Cuomo Not A Fan Of Education Department, Tisch Says

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo leans on the state Department of Education to aggressively combat transgender discrimination in schools, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch on Tuesday said his administration had not provided needed funding to oversee such issues.

“The present governor does not seem to be a fan of the department,” Tisch said in an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “I think every governor during their term in office is frustrated by their role in the state education department. But that being said, that should not be a reason to defund the department or not to give it the resources that are adequate in order to fulfill its obligations to the citizen of the state.”

Cuomo has been at odds with the department on a variety of issues, ranging from the roll out of the Common Core education standards to a push to ease the impact of the newly adopted teacher evaluation measure, which was approved as part of the state budget.

Tisch said the department remains mindful of bullying and student harassment, but not being able to hire the staff to provide broader oversight on a range of issues makes such a task daunting.

“I think everyone is very mindful of bullying,” Tisch said. “We have done a lot of work with superintendents around the state, with school districts around the state, talking about anti-bullying policy.”

Tisch pointed to last year, when the state charged the department with overseeing the implementation of new pre-Kindergarten programs without additional staff, which she said amounted to an unfunded mandate.

“We were given the responsibility without one extra penny to handle that responsibility,” she said.

The chancellor also knocked what she said was an effort to make SED into essentially a punching bag, primarily by the Cuomo administration.

“The state education department is not an executive department of government and therefore when it comes to time to fund the state education department, often there is no one carrying that water to get appropriate levels of funding to create appropriate levels of staffing so the education department can in fact what it is constitutionally under its authority to do,” she said.

Cuomo is not the first governor to be frustrated by a lack of control over education policy in the state. The Board of Regents is in essence elected by the Democratic-controlled Assembly, which in turn appoints an education commissioner.

Cuomo indicated late last year he wanted to take a more active role in SED policy and a top aide raised the possibility of pursuing broader control over the department in a letter to Tisch and then-Commissioner John King.

Instead, Cuomo placed an emphasis on a new teacher evaluation system, whose adoption was linked to education funding in the budget. School districts must enact the new criteria by November or lose out on a boost in state aid.

The Board of Regents this month indicated it would allow for some districts demonstrating hardships in enacting the new evaluation system to extend the deadline to do so without losing the funding.

Tisch acknowledged in the interview the debate over the law, which she called a “very troubled, unattractive piece of legislation” would continue into next year.

NYSUT: Education Reform is “Far From Over”

The state’s largest teachers union said in a statement Friday that while there were “significant advances” for educators this session, they’ll be back next year for more.

The bill to end this year’s legislative session included several reforms to the state’s education policy coupled with rent regulations, property tax relief, and more.

Under the new law, test questions will be disclosed and available for teachers, though there have been conflicting reports as to whether they’re allowed to discuss it with colleagues and administrators.

A committee will also be tasked with reviewing curriculum, including the Common Core learning standards. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said yesterday they’ll be looking at whether state exams are age-appropriate and if the timeline of those tests is effective.

During his closing remarks Thursday night, Flanagan said the reforms are the product of concerns from both parents and teachers across New York.

“This week, we came to a resolution on issues that we all heard about while we were home during the budget and our break,” Flanagan said, “and we tried to do reforms that were parent and student centered, and I believe we accomplished that. And there was no way that was going to happen if we didn’t listen to our constituents.”

NYSUT chalks all of these changes of up as a win for this session, but says they’re committed to easing the burden on teachers and students that comes with state-mandated policies.

“The battle for the future of public education is far from over,” NYSUT said in a statement. “In concert with parents, NYSUT will continue to oppose over-testing, press for fair evaluations and redouble our efforts to provide students and educators, from pre-k through post-grad, with the tools they need to excel.”

The final deal did not include a delay for the development of a new teacher evaluation system, meaning districts who are not able to meet the requirements by the November deadline will have to apply for a waiver.

Lawmakers also ended up ditching a proposed $100 million for struggling schools as part of the deal, an idea pitched by Governor Cuomo earlier this month. Yonkers Public Schools will still receive $25 million in aid, but the remaining $75 million was left out.

But the governor did secure more aid for private and parochial schools. The Education Investment Tax Credit (or Parental Choice in Education Act) was not included, but $250 million will go to non-public schools to cover mandates from the state.


Flanagan Outlines Education Changes in Final Deal

Changes to the state’s education system are also included in a final deal between Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders, but a later deadline for the state’s new teacher evaluation criteria won’t be one of them, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said.

The new law with allow for the release of state tests and reduced field testing. It will also allow teachers to see an exam – and talk about it.

The Board of Regents will also be instructed to complete a review of the Common Core learning standards in New York. Flanagan said they’ll be looking at several factors, including whether the curriculum and testing is age appropriate and if the timing of the program is effective.

“It seems kind of crazy but the teacher has to administer an exam to a child in third grade,” Flanagan said, “but they don’t get the results until November when there’s been a summer, the teacher is no longer with that child and that child is no longer without that teacher.”

It’s all part of an effort to increase teacher performance to produce better results for students.

“Our sole focus, and I’m telling you to a person in our conference, is about parents and students, Flanagan said. “I’ve said it and I’ll say it again now, student outcomes, professional development, and good things for teachers.”

One thing that may be not-so-good for teachers – the deadline for a new teacher evaluation system will remain this November. There was talk of extending that until next year to give teachers time to adjust, but that will not be included in the final deal, Flanagan said.

The Senate Majority Leader did cite a record increase in education aid and further cuts to the gap elimination adjustment as wins for the conference this year.

NYSUT And Ed Reformers Not Pleased By Regents Regs

Neither the statewide teachers union or the group StudentsFirstNY was pleased with the regulations released on Monday by the state Board of Regents governing how teacher evaluation criteria will be implemented.

The Board of Regents adopted regulations earlier today that includes approval of a four-month waiver for school districts that demonstrate hardship.

The deadline for districts to adopt the new evaluations is Nov. 15, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has opposed completely delaying the implementation of the new criteria, approved as part of the 2015-16 state budget.

The evaluation system overall remains largely intact from the budget, though state testing must now count for half of a student performance portion for a teacher’s rating. The Regents also backed a move that would give a teacher 63 percent of the points on their in-classroom observation, they will deemed “effective.”

But the regulations don’t go far enough for the New York State United Teachers union, which had pushed back hard against the education policy changes — especially when it comes to the reliance on testing.

“While today’s Regents discussion created a small amount of necessary breathing room for districts, New York nonetheless is still moving to make tests count before making them work,” NYSUT said in a statement. “The Regents who voted for the State Education Department’s narrow interpretation of the governor’s plan did not go far enough to heed the voices of hundreds of thousands of parents who are fed up with high-stakes testing, and educators who support fair, research-based evaluations that strengthen teaching and learning.”

NYSUT has spent the remaining weeks of the legislative session intensely lobbying against a bill that would spur donations to public schools and private and parochial scholarship funds.

Education groups that support charter schools and other reform measures were less-than-enthused as well with the Board of Regents pushing back the deadline for some districts.

“Most teachers would do well on any evaluation system, but the union seems intent on watering down our new system to safeguard its lowest performing members, no matter the costs to students. Lowering the bar and adding emphasis on additional local tests helps no one but the union and its lowest performers,” said StudentsFirstNY Executive Director, Jenny Sedlis.

Bill Would Reclassify ‘Failing’ Schools To ‘Struggling’

What’s in a name?

When it comes to formally designation schools that could be targets for a state takeover, there’s a lot.

The state Senate on Monday unanimously approved a bill that would redefine in state law “failing” schools as “struggling” schools.

The Assembly approved the bill in May and it now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk.

The bill is a vestige from the broader debate launched at the end of last year over education reform in New York.

Cuomo and state lawmakers in March agreed to a school receivership plan for schools with chronically low test scores and graduation rates. The approved plan includes a 1-to-2 year grace period for schools to submit a turnaround plan with the aid of the local superintendent.

But deeming the school “failing” as never sat well with state lawmakers, who in the weeks after the $142 billion spending plan was approved sought to make a series of changes to the policy measures approved in the budget.

Lawmakers backing the bill note that changing the designation suggests those turnaround plans can work.

“By changing the designation status from failing and persistently failing to struggling and persistently struggling, this bill indicates that this is a temporary situation for these schools which can be addressed and overcome, and that additional management powers and funding will be associated with such schools in order to improve their overall academic performance in order to be removed from their more negative accountability status,” the bill’s memo states.

Cuomo has indicated he is unlikely to sign more drastic changes to the education measures approved in the budget, which included new teacher performance criteria as well as making it easier to fire teachers who are deemed to be low performing, regardless of tenure.

Lawmakers, spurred by the teachers unions, have also introduced bills aimed at pushing back the deadline for local districts adopting the evaluation criteria as well as separating the enactment of the evaluations from a boost in school aid.

Pro-EITC Mailer Gives A Supreme Court Example

The latest mailer from a group backing the passage of the education investment tax credit features Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as an example of the type of person who could benefit from the measure being approved.

The mailer from the Coalition for Opportunity in Education, sent to Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, has an English and Spanish-language version.

Sotomayor, a Bronx native, attended a now-closed parochial school while growing up. The mailer features a quote in 2013 from the Supreme Court justice on the impact of struggling inner city schools.

“The schools that suffer are the schools in poor neighborhoods,” she is quoted as saying. “And they’re the ones with the least resources to absorb the loss…. These are people who rely on institutions like this to give their kids an opportunity in life.”

The mailer is part of a broader campaign to pressure Assembly Democrats into supporting the legislation, which is aimed at spurring donations to public schools and scholarship programs benefiting private and parochial schools.

“All families deserve a choice when it comes to their child’s education,” the mailer states. “Unfortunately, many families across New York State are struggling financially to make that right choice.”

Tax credit supporters say support is growing in the Assembly for the measure, a version of which previously was approved in the Republican-led Senate.

Assemblyman Peter Abbate became the latest lawmaker in the Democratic conference to back the bill.

Nevertheless, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says the measure remains a difficult one for the conference to approve and that he would only allow a vote if a majority of Democratic lawmakers are on board.

A counter campaign against the tax credit bill, meanwhile, is also being waged by the New York State United Teachers.

IIE1505 – Morelle English by Nick Reisman

Digital Campaign Pushes Common Core Standards

A digital campaign from the group High Achievement New York was launched on Thursday with the goal of pushing Common Core standards.

The ads will air on Pandora and tout what the group says has been a successful use of the new, controversial education standards given rising test scores and higher graduation rates.

The campaign is being focused on New York City and suburban audiences, the group said.

“Common Core is about believing in the potential of students. When students are challenged and work hard, they consistently rise to higher expectations. We owe it to kids to prepare them for bright futures,” said StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis.

The ads come as lawmakers seek to roll back some of the education policy changes approved in the state budget which tied teacher evaluation standards to tenure and student performance on standardized exams as well as in-classroom observation.

Lawmakers want to extend the deadlines for when the Board of Regents develops regulations for the new standards as well as the implement deadline on the local level.

The campaign also coincides with a renewed debate in Albany over the education investment tax credit as well as an effort to increase the state’s cap on charter schools — both measures are opposed by the statewide teachers unions.

Q Poll: NYers Support EITC, Oppose NYC Mayoral Control

A majority of New York voters support the concepts behind Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Parental Choice in Education Act and oppose (though by a slimmer margin) extended mayoral control in the Big Apple, a new Q poll found.

Sixty-six percent of poll respondents said they are in favor of providing $500 worth of state income tax credits to parents who earn up to $60,000 annually and pay tuition for children to attend private schools – including religious schools, the poll found.

And 55 percent said they back giving tax credits to individuals and companies which donate to private and parochial schools. Democrats are divided on this issue, with 49 percent in favor and 46 percent opposed. But other party, gender, regional and income groups support the measure – including 60 percent in New York City.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been making a big end-of-session push on the tax credit front after failing his effort to link the EITC with the DREAM Act during the budget battle.

During a CapTon interview last night, Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle said there is support in the Democratic conference for the education tax credit, and he did not rule out the possibility that some version of it could be included in the Big Ugly – though he said it would likely have to be amended to make it onto the floor.

So far, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who used to be a sponsor of the EITC (back before he ascended to the leadership post and pulled his name off all bills), has been steadfast in his insistence that there is not sufficient support among Assembly Democrats to move the measure.

Speaking of New York City, 55 percent of voters across the state do not support the extension of mayoral control of the public school system in the five boroughs. New York City voters, who are directly impacted by this issue, are divided, with 48 percent in favor, and 44 percent opposed. Opposition is 59-23 percent upstate and 64-28 percent in the suburbs.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio gets a negative 28-40 percent favorability rating in this poll, with a 46-41 percent positive in New York City and negative grades of 12-29 percent upstate and 27-57 percent in the suburbs.

More bad news for de Blasio – 53 percent of voters say they the idea of expanding charter schools, with even stronger support – 62 percent – in New York City. The Senate Republicans, who are no fans of the New York City mayor, have advanced legislation linking raising the charter cap by 100 schools and doing away with regional barriers to extension of mayoral control.

Fifty-nine percent of voters say they disapprove of the way Cuomo is handling education, and 54 percent say they trust the teachers union more than the governor to improve the system of educating kids in New York.

On the testing front, 64 percent of those polled said they don’t feel standardized tests are an accurate way to measure student performance, and 51 percent feel parents should be allowed to opt their kids out if they so choose.

Sixty-nine percent said teacher pay should not be based on student test performance, and 65 percent said that should not impact decisions about teacher tenure.

Q poll finds NY voters support EITC, oppose extension of NYC mayoral control. by liz_benjamin6490

Tax Credit Mailers Target Assembly Dems

A SoP reader in Binghamton forwarded a copy of a mailer attacking Democratic Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo for approving a “sweet deal” to automatically raise the pay of state lawmakers but refusing to support the education investment tax credit that Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently repackaged as part of the Parental Choice in Education Act.

The mailer says Albany Assembly members make $80,000 (actually, the base pay is $79,500, plus extra for committee chairmanships and leadership positions – a stipend known at the Capitol as a “lulu”) for “part-time work,” and also make extra (per diems to cover travel and living expenses) just for showing up.

“Albany politicians need to get their priorities straight and focus on our families by passing the Education Tax Credit,” the mailer reads. “…Tell Assembly Member Lupardo, politicians don’t need our help, our schools do.”

There’s also another version of the mailer that urges recipients to join the governor in supporting the tax credit, which has been sent to constituents in Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan’s Queens district.

The mailers are being paid for by the Coalition for Opportunity in Education. The coalition – in partnership with Students First and Families for Excellent Schools – is also paying for a pair of pro-tax credit TV ads, one of which features Cuomo.

“There are a number of members who are not supporting this bill from areas where we know there is strong support within the district,” said coalition spokesman Bob Bellafiore, when asked who else is being targeted by this mail campaign. “…We’re not saying if it’s Senate, Assembly, but we are constantly evaluating whether and where more or less voter education is needed.”

State lawmakers didn’t actually vote to raise their own pay. Technically speaking, that would be illegal. There was, however, a legislative pay raise commission included in the budget deal struck by legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo this past spring.

The commission will be made up of seven members – three appointed by Cuomo, two by the chief judge of the Court of Appeals, and one each by the Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader. It will be charged with setting the salaries of judges, statewide elected officials and some top executive branch staffers. It will make its first recommendations just after the November 2016 elections, and unless the Legislature specifically votes to reject its proposal, the salary increases will take effect in January 2017.

This cycle will be repeated every four years, which means the “what should we trade for it” pre-election pay raise trade dance between the Legislature and the governor will come to an end.

Cuomo has made his Parental Choice in Education Act an end-of-session priority. He tried unsuccessfully to link the tax credit with the DREAM Act in his executive budget, but neither issue made it into the final spending deal.

The Senate Republicans are conceptually supportive of the tax credit, and have already passed a version – though it differs from what the governor is pushing.

The trouble is in the Assembly Democratic conference (hence, the mailers), where Speaker Carl Heastie – who used to be a co-sponsor of tax credit legislation until he ascended to his leadership post and took his name off all bills – has said there isn’t sufficient support among his members to pass it.

NYSUT is vehemently opposed to the tax credit, and recently launched a 10-day radio ad campaign against it.


a href=”″ title=”COE MAILER Front by CapTon2, on Flickr”>COE MAILER Front

Board Of Regents Elect New Education Commissioner

The Board of Regents on Tuesday unanimously elected a former Florida schools superintendent the new commissioner for the state Department of Education.

MaryEllen Elia will take office as the next commissioner of education starting July 6. She will be paid $250,000.

Elia’s selection comes at a crucial time for education policy in New York: State lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved a new teacher evaluation measure in the 2015-16 state budget last month, a move that was deeply opposed by the state’s teachers unions for its weakening of tenure.

Though she spent 10 years at the Hillsborough School District in Florida as superintendent, Elia is a native western New Yorker.

She is supportive of the Common Core education standards, but at a news conference following her election as commissioner, Elia spoke in conciliatory terms when discussing teachers, whose statewide umbrella union has been especially restive over the changes.

“I’m very supportive of raising standards for students,” she said, adding, “I think it’s important for us to move forward in this nation, particularly in New York, on implementation. I think there needs to be feedback that we receive from people on the ground implementing the changes and we need to provide a lot of support for our teachers and our students.”

A former social studies teacher who taught in Amherst, Erie County, Elia said she is a former member of the teachers union in both New York and in Florida. Elia said she still considers herself a teacher.

New York education officials also continue to grapple with efforts to have students opt out of Common Core-based examinations, with districts recording high numbers during the April round of testing.

Elia said Hillsborough was a different case when it came to students opting out of the tests.

“We had very, very few opt outs, if any, in our district,” she said. “I think communication continues to be key why we have standards.”

Nevertheless, the teachers unions are far more powerful in New York than they are in Florida. Labor groups are pushing state lawmakers to adopt changes to the state’s teacher evaluation law that include slowing the implementation of the criteria.

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said at today’s news conference she expects to meet the June 30 deadline for developing new regulations for the evaluations.

“If I were a betting person, I would bet that part of the regulatory language that we will put forward by June 30 will include a process by which we will have an ongoing conversation across this state about how to improve evaluation,” Tisch said. “We have always said public policy is not a static process.”

More challenging still, Elia faces a governor in Cuomo who has sought broader control over the state’s education policy. A proponent of charter schools, Cuomo is in a protracted battle with teachers unions over the direction of public education — as well as spending — in the state.

At the moment, the New York State United Teachers Union and other top officials in teacher labor groups spoke highly of Elia.

“As everyone knows, our union is opposed to high-stakes testing and value-added model, but even when MaryEllen applied it as required under Florida law, she made collaboration her mantra,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “And as a result, even when the going got tough in Florida, she was able to work with multiple stakeholders to do what was best for Hillsborough students.”

The education reform group StudentsFirstNY offered similar praise for Elia, calling her a “strong choice.”

“She is a nationally recognized leader in education, who has a record of accomplishment in helping boost the achievement for low-income children. As a former educator herself, she knows firsthand what it takes for schools to succeed. We believe MaryEllen Elia will lead the way to give all of New York’s students the schools they deserve,” said the group’s executive director Jenny Sedlis.

Elia left her superintendent post in January after she was fired by the district’s school board in a close vote, which ultimately proved to be a controversial decision. Her contract cancellation cost the district $1.1 million.

Elia blamed the episode in part on the changing school board in Hillsborough County.

“I’m moving forward now and I’m not really concentrating on the past,” she said. “I’m excited to be in New York. I’m coming home.”