Education

Opt Out Rates Fall In Urban Areas

High Achievement New York, a business-backed group that is supportive of the Common Core standards, is pointing to the “opt-in” rates of students in the state’s urban areas.

The group on Wednesday pointed to low rates of students not taking the April round of standardized tests in New York City, Buffalo, Yonkers and Syracuse.

In New York City, the opt-out rates for the tests stood last month at 2 percent. In Buffalo, the rates fell from 9.9 percent to 7.7 percent in English language arts. Opt-out rates in Math tumbled from 15 percent to 8 percent, according to City & State.

Opt-out rates in Yonkers, too, have fallen for both math and English examinations, while they’ve dropped slightly in Syracuse as well.

The decline comes after the Department of Education agreed to place a moratorium on linking Common Core-based test results to teacher evaluations. At the same time, teachers and students in general are said to have been better prepared during the new round of testing.

The opt-out movement itself has had a mixed relationship with urban educators, as The New York Times documented over the weekend, though some minorities are stepping up their criticism of the tests.

At the same time, state officials this year sought to reduce the amount of time spent testing students in the classroom amid concerns over student stress.

042616 ICYMI by Nick Reisman

Kaminsky Introduces Education Bill Scaling Back Common Core

Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat who is running for the state Senate in a special election next month, has introduced a package of measures his office says is aimed at fixing “the damage done” to schools by Common Core.

The Nassau County Democrat’s bill in many respects seeks to undo much of the education policy measures Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sought over the last several years and successfully had included in last year’s budget.

The measure’s provision include a decoupling of teacher evaluations from test results, which is currently under a moratorium imposed by the Board of Regents.

Kaminsky also wants to create a committee through the Board of Regents that would research and develop an alternative method for teacher evaluations.

The bill would also repeal a Cuomo-backed provision that allows the state to place struggling or failing schools into receivership.

And Kaminsky wants to crate an alternative pathway for graduation for students who do not wish to take or are unable to pass Regents examinations.

The package of proposals for education comes as Kaminsky is engaged in a hotly contested race for the state Senate district vacated by Republican former Majority Leader Dean Skelos. A poll this month from Siena College showed Kaminsky in a virtual tie with Republican challenger Chris McGrath.

Kaminksy’s campaign has placed a heavy emphasis on his anti-corruption platform and resume, a bona fide the former federal prosecutor has played up after the conviction of Skelos in December on corruption charges.

The education bill itself was announced by Kaminsky’s Assembly office over the weekend.

“New York’s public school students and parents have endured years of unproductive, frustrating, wrongheaded attempts at improving our state’s education system,” Kaminsky said in a statement. “Instead of making our schools better, Common Core has added new barriers to a quality education by making it harder to learn, harder to teach, and burdening schools with lengthy, difficult tests that fail to adequately measure learning.”

This year, the fight in the state budget has not been over education policy changes, which Cuomo last year linked to a boost in state aid.

Instead, lawmakers are seeking increases overall in foundation aid as well as an end to the cuts from the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

Updated: McGrath spokesman OB Murray responds.

“Chris McGrath is the only candidate in this race who has been against Common Core from the beginning,” Murray said. “Todd Kaminsky is a typical politician who voted to expand Common Core testing on our kids last year and now he’s just playing politics with the issue.”

StudentsFirstNY Questions SED On Struggling Schools List

After the Department of Education removed 70 schools from struggling status, an education reform group is questioning the legality of the move.

In a letter from StudentsFirstNY on Thursday, Executive Director Jenny Sedlis called on Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to restore the schools to the list.

The group bolsters its case by pointing to test scores at several schools that were removed from the receivership list.

“Removing schools that have only a handful of students achieving proficiency from the receivership list does a disservice to children,” she wrote in the letter. “The intent of the receivership law was to provide critically necessary support to schools, support that children in those schools will now be denied.”

Here’s the letter:

SFNY to SED re Receivership Removal March 17 2016.pdf by Nick Reisman

Assembly: Boost Education Spending By $2.9B, Restore CUNY Cuts

Assembly Democrats on Thursday proposed spending $25.4 billion on school aid for the coming 2016-17 fiscal year, a boost of $2.1 billion over the current funding and more than twice than the $960 million proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

On the higher education front, meanwhile, Assembly Democrats want to spend $1.7 billion and restore $485 million in cost shifts to the City University of New York, which Cuomo has said can be found through efficiencies.

“Our children are our biggest priority. Whether it is New York City, Long Island, Central New York, Western New York or the North Country, children face the same challenges,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “And we must find ways to reach them, not only in the classroom, but at home as well,” said Heastie. “The Assembly Majority will do everything we can to make sure that our children are given the tools that they need to succeed.”

Education spending typically takes up the largest expense in the state budget, save for health care, and is often the most fractious and politically difficult fight in the negotiations.

This year, Cuomo is not linking controversial education policy changes to spending, making the debate a relatively old fashioned one about allocations.

Both Assembly Democrats Senate Republicans are seeking a full restoration of education cuts under the gap elimination adjustment, a push that generally helps suburban school districts — a proposal that will cost $434 million. Cuomo’s budget calls for a partial restoration of the GEA.

The Assembly’s proposal also includes a $1.1 billion allocation for Foundation Aid, which provides 25 percent of the state’s total $4.4 billion obligation under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

In addition, the Assembly wants to fund community schools — which offer a range of services that traditional schools do not — with $200 million.

And the fourth year in a row, the Assembly is backing funding for the DREAM Act, which would give access to tuition assistance funds for undocumented immigrants.

4201 Schools Push For Funding Parity

Lobby Day at the Capitol has brought students and faculty from 4201 schools and a push from the 4201 Schools Association for funding parity in the final budget agreement.

The 11-member association represents deaf, blind and disabled students and has actively lobbied the state in recent budget years for what they say is a fairer slice of the funding pie in the spending plan.

For now, the association says it’s happy with Cuomo’s budget proposal that would impact their schools.

“We are grateful that Governor Cuomo has made a recommendation that will benefit our students,” said Dr. Bernadette Kappen, 4201 Schools Association chairwoman and executive director of The New York Institute for Special Education in the Bronx. “As the Legislature begins working on the details regarding state education funding, we will encourage them to be guided by the notion of funding parity across the board. Their commitment will ensure ongoing student achievement stemming from programs based on individualized attention in a specialized setting.”

In essence, Cuomo’s $154 billion budget includes funding that would keep them on par with increases provide to public school districts and today’s push is part of a broader effort at preserving parity.

At the same time, the group is calling a one-time investment that would allow schools to make improvements on their infrastructure that would strengthen student safety and improve efficiency, while also reducing operational costs.

“Many of the students we serve have unique sensory disabilities,” said Tim Kelly, vice chairman of the association and superintendent of St. Mary’s School for the Deaf in Buffalo. “We can improve upon the safety of the entire community by ensuring critical notification systems are in place to alert students of an emergency – and it starts with messages being seen, heard and understood.”

SED: 188 Schools Listed As Priorities

The state Department of Education on Friday designed 188 schools as priorities, while 84 districts were deemed to be in need of developing comprehensive plans for improvement.

The districts, officially designed as “Focus Districts” by the department come on top of the 188 schools that have found to be among the lowest performing schools in the state, failing to show any progress in English language arts, math or combined.

Meanwhile, 27 districts and 197 schools that had been previously identified as coming under the “focus” designation are being listed in good standing. For 49 schools that have been listed as priority schools are now being moved from priority to focus.

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in a statement called the improvements for those schools and school districts encouraging.

“We are encouraged by the large number of schools and districts whose hard work these past several years has resulted in improvements in their accountability status,” Elia said. “We are particularly pleased by the turnaround that has taken place in some of state’s schools that have been struggling for many years. But there remain far too many schools where far too many students are not achieving state standards. We’re committed to working with these districts to improve the outcomes in their schools.”

Among those 84 districts given priority status, 428 schools have been identified as focus schools, while 14 charter schools were included as focus charter schools.

All together, 69 priority schools have come off the list this year, including 20 now in good standing 49 have been to focus status.

Another Vacancy To Open On Board Of Regents

Another vacancy is opening up on the Board of Regents with the planned departure of Charles Bendit, sources told NY1’s Zack Fink.

Bendit represents the first judicial district of Manhattan on the 17-member board and is the co-founder and co-CEO of Taconic Investment Partners LLC.

He also sits on the board of governors of the politically active and influential Real Estate Board of New York.

Bendit’s departure comes as the Legislature is already considering the replacement for two members, including outgoing Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who held an at-large seat.

Members of the Board of Regents are selected by combined votes of both the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-led Assembly. Given their large majority in the Assembly, the process is virtually controlled by the Democratic conference in the chamber.

The vacancies on the board come after Regents backed a plan to place a moratorium on linking Common Core-based test results to teacher performance evaluations as the standards are being studied and potentially revised in New York.

Last year’s education policy battle between the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo was a bruising one, and in April an estimated 20 percent of students opted out of the round of English and math tests.

NYSUT Knocks King’s Advancement To Education Secretary

There’s little love lost for the New York State United Teachers union and John King, the former education commissioner and President Obama’s nominee to become the U.S. secretary of education.

Obama on Thursday signaled he would forward the nomination of King to the U.S. Senate for consideration to replace Arne Duncan. King has for the last several months been serving in an interim capacity as the education secretary following King’s departure.

This is distressing to NYSUT, which battled with King over the implementation of the controversial Common Core education standards and what the union saw as an over reliance at SED on testing.

“At a time when we are finally moving away from the disastrous era of test-and-punish, action to make John King’s interim appointment as U.S. Secretary of Education permanent is extremely troubling and sends the wrong signal to educators and parents nationwide,” NYSUT President Karen Magee. “During his tenure as New York’s education commissioner, the joy of teaching and learning was eroded by a wave of misguided top-down policies that focused on overuse of testing and punitive measures exacted upon teachers.”

NYSUT last year staunchly opposed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to overhaul teacher performance reviews to test results as well as in-classroom observation. The Board of Regents later declared a moratorium on linking evaluations to Common Core-based examinations as the state studies potential changes to the standards.

“New York State is only just beginning to recover from the destructive policies of John King, who was subject to an unprecedented vote of no confidence delivered by delegates of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers,” Magee said.

Superintendents Group Raises Issues With Education Budget

The state Council of School Superintendents raised a package of issues on Wednesday with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed education budget, arguing the funding plan doesn’t go far enough and that the tax cap makes it difficult for schools to raise revenue.

“The state budget enacted last year gave school district leaders hope after several difficult years that financial prospects for their schools might at last be turning around,” said Deputy Director Bob Lowry. “But our report explains how the near zero tax cap combined with inadequate state aid proposed for next year now threatens the progress some schools were able to make.”

Cuomo has proposed a $990 million increase in education aid and a partial end to the cuts in the Gap Elimination Adjustment. The Board of Regents had initially called for a more than $2 billion increase in education aid.

But the superintendents argue the school aid hike doesn’t go far enough, nor does ending the GEA. So-called “average need” districts remain hurt by what is left of the GEA, the group writes in its report.

At the same time, the tax cap — due to allow for an increase of less than 1 percent in the levy this year — has constricted the ability of districts to raise funds.

“With the near zero tax cap, state aid comprises essentially the only source of additional revenue for schools. For all districts – rich, poor, and in-between – the result is the same: proposed state aid is not adequate to preserve their current programs and services.”

School district and local government officials have pushed in recent weeks to make the cap a 2 percent cap, and no longer link the law to the rate of inflation, which has been largely flat in recent years.

4 Key Points About School Aid in the 2017-17 State Budget by Nick Reisman

Education Commissioner’s Charter Rally Appearance Stirs Union

eliaThe brief appearance by Education Commisioner MaryEllen Elia at a rally for charter schools in Albany on Tuesday caused a stir with the state United Teachers Union.

Up until now, NYSUT has been largely supportive of Elia, a former teacher in western New York herself and a one-time union member.

Elia was appointed by the Board of Regents to the top post in June, replacing Education Commissioner John King, who had been at odds with the union over a variety of education policy issues.

In her remarks, Elia thanked the attendees for their “support of education in New York.”

“I am very focused on choice,” Elia said at the rally. “I led my career with putting in magnet schools within the traditional school system there. We also had charter schools. My focus on all schools and all kids and all parents and all teachers is we all need to be focused on what makes education work for our children.”

But NYSUT wasn’t pleased with the appearance, even if Elia spoke in broad strokes.

“The commissioner’s appearance today at a political rally sends the wrong message entirely,” said NYSUT President Karen Magee. “The commissioner is creating a distraction and sending the wrong message to the Legislature.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year clashed with NYSUT over efforts to overhaul the state’s teacher evaluation system that links Common Core-based test results to performance reviews. A moratorium has been placed on the plan as the state reviews the education standards.

Cuomo also battled with NYSUT over charter schools, which has backed for expansion and extra funding.

Once again this year, Cuomo is seeking to boost charter schools through increasing funding statewide by $27 million.

Assembly Democrats on Tuesday signaled they won’t go along with those plans.

“The conference has long been clear on where we stand on charter schools,” said Speaker Carl Heastie at a news conference. “The governor likes them, the Senate Republicans like them. But I don’t think the conference’s position has changed, if any, over the last few months.”