UPDATE: No aid increase for next two years unless Legislature approves Cuomo’s proposal

According to language in Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget bill, if the Legislature does not enact the education reforms the Governor outlined in his budget address on Wednesday, Jan. 21, districts will not receive any aid greater than their 2014-15 amount for each of the next two years.

Complicating matters for districts, the Division of Budget announced that it would not be releasing school aid runs until the Legislature passes the Governor’s education reform agenda. The aid runs are usually released within hours of the Governor’s budget presentation.

The reforms Cuomo proposed include an overhaul of the existing teacher evaluation law, more stringent tenure requirements, funding to expand preschool programs, lifting the cap on charter schools, and a new turnaround process for the state’s lowest performing schools.

In all, the $1.1 billion school aid increase includes just more than $1 billion in new school aid, $25 million for expanded preschool programs, and $25 million for other education reforms.

The Executive Budget Proposal now heads to the state legislature for consideration. A final state budget is expected by April 1, 2015.

Reaction to Governor’s education budget proposal

Reaction to the Governor’s budget proposal from yesterday has been pouring in. Here’s a roundup.

Organization responses

From Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch:

“Governor Cuomo has laid out an ambitious plan for our schools and our students. Many of his proposals mirror the Board of Regents’ recommendations and we’re eager to pursue those important initiatives. It’s clear the Governor is committed to work together to make sure all our students have the educational opportunities they deserve.

While there is still much to be done, our students have made strong progress in recent years. Even in the face of higher, more challenging standards, New York’s high school graduation rate continues to improve. In classrooms across the state, teachers are successfully implementing those higher standards. Students are building the knowledge they need to be successful in college and the workplace. The Board of Regents looks forward to working with the Governor and Legislature to make sure that progress continues.”

News articles

Cuomo calls for $1.1 billion school aid increase and education reforms, no mention of GEA


Note: This story was updated on Jan. 23 to reflect the current interpretation of the Governor’s budget bill regarding aid increases.

Under the Executive Budget Proposal outlined by Governor Andrew Cuomo yesterday, state funding for schools would increase by $1.1 billion next year – provided that state lawmakers go along with a series of education reforms that he described as “ambitious” in his combined budget address and State of the State message.

The reforms Cuomo proposed include an overhaul of the existing teacher evaluation law, more stringent tenure requirements, funding to expand preschool programs, lifting the cap on charter schools, and a new turnaround process for the state’s lowest performing schools.

An additional $1.1 billion in state aid next year would represent a 4.8 percent increase over the current year. The Division of Budget announced that school aid runs would not be released to districts until the Legislature passes the Governor’s education reform agenda.

According to language in the Governor’s proposed budget bill, if the Legislature does not enact the education reforms he outlined, districts will not see an increase in state aid next year or the year after.

The Governor also did not address the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA, which is the mechanism through which the state has diverted promised school funding over the last five years to meet other budget priorities. In that time, schools have lost more than $9.52 billion cumulatively to the GEA, and they are still owed $1.04 billion.

The overall proposed increase in aid falls short of the $2 billion or more that the New York State Board of Regents and leading education groups have called for to meet the needs of students next year.

The Governor is also proposing to make permanent the state’s property tax levy cap, which is set to expire after this current year, as well as a new “circuit breaker” tax reduction program. This would reduce property taxes for some homeowners and renters based on income and the amount of their tax bills.

The series of education reforms Cuomo called for included changes to how districts evaluate teachers and principals. Under the existing process, evaluation scores consist of essentially three components: classroom observations, growth on state test scores and locally-selected learning targets, and additional measures of student achievement. Scores on these components result in a rating of highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective.

“They’re baloney,” Cuomo said of the current evaluations. “How can 38 percent of students be ready and 98 percent of the teachers rated effective? The problem is clear. We need real, fair, accurate teacher evaluations.”

In his speech, the Governor outlined a plan that would change the evaluation process so that 50 percent of scores are based on state exams and the other 50 percent on observations. While many other details of this plan are still unknown, Gov. Cuomo did say that the elements of the scoring system for teacher observations would be set in state law, rather than locally negotiated as they are now.

Cuomo also said that teachers would have to be rated highly effective or effective in both areas to receive an overall rating of highly effective or effective, and that this process would eliminate much of the local testing taking place in school districts under the existing evaluation process.

“We will stop local score inflation, which has resulted in virtually all teachers being rated effective by setting,” he said.

Under Cuomo’s plan, a teacher who has two consecutive “ineffective” ratings would be removed from their teaching position.

The budget proposal includes funding to continue rewarding teachers with annual stipends who are deemed highly effective and who mentor their peers. The Governor would also create a teacher-in-residency program akin to what is provided for doctors and offer free tuition to top SUNY/CUNY graduates who commit to teaching in New York schools for five years.

The Governor’s proposal also continues to provide grants for the “P-Tech” Pathways in Technology and Early College High School program, which connects high school to two years of college in the STEM fields.

Cuomo outlined a plan to address what he called “failing schools” that would allow a nonprofit, turnaround expert or another district to take over a school after three years of poor results. This entity would be charged with overhauling the curriculum, terminating underperforming staff and recruiting high-performing educators. These schools would be given priority in a variety of state grant programs, and the students would be given priority in charter school lotteries.

The Governor proposed combining the charter school caps for New York City and the rest of the state into one statewide cap and increasing it by 100 new charter schools, for a total cap of 560. Under the existing caps, there are 24 slots left for new charter schools in New York City and 159 slots available statewide. The governor also proposed legislation to ensure that charter schools serve “their fair share” of high-needs populations in relation to public schools, including English language learners, students living in poverty, and students with disabilities.

Cuomo also proposed an additional $365 million in spending for universal prekindergarten, in line with the plan approved last year to phase $1.5 billion in over five years to expand prekindergarten access statewide. He also called for $25 million for new preschool programs for 3-year-olds in the state’s highest-need school districts.

In all, the $1.1 billion school aid increase includes just more than $1 billion in new school aid, $25 million for the preschool initiative, and $25 million for other education reforms.

The Executive Budget Proposal now heads to the state legislature for consideration. A final state budget is expected by April 1, 2015.

Click here to download the Governor’s 2015-16 Budget Briefing Book [PDF]

Gov. Cuomo to unveil ‘Opportunity Agenda’ today

Gov. Cuomo will be presenting his 2015-16 budget with the 2015 State of the State Address in a joint roll out being called the ‘2015 New York State of Opportunity Agenda’ this afternoon.

Over the past few weeks, Cuomo has been laying the groundwork for an aggressive education agenda, repeating numerous times that better teachers and competition from charter schools are the best ways to revamp an underachieving and entrenched public education system.

“I believe these kinds of changes are probably the single best thing that I can do as governor that’s going to matter long-term to break what is in essence one of the only remaining public monopolies — and that’s what this is, it’s a public monopoly,” Cuomo said in October.

Cuomo believes that the current evaluation system for teachers is too easy to pass. Cuomo said he would push for a plan that includes more incentives and sanctions that “make it a more rigorous evaluation system.”

“The teachers don’t want to do the evaluations and they don’t want to do rigorous evaluations — I get it. I feel exactly opposite.”

According to the New York Times, Cuomo’s office has declined to comment on his education agenda or disclose what proposals he will make today.

Mr. Cuomo is likely to face resistance to some of his priorities from the Democratic-led Assembly, which tends to side with the teachers’ union, while getting support from the Republican-led Senate.

 – NY Times, ‘Cuomo’s Education Agenda Sets Battle Lines With Teachers’ Unions’, Jan. 20, 2015.

The 2015 New York State of Opportunity Agenda will be presented at 1:30 p.m. in the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany. Ed Speaks will be live-tweeting the Governor’s address this afternoon. Follow along, @edspeaksNY.

POV: Teacher Evaluation vs. Student Achievement: Minimal Correlation

Points_viewMany would believe that the state mandated evaluation system is a fair and appropriate method for evaluating teachers and principals and that teacher evaluations are linked directly and solely to New York state assessment results. Recent news reports have attempted to draw a direct comparison between New York state assessment results and teacher evaluation ratings. However, these misleading commentaries have been based on a lack of understanding of how assessment scores are used in teacher evaluations.

A recent article serves as a good example, comparing teacher and principal evaluation ratings to NYS assessment results from the 2013-2014 school year. Included was that (not counting New York City) about 39% of teachers and 61% of principals received “effective” ratings while 58% of teachers and 33% of principals earned the top rating of “highly effective.” This was contrasted with the 2014 NYS assessment results, where approximately 40% of students in grades three to eight scored at the proficient level or higher on the NYS math and ELA assessments.

Teacher effectiveness is so much more than results on one annual test. In fact, state assessment results are only mandated to be included in the evaluations of math and English teachers, grades 4-8, and in the evaluations of elementary, middle school and junior high building principals. In my school (Shaker Junior High School) that is a total of 16 teachers out of my total faculty of about 75 teachers.

Yes, such comparisons are clearly misleading. The truth is that NYS assessment results are included in the evaluations of only 21% of the teachers in my building, which is probably consistent with every other school in New York state.

To further underscore how misleading such comparisons are, let’s take a closer look at the evaluations of math and English teachers in grades 3-8 and determine how the NYS assessment results are included in them. NYS assessment results constitute 20 of the 100 points that comprise a teacher’s (or a principal’s) evaluation; these point totals are computed and provided by the NYS Education Department. That’s right, only 20% of a math or English teacher’s (or a building principal’s) evaluation is based on state assessment results.

Think about that. NYS assessment results account for 20% of about 21% of NYS teachers’ and principals’ evaluations state wide. If you just use these two percentages to calculate a rough, non-mathematical effect, (i.e. multiply 20% by 21%), you get an effect range of about 4%. Yes, NYS assessment results constitute about 4% of NYS teachers’ and principals’ evaluations. Interesting, as news reports (and politicians) would have you believe something very different. Not even being considered are the many other aspects of teaching that are included in an evaluation, the comparisons would have you believe that assessment data and evaluations are one and the same.

Let’s at least include the pertinent information about evaluations in news reporting and give readers the true data to fully comprehend the numbers. Let’s make sure that readers understand that there exists no significant connection between the state wide evaluation ratings and NYS assessment results. But, that doesn’t provoke readers nor is it of interest to politicians. No, the real story behind the sound bites is often quite un-newsworthy.

This Point of View was submitted by Shaker Junior High School principal Dr. Russell Moore of the North Colonie Central School District. Dr. Moore is currently in his 27th year as a principal. You can read more from him at his blog “Moore Perspective.”

Upstate schools to hold advocacy event Jan. 22, calling for funding reform

spotlight_SMSU4US logo.jpgHundreds of people from around the Upstate region are expected to be gathering Thursday, Jan. 22 at Saratoga Springs High School to voice their support of local school districts and urging legislators to join them.

The event, “Stand Up for Upstate Schools: Your Voice Can Still Make a Difference!” will feature administrators, teachers, students and parents from around the 31 school districts in the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES region who will share their personal stories of how cuts in state aid have impacted them.

“When you are talking about state and local budgets, it’s easy to get lost in the dollars,” WSWHE BOCES District Superintendent James P. Dexter said. “But when you go behind those figures, we’re talking about the quality of education we provide our children.”

Across the region, educational programs are being reduced, frozen or are in jeopardy – largely due to an inequitable state aid distribution system and the punitive Gap Elimination Adjustment. In this region alone schools have already lost $198.5 million in state aid to the GEA.

The public-school supporters gathering in Saratoga Springs Jan. 22 will be urging the New York State Legislature and governor to work together in order to accomplish three primary objectives:

  • Reform the state aid distribution system to provide for more equity.
  • Eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) by the 2015-16 fiscal year.
  • Maintain the interest rate used in state building aid calculations for a capital project at the level in use by the state when the capital project was originally bonded.

Many school boards throughout the WSWHE BOCES have already adopted resolutions urging Albany lawmakers to accomplish the priorities. Other members of the community have taken up the goals as well, advocating for the priorities in their own ways.

“Many in this community have become active advocates for our schools by attending forums, sending emails and writing letters. We’re grateful for that support,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Douglas W. Huntley, co-chair of the CSO Advocacy Standing Committee.

The event will bring a cross-section of those supporters from all of the 31 districts in the WSWHE BOCES region under the same roof as legislators and experts to discuss the future of education in New York State.

Where: Saratoga Springs High School Auditorium, 1 Blue Streak Boulevard, Saratoga Springs.
When: Refreshments will be served at 6 p.m. and the event will go from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, January 22.

Skelos open to giving Cuomo more control on education

In an interview with Time Warner Cable News, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said that he would be supportive of giving Gov. Andrew Cuomo more control over public education in New York state.

Education policy is currently set by the Board of Regents, who are appointed by the houses of the State Legislature.

“We’ve passed legislation a number of times, I believe it was Senator LaValle’s bills that would change the way Regents were selected,” Skelos said in the interview. “Right now, it’s basically Shelly Silver picking the Regents and we think there should be an opportunity for the Senate to be truly part of that process by both houses voting on the confirmations separately so the person who passed the Senate would have to pass the Assembly.”

Last month, Cuomo pushed for more education policy changes in a letter from his operations director Jim Malatras to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and outgoing Education Commissioner John King. Tisch recently responded, agreeing with the governor that tougher teacher tenure requirements and a faster dismissal process should be on the table.

The governor is set to give his State of the State and executive budget address on January 21 at 1:30 p.m.

POV: Opportunities in a moment of decision

This Point of View was submitted by Dr. Patrick Michel, District Superintendent for the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES

Points_viewWe are at a moment of decision, not just because it is the beginning of a new year, but because the opportunity now exists to embrace a path that insures a bright educational future for all our children.

I recently sat through a presentation from the College Board, the not-for-profit organization that produces the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). They have established a college and career-ready benchmark and are measuring states to see if high schools are producing seniors who are truly college and career ready. They calculated both a national average as well as state-by-state and school district-by-school district breakdowns. This presentation offered the report of their findings.

I will make two observations based on this report.

First, what we are doing now is evidently not working. The current SAT report sadly echoes the same tale that groups such as the ACT achievement test and the New York State Education Department have been telling for years, that students coming out of high school are not adequately prepared for success at college or in a career.

The data presented is shocking to this educator’s conscience. While the United States spends more than most industrialized countries on public education, our results are abysmal. According to the College Board, barely more than 39 percent of students taking the SAT in New York State are equipped to succeed in college or in a career. Nationally, the number is 43 percent, still less than half of the students taking the test.

The numbers for African-Americans and Hispanics are even more discouraging. According to the SAT, only 14.1 percent of New York’s African-American students are prepared to succeed in college or start a new job. Our Hispanic students perform a little better at 19.3 percent.

So, here comes the College Board with their benchmark on college and career readiness. Here is yet another organization—outside of public education—stating essentially that the Emperor has no clothes.

I would like to believe that with all the money we invest in New York State public education, that our students could excel on a test measuring college and career readiness; at least do better than the national average!

How unfortunate. More than half of the high school students looking forward to a college education (more like two-thirds of New York students) do not reach the benchmark indicating they are prepared to succeed at college or at a job.

My second observation is that the SAT has clearly embraced Common Core. Like it or not, if your school district is not using Common Core-aligned curriculum to prepare students, most will not get the SAT scores needed for admission to the college of their choice.

We presently have a public education system conceived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Much teaching still is done with students aligned in rows of desks, and many schools still run as if they are operating in the 1950s and 60s. This report, and others, illustrates the result of such thinking.

For more than a year, I have listened to the steady rant of people and groups objecting to the Common Core and any other attempt to reform public education.

As much as those leading the anti-common core charge would like us to think we should just do it like we used to do it, today’s reality demands change. Technology and progress are redefining the face of business and community life everywhere, and despite the nostalgia, the ways of the “good ol’ days” will not get our students where they need to go to succeed in today’s world.

Granted, the Common Core is not a panacea and, frankly, is already being outpaced by innovative educational reform around the world. However, Common Core is a step toward the goal, and those objecting have yet to produce a viable alternative.

So why is this important?

If you are fair-minded and look at the data coming in from all over the political spectrum and from both the SAT and the ACT, we can draw only one conclusion.

Because the existing public education system in New York State and the United States is not getting us to where we need to be, an effort to raise the standards so more students can be college and career ready is necessary. A coalition of states chose the Common Core as the strategy to achieve that end.

What is also important to point out is that both the SAT and the ACT have embraced the Common Core and that soon all children who take these gateway exams will be exposed to the standards that the Common Core represents.

So, here is the conundrum. The military, industry, higher education, government and now the SAT and the ACT are all saying we must raise standards and we need to teach differently. It is a matter of our standing in the world economy.

However, the only people not listening are the special interest groups in public education. What solution do they offer in the face of overwhelming evidence that the current system is failing?

Where is the comprehensive curriculum and reform ideas that will give our children a fighting chance in today’s global economy? Do the special interests actually believe that going backward to the good old days will better prepare children for the challenges of today’s world?

I see many groups putting an enormous amount of effort into getting more money to maintain their position in the pile. I wonder how much public education would improve if that same level of effort were applied to the real needs of students instead of the needs of adults protecting their turf.

What is most heartrending in this latest report is the fact that minority communities, those that are traditionally most underserved, are being manipulated by special interest groups to protect the status quo. Those most in need of a robust and successful public education system by all data indicators are the least served.

Most people in the education community will agree with me and say, “There’s nothing new in what you say, but what can be done?”

The difference now is that New York State’s Board of Regents is poised to select a new Commissioner of Education. The special interest groups, characterized by the Governor as “the Education Monopoly”, are lobbying hard for a pawn who will bog down forward-thinking change to protect their interests over what benefits the children.

Today is a significant moment of decision, and my sincere hope is that the Board of Regents will have the courage to choose a leader who will move us forward in the best interests of all students and their futures.

To read more from Dr. Michel, click here.

SFOS: TVHS students explore renewable resources with industry experts

Stories_schoolsTech Valley High School students saw the light last month as they worked with power industry experts in Environmental Analysis to explore renewable resources, including solar and wind power.

In a project called “Greening the Industrial Revolution,” students learn about renewable resources and about the difference between former industrial revolutions and the “Green Revolution” today in energy production. Students will present their findings through a model and a poster at an engineering design expo later in the school year.

This week, students designed wind turbine blades, model power grids and worked with photovoltaic panels alongside engineers from organizations that specialize in renewable resource management.

Working_on_Grid“These projects activate their interest on a different level. When you work with them hands-on, they get it and they want to learn more,” Glenn Van Knowe said. “Until kids can work with something, it’s just an abstraction.”

Van Knowe is a scientist whose company, MISO, Inc., forecasts weather for renewable resource generators and other industries. He worked with Tech Valley High School students to design and test wind turbine blades to see which design led to the greatest efficiencies.

Meanwhile, representatives of the New York Independent System Operator (ISO), which operates and maintains the state’s energy grid, worked with students to build model electrical grids that included model solar and wind power generators.

“It’s great working with experienced professionals. They do this for a living,” Seije Akera said. He and his group-mate Nicholas Miller were trying to balance the use of their different simulated power generators in order to feed their grid of model houses. “We’re trying to find the most efficient way to light them,” Miller said.

Nearby, another group was working to power their array of model houses.

“If we had put the panels closer together, it would have collected more light in this situation. In a real-world situation that wouldn’t matter, though,” Bennett Plowman said, explaining the differences between the model and conditions using full-scale solar panels while working on the model.

Bennett’s group-mate Michael Freese said hearing from representatives of the ISO and working with professionals to design and maintain their grid gave him a better grasp of how the power industry works.

“It definitely gave us a better understanding about the different kinds of energy we use and the different ways that can be used to produce it,” Freese said.

This story was submitted by Lucian McCarty, public information specialist for Tech Valley High School. 

SFOS: Mural project has students painting, learning

Stories_schoolsI spy… students painting, learning and having fun! A mural project underway at Queensbury Elementary School has students and art teachers turning curriculum into a game filled with grade-level specific artwork.

Elementary art teachers Jennifer Spath and Amanda Bengle designed the project, which began with a mural painted near the second-grade wing. This first mural (pictured at right) features images tied to curriculum and learning standards specific to second grade, but eventually all grades K-3 will have their own customized mural.

ispymural_g2_pink_300Each mural will be painted with an “I spy” theme in mind. Small chalk boards placed near the murals will give students new images to hunt for throughout the school year. This interactive, game aspect of the project is planned as a fun way to remind students about topics they have studied in the classroom.

Most students in grades 2-3 have had a chance to help fill in the second-grade mural images (pictured). Parents and grandparents can check out their progress by visiting the second-grade wing.

This story was submitted by Mellissa Braham, public information specialist for the Queensbury Central School District.