Some Good News

Political Action Works
Once again, we’re very happy to bring you evidence of positive change that came about via political action.  We’ve reported on it numerous time over the past few years, and of course we saw it first hand during contract negotiations last Spring. The latest example concerns the Regents rules on opt-outing out of state tests.

Earlier this year, the Regents proposed new regulations that would have severely penalized districts with opt-out rates higher than 5%. NYSUT asked members to respond, and we did. As a result of this pressure, the “Regents rejected regulations that would have wrongly diverted federal Title I funds from students attending schools with a less than 95 percent participation rate… [and]  significantly improved upon the draft regulations and will now allow schools with high opt-out numbers to ‘leave’ state accountability lists if they are otherwise high-performing.”

Huge thanks to everyone who took the time to call or write a letter.

Grant Opportunity
RC22 (the local NYSUT Retirement Council) is offering grants of up to $500 for “the implementation of educational projects for which funding is not available through normal school districts channels.”  More information, along with an application, can be found by clicking here.

Fall Get Together
Every new school year is a reason to celebrate – but having a contract (and knowing we won’t be needing to picket) makes this year especially sweet. So let’s all celebrate together at Buffalo Wild Wings in Miller Place on Friday, October 5th. Appetizers are included, so it helps to get a head-count in advance. Please RSVP by clicking this link.

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APPR Update

As reported before the break, the Common Core Task force released their report on December 10th, which included a recommendation for a moratorium on the use of  Common Core tests in teacher evaluations. Four days later, the Regents adopted an emergency regulation which accepted that recommendation and states that there will be “no consequences for teachers and principals related to 3-8 ELA and mathematics state assessments and no growth score on Regents exams until the start of the 2019-2020 school year.”  Most recently, NYSED released a FAQ about the transition which gives guidance to districts on implementing and negotiating APPR in the face of the new regulations.

On one hand, the recommendations in the report are a positive sign – the persistent push-back from parents and educators has forced the Governor and State Ed Dept. to respond and to acknowledge that the system is broken. It is an opening that, with sufficient effort, we can turn into positive change. But as NYSUT’s statement says, “there is more hard work to be done,”  and unless we come together to do that work, these new regulations will wind up doing more harm than good. Here’s a quick summary of what that harm is or may be:

More, not fewer, tests

Commissioner Elia insists that there will be “no additional testing,” but this is just not accurate. The regulations require that all teachers be given a growth score based on student achievement, so districts (like ours) which do not already have final exams in all grades would need to create (or use commercially produced) final exams, thus adding additional testing to the year. Because it will be necessary to create “pre-” and “post-” local tests, students in grades 3-8 may find themselves taking three times as many tests each year. For now, districts that have been granted a waiver for 2015/16 do not need to add additional tests (allowing those teachers to be evaluated solely by observation), but that would be for this year only (nearly all districts in the state, including SWR, applied for, and were granted, waivers). Also, although the statement in the first paragraph seems to make it clear that Regents exams cannot be used for evaluations, the FAQ document appears to say otherwise (see question 9).

More, not fewer, test-based ratings

Although they don’t count for students or teachers, the state tests will still be given, and teachers will still be getting a score based on them. The score just can’t be used for employment decisions (e.g. tenure, dismissal, putting a teacher on a TIP).  In other words, teachers whose scores were based on state tests will now be getting two evaluation scores, a “transition score,” which does not include state tests, and an “original composite score,” which does. So if your students don’t do well on the state tests, you will still have the pleasure of being labeled as developing or ineffective – although the rating can only be used for  “advisory” purposes (whatever that means).  It will also be shared alongside the transition score if parents request a teachers’ rating.

Students (and teachers) are still being assessed on Common Core

As noted, the moratorium is on STATE common core tests. But the requirements continue to call for testing, and since our math and ELA curriculum is still based on the common core, then obviously our local tests will need to be as well (unless we’ll be testing students on something other than what we’re teaching them). So even though the commission found serious flaws with the Common Core that necessitate it being revisited and revised over the next few years, it will still be used for evaluation.

A false sense of security

The way the press has been reporting this story, along with misleading statements from Commissioner Elia (e.g. “Now that we’ve put the use of assessments for evaluations on hold…”), make it seem that, at least for the time being, things are just fine. Obviously, they are not, and the big fear is that just as we need to get people involved and active, they will become complacent and will not push for the legislative change that is needed. Along with the the issues above, we need to remember that all the other negative aspects of the Education Transformation act (diminished due process, unrealistic tenure requirements, school takeovers, etc) remain in place.  The longer this law stays on the books, the more difficult it will become to swing things back.

 

A strong, organized, push will be necessary to bring people together to fight for change. We hope that people respond. We will keep you posted.

More on the Regents, APPR, and Testing

As noted, previously, the Regents approved extending the temporary APPR rules at yesterday’s meeting.  As reported in the Democrat and Chronicle, The new regulations “add an appeals process for teachers whose students showed poor growth on last year’s state exams but performed well the previous year. In order to appeal, the teacher much have received a positive rating — either ‘effective’ or ‘highly effective’ — on the observation portion of their rating.”

The law also requires NYSED to re-examine “the statistical tabulations used to calculate student growth on the standardized tests” and to “require state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to craft a letter to Cuomo and lawmakers, outlining the various areas of the evaluation law that are ripe for improvement.”

Additionally, as reported in the New York Times, (via Perdido Street School) Commissioner Elia announced at the meeting that they will be reducing the length of the tests: “some multiple choice questions would be shaved off the math assessments and a number of passages would be cut from the reading exams taken next year. A spokeswoman for the Education Department said that the tests would be shortened for students in each grade, and that they would be trimmed further in 2017.”

Once again, these are all good things, but they are all-half measures without any real teeth that don’t address the underlying issues.  As the Times article says:

The announcement on Wednesday on test length, however, seemed unlikely to quiet critics.
“Half a disaster is still a disaster,” said Loy Gross, a co-founder of the parent activist group United to Counter the Core, who added shortening the tests was just tinkering around the edges of a very large problem.
“And no,” she added, “it’s not going to appease parents who will continue to opt their kids out of tests.”

News Update

APPR Regulations

According to a Facebook post from PJSTA President Beth Dimino, a majority of the Regents voted to make the new APPR regulations permanent. Beth also reports that “they will draft a resolution tomorrow with changes for the Senate to consider.” For updated info, see this post.

APPR Appeals

In an interview on Monday, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch announced that they will be moving toward a process that will allow teachers to appeal their rating if there appears to be an aberration in their score. Governor Cuomo has voiced his support for this as well.

As it stands, teachers have virtually no recourse to challenge their ratings (they must prove the rating was fraudulent), so this does represent progress. Of course, it’s hard to cheer too hard at this news, since it’s Cuomo and Tisch who are putting teachers in this position in the first place. It’s akin to throwing someone overboard in the middle of the ocean and then making a big show of tossing him a life jacket as you sail away. We’ll see what happens with this, but it’s hard to see this as anything more than a cynical ploy to appease critics without making any substantive changes to the the primary issues.

The main point is, the pressure that the NYSED and the Governor are feeling is pushing them to react. Right now, they are hoping that with a little smoke and some mirrors they can diffuse the situation just enough to keep things they way they want them. We need to make sure we keep the pressure on and let them know we will not accept half measures. The system is deeply flawed and harmful and it needs to go.

Big Issues in Two Long Island Districts

Last November we reported on the situation in Locust Valley, where the BOE is attempting to undercut the Triborough Law and deny teachers step increases.  There’s really no update, but as this article in the Oyster Bay Guardian shows, the situation seems no closer to resolution. The resolution of this situation has TREMENDOUS potential ramifications for all teacher contracts and, potentially all public sector unions in New York State.

You may or may not have heard rumors about the fiscal problems that the Sachem school district is currently facing, but it seems that they are reaching a fever pitch, with talk of drastic mid-year cuts. Superintendent James Nolan responded to the rumors with a statement saying, in part “no decisions have been finalized on potential sources of revenue or potential cuts to reduce expenditures. We are working in synergy with many folks to develop a short-term and long-term plan.”

According to NYSUT Regional Staff Director Peter Verdon,   “The primary factor which has brought Sachem to this point, is the culmination of the State’s punitive and flawed school funding policies – state aid cuts, failure to eliminate the GEA, the tax cap and its undemocratic super-majority requirement.  The repercussions impact all of our members in the public sector- teachers, school related professionals as well as public library employees and those working in other municipalities.

So I fear that Sachem is not merely a cautionary tale, but rather is a “canary in the coal mine.”  If legislative changes are not made we could see more situations like this in the future.  These are changes that NYSUT has sought and which we must all continue to fight for. “

Seattle Teachers Strike

School will begin tomorrow in Seattle public schools as the union reached a tentative agreement with the city. Key terms of the agreement include cost of living increases, increased pay for a longer school day, and that test scores will no longer play a role in teacher evaluations.

New APPR Regs Approved By Regents

The Board of Regents approved the new APPR regulations by an 11-6 vote. As the Perdido Street School Blog notes, the dissent evidenced by last week’s letter from seven of the Regents is still evident, the bottom line is that this mess is moving forward.

Here are some of the key points (or read the whole thing here):
  • As the law dictates, state testing (or SLOs) will account for half of the teacher’s total evaluation
  • There will be a minimum of two observations (one principal/supervisor; one independent) with the frequency and duration determined locally; at least one observation must be unannounced. 
  • The independent observer portion must account for at least 10% but no more than 20% of the total observation score
  • The state approved practice rubrics will remain the same (meaning that we can, if we choose, continue to use the NYSUT rubric).
  • However, (again, per the law) artifacts cannot be used as evidence – only elements that are observed during the observation cycle
  • Language is included to address anomalous results (e.g. a teacher who is highly effective on observation but ineffective on student performance) which includes a potential appeals process. Unfortunately, this language is rather vague. 
The next step is for districts to negotiate specific plans that meet this criteria. Plans must be approved by November 15th or districts will lose state funding. 

The Regents did include the possibility of waivers of up to four months, which, if granted, would essentially push the adoption of individual plans back one year. However, it is not at all clear how many waivers will be granted and just how stringent the criteria will be, especially given that Governor Cuomo is on record as saying that such waivers should be the exception not the rule.

Two more important points – one good, one not so much.
  • On the bright side, we’re always glad to show evidence that political action works, if even a little, and here’s one bright spot. The preliminary plan proposed a few weeks ago required a score of 3.0 for a teacher to be “effective” on the observation score, which basically meant that a SINGLE element rated developing against every other element rated effective would label a teacher developing. In response to feedback, the Regents revised the scoring band so that districts can set a range of 2.5 to 2.75 as the minimum for an effective rating.
  • It’s bad enough that the parameters for local negotiation are so narrow that it will be impossible to come up with plans that anyone is happy with, but beyond that, the regulations also make it clear that NYSED can even override our plans: “If a district’s system does not result in meaningful feedback for teachers and principals, the Department may impose a corrective action plan that may require changes to a collective bargaining agreement.” 

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. 

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.