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.”

NYSUT’S Allinger Retiring, Will Remain Senior Advisor

allingerStephen Allinger, a prominent lobbyist for the New York State United Teachers union, is retiring from his post as the organization’s director of legislation.

Allinger, who has been with NYSUT for almost 10 years, will remain at the umbrella union as a senior advisor to President Karen Magee.

“This enables NYSUT to have a seamless transition for the legislative department,” said NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn, “and allow NYSUT to utilize Steve’s skills and expertise to assist in our fight for public education.”

Allinger’s retirement and transition to the senior advisor role began within the last week, Korn said.

The move comes after NYSUT pushed back this year against efforts by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to overhaul the state’s teacher evaluation system, with the performance evaluations linked to both standardized test results and in-classroom observation, while also making it more difficult for teachers to obtain and keep tenure. More >

Tisch To Not Seek Re-Election As Regents Chancellor

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch on Monday said she would step down from her post when it ends in March.

Tisch made the surprise announcement in Albany this morning at the board’s monthly meeting.

She was first elected chancellor in 2009 and had served on the Regents board since 1996.

Her tenure was marked by the heated debate over the implementation and roll out of the controversial Common Core education standards in New York.

Tisch’s plan to leave next year comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to move forward with an overhaul of Common Core next year with a commission tasked with examining potential changes.

Tisch’s departure also comes months after a new education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, took over this summer, replacing John King.

King is now due to become the acting education secretary in the Obama administration.

More broadly, there has been a marked pullback from elected officials — including Cuomo and Obama — on reducing the amount of standardized testing in classrooms.

The Legislature controls Regents appointments, but the Democratic-led Assembly essentially controls the process given it has the lion’s share of the votes.

Judge Declines To Toss Teacher Tenure Suit (Updated)

A state Supreme Court judge on Staten Island Thursday declined to toss a lawsuit filed by teachers challenging the state’s teacher tenure laws.

The lawsuit was filed earlier this year with both the state and the United Federation of Teachers listed as plaintiffs, but before state lawmakers approved a budget that included provisions that ultimately made it harder for teachers to obtain and keep tenure.

At the same time, the budget tied tenure closer to the outcome of state tests and teacher evluations.

The suit was filed on behalf of two groups, the NYC Parents Union and the Partnership for Educational Justice, and essentially argues the tenure provisions give students access to ineffective teachers and ultimately hinders children the basic constitutional guarantee of being taught literacy, math and verbal skills.

Updated: The UFT responded in a statement.

“Judge Philip Minardo’s procedural ruling is not the final decision in this case. The plaintiffs’ arguments will be decided by the New York State Appellate Division. The case remains on hold until the appeals court rules,” said Adam Ross, General Counsel for the United Federation of Teachers.

Decision on Motions to Renew MTD and Stay by Nick Reisman

Elia: More Money Needed to Help Struggling Schools

EliaEducation Commissioner MaryEllen Elia is asking the legislature for more money to address the state’s struggling schools.

Elia, speaking at an Assembly hearing on struggling schools and receivership Thursday, said that while the state has allocated $75 million to aid the 20 persistently struggling schools in New York, the 124 remaining schools only identified as ‘struggling’ have not received additional funding.

The two groups are separated simply by time. Persistently struggling schools have scored low in student and teacher performance for nearly a decade while schools identified as struggling have only seen low marks over the past few years.

During this year’s budget process, lawmakers mandated that schools which continue to struggle would be placed under an independent receiver. Persistently struggling schools have one year to improve before they are placed into receivership while those who are struggling have two years.

Elia says the state has developed an index to show how much a school has improved, which will include factors such as community engagement, student performance, and several other items.

But one contested item that won’t make too much of a difference for school districts is the rate at which students have chosen to opt out of state standardized tests. Elia says that while districts will lose a few points, it won’t make a difference in the long run.

More >

Roundtable Discussions Seek To Turn Down Temperature On Common Core

commoncoreAs Gov. Andrew Cuomo convenes a panel to potentially overhaul Common Core standards in New York, a group that backs them is holding a series of roundtable discussions on the issue.

The group, High Achievement New York, will co-host a discussion on Common Core alongside the Urban League of Rochester on Wednesday

The event is part of a series of discussions on Common Core, with events already held in Buffalo, New York City and Albany. Discussions are set to be held Rochester and Cortland this week.

In an email invitation to the Rochester event, William Clark of the Rochester Urban League writes the discussion is aimed at turning the temperature down on the heated debate over the standards.

“The goal of this event focuses upon sharing the experiences of the participants with New York’s transition to higher standards in education, without the charged rhetoric that so often affects discussions surrounding the Common Core Standards,” Clark wrote.

Future events will be held in Westchester County as well as the North Country region. More >

After King Announcement, NYSUT Urges Members To Call White House

The New York State United Teachers union on Friday blasted the appointment of former Education Commissioner John King to become the acting secretary of education and urged its members to call the White House to “express their displeasure.”

NYSUT had never been big fans of King to begin with, having passed a vote of no-confidence in his tenure as commissioner, including knocking the roll out of the Common Core education standards, which education observers and elected officials had said was was flawed.

“New York State United Teachers is disappointed in John King’s appointment as acting U.S. Secretary of Education,” the union umbrella organization said in a statement. “NYSUT has always considered John King an ideologue with whom we disagreed sharply on many issues during his tenure as the state’s Education Department commissioner. Just last year, our members delivered a vote of no confidence against him and called for his resignation. NYSUT urges its members to call the White House switchboard at 202-456-1414 — as well as a special White House telephone line dedicated to public comments at 202-456-1111 — to express their displeasure in John King’s appointment.”

King left New York at the end of last year to become a special advisor to Arne Duncan, the education secretary who he will replace on an acting basis.

John King To Become Acting U.S. Education Secretary

john kingPresident Obama will tap former New York Education Commissioner John King to become the acting secretary of education, replacing Arne Duncan, who is stepping down at the end of the year.

King, a Brooklyn native, was the youngest education commissioner in New York history, having been appointed to the post at the age of 36 in 2011 by the Board of Regents.

King’s background is in leading charter school organizations and was the co-founder and co-director of Roxbury Preparatory Charter School.

His tenure at the Department of Education was a rocky one: The roll out of the controversial Common Core education standards was criticized by both parents and the state’s teachers unions. Gov. Andrew Cuomo also was critical of the Department of Education’s handling of the implementation of the standards.

King left for the Obama administration at the end of 2014 to serve as a special advisor to Duncan. More >