Budget rundown: Reaction from around the state

New York has a budget for 2015-16.

Shortly after 3:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, Assembly members concluded their lengthy session, officially finalizing the roughly $150 billion spending plan. Here’s a brief overview of the components of the education bill.

  • State aid – The 2015-16 state budget includes a $1.3 billion year-to-year increase in aid to school districts statewide. Local aid increases are tied to new APPR teacher evaluation plans. A district must have a plan approved by November 15, 2015, in order to receive any increase in aid over 2014-15. The Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) has been partially reduced in 2015-16 and is scheduled to end in 2016-17.
  • Teacher evaluations – The New York State Education Department will oversee the latest overhaul of the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) for teachers and principals. There will be two components to teacher evaluations: student performance on assessments and classroom observations. The value assigned to each component has not been determined. The budget also establishes strict new rules for educators who are rated “ineffective” in two or more consecutive years.
  • Teacher tenure – The probationary period for teachers and principals is increased from three years to four years. Teachers must have effectiveness ratings of either “Highly Effective” or “Effective” in three out of the four years to qualify for tenure. A teacher or principal who is rated “Ineffective” in year four cannot be granted tenure, but can have the probationary term extended by one year.
  • Underperforming schools – The budget sets a timeline for schools that are deemed “chronically underperforming” to improve or face consequences. Districts would be required to have improvement plans approved by the State Education Department and meet objectives contained within the plan. Schools would have one or two years to demonstrate improvement depending on how long it has been underperforming. Failure to show improvement could result in a school being put into receivership, giving control of the school to  a state-designated non-profit.

From Gov. Andrew Cuomo:

“Tonight, both houses of the Legislature have successfully passed the 2015-16 Budget spending plan to allow for the continued operation of government. This is a plan that keeps spending under two percent, reforms New York’s education bureaucracy, implements the nation’s strongest and most comprehensive disclosure laws for public officials and makes the largest investment in the Upstate economy in a generation.

This is a Budget that every New Yorker can be proud of, and I look forward to continuing to work to move New York forward this legislative session and beyond.”

Coverage from around the state

An outline of education reform proposals in budget (Capital New York)

Assembly affirms Cuomo-driven education budget, with ‘heavy hearts’ (Capital New York)

$142B New York state budget races clock (Capitol Confidential)

Party like it’s 2013! State aid increase to be linked to evaluations

School aid funding will be tied to teacher evaluations after all, reports Capital New York. According to the report, the $1.4B increase in aid agreed upon in the budget will be tied directly to state approval of locally negotiated teacher evaluation plans. Districts will have until mid-November to have their plans approved.

From Capital New York:

According to budget language that has not yet been finalized, the department would craft—subject to approval of the Board of Regents—regulations outlining a new evaluation system by June 30, deputy senior education commissioner Ken Wagner told Capital on Monday.

Some aspects of the rating system would be optional, so they would require negotiations between school districts, teachers and principals’ unions.

This model of withholding aid until an evaluation plan is approved was first introduced by Gov. Cuomo in 2013. Now, it seems districts will have to renegotiate their APPR plans.

“If we rewind back to the first year of implementation, districts had to put these plans in place under threat of losing a state aid increase,” New York State School Boards Association spokesman David Albert told Capital New York. “Why would we do the same thing again? Why not give districts the time they need so they can take the time to negotiate agreements that make sense?”

Details began to emerge last night on the new teacher evaluation system. The system will have two components: student test results and observation. From Jessica Bakeman:

There will be two required observations, from a teacher’s principal or administrator and an “independent” evaluator, who could be a principal, administrator or “highly effective” teacher from another school or district. As Cuomo originally proposed, a college professor or retired educator could also serve as the independent evaluator. A peer observation will be optional…Student growth on state-administered, Common Core-aligned English and math exams in third through eighth grades and Regents exams in high school will be required components for the evaluation system…Districts and local unions may choose to include an additional test, which would be designated by the State Education Department.

According to the most recent budget information, the State Education Department will be tasked with determining the percentage of evaluations tied to test scores.

“We’re giving SED the ability to do what the intent is for them to do,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Sunday night. “The state education department should be the chief arbiters of education policy in the state, and we’re allowing them to do what their mission is.”

The bills containing school aid and teacher evaluation have not been introduced or finalized as of Tuesday morning.

On Monday, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) president Karen Magee called for a mass opt out of state testing, citing that test-based evaluation is not a reliable measure of teacher effectiveness.

“I’m a parent,” Magee said. “My child is in 11th grade at this point in time. Had he been a third to eighth grader, he would not be taking the test. The tests are not valid indicators. The American Statistical Association has said there is no direct link to tie these tests to student performance or teacher evaluation. Let’s look at tests that are diagnostic in nature, that actually inform practice in the classroom, that actually work to serve students who are directly sitting in front of the teacher for the year as opposed to what we have in place right now.”

The “opt-out” movement has increasingly gained traction. According to the NYSSBA, during the 2014 testing cycle, approximately 60,000 New York students opted out of the tests, compared with 10,000 a year earlier.

NYSUT officials released a fact sheet on opting out Monday morning, though this shouldn’t come as a surprise as they have stated in the past that they support a parent’s right to opt his/her child out of the state exams.


Budget deal reached, schools to see increase in aid

Update 11:04 a.m. According to Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi on Capital Press Room, 50% or $550M of the Gap Elimination Reduction will be restored.

Update 8:56 a.m. School aid runs should be released today, according to NYSUT. (H/T Susan Arbetter @sarbetter)

Update 8:45 a.m. Gov. Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed on a framework for the state budget Sunday night that if approved, would see at least a $1.4B boost in aid to school districts and give the state education department control over teacher evaluation reform.

This increase in aid is higher than the $1.1B proposed by Cuomo in January. According to Capital New York, lawmakers said they were still working out exactly how school aid would be distributed. More details are expected to be released Monday.

The role of SED in relation to developing new teacher evaluations strays from what was reported late last week where lawmakers were reportedly discussing having the Board of Regents assume responsibility over evaluation reform.

From Capital New York on the role of SED handling evaluation reform:

A Cuomo administration source said the budget would specifically charge the education commissioner with the task, not the board. There is currently a vacancy in that role, since commissioner John King departed last year to take a job with the federal government…The department would have to flesh out the details of the new system by June. School districts would need to finalize any locally negotiated aspects of their ratings system and submit their plans for state approval by November.

“We’re giving SED the ability to do what the intent is for them to do,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told Capital New York. “The state education department should be the chief arbiters of education policy in the state, and we’re allowing them to do what their mission is.”

The budget will reportedly also include a program for state takeover of under-performing schools. From Capital New York:

Under the agreement, struggling schools will submit a plan to the state education department showing how they will improve, according to a Cuomo administration source.

Pending approval, the schools that have been yielding poor outcomes for 10 years or more will be allowed one year to show “demonstrable progress” before being subject to a state takeover. If there is no “demonstrable progress,” the school will go into receivership. Schools that have been struggling for at least three years will have two years to improve.


“After decades of leading the nation in education spending but lagging in results, New York will set an example for all other states with a complete overhaul of the entrenched education bureaucracy,” Cuomo said in a statement. “These reforms – accompanied by an unprecedented financial investment – will put students first by bringing accountability to the classroom, recruiting and rewarding our best teachers, further reducing over-testing, and finally confronting our chronically failing schools.”

There are conflicting reports over the status of teacher tenure. While Cuomo’s original proposal called for five consecutive “effective” ratings, Heastie said tenure will change from three years experience to four and evaluations will play a part in the tenure decision.

According to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which so many education advocates have fought to have removed, will be dramatically reduced.

More details on the budget are expected to be released Monday.

NYSUT to rally at the Capitol today

With the state budget deadline of April 1 looming, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) will be gathering at the Capitol on Thursday to protest Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reform proposals.

Since Cuomo released his budget proposal in late January calling for significant changes to the teacher evaluation process, NYSUT has been on the offensive, launching numerous ad and social media campaigns.

On Wednesday, NYSUT president Karen Magee said the union would support a stakeholders panel that would vet Cuomo’s proposed changes to the teacher evaluation system. The State Assembly majority conference is currently debating establishing such a panel.

From Capitol Confidential:

“We’d be in favor of a panel … of stakeholders,” Magee said, adding that the panel would have to have no power over aid or the authority to put any changes to the evaluation system into effect.

Cuomo’s proposed plan that would change the evaluation process for teachers so that 50 percent of scores are based on state exams and the other 50 percent on observations. Teachers would have to be rated highly effective or effective in both areas to receive an overall rating of highly effective or effective. A teacher who has two consecutive “ineffective” ratings would be removed from their teaching position.

NYSUT will also be protesting Cuomo’s withholding of state aid from schools until a budget deal is reached and high-stakes testing. Cuomo has tied $1.1 billion in education funding to the passage of his proposed reforms.

On Wednesday, Republican senators spoke out against Cuomo’s decision to withhold aid.

From the Buffalo News:

Sen. John J. Flanagan, R-East Northport, influential chairman of the Senate Education Committee, dismissed talk Wednesday that a decision on school aid will be delayed until June.

“I don’t envision any circumstance where we’d leave here without a school aid run and school aid numbers,” he said.

The NYSUT rally will be held at 4 p.m., Thursday on the “Million Dollar Staircase.”


POV: It’s time to restore funding for public schools

This Point of View was submitted by Matthew J. Downey, president of the Bethlehem Central School District Board of Education, and Charmaine L. Wijeyesinghe, Ed.D., Vice President.

Points_viewNow is the time of year when the New York State Legislature and Governor debate and formulate a state budget that includes funding for vital functions like our state’s public school system. This is also the time of year when Boards of Education in our State are formulating their district budgets for the 2015-16 school year. In Bethlehem, our budget development process is transparent, open and efficient, inviting community input. Like all school districts, our task involves evaluating state aid estimates, reviewing budget projections and determining the local tax levy necessary to support our educational program. This is a challenging task – with the provision of quality public education for the children of our community hanging in the balance. This year, the work of all school boards in New York State has been made even more difficult by the fact that we must put together our respective school district budgets without having the benefit of receiving key state aid figures that guide our budget development efforts.

The reason? This year, when the Executive Budget was proposed to the Legislature, it was instructed that state aid estimates be withheld from school districts, until policy changes proposed in the budget were enacted. Without aid runs, school districts are left guessing — about the amount of school aid that our school will receive, about what taxpayers might see on their tax bills in September, and about what a school district’s educational program might look like in the coming school year.

This withholding of state aid information comes on top of years of state budgets that eroded state education aid for all school districts – including Bethlehem. The loss of this state aid (through a mechanism called the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA, and the freezing of state school aid through changes to Foundation Aid) caused upheaval for school budgets. In Bethlehem, the cuts caused an 18 percent reduction in teaching and administrative staff, the closure of an elementary school, the reconfiguration of bus transportation requiring students to walk longer distances, and other changes that resulted in fewer teachers and larger classes.

In the past six years, school districts statewide have lost nearly $9 billion in state aid. In Bethlehem alone, GEA losses have cost Bethlehem $18 million in state funding since 2010. This year, without the Legislature acting to get rid of the GEA, Bethlehem’s school funding will be cut by another $3 million.

In 2015, the state has a projected $5 billion surplus. With this positive budget environment, it’s time to stop the erosion of funding to our public schools by eliminating the GEA and the Foundation Aid cuts. On behalf of the thousands of school children in our school district, we ask our elected officials to stand up for public education and stand firmly in support of our public schools. Our students, parents, and community — as well as our educational program — depend on it.

Fiscal Policy Institute says NYS is responsible for failing schools

According to a report released by the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) on Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s funding proposal for schools does not do enough to adequately address the real needs of under-performing or “failing” schools in New York state.

A month ago, Gov. Cuomo released his report on failing schools, claiming that more than 109,000 students are currently enrolled 178 failing schools throughout New York. The FPI argues that the school districts that are home to these failing schools teach students who face many challenges, most alarmingly disproportionately high levels of poverty.

From the report:

  • They live in communities that are among the poorest in the state with the least resources to improve local schools. Three times as many school age children live in poverty in districts with priority schools than in other New York school districts.
  • Over three-fourths of the students in priority schools are eligible for the federal free or reduced price lunch program.
  • Many of these students are not proficient in English or are from minority families with disproportionately high levels of unemployment and poverty. More than 9 out of 10 students in these schools are minorities.

If the state wants to see a real change, the institute said it needs to increase K-12 school aid and funding for universal pre-kindergarten, improve services and aid to people in poverty and help boost the income of low-income New Yorkers so fewer children grow up in poverty.

“…The formula used to distribute additional aid will determine whether additional aid is directed to the students most in need. During the Great Recession, the state cut
school aid. Cuts were allocated to individual districts through a Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA). Some of that adjustment has been restored but the GEA still reduces Foundation Aid and other aid to schools by over $1 billion. The Executive Budget does not specify whether the proposed increase in school aid will be distributed by reducing the GEA or by using the Foundation Aid formula and the Assembly and Senate differ on the split in their proposals. The state should use the Foundation Aid formula to distribute increased school aid in order to direct more assistance to the districts with the highest needs.”

The report also attacks Cuomo’s plan of tying school funding to teacher evaluation and tenure.

“By focusing on teacher evaluation procedures, the Executive Budget fails to address the fact that high-need districts throughout the state are straining under inadequate funding. Proposals such as requiring teacher evaluations to be based on test scores and the promotion of charter schools fail to directly address the educational challenges faced by low-income students. Teachers cannot control the backgrounds of their students, and they cannot overcome the resulting disadvantages on their own. In addition to an adequate increase in aid, broad-based solutions that address the academic, social, and health needs of students and engage the local community are needed.”

Pearson monitoring student’s social media accounts during PARCC testing

According to the superintendent of the Watchung Hills Regional High School District in New Jersey, Pearson, the world’s largest education company, has been monitoring student’s social media accounts for possible leaks about PARCC test questions.

Click here to read more.

POV: At the expense of a child

This Point of View – a poem –  was submitted by Jade Vangorder, a fourth grade teacher at Harry Hoag Elementary in the Fort Plain Central School District.

Points_viewHow can our leaders support high-stakes tests,
That supposedly measure a teacher’s success?
Ignoring innocent little minds that naturally run wild,
His satisfaction comes at the expense of a child.

Project-based, meaningful, hands-on learning is fun,
Those amazing experiences should be number one.
Yet test data will determine the score that is filed,
As his wishes are fulfilled, at the expense of a child.

My heart hurts to see our youngsters in distress,
But I feel the pressure, I must confess.
Our kids’ levels of anxiety are far from mild,
We can’t let this happen, at the expense of a child.

So moving forward, let’s do our best,
To try and ignore the high stakes of these tests.
Let’s continue to encourage inquiry and deep thought,
So the children flourish from what we have taught.

Cuomo is playing a game that isn’t right,
If we sit back and do nothing, he will win this fight!
A note to our legislators, or their numbers dialed,
We need to speak up, to save a child!!

No more political gain at the EXPENSE OF A CHILD!!

SFOS: High school student conducts groundbreaking Alzheimer’s research, wins Intel STS award


Intel Science Talent Research competition semifinalist Muhammad Ali & Shaker High School Science teacher Nathaniel Covert.

Stories_schoolsAlzheimer’s is a disease that accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases, but has no cure. Shaker High School senior, Muhammad Ali, is trying to change that.

For three years he has conducted research focused on stopping the disease early on. Ali explains that a person may be 60 years old and have molecular malfunctions going on in their brain, but symptoms such as memory loss may not appear until ten years later.

“I’ve employed drug companies with information that is really crucial,” Ali said. “Currently there are no effective drugs out there. Companies have tried to attack the symptoms but its proven ineffective. I am interested in a new branch of Alzheimer’s drug research, looking to modify the disease at its core and at its basic pathology, stopping it ten years before any symptoms occur.”

Ali conducted his research with the guide of an elective course at Shaker High School, called “Science Research,” advised by science teacher Nathaniel Covert. In addition, he was mentored by RPI Professor Dr. Chunyu Wang and UAlbany Professor Dr. Igor Lednev.

Ali explained that plaques or conglomerates of proteins are known to cause Alzheimer’s when they accumulate and asphyxiate themselves around neurons in the brain, thus preventing neuronal transmission. A single protein, called Amyloid Beta, made up of 40 amino acids, is the major constituent of these plaques, which end up causing Alzheimer’s disease.

“This protein in and of itself, basically causes Alzheimer’s,” he said.

Through continued research, Ali found that a single change in the 40 residues of Amyloid Beta completely changes its functional role, by preventing it from asphyxiating around neurons.

“It goes from a disease causing protein to a disease preventing protein,” he said. “This has a lot of potential in future therapeutic drugs, because you can basically employ this model, apply it to a drug, target a specific region, and make it stronger to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.”

In addition to Ali’s ground breaking work about the protein, he also created a new protocol for the synthetic fabrication of the protein. Previously, labs around the world that wished to study this protein paid around $900 a milligram to obtain samples. Ali has found a way to fabricate the same protein for just $80 per milligram using a technology called Recombinant DNA Technology. Ali reprogrammed bacterial DNA to force bacteria to make the protein for him.

“Research labs in the area are already using his new protocol and he expects many more labs around the country and possibly internationally will adopt his protocol as well,” Shaker Science Department Supervisor Keith Bogert said.

Ali submitted his work to the prestigious Intel Science Talent Research competition. Students are selected based upon their scientific research and also on their overall potential as future leaders of the scientific community. Ali was one of 300 semifinalists, competing against 1,800 students nationwide. He and Shaker High School have been awarded $1,000 each.

“He’s the hardest working student we’ve ever had,” science teacher Nathaniel Covert said.

“The course is really not designed to do the research, the course is designed to coach kids while they do the research,” Bogert added . “The students have research that is extremely far reaching and many of them will ride their research right to and through college. Mr. Covert has done an exceptional job on coaching these kids and trying to get them to do real, genuine scientific research.”

Ali plans to major in biochemistry in the fall, with the goal of becoming a research scientist or physician scientist.

For more information on the Intel Science Talent Research competition, click here.

This story was submitted by Taryn Kane, public information specialist for the North Colonie Central School District.

POV: “Let me learn – and enjoy the process”

Today’s “Point of View” was submitted by William Schmidt, a student from Schalmont High School. It is the transcript of his remarks given at the “Save Our Schools” advocacy event that took place at South Colonie High School on February 26, 2015.

Points_viewTonight, I’ve been asked to speak of my experience with the changes in testing policies in my school and in New York state, but first, I’d like to briefly introduce myself. My name is Billy Schmitt and I enjoy school. For me, education helps feed my love of learning and intellectual curiosity for the world. I relish the insights on humanity, science, and history that occur as we discuss sociology, human biology, and politics. I’m not the only one who has noticed the value and excitement of discussion and learning- I have several peers who commented on how thrilling and enjoyable a past class dialogue on social inequality was. However, this environment is increasingly being threatened by the number of tests I take and believe me, I’ve never heard “enjoyable” and “test” in the same sentence.

I’d like to highlight the evolution of testing I’ve seen in my school. When I began high school as a 9th grader in 2011, there were only two major assessments to take for each class: the midterm and final exam. Let’s look at a theoretical freshman entering high school today. If he’s lucky, he has six, maybe seven classes. Over the course of one year, he must take a pre-test, a mid-term, a post-test, and a local assessment or final exam. That’s approximately four major exams per class, over 20 tests in total, all of which, except the pretests, weigh significantly into his grade. Keep in mind this doesn’t include the smaller tests, quizzes, papers, and projects to check his learning on plate tectonics, polynomials, or Ancient China that are taken several times throughout the year. Clearly, tests dominate education.

What is the purpose of tests? To gauge how much students have learned? If this is the case, then how we can learn when we are drowning in a flood of assessments? When an English pre-test takes two days to administer, that’s two less days I have to learn the intricacies of how to craft a strong argument or to understand how to properly format a formal research paper- skills I’ll clearly need later in college and my career. Remember, those two days lost are the result of just one test out of the dozens that will have to be taken throughout the year.

Furthermore, the pre-test in particular seems superfluous. Why must I take a test to understand what I don’t know? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to take that time to learn that information I don’t know? In addition, it’s a rare case that a student takes the pre-test seriously. We know the pre-test doesn’t factor into our grade. We know that we don’t know anything about chemistry, so we fill in all the A’s on our Scantron. Basically, we get a day to make sure we color within the lines of the bubble marked “A”.

Yet, the pretest isn’t the only test that detracts from my education. At the end of the year, we spend many days in review for the post-test and final we must take- tests that not always, but sometimes look very similar. Some of this study time, while imperative to make sure we get good grades, could otherwise be used to further our learning and to hone our college and career readiness skills. I don’t blame my teachers – I’d want to spend as much time as I could reviewing if it determined my future. As a student, I’m thankful for these days of review because I also want a good grade, but think for a minute of the lessons that could be taught and learned in that time.

I’m asking here today for lawmakers and educators to work together to take another look at these testing policies so that I can experience more epiphanies that come from a fruitful class discussion, so that I can learn the mathematical formulas, psychological theories, and writing techniques that will help me navigate college and the workforce. Please, let me learn – and enjoy the process – instead of stressing over the tests I must take.