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.

An update on testing and opt-out

As we are working on negotiating a new APPR plan per the revised education law, it’s time to take a look at the state of state testing that underpins the whole thing. Here’s a quick summary of some of the stories and blog posts from the past few weeks.

Test Results

The state released test score data mid-August. Reports that there was some growth in ELA scores only served to highlight how mathematically deficient most news outlets are. Increases of 1-2% are simply not statistically significant. As Carol Burris noted, “At this rate of increase, it will take about 70 years for all New York students to meet both New York Common Core proficiency cut scores.”

(If you’re curious how SWR did, click here for Wading River and here for Prodell – but seriously, why bother? It’s truly meaningless data)

Even more telling (and not the least bit surprising to anyone who actually works with children), is that as inappropriate as the testing is for the general population, it’s far worse for our most at-risk students; the achievement gap for special ed students and minority students is widening.

Opt-Out Results

The final tally showed that about 20% of all 3-8 students in NY State (roughly 200,000) opted out of one or both tests. While that fell a little short of NYSAPE’s goal of 250,000, it represents a growth of 400% vs. the year before. Within this number are some huge disparities. In NYC, which accounts for 40% of the state in terms of 3-8 students, only 2% opted out.

The Response to Opt-Out

NYSAPE is pushing hard to make sure that that this coming year’s opt-out numbers will be even stronger. They are encouraging parents to get their opt-out letters in now. On the other side, Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia is trying to do everything in her power (and some things out of her power) to stop the opt-out movement. She initially had said she was going to try to withhold Title 1 funding from districts with high opt-outs. Fortunately, Governor Cuomo threw her under the bus and said he didn’t think districts with high opt-outs should be sanctioned, and after the USDOE stated they would leave decisions about penalties to the states, Regents Chancellor Tisch announced that districts with high opt-outs would not lose funding. (as a side note, it is insane that that this was even considered – taking funding away from the neediest students when, in most cases, those students are least likely to be the ones who actually opted out?????)

Commissioner Elia is not giving up, however. She has been a vocal opponent of the opt-out movement, calling it “unreasonable”, and although she recently did acknowledge that parents do have the right to opt-out, she is putting together a “tool kit,” (or as Assemblyman Jim Tedesco calls it, a “goon squad“) for Superintendents to implement to combat opt-outs. Most notably, she has signaled a desire to go after teachers if opt-out continues: ““I am absolutely shocked if, and I don’t know that this happened, but if any educators supported and encouraged opt-outs. I think it’s unethical.” More on that below, but first a few other responses to the Opt-out movement.

  • Assemblyman Al Graf has started a petition to have MaryEllen Elia fired.
  • Carol Burris responds to Commissioner Elia, saying it’s unethical NOT to speak out.
  • Melissa McMullan, Comsewogue teacher and SWR parent points out that if there are ethical violations here, they are on the part of NYSED
  • Regents Chancellor Tisch, who has previously argued that opting out was a terrible mistake and likened opting to refusing vaccines, nonetheless says  “If I was the mother of a student with a certain type of disability, I would think twice before I allowed my child to sit through an exam that was incomprehensible to them”
  • Just prior to the start of school, Pat-Med Superintendent Michael Hynes sent a letter to all of his teachers telling them he didn’t care one bit about their test-based APPR scores. He followed that with a letter to parents informing them of their right to opt-out and making sure they know there is no penalty for refusing the tests.

What Next?

It will be very interesting to see how this plays out. Commissioner Elia has a lot riding on stemming the opt-out tide. Now that she’s acknowledged she can’t force parents to allow their kids to take the tests, her only option is through educators. Her use of the phrase “I think it’s unethical.” is very telling ethical violations are one path to a 3020A hearing and her choice of words was no accident. Does she plan to have NYSED go after individual teachers or superintendents who are accused of promoting opt out? It seems unfathomable, as the backlash would likely be huge, but so far NYSED, the Regents, and the Governor have not hesitated to demonize teachers without worrying about the impact.

The bottom line is this: As a parent you can opt your own kids out (and NYSUT supports your doing so) but as a classroom teacher you should avoid discussing opt-out in any form in your classroom and should not, at any time, say anything that can be construed as promoting it to your students’ parents.

Off With Their Heads! (But first sharpen the blade)

Merryl Tisch has earned some positive press for suggesting that she’d like to delay implementation of the new evaluation system. While this is a positive step, let’s put it in perspective:  this isn’t a stay of execution to figure out if the prisoner is actually innocent, it’s a postponement to make sure that the guillotine is functioning properly.

The Facts
The new education law passed on April 1st, includes a provision that all districts must submit revised APPR plans by November 15th or lose state funding. Two weeks ago, Tisch expressed concern that it is unrealistic for school districts to have new plans done by that date. Initially it was stated that extending this deadline would require legislative change, and the Governor’s office insisted they would not budge. 
Earlier this week, Tisch took it a step further, saying she was directing the State Ed Department to find a solution to extend the deadline to the following September. The response from the Governor’s office was that doing so “would be disregarding the law.” They acknowledged that there is a “a hardship exemption for districts that can’t get the evaluations in place by the deadline,”  but insist that it is supposed to be the “exception, not the rule.”
Ultimately, this will come down to a bit of a power struggle between the Governor’s office and the Regents and the definition of what “hardship” means. 
It certainly is a good thing if the deadline is extended globally. As it stands, districts will need to work over the Summer and into the first 10 weeks of school completely re-writing APPR plans, trying to make them fair and reasonable while fitting within the criteria established by the new laws and whatever guidelines the Regents produces by July 1st. Having the extra time will help. A global extension will also allow for more time for push back against the legislature in the hopes that they will find the courage to fix what they’ve done.
If the extension is only provided to districts that can prove hardship (regardless of generously hardship is applied), then it still causes a tremendous drain on everyone, as districts will have to assume the deadline is in place until hearing otherwise. 
It’s important to note that this only applies to the creation of a new APPR plan, not the education laws in general. In other words, if extensions are given, districts will use the APPR plans they have in place, but the new regulations regarding tenure and due process will still go into effect. 
Everyone has a different opinion about what’s behind this. It’s a power struggle, it’s a sign that Tisch is giving in to pressure, or it’s just theater designed to provide a distraction. One thing it is NOT is an indication that Tisch is starting to soften in her anti-public school stance. We can’t forget that nearly all of the ideas in the new laws reflect what was in her letter. 
Tisch is clearly not trying to delay the enactment of these harsh regulations because they’re bad for public education. Far more likely, she is driven by a fear that Cuomo’s haste in pushing the ideas too quickly will cause them to fail, ruining her plans and, when Cuomo throws her under the bus, destroying her legacy.

New York Parents Have Spoken

A question that comes up often is, “what is the goal of all the anti-testing advocacy?” What do parents hope to accomplish by opting-out and contacting legislators?  NYSAPE recently issued a press release, detailing exactly what they think needs to happen next.

NY Parents Have Spoken, Now It’s Time to Fix Cuomo’s Education Budget Debacle
& Establish New Leadership for the Board of Regents

For the past two years, New York State Allies for Public Education has warned elected and appointed officials about serious concerns related to excessive high-stakes state testing based on flawed and experimental learning standards, as well as the collection and sharing of private student data.

This past week, the national attention focused on the parent uprising taking place in New York State. Spurred to action by the refusal of both the Governor and the NYS Education Department’s failure to respond to legitimate concerns, thousands  of parents fought back to protect their children.

At this time, estimates indicate parents of close to 200,000 students this year have refused New York State’s Common Core testing agenda and the final figures are expected to be even higher.

The educational program of the state is in chaos.  Leadership is more important than ever. On Sunday, April 19th the Editorial Board of The Journal News declared, “The stunning success of the test-refusal movement in New York is a vote of no confidence in our state educational leadership” in calling for Chancellor Merryl Tisch to step aside.

New York State Allies for Public Education, a grassroots coalition of over fifty parent and educator advocacy organizations from all corners of the Empire State, stands with the Editorial Board of The Journal News.

Chancellor Tisch must step down. The only way for the Board of Regents, Assembly, and Senate to regain trust of their constituents is to call for the Regents to empower a new leader to fix within its authority, the Cuomo budget legislation fiasco and the misguided Regents Reform Agenda.

“Parents have been left with no choice. We will submit our refusal letters, which is our parental right, on day one of school, next year and every year and if those in power will not listen, we will free our children from a test driven, developmentally inappropriate education,” said Jeanette Deutermann, Nassau County public school parent and Long Island Opt Out founder.

“For the past two years Chancellor Tisch has repeatedly ignored parents at forums throughout the state. She is incapable of leading the state in a new direction because she believes what is happening is just fine and her latest plea for asking for more time is just a distraction from the real issues. Her repeated calls for critics to “calm down” indicates her unwillingness to change course.” said Lisa Rudley, Westchester County public school parent and NYSAPE founding member.

“On Chancellor Tisch’s watch, the work of the State Education Department has been outsourced to a privately funded ‘Regents Fellows’ think tank. It is not surprising that the reforms put forth by this think tank advance the agenda of the wealthy ‘yacht set’ and corporate-linked groups that fund the Regent Fellows: The Robin Hood Foundation, Gates Foundation, and even Chancellor Tisch herself.  When you replace a public service with a private organization that advances corporate agendas, New Yorkers know that is corruption,” said Anna Shah, Dutchess County public school parent and Schools of Thought Hudson Valley, NY founder.

“While the Governor has demonstrated blatant disregard for the will of the people by doubling down on the use of high stakes testing, the State Education Department and Chancellor Tisch similarly ignored parent concerns regarding inappropriate test content by forcing children to read passages on last week’s ELA tests that were up to four years above grade level followed by vague and confusing questions,” said Jessica McNair, Oneida County public school parent, Central NY Opt Out co-founder, and educator.

Fred Smith, testing specialist, NYC public schools retired administrative analyst, and Change the Stakes member said, “Instead of transparency and disclosure of complete and timely test data that would open the quality of the ELA and math exams to independent review, Tisch has ruled over an unaccountable testing program that flies at near-zero visibility–in a fog of flawed field testing procedures, age-inappropriate poorly written items, the covert removal of test questions after they have been scored, arbitrarily drawn cut off scores, and the misapplication of the results to reach unsupportable conclusions about students, teachers, and schools.”

“As seen with the budget debacle earlier this month, New Yorkers know when the ‘Albany Fix’ is in,” Eric Mihelbergel, Erie County public school parent and NYSAPE founding member. Mihelbergel went on to say, “We know that the opt out movement will ultimately invalidate the data and render these test scores useless. When some schools have opt outs as high as 70%, we know that any claims that opt out is “random” and that only a small sampling of test scores will yield usable data is illogical.”

To ensure clarity for all, NYSAPE calls for the following from the NYS Legislature & Board of Regents and will release a more comprehensive list in the near future:

1.      A dramatic reduction of testing in grades 3rd – 8th, along with reasserting New York State’s authority to determine the education of its children ​by calling on the US Congress to reduce testing requirements and return to grade span testing. As former President Bill Clinton said we don’t need annual testing, “I think doing one [test] in elementary school, one in the end of middle school and one before the end of high school is quite enough if you do it right.”

2.      Chancellor Tisch must immediately step down.

3.      An independent review of the NYS career and college ready standards to ensure that standards are research based and appropriate. Establish a taskforce including parents, educators, and stakeholders to study the Common Core Learning Standards and make recommendations to adjust and adopt NYS standards.

4.      Adhere to a public and transparent process for selecting a new NYS Commissioner of Education.

5.      Fix the Cuomo budget legislation debacle by passing legislation that decouples student test scores and restores local board of education control over teacher evaluations.

6.      Pass legislation that REQUIRES parental consent to share ANY identifiable student data beyond school district administrators.

We want to restore our classrooms with a well-rounded education and drive testing compliance factory reforms out of our classrooms forever.