Chancellor, New York City Department of Education
Q: It looks like the upcoming city budget will be a lot less contentious than it was last year.
Dennis Walcott: As I testified at the City Council meeting, the school budgets will stay flat. And then what I also indicated, and I’ve said this to some of the schools as well, that they’ll have their information out by the middle of May. That gives them proper planning time, and so I think that’s good for the system, in having the appropriate time to plan properly, knowing that your budget, based on what happens with your student population, will stay flat overall. And that allows us to plan properly.
Q: So it looks like Albany is set to send around $8 billion to New York City for education. Is that going to be enough from the state to meet the city’s obligations?
DW: Whatever monies we get, we have to make it work. And so they saw, well, the mayor’s come out with his executive budget. But whatever money we get, we have to work with that to make it work.
Q: What’s your take on the debate going on in Albany right now over access to the teacher-evaluation scores? There are some lawmakers who want to restrict access to that data to just parents. Is that realistic to you?
DW: Part of it is—the mayor and I have very consistently been saying this—we believe in transparency; we believe in the information going to all the folks, as far being available to people. And I’ve always said, though, the way that information—people have to look at it as a slice of information, a moment in time of a teacher, not to denigrate teachers solely on that information. Parents and the public should have that information, and we’ve said that all along. So, again, with the debate in Albany, I’m not part of that debate. I don’t know the specifics of that debate.
Q: The mayor, in his State of the City address at the beginning of the year, was talking about wanting to introduce a merit-pay system for teachers. Is it still on the table?
DW: It’s still definitely on the table, but that’s part of collective bargaining. And then also, the proposal is based on a teacher being for two years rated highly effective. So for that to happen, we have to come to a deal with the union around a citywide evaluation deal. So we’re still pushing on that to make sure we have a citywide evaluation deal. The other part the mayor mentioned in his State of the City is making sure we have a loan-
forgiveness program for teachers coming into the system and those teachers who are the highest debt level, and making sure there’s a $25,000 loan-forgiveness program over a five-year period, or $5,000 each year.
Q: How are the evaluation negotiations going with the union? Are you meeting and talking with them on a constant basis?
DW: I would leave open for interpretation the definition of the word constant. Staff talks. Mr. Mulgrew and I talk. So we do talk. So we’ll see what happens. I personally believe it’s a benefit to the system itself. It’s a benefit, definitely, to our teachers, to have a citywide evaluation deal in place. Ideally the goal is to get something done by the start of the school year. So we continue to talk, and we’ll see what happens.
Q: Any interest in staying on as chancellor for the next administration?
DW: My time at DOE will end when the mayor leaves on Dec. 31, 2013. I mean, the next mayor should have his or her own choice as their own chancellor. I’m very clear about that. There’s something very liberating about being in this position right now, because I work for a mayor who is very focused on how we improve outcomes for our students. One of the other things that is very liberating is that we have the ability to make systematic change, and to me that is extremely important for our students. The next mayor will make his or her choice, as far as who the chancellor should be, but right now we still have a lot of time to impact student performance, and our goal is to make sure we utilize that time wisely.
Q: A number of the candidates vying to replace the mayor have disagreed with him on a number of crucial education issues, whether it’s co-locations or school closures. Are you concerned that we’re going to see a reversal of some of the mayor’s policies after his time in office?
DW: I can’t worry about what will happen and what I don’t know about. Our goal is to make sure we continue on our focus of improving the system overall, and as a citizen I will be looking to see what candidates who are running for mayor have to say. I’m a resident of New York City, and I’ll be paying close attention to what they have to say. Our reforms have shown positive results for our students. No matter how one looks at it, you see improved graduation rates, you see improved outcomes, more students going into college; so you take a look at the results, you see more choices available to our families for their students, schools that are doing better, still a number of schools that need to be better, and we’re focused on those as well. But no matter how you measure the metric, our outcomes are better than when we started, and we’ll continue working on improving the outcomes for our students.
Chancellor, New York State Board of Regents
Q: There are a number of school districts struggling to make ends meet. What are your thoughts on that?
Merryl Tisch: We’re very concerned about it, obviously. And we are trying to do a number of things within the state aid proposals, like free up a few more dollars, some on construction, some here, some there, to give districts greater flexibility in how they manage the state resources that they get. It’s very worrisome that some of these districts are looking at insolvency and they’re going to have to make some very difficult decisions. One of the decisions that they always make whenever you have an issue of funding is generally they cut out arts programs, they cut out all cultural things, and they cut out after-school. Some districts are threatening to cut out full-day kindergarten.
Q: The governor is looking at a competitive grant process for schools to move toward consolidating back-office functions and that sort of thing in order to meet his standards as far as cost efficiency. The Legislature is reluctant to go in that direction. Do you think this is a process that could save school districts a lot of money?
MT: I think consolidation of back-office and transportation services, and all of those things which create efficiencies in markets, would be a wonderful thing. That being said, every time that we have looked at consolidation, the districts involved have pushed back very strenuously. And I think the insolvency of some of the school districts is going to create an environment in which they’ll be willing to look at a consolidation in a much more significant way.
Q: Where are things in the implementation of the common core standards?
MT: We have a lot of RFPs out to do teacher preparation around common core standards, to do curriculum development around common core standards. But I think if there’s one area we need to focus on, we really need to get the public aware of the benefit of common core. So it’s a challenge for us. How do we communicate to the public as a large whole why common core would be so significant, a sea change in terms of raising standards for New York State schoolchildren? It’s a communications challenge for us, but we are planning to do something to meet that challenge. It’s too premature to talk about. The groundwork is being done.
Q: So the governor and the Legislature are still debating the issue of teacher evaluations. There’s consternation from the unions about publicizing the data. Do you see an end point where all parties could be satisfied?
MT: I’ve gotten into a little trouble discussing this, as I remember. But I stand by what I believe. I believe the data points that were released by the city were premature. Those numbers were never intended to be made public, because they were based on one measure. With the help of the city and districts across the state, we’ve come together to produce a multidimensional teacher evaluation system, which is a much more sophisticated index of teacher performance. So those numbers were not ready to see the light of day. The question is, how do we manage this set of numbers in the evaluation system—and I probably think that until we are sure that the evaluation system is efficient, effective and a reliable measure, in a complicated system it is probably better to carve out an agreement where parents can access information through their schools. I do not believe that publishing a measure that is not proven and that is not road-tested is good public policy.
Q: What are your priorities with the higher education committee with the remaining time left in session?
Kenneth LaValle: One of the chief things will be, we’ve been working on legislation to deal with the whole SAT and ACT cheating. The committee will be meeting on April 18 or thereabouts with the College Board and ETS to go through what they are recommending or adopting, for security measures. We want to make sure that those security measures are indeed comprehensible. I’m just looking at them now, and I’m going to make recommendations. I brought them home to read over the break. So that will be very important. There is an issue that deals with SUNY and its foundations, and information should be FOIL-able; we’re working on that. We will be awaiting recommendations on remediation, working with the governor’s office and the Assembly on what we should put into place to deal with the whole issue at the community level, where many community colleges have very, very high numbers of students that need remediation.
Q: What is your impression of the budget of the SUNY system?
KL: SUNY was in a huge hole, and that process is not going to recover itself in one session. Last year we did the SUNY 2020. This year we did the community colleges and the hospitals. It’s put us on a good path. The most critical thing of the SUNY 2020 legislation was maintenance of effort, in which the governor gave a commitment that he would not reduce where we were in terms of faculty and funding. So everyone was kind of held harmless. So that’s just great.
Q: The Democrats in the Legislature would like to pass a bill that would provide tuition assistance to students who are undocumented immigrants. What is your position on that legislation?
KL: First of all, the program is anywhere between $45 million to $65 million. We have yet to meet our commitment to low-income and middle-income students. And when I talk about middle-income, middle-income students here in the region I live in can be $100,000-plus. So we have yet to meet our commitment to those students. We need to be mindful that these students are illegal students. I know Senator Marco Rubio in Florida is looking at a proposal to deal with legal immigrants, and we’ll look at that. But the first order of business needs to be that those residents of New York who are middle-income students and lower-income students, to have their dreams fulfilled. My DREAM Act is for New York State’s students who are lower-income, middle-income students, that they be able to meet their needs.
Tags: 2013, 2020, Andrew Cuomo, Common core curriculum, Dennis Walcott, Department of Education, Dream Act, Kenneth LaValle, Merryl Tisch, Michael Bloomberg, Michael Mulgrew, state senate, SUNY, Tweed Courthouse, UFT
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