a second take

NYSUT head: Getting rid of test scores only a 'first step' toward evaluation overhaul

As pressure mounts for lawmakers to decide how to adjust the state’s teacher evaluation system, the president of New York State United Teachers ratcheted up her rhetoric, saying the union wants changes that go beyond the use of test scores.

“NYSUT’s goal is to do an overhaul of the entire APPR,” Karen Magee told Chalkbeat, referring to the state’s evaluation law. “This is the first step towards doing so.”

Magee wouldn’t comment on the negotiations, which are centered on the role that tougher, Common Core-aligned state tests will play in teacher evaluations this year and next year. But she said the union was still in talks with the governor’s office about removing the scores and that she remained “guardedly optimistic” that a deal would get done.

Magee, a self-described “militant,” took over NYSUT in April when she unseated sitting union chief Richard Iannuzzi in an election that was framed as a repudiation of the union’s recent cooperation with the state on issues including changes to teacher evaluations.

Since students first took the new tests last year, which sent proficiency rates plummeting, teachers have protested that the assessments aren’t accurate measurements of student growth, especially while teachers are still becoming familiar with the standards. They have also raised other concerns with how the evaluations measure student learning, since thousands of teachers’ evaluations will be based partially on test results for students and subjects they didn’t teach.

“There’s a hundred ways that we need to go to make this right,” Magee said, adding that the principal observation process was also a concern. “The way we’re doing it right now is broken.”

The union leader’s comments come just a day before the legislative session is scheduled to end, and pressure is mounting for officials to come to a deal. NYSUT, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate have all said that making changes to teacher evaluations are a top legislative priority.

Magee was more measured last Friday, when she said that “stopping evaluations would be completely overkill.” The union’s issues, she said then, were only with the component of a teacher’s evaluation based on the new state tests. Those tests mostly affect the evaluations of elementary and middle school teachers, though high school English teachers will be rated on Common Core-aligned Regents exams this year.

On Wednesday, Magee said she hadn’t ruled out including high school teachers’ evaluations in a final deal, and that a number of issues remained on the table.

“We’re looking to remove anything that would jeopardize a teacher’s career,” Magee said.

Over the last two days, though, officials have raised concerns that what Magee is proposing could mean New York lose federal Race to the Top funding. On Tuesday, a federal education official said New York could lose $292 million if it approves a teacher evaluation bill supported by NYSUT and the Assembly that would remove test scores from teacher evaluations.

State Education Commissioner John King and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have also said the threat of funding cuts was a concern, according to Capital New York. But Magee and the bill’s sponsor, Catherine Nolan, both said they aren’t taking those warnings seriously.

“The Race to the Top funding is not a concern,” Magee said, adding that New York could apply for a “temporary waiver” from the U.S. Department of Education. (On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the department said that was not an option.)

At a press conference on Wednesday, Cuomo said that he wouldn’t sign any legislation that put Race to the Top funding at risk. The governor, who has repeatedly cited teacher evaluations as a signature achievement of his administration, is hoping this year’s legislation will be a final fix before implementation is complete.

“We’re implementing a system that should have been implemented years ago,” Cuomo said.

Others doubted that the U.S. Department of Education’s threats were serious.

“Plenty of other [Race to the Top-funded] states have hit the pause button on teacher evaluation consequences and I haven’t seen similar threats,” said Mike Petrilli, executive vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “I think they are trying to help their friend John King.”

On Wednesday, Ohio’s legislature passed a “safe harbor” bill that would delay using Common Core tests on teacher and school evaluations for one year. Ohio won $400 million in Race to the Top funds.

surprise!

Teachers in Millington and Knoxville just won the Oscar awards of education

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Millington English teacher Katherine Watkins reacts after learning that she is the recipient of a 2017 Milken Educator Award.

Two Tennessee teachers were surprised during school assemblies Thursday with a prestigious national teaching award, $25,000 checks, and a visit from the state’s education chief.

Katherine Watkins teaches high school English in Millington Municipal Schools in Shelby County. She serves as the English department chair and professional learning community coordinator at Millington Central High School. She is also a trained jazz pianist, published poet, and STEM teacher by summer.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Paula Franklin learns she is among the recipients.

Paula Franklin teaches Advanced Placement government at West High School in Knoxville. Since she took on the course, its enrollment has doubled, and 82 percent of her students pass with an average score that exceeds the national average.

The teachers are two of 45 educators being honored nationally with this year’s Milken Educator Awards from the Milken Family Foundation. The award includes a no-strings-attached check for $25,000.

“It is an honor to celebrate two exceptional Tennessee educators today on each end of the state,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who attended each assembly. “Paula Franklin and Katherine Watkins should be proud of the work they have done to build positive relationships with students and prepare them with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce.”

Foundation chairman Lowell Milken was present to present the awards, which have been given to thousands of teachers since 1987.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Students gather around Millington teacher Katherine Watkins as she receives a check as part of her Milken Educator Award.

The Milken awards process starts with recommendations from sources that the foundation won’t identify. Names are then reviewed by committees appointed by state departments of education, and their recommendations are vetted by the foundation, which picks the winners.

Last year, Chattanooga elementary school teacher Katie Baker was Tennessee’s sole winner.

In all, 66 Tennessee educators have been recognized by the Milken Foundation and received a total of $1.6 million since the program began in the state in 1992.

You can learn more about the Milken Educator Awards here.

Colorado Vote 2018

Polis campaign releases education plan, including new promise about teacher raises

Congressman Jared Polis meets with teachers, parents and students at the Academy of Urban Learning in Denver after announcing his gubernatorial campaign. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Congressman Jared Polis, one of several Democrats running for governor, released an education plan for the state Wednesday that includes new details on tackling teacher shortages and better preparing high school students for work.

The Boulder Democrat wants to help school districts build affordable housing for teachers, increase teacher pay and make sure that “100 percent of Colorado’s school districts are able to offer dual and concurrent enrollment programs through an associate’s degree or professional certification, and work to boost enrollment in them.”

The education plan includes the congressman’s initial campaign promise to deliver free and universal preschool and kindergarten.

“Part of my frustration is that politicians have been talking about preschool and kindergarten for decades,” Polis said in an interview with Chalkbeat. “It’s time to stop talking … and actually do it.”

Big questions remain, however, about how Colorado would pay for Polis’s plans.

Free universal preschool and kindergarten would cost hundreds of millions of tax dollars the state does not have. Polis has acknowledged that voters will need to approve a tax increase to secure the funding necessary — and voters rejected Colorado’s last big statewide ask to fund education initiatives.

His additional promises, especially providing schools with more money to pay teachers, only adds to the price tag for his education plan. The campaign did not release any projections of how much his teacher pay raise proposal would cost.

“If a teacher can’t afford to live in the community they work in, that is not going to be an attractive profession,” he said. “We need to do a better job in Colorado making sure teachers are rewarded for their hard work.”

Other components to Polis’s plan includes providing student loan relief for teachers who commit to serving in high-need and rural areas, increasing teacher training and building and renovating more.

Polis is the latest Democrat to roll out an education platform.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston released more details earlier this week about his campaign promise for tuition-free community college and job training.

Johnston’s campaign estimates that the initiative would cost about $47 million annually. The campaign provided specifics on how the state would pay for it: by combining existing federal grants and state scholarships, revenue from online sales tax, and state workforce development funding. Savings from volunteer hours put in by tuition recipients also are factored in.

Former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy released her education plan last month.

Like Polis, Kennedy is calling for teacher raises. She wants the state’s average salary to be closer to the national average. The former state treasurer also wants to expand preschool and job training for high school students. A key piece of Kennedy’s proposal to pay for her initiatives: reforming the state’s tax laws to generate more revenue.

Other Democrats running to replace Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, include Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and businessman Noel Ginsburg.

The Republican field to replace Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is also crowded. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced earlier this month that she’s running. Other leading Republican candidates include former Congressman Tom Tancredo, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, and businessmen Doug Robinson and Victor Mitchell. George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, dropped out of the race to instead run for attorney general.