reported Monday by the Buffalo News, that Buffalo promised its teachers union not to move to fire any teacher based on this year’s evaluations. State law allows — but does not require — districts to begin termination proceedings for any teacher who receives two straight “ineffective” ratings. But state education officials have argued the deal has no legal grounds since it wasn't submitted to or approved by the state. In a radio interview today, Cuomo called the side deal, struck at the same time as Buffalo and its union agreed on a new teacher evaluation system in January, “very close to legal and ethical fraud.” Buffalo is the state’s second-largest city. The biggest, New York City, has not yet adopted new teacher evaluations at all. The city has until May 31 to submit its own negotiated deal; after that the state is mandated by law to impose a plan.
June 13, 2012
With Buffalo's approval, NYC is last district without SIG funds
After a protracted back-and-forth that included a district-union dust-up over absenteeism, State Education Commissioner John King is restoring a pot of federal funds to Buffalo. That leaves just New York City as the only major School Improvement Grant-eligible district to be forgoing them this year. Buffalo joined New York City and eight other districts across the state in losing the funds after King determined they had not adequately complied with a Dec. 31 deadline to adopt new evaluations for teachers in schools eligible for the funds, known as School Improvement Grants. After the state’s teacher evaluation deal in February, five districts refined their applications sufficiently to have their funding restored. Two others got their funding back in March, and an eighth district, Greenburgh 11, saw its funding restored in April. Buffalo finally got King's sign-off on Tuesday. New York City was supposed to get almost $60 million this year through the grant program for dozens of struggling schools, and at first city officials said they hoped to see the funds restored. But with progress toward new teacher evaluations non-existent and the year winding to a close, the Bloomberg administration got permission in March to use city funds to cover this year's loss.
March 30, 2012
From Buffalo, a warning for local consensus on absent students
The city and teachers union aren't anywhere close to settling on new teacher evaluations. But if and when they do strike a deal, they might have to revisit a point of agreement. Leo Casey, a teachers union official, told me recently that before negotiations broke down in December, the city and UFT had agreed that only students with a minimum attendance rate should be counted in teachers' scores. Exactly what that rate would be was still up for discussion, Casey said, but everyone agreed on the basic principle that if students aren't in class to learn, it's not fair to hold teachers responsible for their learning. It's an outlook that teachers at schools under threat of closure have shared over and over. At Washington Irving High School, teachers protesting the city's ultimately successful closure proposal argued that the school would have much stronger performance data if the city excluded the school's many "long-term absences" from its progress report calculations. It's also a point that united Buffalo and its teachers union as they negotiated a new teacher evaluation system earlier this year for schools eligible for School Improvement Grants. In February, they settled on a system that would exclude chronically absent students from the student growth portion of evaluations. But the State Education Department rejected that portion of their compromise. In the rejection letter, Education Commissioner John King explained that Buffalo's evaluation system would have applied the attendance provision to the 20 percent of evaluations that the state controls, and that's not allowed. But another problem, he wrote, was that the provision could be abused.
October 1, 2010
The education governor's race: A Paladino and Cuomo primer
You may have noticed that we have a governor's race going on in New York. But amid the love children, viral cell-phone videos, and upsetting e-mail forwards, policy issues are getting even more overshadowed than usual — including where the two candidates stand on education. To remedy this, I've compiled a brief primer outlining the education stances of the Democrat, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and the Republican, Tea Party-ite Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, the state's attorney general, sides with Obama and Bloomberg on education. (Photo via ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/saeba/4015439957/sizes/m/in/photostream/##Flickr## user ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/saeba/##saebaryo##) Andrew Cuomo HIS CAMP: Cuomo is framing himself as the great hope that Democrats for Education Reform activists once dreamed David Paterson would be — a "Barack Obama Democrat" on education, as one source put it to me. (Or, you might say, an "ideolocrat.") Cuomo kept himself out of the Race to the Top legislative battle (at least publicly). But his published platform mirrors DFER's insistence on raising the cap on charter schools, and it quotes charter supporters' warning that a union-backed push for more public consultation before opening a charter school would have amounted to a "poison pill." WHAT HE MIGHT DO: Cuomo's decision to affiliate with DFER, Mayor Bloomberg, and the entrepreneurial camp on schools gives him a potentially long education wish list. That's because almost all of the changes favored by these reformers are legislative; teacher tenure, "last in, first out" firing patterns, teacher pensions, and charter school growth are all matters of state law. While other state Democrats (namely Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver) have allied themselves with the teachers union, Cuomo could act as a counter-force pushing for more changes to the state's education law. It's worth noting that nearly all of the education agenda Bloomberg laid out this week on NBC would require changes to state law.
July 13, 2010
Push to make tests harder finds a critic in Buffalo schools chief
State education officials are responding to widespread calls to make state tests more difficult. But they're getting some harsh criticism from a surprising corner: the head of the Buffalo school system. As Education Commissioner David Steiner and Deputy Commissioner John King travel around New York explaining their plans to overhaul the state exams, they've largely met with support. In New York City, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has called for tougher exams. But last week, Buffalo School Superintendent James Williams told The Buffalo News that he doubts Steiner and King's approach will really improve the state's schools. “I think they’re two people who don’t know what they’re doing,” Williams said. “A more rigorous test is not going to improve student achievement. It’s not going to improve the graduation rate. I think it’s ridiculous.”
June 2, 2010
State’s RTTT application receives more union endorsements
Will New York win the second round of the Race to the Top? We don't know yet, but add one more item to the list of ways the state's application has gotten stronger: More teachers unions signed on to the plan this time around, and they added fewer caveats to their endorsements. The percentage of unions signing on to the plan is now 70%, up from 61% in the last round. That includes New York City's United Federation of Teachers, which, though it signed on last time, added caveats along with its "yes," as Steven Brill reported in the New York Times Magazine. One major exception was a clause saying that unions could ignore any part of the plan that violated a union contract — even though, in the same memo, the unions promised to negotiate new contracts following the plan's main ideas. In the first round, some judges noted the caveats and the 61% figure as a reason they docked points from the state's application. I couldn't find any caveats in this round's Memorandum of Understanding documents that unions and school districts had to turn in by Tuesday. Still, among the dissenters are some pretty major unions, including the ones in Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers, and Albany. That's three of the state's "Big Five" school districts. A typical explanation why came from Buffalo's union president earlier this month, in the Buffalo News:
August 11, 2009
City skipped mandatory public hearings on spending plan
The last months' governance craziness overshadowed what had become a summer ritual: The process by which the city proposes how it wants to spend state Contracts for Excellence dollars, and the public gets to respond with its thoughts at formal hearings. The hearings happen because Contracts for Excellence dollars are only doled out to districts that prove they will spend the money in certain kinds of programs pre-approved by state school officials. But this summer, the New York City Department of Education skipped over the mandated date for hearings, which are supposed to occur in all five boroughs, without holding them. A public comment period will be postponed until the fall, but New York state plans to send the city the funds anyway, before that happens. "Funds that are continuing last year's Contract can be used," a state education spokesman, Jonathan Burman wrote in an email. The "commissioner's approval is required before funds allocated to new purposes can be used." The state's grim financial picture has meant that the city won't receive any more Contracts dollars than it did last year. An official at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, whose lawsuit alleging that the city schools are historically under-funded by the state led to the creation of the Contracts for Excellence fund, said that the state's logic makes little sense given the tough fiscal climate.
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