New York

Obama official to New York: Change your tenure law or else

PHOTO: Kayleigh SkinnerJoanne Weiss The Obama administration official in charge of an educational innovation fund yesterday issued a warning to a New York audience: Unless the state legislature revises a law now on the books about teacher tenure, the state could lose out on the $4.35 billion fund she controls. Joanne Weiss said the Obama administration aims to reward states that use student achievement as a "predominant" part of teacher evaluations with the extra stimulus funds — and pass over those that don't. New York state law currently bans using student data as a factor in tenure decisions. Test scores aren't everything, Weiss said. "But it seems illogical and indefensible to assume that those aren't part of the solution at all," she said, echoing nearly word-for-word Education Secretary Arne Duncan's remarks last week to the National Education Association. The pessimism about New York's policies is a departure from Duncan's tone during a visit to New York City in February, when he was cheery about the state's chances in the competition. Duncan also briefly mentioned New York as one of several states whose firewalls around student and teacher data need to come down in a recent speech, and he indicated that New York's cap on charter schools may also hurt the state's chances at a slice of the stimulus pie. Weiss, who worked at the New Schools Venture Fund before heading to Washington, said the "disadvantage" of the tenure law to New York could be counterbalanced by efforts here that the Obama administration admires. She praised a New York City program that is evaluating individual teachers based on their students' test scores.  One strength of the program, Weiss said, is that city teachers generally accept the evaluations as an accurate and fair assessment of their performance.
New York

Teacher layoffs still a possibility, Klein tells City Council

President Obama might have spoken too soon when he said the federal stimulus could prevent teacher layoffs in New York City. Depending on how state legislators choose to disburse the stimulus funds, the city could still be looking at a loss of 2,000 teachers, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein told members of the City Council's education committee this morning. The city Department of Education believes it is entitled to 41 percent of the state's $2.4 billion in education stimulus funds because it receives 41 percent of state funds overall, Klein said today at the council's hearing on the DOE's preliminary budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. This formula would give the DOE more than $500 million in stabilization funds, allowing it to avoid teacher layoffs. But he said some lawmakers "are taking a different view," instead suggesting that the city should receive a third of the state's stimulus money for schools because it serves a third of the state's public school students. Under this scenario, the DOE would receive just $360 million in stabilization funds, and about 2,000 teachers would have to be laid off. Klein, who was in Albany yesterday to lobby for the city schools, declined to identify the lawmakers to reporters after his testimony, saying that the negotiations are internal and ongoing. Either way, cuts to schools' non-teaching staff would be severe, Klein said, with a minimum of about 2,500 positions being lost in the first scenario and as many as 25 percent of school-based non-teaching staff positions being eliminated in the second. These positions include school aides, family workers, and other school personnel.
New York

Duncan: NYC reform initiatives a model for stimulus spending

Flanked by people who often find themselves arguing — Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Joel Klein, and teachers union leader Randi Weingarten — U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today offered praise for them all. At a press conference this afternoon in Brooklyn, Duncan said all three New Yorkers have helped make the city an example for how school districts across the country could "remake public education" with their share of $100 billion in federal stimulus funds. Some of the stimulus money is meant to plug deep holes in states' education budgets. But Duncan said he wants states to use other funds allocated in the stimulus package to adopt accountability-oriented reforms along the lines of some recent New York City initiatives, such as the creation of a comprehensive data system, called ARIS, and the introduction of a program that gives some teachers bonuses based on their students' test scores. The city Department of Education said in a press release today that it might try to use some of its stimulus money to expand those initiatives. Those programs could be funded through Duncan's discretionary "Race to the Top Fund," through which the education secretary will give grants to states that want to try new approaches to helping students do better. "I fully expect New York City and New York State to put together a great proposal" for the funds, Duncan said. "In many ways, you are already setting the standard — including the pay-for-performance program here pioneered by the leadership right here in this city." Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with students, parents, and teachers from Brooklyn's Explore Charter School Duncan departed from his prepared remarks to compliment Bloomberg's "extraordinary courage" in taking control of the city's schools and to say that he has learned a lot from Klein, whom he called "a good, good friend of mine." Duncan also called Weingarten "a remarkable leader" and said he and President Barack Obama will work closely with her. "She is going to be a strong, strong voice for reform," Duncan said. Video of the lovefest is above. Even if they don't see a cent of the Race to the Top Fund, New York City's public schools and colleges are slated to receive about $1.9 billion through the federal stimulus act signed into law this week, Duncan said today. That money would prevent teacher layoffs, fill in some budget gaps, add new funds for poor students and children with special needs, and support preschool, technology, and job training programs. The city DOE's full press release is after the jump.