Meet the new boss – worse than the old boss?

As you probably know from the article that Dr. Cohen forwarded today, the NY Board of Regents has selected former Hillsborough County Florida Superintendent MaryEllen Elia as the new State Commissioner of Education.

While Newsday tries to paint her as pro-teacher, calling her “A former Florida schools official, who voiced strong support for embattled teachers,” and quoting her as saying “… what we have to do is change the negative stance to a positive approach . . . to shift the conversation from ‘What do we need to do to get rid of teachers?’ but ‘What can we do to support teachers?,'” other sources paint a very different picture of Ms. Elia,
  • As Diane Ravitch reports, “Elia was fired by the Hillsborough Board of Education last February in a 4-3 vote. The business community was upset. But critics complained about micromanagement, a top-down style, lack of transparency, and complaints from parents of students with special needs. One board member who voted to dismiss her “accused Elia of creating a workplace culture of fear and bullying, and failing to pay enough attention to minorities, including Hispanics.” Others, including parents, said that her disciplinary policies had a disparate impact on African American students.”
  • The Perdido Street School blog notes that she is a reformer who is pro-testing and Common Core and supported a program that would fire 5% of teachers every year.
  • Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, writing in the Times Union, says “It looks like you have to be fired and incompetent in another state in order to be hired to run our educational system in New York State.”
With the addition of several new pro-public education oriented Regents this year, there was some hope that perhaps King’s replacement would be someone more supportive of public schools. Unfortunately, that now looks like a pipe dream. While King often seemed to be nothing more than Chancellor Tisch’s puppet (at the forums last year one could almost see her pulling the strings that made his mouth move), his replacement looks to be very much her own person. Unfortunately, that person is one who is pro-testing, pro-reform, pro-school choice, and not supportive of teachers. 

Remember Representative Democracy? Those Were The Days!

While we continue to teach the idea of representative democracy to our students, it’s a concept that seems to be completely lost on many of the actual people we send to Albany to represent us.

Case in point: Senator Ken LaValle. As we know, statewide polls overwhelmingly showed opposition to the Governor’s plan. And while polls in-and-of themselves aren’t enough, he had meetings with constituents who explained and provided evidence why he should oppose the proposed reforms. Nonetheless, LaValle voted with his cronies instead of his constituents.

And now, history repeats.

Newly appointed, but so far un-indicted (at least as of this posting) Senate Majority Leader Flanagan introduced a bill to make the tax cap permanent. Now, the fact is, polls do show strong support among most groups for keeping the tax cap. Of course, during the years it’s been in place inflation has been low and school districts have used reserves to help minimize the impact, so taxpayers most likely don’t have a good understanding of the long-term impact it may have. This is certainly a case where there may be more to the story than just poll numbers, so of course you’d expect REPRESENTATIVES like Senator LaValle to reach out to the residents of his district to find out what they think, right?

Well the good Senator did reach out to his people. He sent out an email touting the tax cap along with a link to click IF YOU SUPPORT IT.

Not a questionnaire asking what you think and why, not a mechanism to solicit feedback. Just a simple message – if you support the tax cap I wan’t to hear from you, and if you don’t, I don’t care.


Well, since there are a lot of people who very much oppose making the tax cap permanent, he needs to know that. Please call or write Senator LaValle to let him know that keeping spending to an arbitrarily low number that is less than or equal to the rate of inflation is not sustainable, and will cause many school districts to eventually become insolvent. This is not good law and he should not support it.

Kenneth P. LaValle (

District Office
28 North Country Rd Suite 203
Mount Sinai, NY 11766
Phone: (631) 473-1461
Albany Office
Legislative Office Building, Room 806
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-3121

Preliminary APPR Regulations

The Board of Regents has released their preliminary recommendations for the New APPR regulations. Unless the bills currently in the Senate or Assembly go through, the final draft of these regulations are due June 30th and must be put into place by November 15th.

I don’t have a full summary yet, but you can see the full presentation here.

Some quick points:

  • It requires two observations of at least 20 minutes in duration for un-tenured teachers or teachers who were previously low rated.
  • Observations for tenured teachers who were previously rated effective must be at least 10 minutes in duration 
  • At least one observation must be unanounced
  • It sets the “outside evaluator” portion of the observation component at 20%
  • Observations can be live or via video (live or recorded)

Read more about it from Capital New York, and read NYSUT’s response here.

New Bills in the Assembly and Senate

We previously mentioned a senate bill introduced by John Flanagan that is ostensibly designed to undo some of the April 1st education law, but is actually useless, distracting, and potentially damaging

Another bill, A7303, being promoted by Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan, goes a bit further, but does it go far enough? 

You can read the text of the bill here, but the highlights are:

  • It pushes the deadline for the Regents to finalize APPR regulations to November 15th
  • It pushes the deadline for districts to revise their APPR plans to the following year.
  • It separates state aid from approval of APPR plans
  • It requires more test questions to be released
  • It would require the formation of a committee to insure that test questions are grade level appropriate and appropriately measure the standards
  • It makes the outside evaluator optional rather than required.*

These are all positive things. And NYSUT has endorsed the bill, saying it “takes a significant step toward protecting students by reducing inappropriate state testing while recognizing that teacher evaluations must be fair and objective.”

But critics of the bill, such as this parent and blogger, point out that the bill does nothing to actually reduce testing, and doesn’t fix, but simply pushes off, the use of VAM junk science to rate teachers. 

On the one hand, pushing the deadline back a year give more time to work toward the goal of overturning the whole thing. However, it may also be that once another year has passed, what has been put into place here will become the new normal and the fight will have shifted to staving off the next, new, even worse thing. 

Tax Cap
Getting back to newly anointed appointed State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a bill now in front of the Senate would make the tax cap permanent.

Unfortunately, polls show that a majority of New Yorkers favor the tax cap. Is this because they haven’t yet seen the incredibly corrosive damage that this will do to the public school system once it’s been in place for a few years (especially if inflation heats up in the future)? Or do they just not care? Probably a combination of the two.

* None of the articles I’ve read mention that this law would make the outside evaluators optional, but that’s what I’m reading from section 3, lines 34-45

A Couple of Quick Chuckles

A couple of links that we hope will bring a you at least a quick chuckle:

Meeting With Senator La Valle

This past Thursday, I, along with ten other representatives from local school districts, met with State Senator Ken La Valle to follow up on a meeting we’d had with him just before the budget vote. The following is a recap/commentary on that meeting.


We started the meeting very directly. We asked the Senator why, just three days after telling us he opposed tying teacher evaluations to test scores, did he vote for a budget that not only increased the role of test scores, but contained many other provisions that were damaging to public schools?

His response was basically that he and his fellow Senators had no choice, as rejecting the budget would lead to a shutdown of the State Government, so he was obligated to vote yes. We countered that it was the responsibility of the legislature to put forth the budget they feel is right, regardless, and that a late budget (which yes, could entail a shutdown) was better than a bad budget. But the Senator implied that a shutdown was off the table. 

Essentially, what he was saying was that the Governor forced the legislature to do something against their will, by threat of extreme financial hardship. This is, literally, the definition of extortion, but when we said as much, Senator La Valle was adamant that he didn’t use that word and seemed bothered by such a harsh description of events. This is significant because if the Senate was not extorted into passing this budget, then the rationale for his yes vote doesn’t hold water. But if it was extortion, then the legislature has an obligation to work to undo the damage now that the threat is over and the budget is in place – not to just concede defeat and move on.
Senator La Valle did agree that things need to be fixed, and he talked about a two-prong approach, the first of which would be in place by June and the second  to come later. Unfortunately, this first prong refers to the almost meaningless (and possibly damaging) Flanagan bill. When we pushed back and told him we don’t support that bill as it doesn’t fix anything, he backed away from it and pointed out that he was not a sponsor of it. He provided no details on what the second prong would look like (or when it would be implemented), but there doesn’t seem to be much reason to expect it to be anything significant.
So where does this leave us? Senator La Valle insists that he supports us and is on our side. He reminded us of his push for the Truth in Testing Bill. He has been a friend in the past and we take him on his word when he tells us that he argues for public education within his conference. Also, the fact that he makes time to see us, when some of his colleagues do not, says a lot.
But being on our side in spirit but not in action is of little value. In general, it seems wrong to take the “what have you done for me lately?” approach, but if what you’ve done lately seems like a stab in the back, maybe the question is a valid one.  
Someone raised the issue of how the Senator might be perceived when we report back on the meeting. To his credit, he said he wasn’t terribly concerned about that, as he felt his constituents would form their judgments of him based on what he accomplishes. 
We could not agree more; that is precisely how he should be viewed. But what we need to see from the Senator is not tepid support for vague half measures and the promise of future fixes, but bold and aggressive moves that help protect kids, teachers, and public education as a whole. “Truth in Testing” is good, but it just one small piece of the picture.
And yes, he is only one Senator, but he is OUR Senator and we need him to be our voice in Albany fighting for us, not just in back rooms but out in the open, regardless of the political fallout. As one person in our group said “throw up the flag and we’ll rally around it.”
If, and only if, we see this happening can he have any reasonable expectation that all of the people who’ve vowed never to vote for him again will reconsider.

APPR Summit

The Board of Regents held their “Learning Summit” on Thursday to gather feedback on revised regulations for the APPR plan. As Perdido Street School Blog wrote, it didn’t exactly go as planned. What was supposed to be a forum for generating ideas for moving forward turned into a total beat down on the plan as various constituencies (teachers, superintendents, BOE members, etc) took turns tearing apart the new education law.

For more information, you can click here for NYUST’s take on the event or read this article from WNYC. But if you only have time to read one report, see below for a first person account from SWR parent and Comsewogue teacher Melissa McMullan.

Also, if you haven’t sent your comments to yet, please do so (see this page for tips on what to write). Ken Wagner says they’ve received thousands of responses. Let’s make sure they receive thousands more.

A teacher’s perspective: NYSED Learning Summit

by Melissa McMullan
Originally published on, May 8, 2015

Last week I learned about NYSED’s Learning Summit, that was to be held on May 7th in Albany, in order to discuss implementing the new teacher evaluation system as prescribed by the New York State Education Law enacted on April 1st with the passage of the New York State budget. This “budget” requires that student growth measures account for 50% of a teacher’s evaluation, with the remaining 50% comprised of observations (part of which would be outside observers). The law wrapped within this budget also ostensibly eliminated permanent certification, and now makes not reporting an address change to NYSED and “actionable offense” much like a sex offender. When Newsday called this a public forum, I immediately wanted to know which members of the “public” were invited. I could not find anyone. So I did the only thing I could think of, I emailed the Board of Regents, and requested an invitation.

I received no response – until three days ago. Regent Rosa emailed a response stating that she would forward my request to the appropriate party. The next day I received a response from the Board of Regents’ Secretary stating that invitations had been given to the appropriate stakeholders, there were no seats available, and I could certainly watch the event via simulcast. That night, livid, I fired off a response that indicated it was no surprise, and that, at the very least, we, as teachers, have been consistently shut out from the very process that centers upon our own work.

Wednesday, at 11:44am, I received a response from the Board of Regents’ Secretary, it read, “A seat has just become available and is available to you. Please let me know at your earliest convenience if you will attend.” Elated, I scrambled to write lesson plans for the following day, and gather my family for the four-hour drive north to Albany, searching for a hotel room as we drove. We have been in this fight for a long time. It has been nine years for me. We are not going to win back public schools for our children, without approaching from every angle and understanding the variety of positions.

Today I spent the day, as the special guest of the Board of Regents. It turns out that both Regent Cashin and Regent Rosa were fighting very hard for me to be there. The first thing I learned today, and I learned a lot, is that in general, the Board of Regents is remarkably supportive of teachers, and more importantly, the students we love so dearly. Throughout the day, I was able to hear from superintendents, principals, researchers, teachers, parents and school board members about their varying perspectives on teacher evaluation in New York State. It was an eye-opener.

An overwhelming theme today is the understanding that the New York State 3-8 assessments are flawed. It is undeniable. There is no reliability and validity testing on these tests. Furthermore, they simply were not designed to measure a child’s growth from year to year. A teacher’s growth score is actually based upon how that teacher measures against similarly situated teachers (students with the same socioeconomic class / ability). This means, every year, the distribution follows a normal distribution of scores within each group. Thus, even if every teacher in a group of similarly situated students helped their students show incredible growth, the model requires that some of those teachers are high, the majority is in the middle and some are at the low end. So we have state assessments that at best have never demonstrated reliability and validity (at worst they are developmentally inappropriate), and those assessments are being used to drive an ill-fated teacher evaluation system.

Most panelists agreed that the best component of the teacher evaluation system is teacher observations. When done right, it provides a continuous feedback loop that could ostensibly improve instructional practice. Panelists had some incongruous thought on the outside observer as prescribed by the new law. Some believe it helps provide more objectivity. However, many noted the challenge in time and money this would cause school districts, as well as the potential ineffectiveness of a teacher being observed by a stranger who would not have the kind of relationship with him / her that would support a dialogue that would improve instructional practice.

Aside from the obvious aforementioned issues with the growth score, the much larger issue is the lack of integrity of those scores. Regent Cashin brought up the fact that the American Statistical Society asserts that a teacher can vary a student’s score by 1-14%. Stephen Caldas from Manhattanville College explained that in the state’s own reporting, you will find statistical error of these scores in the 55% range in some areas. This begs the question – what, then, is the value, if any, of the state growth score in measuring teacher performance? Do we have the right to call a teacher ineffective with his tool?

What was most striking to me as a teacher was my own panel when it was introduced. Every other panel filled all six seats at the front to maximize the perspective of each particular group of stakeholders. When teachers were announced, two people went up, Michael Mulgrew, UFT President and Catalina Fortino, NYSUT vice-president. In dismay, I watched as Mr. Mulgrew had his teachers stand up in the audience, but he brought no active classroom teachers forward to discuss their needs in the APPR process. And this is what has been going on for some time. NYSED will say, “we invited them”, and I can say in this case they did, but our own union silenced us.

Those of us like me, the 200,000+ parents who refused to permit our children to take the state assessment made a tremendous impact on the Board of Regents and NYSED. It is very clear that they got the message; we know the assessments are not valid and you will not use our children in this fraudulent practice. Lisa Rudley, from NYSAPE, actually quoted Dr. Rella and said we must ask ourselves “Are the kids okay?”

Lastly, many New York State Assembly members were present. Barbara Lifton, New York State Assembly 125th district, was seated behind me. During a break, she eagerly told me she was present to advocate for teachers. I asked her if she had voted in favor of Cuomo’s budget, and she indicated she had, specifying that she did not want to, but she had no other choice. I emphatically told her a number of times that she caused irreparable harm on teachers and school children. She insisted there was no choice. When I mentioned different aspects of the law, such as notifying NYSED of address changes to avoid being treated like a sex-offender, she appeared shocked, as if this were the first time she heard this. Based upon my conversation with her, it is clear, she did not read the law before she passed it. Claiming that she is advocating for us now is like telling me you are going to find me a good doctor after you broke my leg. We must remain steadfast in holding every single legislator who voted in favor of this budget and its laws responsible for what they did by making sure they do not get re-elected.

In closing, I sat at the Learning Summit with tremendous guilt because I fought for a “golden ticket” and won, while most did not find themselves so lucky. However, I can say in total, this was one of the best days of my career. I sat with the Board of Regents the entire day, and I was given substantial time to share our plight as teachers, and the impact all of this is having on our students. I was also able to speak with Chancellor Tisch alone for several minutes, and explain soup to nuts what had transpired in Comsewogue when our district wanted to contemplate not administering the assessments (yes, the threat to fire the superintendent and entire locally elected board). I explained that we have no use for the current student assessment system, and because of our love and dedication to our students, we are seeking Middle States Accreditation and our own standardized testing that can actually be used to inform instruction.

Teachers, we are on the right track. Mulgrew said we must take back public education. We are in this mess because we allowed outsiders to craft policy for our classrooms. Enough is enough. It is becoming increasingly transparent that all of the deforms they have created are a bust. We cannot allow them to harm our students by permitting them to erode the best practices that we know work. Do not be discouraged. We made tremendous headway by being honest with parents about what we know about the fallacies of the state assessments. We need to continue on this path. Forcing children to take tests for innumerable hours that will only tell NYSED how one teacher fairs against another is an egregious misuse of classroom time. Refusing to allow it will be the undoing of all that has come to pass threatening to decimate public education.

Federal Legislative Update

As reported a few weeks ago, The Senate Education Panel unanimously approved a re-write of the ESEA, to be known as the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015. Some of the highlights of the bill are that is eliminates AYP (annual yearly progress) requirements as well as federal requirements that teacher evaluations be tied to test scores and that it specifically limits the role of the Secretary of Education in dictating local education policy, It does, however, maintain the mandate for annual testing in grades 3-8.

For a much more detailed (and I mean MUCH more detailed) summary, please this post (and the links included) on Mercedes Schneider’s Blog.

There are flaws in this bill, but it is a vast improvement over NCLB and Race to the Top, Help support it by sending a letter to your Senator and Representative using this form.

NY Legislative Updates

Legislation proposed by Senator John Flanagan and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan would make some changes to the recently passed education laws. But while these legislators (and various journalists) assert that the changes are significant, the fact is that the bill is little more than a diversion to make it appear that they are responding to the outcry from voters who feel betrayed by their approval of the budget, while not actually accomplishing very much.

Some of the positives of the bill include releasing more test questions and answers, and releasing them sooner  – as well as a requirement that NYSED investigate the quality of state administered tests. A few steps in the right direction, but not really very meaningful.

But what’s being talked about most is that the bill would extend the deadlines for the Regents to adopt regulations and for school districts to revise their APPR plans based on those new regulations (currently July 1, and November 15 respectively). One good thing about this is that it would allow for a public comment period, which the current schedule does not. However, while it adds as much as 45 days to the Regents’ schedule, it only pushes back the deadline for schools by one month, effectively giving schools even less time to develop new plans. It also could have the effect of reducing the push for extending the deadline to September 2016.

What is most dangerous about this bill is it leaves intact all of the detrimental changes brought about by the new laws but gives the appearance that problems are being fixed. It gives cover to politicians, while attempting to divide parent-teacher coalitions.

Please let your legislators know that they should reject “S5124-2015” and instead pass real legislation that undoes the damage inflicted by the Governor’s anti-public school budget.

To make it simple, you can use this form. The form letter that is there does not specifically mention S5124-2015, but you can easily add that in.

If you’d rather call or write a letter on your own, remember that you can find contact info for our elected officials on our political action page.