Nojay Blasts Common Core ‘Tool Kit’

testsRepublican Assemblyman Bill Nojay on Wednesday criticized the state Department of Education’s recommended communication strategy for school districts when it comes to explaining the controversial Common Core education standards.

After she was appointed by the Board of Regents to succeed John King, Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia this summer pledged to open up new lines of communication with school districts, teachers and parents over Common Core-based testing.

The latest effort comes this summer after it was revealed 20 percent of students opted out of taking standardized tests in English and Math in April.

But Nojay, a Rochester-area lawmaker, blasted the effort from the Department of Education as “deplorable” and a way to pressure districts in to having students take the tests. More >

Cuomo: Schools Shouldn’t Be Penalized For Test Opt Outs

testsSchools with high rates of students opting out of standardized tests shouldn’t be penalized through a withholding of federal funds, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Cuomo, speaking in Utica with reporters on Thursday, wouldn’t criticize parents for choosing to have their children not take the tests.

“I don’t believe there are sanctions for opt outs,” Cuomo said. “At the end of the day, parents are in charge and parents make the decisions.”

Figures released by the state Department of Education this month showed 20 percent of students statewide did not have a valid excuse to miss either the math or English language arts examinations in April, which were based on the controversial Common Core education standards. More >

Heastie: Test Scores Show ‘We Still Have Work To Do’

HeastieschenectadyAssembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Wednesday didn’t close the door to yet another revision of the state’s teacher evaluation law, though nothing is in the works to do so at this point.

“In the last few years, we’ve always made adjustments to education policy,” he said. “We’re not looking at anything I’d say right now, but that opportunity is always there. If something arises, I think we would do that.”

Heastie was in Schenectady earlier today to tour General Electric Co., Proctors and the site of the proposed Rivers Resort and Casino as part of a broader upstate tour with members of his Democratic conference.

State lawmakers earlier this year agreed to a package of education policy changes that linked test scores to evaluations as well as in-classroom observation and made it more difficult for teachers to obtain tenure. More >

Cuomo Admin to SED: You’re On Your Own

ICYMI from the Morning Memo:

For years, governors – including the current occupant of the state Capitol’s second floor – have railed against the fact that the Legislature (mostly the Assembly), and not the executive branch, controls the Board of Regents, and, by extension, the state Education Department.

As far back as I can remember, (and we’re talking almost two decades of covering state government now), governors have tried to change this structure, proposing that they, not the Regents, appoint the education commissioner.

But sometimes, not being in control is a good thing – like when controversy over Common Core tests and the growing opt-out movement’s impact on the teacher evaluation system is raging, for example.

Whether schools will be paying a price in the form of last state and federal aid due to high opt-out rates, and if the union’s goal of undermining the new evaluation system by having too few test results to make it viable has been realized remain to be seen.

So far, however, the Cuomo administration appears to remain one step removed from the situation, letting the Regents, along with SED and its new commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, try to figure things out for themselves.

The governor has yet to formally weigh in on last week’s test results, which showed little to no improvement among third through eighth graders on the Common Core ELA and math exams. Nor has he said anything about the more troubling data released by SED that showed more than 20 percent of students – up from about 5 percent the year before – opted not to take the tests at all.

State Operations Director Jim Malatras, who last year penned the governor’s first salvo in what turned out to be a protracted battle this past session over education reform, told me during a CapTon interview last night that the administration is still “reviewing” the new test data.

“The governor will continue to try to improve a child’s education in the state of New York,” Malatras said. “…We’re going to keep working to make sure our kids have the best education. So, we have to look at the data, and if there’s way to improve it, we will.”

As to whether the teacher evaluation system, which the governor pushed hard to overhaul in this year’s state budget, remains viable, given the high opt-out rate, (remember: a NYSUT spokesman called the test results “meaningless”), Malatras said:

“The governor thinks we needed to have a real, fair, objective teacher evaluation system. We think we’ve done that. We’ll have to see how the numbers play out. But we do believe that there’s still a solid foundation to make sure that there’s a viable, well functioning evaluation system in the state of New York.”

Capital NY reported this week that some districts with unusually high opt-out rates are trying to cobble together alternatives to evaluate teachers without test scores – a move that will no doubt be opposed by NYSUT.

Following the release of the latest test scores, Elia said SED is working with the US Department of Education on a plan regarding possible sanctions – including the potential loss of aid – for districts with high opt-out rates. So far, no district in New York has ever lost funding as a result of kids opting not to take tests.

Elia did not say what the scores and opt-out rates will mean for schools labeled “struggling” or “persistently struggling.”

Asked whether schools with high opt-out rates should be sanctioned, Malatras more or less punted, saying:

“I know in the past that the state education department has withheld funding to schools for not complying with various laws. But I’ll leave it to them to determine how to best enforce the laws that we have on the books.”

Walcott To Lead Oversight Panel In East Ramapo

WallcottFormer New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has been appointed to lead a three-person panel to oversee the East Ramapo Central School District, the state Department of Education on Thursday announced.

Walcott’s panel — which also includes education experts Monica George-Fields and John Sipple of Cornell University — will be charged with monitoring the district’s operations as well providing recommendations in order to ensure students have access to programs and that the district is being managed well fiscally.

“The Board of Regents and I recognize the seriousness of this situation, and I have made it one of my top priorities to ensure that the State Education Department acts swiftly to ensure that the educational rights of the district’s students are protected,” said Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. “There is clear evidence that for many years the district has not adequately served the needs of its public school students.” More >

SED: Incremental Progress In State Exams; Opt-Out Rate Is 20 Percent

testsAbout one-fifth of New York students in April did not take state examinations for grades 3 through 8 in English-language arts and math, while the students that did made “incremental” progress overall in their scores, the Department of Education on Wednesday announced.

The results, released earlier this morning, showed 31.3 percent of students had “proficient” scores on the ELA examinations, while 38.1 percent had proficient results on the math tests.

The latest batch of test scores come from state education officials after thousands of students “opted out” of taking the examinations — a movement that was encouraged by the New York State United Teachers union the debate over linking student performance to teacher evaluations became all the more contentious this past legislative session.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who was appointed to lead the department last month, remains a supporter of the controversial Common Core standards, but has sought to build a consensus with teachers and parents on explaining the need to raise standards statewide. More >

Northeast Charter Network Hires NY Director

northeastcharterA prominent charter school network on Tuesday announced its hiring of a new state director for New York with ties to organized labor, creating the position following a session that focused heavily on the charter school debate.

Northeast Chart Schools Network is turning to Claudia Granados, a native of El Salvador who grew up in California. She has ties to SEIU, and has worked with the 32BJ labor group as a deputy political director. Granados also served as Cory Booker’s chief labor negotiator while he was mayor of Newark.

“Education truly is the great equalizer. As an immigrant, and the child of parents whose first language is not English but who pushed me to excel in school, I recognize that I am where I am today in large part because of an excellent education,” Granados said in a statement. “Charter schools are providing this path for so many children and I knew I wanted to represent educators who are doing this meaningful work.”

Education policy dominated the legislative session after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signaled last December he would seek a broad overhaul of the teacher evaluation criteria as well as undertake an effort to strengthen and expand charter schools. More >

Education Commissioner Releases Guidance For Transgender Students

The Department of Education on Monday released a set of guidelines for school districts to comply with state and federal laws when it comes to discrimination, harassment and bullying of students who are transgender or gender non-conforming.

The guidelines also provide information to school districts for student privacy and the obligation for school leaders to provide students with a safe environment.

“The important thing we must do is to keep children safe,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in a statement. “Children cannot be expected to learn unless they feel welcome, safe, and comfortable at school. Every school should foster that kind of environment for all its students. This new document gives administrators practical guidance to ensure their schools are places where transgender and gender nonconforming students can focus on academics, friendships, and their interests instead of worrying about how they will be treated by school staff and their peers.”

At the same time, the state’s document provides advice and guidance on pronouns, as well as restroom and changing room usage. Education officials said the guidance presents “real-life examples” from New York students and schools.

“All students need a safe and supportive school setting to progress academically and developmentally,” Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said. “The Education Department is committed to providing all students, including transgender and gender nonconforming students, with an environment free from discrimination and harassment. We have a moral responsibility to foster civility in our schools, and to ensure that every student has equal access to educational programs and activities. This document will help schools make that a reality for all of our students.”

The guidance’s release comes after Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent a letter in June to the department asking they take corrective measures following a critical report from the NYCLU of how transgender and gender nonconforming students are subject to harassment and violence in New York schools.

Transg_GNCGuidanceFINAL by Nick Reisman

Loeb, Singer Replenish Pro-Charter School Campaign Committee

Hedge fund managers Paul Singer and Daniel Loeb helped replenish the coffers of a pro-charter school independent expenditure committee, contributing $1 million each to the group, according to its recent Board of Elections filing.

The PAC, known as New Yorkers For A Balanced Albany, had virtually maxed out its funds after the 2014 election.

The group had focused almost exclusively on legislative races in support for Republican Senate candidates in battleground races (Democratic candidates, in turn, were heavily supported by the state’s teachers unions).

Republicans gained full control of the chamber after working in a majority coalition with the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, an arrangement that allowed the GOP to retain most of the trappings of power at the Capitol.

In the end, charter schools didn’t get everything they wanted legislatively out of Albany, even as Cuomo won broader education reform victories such as making it harder for teachers to obtain tenure and a new teacher evaluation system that is linked to test scores and in-classroom observation.

The cap on charter schools was not increased, but it was redistributed to allow for more growth in New York City.

Both Singer and Loeb have backed Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a staunch supporter of charter schools.

Loeb in the most recent campaign finance reporting period donated $25,000 to Cuomo.

Education Commissioner IDs 144 Schools For Receivership

The Department of Education on Thursday released a list of 144 schools in 17 school districts that have been identified as struggling or persistently struggling schools.

Twenty of those schools are deemed to be “persistently struggling” — making them a target for receivership should a turnaround effort not work.

Schools considered to be struggling account for 124 of the schools identified today.

“In those schools designated as Persistently Struggling, there will be an unprecedented infusion of resources to support school turnaround efforts,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. “This is an opportunity that communities must seize to come together to fundamentally rethink how these schools carry out their obligations to students and families.”

The 2015-15 state budget included the receivership provision that had been pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Schools deemed to be struggling — Cuomo has used the term “failing” to identify them — will be given a two-year “superintendent receiver” that will be charged with making improvement in the school. If not, the district will be required to appoint an independent receive or submit for an appointment with the Department of Education.

For the schools considered persistently struggling, a superintendent will serve as the receiver and be given a 12-month period to use broader authority to move “demonstrable” improvement in the school, with goals established by the commisioner including student performance.

The school would be eligible for a slice of a $75 million state aid package to that would help implement the changes.

“In these schools, whole generations of students have been left behind,” said Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. “As a former school superintendent, I know how important it will be for superintendents to use their new authority to develop robust plans to improve student performance. Superintendents have an obligation to act on conditions that have persisted for too long in these schools.”

The New York State United Teachers union in a statement said the discussion over struggling schools “is the wrong one for New York state to be having” and said the aid package falls short.

“Teachers in these new ‘receivership’ schools are as highly skilled, dedicated and as passionate about teaching and learning as teachers anywhere,” said NYSUT President Karen Magee. “What has been sorely lacking are the resources and support they need to provide equal opportunity for every child. Receivership is nothing but the state shifting the blame and attention from its own failures, over decades, to properly support students and educators in these schools.”

Schools by Nick Reisman