What’s in store for schools in president’s budget

As previewed in the State of the Union, President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget urges big investment for education.

Overall, the request increases the U.S. Department of Education budget by $1.7 billion or 2.5 percent, according to the federal education department.

The money wouldn’t go to formula aids like Title I. But the budget has a targeted focus on improving teacher quality, from grants for professional development and tenure reform, to money to improve college training programs.

Some of the highlights include:

  • $25 billion stimulus for states to prevent teacher layoffs
  • $30 billion for school buildings
  • $5 billion competitive-grant program for teacher quality initiatives (merit pay, tenure reform, professional development)
  • $2.5 billion for Effective Teachers and Leaders State grants
  •  $150 million for Investing in Innovation
  •  $850 million for Race to the Top
  • $2.5 billion Improving Teacher Quality State Grants program
  • $5 billion in competitive funding to support states reforms on teachers

To read the full summary, go to the federal education department website.

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Live chat with governor’s education secretary today

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Deputy Secretary for Education David Wakelyn will answer questions in a web chat this afternoon at 3 p.m.

You can submit questions for consideration at the Citizen Connects website.

I’ve posed two questions already on school performance grants and teacher evaluations. It’s my understanding that Wakelyn is working on the governor’s budget amendment that, if introduced, would put before the legislature a new teacher evaluation bill.

Cuomo gave the state education department and New York State United Teachers a month to work out a compromise on the existing law, over which NYSUT sued and won. The state is appealing but a decision might not come for weeks.

The one-month deadline is next Thursday at midnight. I’m interested to see what the governor’s proposal will look like, though my sources say it would offer less choice for districts (and teacher’s unions), instead opting for a more universal mandated system.

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School finance consortium details challenges of tax cap

Rick Timbs, director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, goes through some basic misconceptions about the 2 percent tax levy cap for school district and the upcoming budget votes.

The consortium is calling on the governor to put more money into basic aid for education and to change the funding formula for schools to level the playing field for all districts.

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Governor’s mandate relief council in Hudson Valley Feb. 28

The state Mandate Relief Council is traveling the state and will hold a public meeting in the Hudson Valley on Feb. 28.

No further details on the location were provided.

The Council was created by the governor and legislature to address costs facing local governments. Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy will host the public hearings. School administrators in the Hudson Valley have called for relief of mandates to help them grapple with the 2 percent tax levy cap without slashing essential programs.

Citizens and local government officials can also get involved at www.nygetinvolved.com.

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State ed. releases proposed NCLB waiver for comment

The New York State Education Department Tuesday released for public comment the draft waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The waiver makes some fundamental shifts in how schools will be held accountable in the future. For example, instead of the current standard of 100 percent proficiency for all students by 2014, the state would aim for halving the achievement gap between students within six years.

The Obama Administration is allowing states to apply for flexibility under the law in response to inaction by Congress to renew the law, which expired in 2007. In exchange for flexibility, states must create plans that adopt college and career-ready standards, support effective teaching and develop differentiated accountability standards.

Though a temporary measure, the state has indicated that it hopes state waivers from the law will influence the direction that Congress takes upon renewing No Child Left Behind (also referred to as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act).

Ira Schwartz, Assistant Commissioner of Accountability at the New York State Education Department, will offer an overview webinar at 11 a.m. , which will also be available in a recorded format online.

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State ed. and union in productive talks on teacher evaluation lawsuit

The state education department put out a press release on Friday saying that the New York State United Teachers and state education department are making progress toward a settlement on a teacher evaluation lawsuit.

In his state of the state address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged the two parties to resolve the issue within 30 days or he would insert a new teacher evaluation law into his budget amendment.

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Responses roll in on Cuomo’s budget proposals for schools

Education stakeholders are already weighing in on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget address on education. Cuomo proposed an $800 million increase in education funding, some of which will go to a competitive grants program, and said he would tie state aid increases to the district implementing a teacher evaluation system. He also called on the state education department and the New York State United Teachers to resolve a lawsuit within 30 days to give districts clarity on moving forward.

State Education Commissioner John King Jr.:

“The Governor is right to be frustrated. So far, there’s hasn’t been much progress. Earlier this month, I suspended School Improvement Grants because participating districts had failed to meet the deadline for acceptable agreements on evaluations. Now, the Governor has given SED and New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) 30 days to resolve this issue definitively. We should use those 30 days to have a healthy public debate on evaluations. We’re ready to sit down and start talking.”


Billy Easton, director of the Alliance for Quality Education:
“We commend Governor Cuomo for restoring $805 million in school aid; these funds will help students throughout the state.  The exact distribution of these funds and how much is prioritized to high need and average need school districts will take a few days to evaluate. We are greatly concerned that almost one-third of these funds could be distributed based on competition between school districts which has the potential to create a system of educational winners and losers among our students.”

New York State School Boards Association on Twitter

“We appreciate that @nygovcuomo is honoring his commitment to increase education aid by 4 percent.”

“We’re concerned about the amount of state ed aid tied to competitive grants. We’d like to see districts get more flexibility.”

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Who’s to blame for teacher evaluation delays?

The New York Post has joined the voices accusing the teachers union of risking $700 million in Race to the Top fund and blocking meaningful education reform.

In an editorial, the Post lays the blame squarely at the feet of New York State United Teachers. In my column Wednesday, I spelled out how Gov. Andrew Cuomo also had his role to play in prompting NYSUT’s lawsuit, which is causing confusion in districts that are on a timeline to implement the law.

The Post says NYSUT is opposed to “a meaningful teacher-evaluation system,” which is simply wrong. In fact, if you talk to researchers, you could argue that they’re the ones backing a system that would result in meaningful evaluations for teachers, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo argued last year for a system that could very well unfairly judge good teachers as ineffective.

The union sued the state (delaying RTTT reforms) because the regulations passed by the state education commissioner at the urging of Cuomo. They created a system in which up to 40 percent of a teachers evaluation could be determined by a state test.

When the Regents passed these regulations, 10 prominent education researchers wrote to the state  cautioning about putting too much emphasis on one test. They said (as much other research has shown) that there are still unknowns, margins of error and unsolved problems with assessing teachers using tests scores.

“… the research literature includes many cautions about the problems of basing teacher evaluations on student test scores. These include problems of attributing student gains to specific teachers; concerns about overemphasis on “teaching to the test” at the expense of other kinds of learning; and disincentives for teachers to serve high-need students, for example, those who do not yet speak English and those who have special education needs.”

Basically allowing up to 40 percent of an evaluation to be based on a test could result in the inappropriate firing of good teachers, which would be bad for kids.

Cuomo is sure to keep repeating his assertion that the unions are the problem. And, the unions will say they are fighting for a research-based solution that will improve our schools. Of course, in this case, that solution also happens to help teachers keep their jobs.

A judge, for one, agreed with NYSUT, saying that the regulations were not in keeping with the 2010 law.  As NYSUT pointed out this week, education commissioner John King’s could negotiating a settlement to the suit but is instead appealing.

King does believes in multiple-measures of evaluation (meaning not just relying on test scores). As he told me in an interview, “I think the research community, if one looks at the broader body of research, there’s very strong evidence that measures of student success are a very useful component of a multiple measures evaluation system.”

I urged in my column a spirit of collaboration in resolving this issue, but it seems that for now the blame game is continuing.

(For anyone interested in knowing more about the Post’s accusations about the Alliance for Quality Education: NYSUT does financially back AQE, but its director and NYSUT have always maintained that the two are separate organizations. The organizations cross-streams on some policy issues, especially when it comes to more funding for public schools. In early 2011 NYSUT paid about 3/4 of AQE’s lobbying fees, according to a Times Union article. Easton told the paper that overall, including other activities, NYSUT contributes less than half of his budget, and AQE’s biggest donor is the Schott Foundation.)



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School finance expert: Research shows money matters in education

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed himself the students’ lobbyist for New York state. A policy paper released Friday suggests that if Cuomo wants to improve students outcomes, he’s going to have to increase funding to education.

The Albert Shanker Institute released “Revisiting the Age-Old Question: Does Money Matter in Education?” In the paper, school finance expert and Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker assessed the body of empirical research on spending in education.

His conclusion: Political rhetoric justifying large education funding cuts, saying cuts won’t harm education quality, have little basis in research.

To show the heightening echo chamber on this rhetoric, Baker quotes Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Baker says: “The political message has gone several steps beyond questioning whether or not a systematic relationship exists between funding and school quality – a classic research framing of the issue – to bold assertions that we now know, with certainty, that money doesn’t matter and that the path to school improvement can be accomplished despite – or even because of – reductions in spending.”

But, in reviewing dozens of studies, Baker found:

  • On balance, in direct tests of the relationship between financial resources and student outcomes, money matters.
  • Numerous studies show teachers’ wages affect the quality of those who choose the profession and whether they stay
  • Ample research indicates that children in smaller classes (which costs more money) achieve better outcomes
  • Several studies provide compelling evidence of the potential positive effects of school finance reform (redistributing money among wealthy and poor districts)

“It is certainly reasonable to acknowledge that money, by itself, is not a comprehensive solution for improving school quality. Clearly, money can be spent poorly and have limited influence on school quality. Or, money can be spent well and have substantive positive influence. But money that’s not there can’t do either. The available evidence leaves little doubt: Sufficient financial resources are a necessary underlying condition for providing quality education.”

Read the full study here.

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New York not among early learning Race to the Top winners

The federal education department Friday announced the nine winners of an early learning iteration of Race to the Top and New York was not among them.

New York asked for $100 million to expand its QUALITYStarsNY tool, which rates early childhood learning programs. The state also wants to provide early childhood providers with professional development.

The feds had $500 million to award, and they made the decisions based on the quality of applications and availability of money. The winning states are:  California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington.

Grant scoring will be posted online later Friday.

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