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.”

Elia Pitches Change And Familiarity With New York

Testifying before a joint Senate and Assembly budget hearing on Wednesday, Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia emphasized her own ties to New York as she takes the reigns of the state’s education policy.

“I am from New York. Like many of you probably I have a regents diploma,” Elia told lawmakers. “I then taught in New York for 17 years and I’ve participating and reviewed assessments as a teacher here.”

But Elia in her four-hour long discussion with lawmakers emphasized at the same time she’s a break from the past at the department that’s come under fire for over testing and the implementation of the Common Core standards.

“Working with the Regents I’ve made recommendations to them that they have put into place and I think it has helped it,” she said. “We have a ways to go and I hope we continue to work together on it.”

Elia was appointed the new commissioner in July after the departure of John King, who is now the acting secretary of education in the Obama administration. King had come under fire for the department’s roll out and handling of the implementation of the controversial standards.

A former school superintendent in Florida, Elia is a western New York native.

At the same time, education policy in New York has been roiled in recent years by the linking of tests to teacher evaluations as well as a boost in state funding. The Board of Regents agreed to a pause in the implementation of a new evaluation system as the education standards in New York are overhauled.

Elia in her testimony emphasized the state is moving tto reduce the amount of time students will spend in the classroom with examinations.

“Every one of the assessments in grades three through eight, language arts and mathematics, has been shortened,” she said.

Meanwhile, students who need more time to complete examinations will be given it with the goal of reducing the stress of completing a test.

“We have distributed information and we’ll make it very clear to districts that students who are productively working can continue the assessment,” Elia said.

But challenges remain for school districts and funding. Elia says she has heard from districts who have raised concerns once again about state funding.

“They have incredible constraints and problems coming in the near future if they don’t get some relief,” Elia said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget called for a $963 million increase in state aid. The Board of Regents at the Department of Education called for a $2.9 billion increase.

Board of Regents: Boost Education Aid By $2.4B

The state Board of Regents on Tuesday approved a recommended $2.4 billion hike in education spending in the 2016-17 state budget.

The recommendation is non-binding one, but comes as school districts across the state expect to be submitting budgets without much wiggle room under the state’s cap on property taxes.

The proposal advanced by the Board of Regents backs “substantial increases” in basic operating aid, a restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment and more spending on early childhood education, professional development and English-language learners.

State lawmakers, facing re-election next year, are likely to push for boosts in school aid in the coming legislative session. Education, along with health care, remain the costliest items in the state budget.

“As with past proposals, this year’s addresses uneven funding across districts by driving more money to districts with a high concentration of students who need it most—those with special needs, English language learners, and those from low income homes,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in a statement.

The board backed a recommended increase in $1.3 billion for foundation aid, while the full restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment reductions would total $434 million.

“We are also requesting new dollars to support multiple pathways to graduation, expand early childhood education, and strengthen services for students learning English,” Tisch said. “Funding these measures will greatly benefit New York’s three million public school children by putting them firmly on the path of college and career readiness. This proposal represents a smart investment in our State’s collective future.”

To the chagrin of state lawmakers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has in recent budget cycles linked education policy to increasing education aid, using his office’s budget powers to pass new a teacher evaluation measure and make it harder for teachers to obtain and keep tenure.

Education Officials And Cuomo Insist: No Reversal On Education

Back in March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers after contentious negotiations agreed to a new teacher evaluation system that partially links scores to student results on Common Core-based tests.

This week, the Board of Regents, with Cuomo’s tacit support, reversed that policy.

“As you’re implementing something, we need to slow down in something else,” said Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia after testifying before at an Assembly Higher Education Committee hearing. “We’ve put ourselves in a transition period where we will be giving the tests and we’ll also be providing information, but there will be no consequences for teachers.”

The Common Core standards have been a political lightning rod in state politics, with education policy being revised to increasingly reflect a pitched battle between data-driven education reform groups and the politically active teachers unions.

Teachers and parents have criticized the roll out and an overall focus on high-stakes testing, meanwhile, with both sides of the political spectrum expressing unease with the increasingly top-down approach to education policy.

Cuomo, who has been supportive of charter schools and stricter methods of evaluating teachers, earlier in the year formed a panel to recommend potential changes to Common Core. The panel returned a package of 21 recommendations this month, including the moratorium on linking Common Core-based tests to the evaluations through 2020.

It’s unclear, meanwhile, if state lawmakers will be taking up any legislative changes to the evaluation system next year.

State education officials and Cuomo insist there’s no switch in pursuing standards in the classroom, even as the moratorium uncoupling of Common Core test results from the evaluations was praised by the states teachers unions, which have battled the governor over education policy.

Cuomo pointed out this weekend that other examinations, such as state and locally written tests, are still linked to the evaluations.

“There are teacher evaluations that are in the report and they are connected to tests, either state tests or locally approved tests,” Cuomo said on Sunday in Syracuse.

But Cuomo’s reversal on linking test scores to evaluations comes after 20 percent of students opted out of the April round of math and English tests using the Common Core standards. A report released by a task force appointed by Cuomo recommended the moratorium, along with other changes to the standards.

“What the report does say is that the Common Core curriculum was rushed and not implemented well and should be redone,” Cuomo said. “That’s the thrust of the report.”

And state education officials insist there’s no lowering of standards even as the controversial Common Core is being set up for an overhaul. A separate Department of Education report on Common Core is due out by the middle of next year.

Elia, the education commissioner, said the report won’t be impacted by the regulatory changes being made to Common Core.

“We’re continuing to implement and train our teachers on the standards and the best way to deliver the standards in the classrooms,” Elia said. “I don’t believe it does at all.”

The Cuomo-led task force backs more local control over education standards, though it’s unclear how that will be achieved with state-based standards.

“The standard is just that,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher. “It’s a competitive statement of what students need to know and what they need to do. How that gets implemented is the local curriculum and I think we’ve found the sweet spot.”

Education Department: Early Feedback Shows Positive Common Core Feedback

Preliminary data from a survey of educators in New York shows positive feedback for the Common Core education standards, though respondents have also indicated they support changes, according to information released on Monday.

The data released by the Department of Education, for now, is relatively sparse: Officials released top-line numbers on how many educators participated in the survey and the amount of different types of information given by teachers, principals and other school administrators.

“The preliminary data from AIMHighNY show there is strong support for higher learning standards for New York’s students,” Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said. “However, the survey findings also indicate that adjustments are necessary, particularly in the early grades, to ensure our standards make sense for our students and schools.

The department says a total of more than 10,500 people have responded to the survey request on its website between Oct. 21 and Nov. 30.

Of those respondents, 71 percent provided “positive” feedback, though it wasn’t clear what, precisely the respondents gave positive answers to when it comes to the controversial education standards.

“The survey was designed to solicit thoughtful, specific responses about individual learning standards,” Elia said. “I know it took time to provide such thorough feedback. I want to thank everyone who participated. Their input will help us to identify which standards should be rewritten, moved, or scrapped all together.”

The data was released after Gov. Andrew Cumoo’s own task force on recommending changes to the Common Core standards raised the possibility of unlinking Common Core-based examination results from teacher evaluation criteria through 2020.

Aimhighny Survey Slides by Nick Reisman

East Ramapo Review Panel Recommends Changes

A review panel appointed to study and recommend changes to the troubled East Ramapo school district on Monday released a list of 19 reforms to better manage the schools.

The board, which is led by former New York City schools chancellor Dennis Walcott, called on the state Legislature, along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to create a state-level monitor to veto the school board’s decisions — a proposal that failed in the Assembly following an acrimonious debate.

The report was first obtained and reported this morning by Gannett.

At the same time, the panel recommended an independent election monitor be installed for school board elections and urged changes to the district’s busing policies.

East Ramapo’s school district has 32,000 students, with 24,000 of them in mostly private, Orthodox Jewish yeshivas.

East Ramapo’s tensions are complex, but the concerns stem in part from a majority of students in the district attending religious schools, while the Board of Education is largely dominated by Hasidic men making decisions for a largely black and Latino student body.

A measure that would have created a monitor for the school district — which would have been appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo — would have had veto authority over local education officials. The measure did not pass in the Republican-led Senate following a heated debate by state lawmakers.

“As a result of this confluence of factors, the tensions in East Ramapo have grown into a chasm, full of anger and mistrust, and the District’s students have continued to suffer the effects,” the report found.

State lawmakers who represent the area in the Legislature later on Monday responded to the report, saying they would push for measures designed it implement its recommendations.

“I am ready to sponsor and fight for any legislation necessary to implement today’s recommendations,” said Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski. “Once again, a monitor with veto authority and increased funding are at the heart of the recommendations. Politics should not get in the way of these essential elements of the improvement plan. This issue has now been studied twice with similar findings. We know the problems, let’s implement the solutions.”

Sen. David Carlucci similarly backed legislative actions on the recommendations, including the installation of independent monitors.

“This will be an uphill fight in the Senate that we cannot afford to lose, and will take the full support of the Monitors, the State Education Department, the Board of Regents and the Governor,” he said. “Most importantly, the students, parents and teachers of East Ramapo must continue to join me in Albany and make their voices heard so we can pass meaningful legislation. We must continue our advocacy so that every child gets the best education they deserve and move our district in the right direction.”

Monday East Ramapo Slide Deck PDF by Nick Reisman

Common Core Task Force Calls For Moratorium On Linking Common Core With Evaluations

A panel convened by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to review and propose changes to the state’s controversial Common Core education standards released its long-awaited report on Thursday with 21 recommendations for overhauling the standards, including a temporary end to linking test results to teacher performance reviews.

The report comes after Cuomo has started to publicly distance himself from the linking of Common Core-based test results to how teachers and other educators are evaluated.

Among the panel’s key recommendations includes a moratorium on using Common Core-based test results when evaluating teachers, saying they will instead “only be advisory and not
be used to evaluate the performance of individual teachers or students.”

If adopted, the uncoupling would be a reversal, albeit a temporary one through 2020, from a major education policy fight Cuomo won earlier in the year, and a victory for the state’s teacher unions.

In March, Cuomo and state lawmakers agreed to an evaluation system that links test results and in-classroom observation to evaluations, while making it harder for teachers to obtain and keep tenure.

The proposal was swiftly praised by the New York State United Teachers union.

“Today we celebrate momentous developments at the state and national level that open the door for a much needed transformation in public education,” the union said in a statement. “The recommendations of the state task force signal a commitment to restore the joy of teaching and learning in our classrooms.”

Cuomo has been previously critical of how the state Department of Education rolled out the standards, which began before he took office.

But Cuomo during his time as governor has pushed for greater accountability from public schools, embraced charter schools and feuded with the state’s teachers unions.

The formation of the task force came after an active movement from parents and Common Core critics has led to approximately 20 percent of students opting out of the April round of Common Core-based tests in math and English-Language Arts.

In a statement, Cuomo pledged a sweeping overhaul of how the standards work, with an emphasis placed on local control.

“After listening to thousands of parents, educators and students, the Task Force has made important recommendations that include overhauling the Common Core, adopting new locally-designed high quality New York standards, and greatly reducing testing and testing anxiety for our students,” Cuomo said. “The Common Core was supposed to ensure all of our children had the education they needed to be college and career-ready – but it actually caused confusion and anxiety. That ends now.”

The recommendations from the education panel include the adoption of “locally-driven” education standards derived from teachers and parents that provides flexibility for students with disabilities and those learning English.

At the same time, the panel is calling reducing the number of days spent testing students and improving curriculum resources for teachers, who would also be given the flexibility in tailoring standards to individual students.

The panel’s recommendations were due to be released before Cuomo delivers his State of the State and budget address, scheduled for Jan. 13.

Making changes to the state’s Common Core program would be a likely relief for state lawmakers, who face re-election this year. Lawmakers have previously indicated it’s unlikely they will take up the changes legislatively.

The Department of Education is due to have its report on Common Core recommendations by June, to e released by a separate panel.

Today’s report was praised by the legislative leaders.

“These reforms will build on what we have already done to ease the anxiety that exists in many classrooms across the state while reinforcing the importance of high standards,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a former chairman of the Education Committee.

Added Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie: “While there is still much work left to be done, this report is a good first step in our efforts to improve New York’s educational standards and overhaul Common Core.”

Business groups, meanwhile, took a wait-and-see approach.

“While we have yet to fully digest today’s report from the Common Core Task Force, we are hopeful that these proposed changes will once again allow us to put our childrens’ education first,” said Heather C. Briccetti, president and CEO of The Business Council of New York State, Inc. “Whether you agree with the Common Core or not, it is clear that our students are not receiving the education they need and higher standards must not be rolled back.

New_York_Common_Core_Task_Force_Final_Report.pdf by Nick Reisman

NYSUT Names New Legislative Director

cb1The state’s umbrella teachers union on Monday announced Christopher Black will become its new director of legislation.

Black, a Clifton Park resident, replaces Stephen Allinger, who earlier this year stepped down from the post at the New York State United Teachers union, but remains in an advisory role for President Karen Magee.

Black has been with NYSUT for the last 17 years and for the last five years has served as its assistant director of legislation.

“Chris brings to this important position the experience, skill set and temperament to meet the political challenges before us,” Magee said in a statement. “He is a strong advocate for all of our members — those working in schools and on college campuses, and in health care facilities and human service agencies — and he has a firm grasp on the legislative process in both Albany and Washington, D.C.”

Black is taking over the job ahead of what is expected yet another tumultuous year for education policy issues. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been at odds with NYSUT during his time in office, has signaled plans to overhaul the controversial Common Core education standards, which could lead to more changes to the state’s teacher evaluation process.

Cuomo last year successfully pushed through changes to the evaluation process that made it harder for teachers to obtain and keep tenure, as well as tied results more closely to standardized tests.

Board Of Regents: Boost Education Aid By $2.4B

Policymakers at the state Board of Regnets on Monday called for an additional $2.4 billion in school aid for districts that are struggling to make ends meet on a variety of budgetary areas, including payroll and health-care costs.

The request would increase the amount New York spends on education to $26 billion in the coming fiscal year, which begins April 1. The request lines up closely with what a coalition of education and school groups called for earlier this month as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office begins to piece together a budget proposal for the start of the new year.

“Unless additional State aid is provided, because of increases in fixed costs such as contractual obligations and legacy costs, school districts, particularly high needs districts, may struggle to maintain a full range of quality educational services for their students,” wrote Deputy Education Commission Elizabeth Berlin in a memo. “To address this concern and avoid program cuts, we recommend that the state provide the full amount of projected cost increases.”

The 10 percent increase comes amid growing concerns from school districts over the state’s cap on local property tax increases, which is due to be flat this year given the near zero percent increase in the rate of inflation.

Meanwhile, Regents officials are pointing to cost concerns for districts, including teacher labor agreements, health-care costs and a planned increase in the state’s minimum wage.

Under the plan proposed by a Regents panel, $2.1 billion would be diverted to formula aid, or funding that’s given to individual school districts on formula basis, with another $300 million targeted to specific programs.

Elia Seeking More Common Core Feedback

commoncoreEducation Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in a letter to New York teachers on Tuesday wrote there have been more than 3,000 individuals offering feedback in a survey on the controversial Common Core education standards.

But Elia adds in the letter she wants more, encouraging teachers to take time during the day, like faculty meetings, to discuss the standards and provide feedback for the survey.

“That is why I am asking that, to the extent possible, your principals help facilitate opportunities for grade-level teachers to gather with colleagues to discuss specific standards,” Elia wrote in the letter. “My hope is that, where possible, you will be able to use time during the school day-perhaps during the time you usually have weekly faculty meetings-for this discussion and to enter your feedback into the survey.”

The Department of Education is seeking thoughts on Common Core as state officials move to enact potential changes to the standards.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has convened a panel that will recommend potential changes to Common Core by January, in time for the State of the State address.

SED, too, has its own review committee to study the impact of Common Core, which is due to complete work by next spring.

It remains to be seen how much of the changes will be shaped by the feedback from teachers.

“You and your colleagues know these standards better than anyone,” Elia wrote. “Your feedback is vital to strengthening the standards and improving teaching and learning for our students.”