One of the biggest education issues in New York this year was teacher evaluations, the subject of an ongoing debate across the country pitting teachers and unions against advocates who want to tie pay and tenure more closely to teacher performance.
Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law strengthening teacher and principal evaluation systems in an effort to hold them more accountable for how well students do in the classroom.
Cuomo then secured a compromise on a bill to disclose teacher evaluation data to parents, balancing calls for making all of the information public against a push by teachers unions to keep the data private. The deal came on the heels of the Bloomberg administration’s disclosure of the results of its New York City teacher evaluations to the public at large.
“This law strikes the right balance between a teacher’s right to privacy and the parents’ and public’s right to know,” Cuomo said in a statement. “New York’s children deserve a top-quality education, and the state’s new teacher evaluation system will ensure that teachers and principals are held responsible for student performance.”
Yet not everyone was happy with the compromises reached on teacher evaluations.
Joel Miller, the ranking member of the Assembly Education Committee, who is retiring this year, asserted that little real progress could be made on tough education issues like teacher evaluations because the teachers unions have so much influence over the process.
Miller said he has no problem with evaluations, saying they could be a way to address the “dead weight” among the ranks of teachers who cannot be removed from their jobs now because of seniority, but that the legislation ultimately passed was “terrible.”
For example, he said it would be difficult to use tests to measure the competence of music and art teachers and special education instructors, and pointed out that teachers still had significant say over how they would be evaluated, which could make for a less rigorous process.
“Not only did we rush to do that, we don’t know if it’s going to work at all, but we already have determined that that information will be released,” Miller said. “You and I both know that if you tell one out of every 10 parents what the evaluation is for a particular teacher, by the end of the day it will be on every Twitter and Facebook [account], and so all of the information will be out there. And that’s basically all we’ve done for education.”
According to Miller, school funding, teacher evaluations, last in/first out, and relations with teachers unions will continue to be hot-button issues in 2013.
Sen. Ken LaValle, who chairs the Higher Education Committee, touted increased funding for the system as one of the top accomplishments in 2012, including a $22.1 million boost for community colleges, $87.8 million for SUNY hospitals, and funding increases for SUNY child care centers and centers of excellence at Stony Brook and the University of Buffalo.
He also cited forthcoming reports by SUNY and CUNY on student remediation and community college chargebacks, which require a student’s home county to pay part of his costs if the student attends an out-of-county community college.
“SUNY is spending $70 million a year in remediation, so we need to start a program that, quite honestly, will incorporate participation by the K–12 community in beginning to locate where they are having some problems and identify them very early, and then just start remediation programs at the earliest possible time in their K–12 year programs,” he said.
A top priority next year, LaValle said, will be addressing college affordability. The Senate passed a college affordability plan this year, and SUNY has adopted a pilot program based on one of the provisions that is designed to educate students about their loans and the real costs involved in paying them back.
“It sounds good at the time, but then when you add on all of the other payments, interest, service, et cetera, you end up with a big amount, and you say, ‘That’s not what they told me I was borrowing, and what my monthly payment will be,’ ” LaValle said.
Other measures aimed at making college more affordable include using economic development funds to reduce student loan rates and creating bigger tuition tax credits and deductions.
According to LaValle, “There is a great deal of interest in this college affordability plan, and I do believe that when we get to the budget in 2013, that this will be a key component to discuss.”
What Got Done in 2012:
Teacher evaluation legislation
A compromise on the disclosure of teacher evaluations
Cuomo’s New NY Education Reform Commission
What’s on the Agenda:
Public school funding
Higher education remediation
New York State United Teachers
By RICHARD Iannuzzi
Student academic performance is rising. Hundreds of districts are producing outstanding results. And despite some clear failings, our state’s public education system is one of the strongest in the nation.
As school begins, we must restore balance to discussions about public school performance so we can make the right decisions for the future. Our state should be acknowledging—even celebrating—its leadership in Advanced Placement exams; a nearly 20-point increase in graduation rates over a decade; the 195 districts that graduated 90 percent or more of their students; and SUNY’s and CUNY’s excellence in national rankings.
At the same time, we must continue tackling the achievement gap. In too many places, low student achievement and high dropout rates are unacceptable. New York must do more to help students and families who are most vulnerable—those who are poor, those who have special needs and those who are English-language learners.
Maintaining educational excellence while strengthening underperforming schools and tackling the core social issues that are factors in weak performance takes collaboration and partnership. It will also take a meaningful new investment in public education.
Schools opened their doors this fall with $1.1 billion less in state aid than in 2008–09, and under the constraints of a draconian property tax cap that is jeopardizing the ability of local communities to support their schools. New York can clearly end the achievement gap and continue its national rise in education. For that to happen, the state must look at its public schools and colleges as long-term investments in its economic future.
Increased state support for public education will be NYSUT’s No.1 priority entering the next legislative session
By Raysa Rodriguez
Director of Advocacy
New York’s children need and deserve a highly effective teacher in front of every classroom.
Extensive research shows that the quality of a student’s teacher matters more than anything else that happens in a school. Yet for decades New York’s laws have done virtually nothing to promote teacher quality. Recent changes to the teacher evaluation law are a first step in the right direction, but will have little impact unless we implement new, better ways to recruit, retain and reward the most talented educators.
We will push the state to take important steps in this direction:
- Eliminate outmoded certification requirements that serve as a high-cost, quality-blind barrier to entry to the teaching profession, and which have no impact on student achievement.
- Recognize teaching as the high-level, critically important and challenging profession that it is, and eliminate the law that grants tenure automatically to all “persons who have been found competent, efficient and satisfactory” after just three years.
- Provide funding, support and incentives to districts that give salary increases to highly effective teachers, particularly those in high-needs schools, to help retain them.
- It’s time for a real zero tolerance policy for sexual misconduct in the schools. Heads of school districts should have the authority to remove teachers who engage in sexual misconduct. There’s no way to have an effective school without it being a safe school, one that families trust.
New Yorkers for Great Public Schools
By Zakiyah Ansari
Mike Bloomberg promised to dramatically improve New York’s public schools. After more than a decade, the results are sorely disappointing.
Two-thirds of “Bloomberg’s kids,” students entering kindergarten when he took office, do not read, write or do math at grade level; three-quarters of CUNY community college enrollees need remediation; and the racial achievement gap remains a dramatic gulf, as does the achievement gap for English-language learners.
Bloomberg’s strategies have focused on testing, school closings, privatization, top-down administrative restructurings and blaming teachers. Little attention has gone to classroom strategies to improve teaching and learning. Parents, students and communities have been disregarded, and most New Yorkers give the mayor a failing grade on education.
The next mayor, no matter who wins the election, must change course. Effective education strategies that must be prioritized include: a high quality curriculum for all students, focused on college readiness and meeting the diverse needs of individual students, rather than a testing obsession that narrows the quality of curriculum; more time in the school day and after school for students to learn, rather than program cuts; and leadership that supports students, parents, educators and communities, and engages them as partners in reform.
The education debate should focus on what the education research says, but a new political action committee with a $50 million campaign war chest—StudentsFirst NY—has set out to overwhelm the public debate with political cash in order to push its testing and privatization agenda. These same tired policies won’t get the job done. The next mayor needs to focus on classroom teaching and learning.
Tags: Andrew Cuomo, college affordability, CUNY, Joel Miller, Ken LaValle, New York State United Teachers, New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, Raysa Rodriguez, Richard Iannuzzi, StudentsFirst NY, SUNY, teacher evaluation, zakiyah-ansari