National Affiliates’ Suggestions on ESEA Reauthorization

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On behalf of the nation’s 115,500 elementary, middle, and high school principals, assistant principals, and other school leaders, the American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA), National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)  …

Read the letter here:

National Affiliates on ESEA Reauthorization

Testimony at Senate Ed Hearing on Assessments

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“Testing is increasingly viewed as a way to measure teacher effectiveness.  Even advocates of this approach will admit that one cannot learn anything about a teacher’s style, lesson planning, curriculum outline, rapport with students, or instructional effectiveness from their students’ test scores.  The test scores tell you nothing about pedagogy.  Let me repeat, test scores tell you nothing about pedagogy.”

– Paul Gasparini, SAANYS 2012 High School Principal of the Year, testifying on SAANYS’ behalf

Read full testimony at http://www.saanys.org/viewarticle.asp?id=3383

NY Gets NCLB Waiver

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New York State has just been awarded an NCLB waiver from the US Department of Education. Here’s some info from the US Dept of Ed press release:

The Obama administration approved eight additional states for flexibility from key provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in exchange for state-developed plans to prepare all students for college and career, focus aid on the neediest students, and support effective teaching and leadership. Today’s announcement brings the number of states with waivers to 19. Eighteen additional applications are still under review. …  “These eight additional states are getting more flexibility with federal funds and relief from NCLB’s one-size-fits-all federal mandates in order to develop locally-tailored solutions to meet their unique educational challenges,” Duncan said.

Duncan pointed out that many of the new state-created accountability systems capture more students at risk, including low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners, adding, “States must show they are protecting children in order to get flexibility. These states met that bar.”

Also see this Education Week article for a brief analysis: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2012/05/eight_more_states_get_esea_wai.html

Be Careful What You Ask For – Executive Viewpoint by Kevin Casey

I look forward to the day when I do not feel compelled to write about APPR. It’s a topic that is emotionally charged, and which produces strong feelings in many. In a way it has also come to be symbolic of larger issues – the role of charter schools in public education; the extent of collective bargaining in public education; local control v. state or even federal control of education; and thus, teacher and principal evaluations have attracted the attention of state and national figures. Remember the good old days when evaluations used to be simply a local matter?

I recognize that there is a school of thought that believes that evaluation systems are too important to be left to the local level, but what I find troubling is what I believe to be a common premise that local evaluation systems are necessarily ineffective, or worse, purposefully designed to protect educators regardless of competence. Even if true in some isolated instances, I believe such a premise is largely untrue, and strikes me as patronizing.
Nevertheless, despite the complexity of an ever-evolving APPR process, Secretary of Education Duncan is threatening to require New York State to return the RTTT money unless it lives up to the promises in its RTTT application, which includes the implementation of the new APPR system this school year (for 4-8 ELA and math teachers and their principals). Similarly, Commissioner King has held up funding for the SIG schools unless those schools submit APPR plans that are not merely compliant with statute and regulation, but also acceptable to SED. Moreover, Governor Cuomo stated that if NYSUT and SED do not settle their litigation he will impose his own system through his significant budgetary authority. Whether or not a settlement occurs, the governor has threatened to withhold state aid increases if an approved (by SED) evaluation plan is not implemented by January 2013. This is what it has come to – a series of threats. To each I would caution to be careful of what you ask for, as you just might get it.

I consistently hear and read comments of regret from superintendents and board of education members when discussing participation in the RTTT program. The burdens outweigh the benefits, which are uncertain, and the costs exceed the grant income. If Secretary Duncan were to get his money back he would lose his leverage over education policy in New York State, and few districts would be interested in pursuing RTTT again. Having the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I also suspect the state legislature would not again jam through a secretly negotiated evaluation law without first exposing it to the typical legislative vetting process.

I take Commissioner King at his word when he says he will not release SIG money to those grant recipients who do not adhere to grant requirements, but let’s not be naïve. If the commissioner withholds money from some of our neediest districts because those districts did not timely implement an evaluation system, which details have been doled out in increments (e.g., approved rubrics; SLOs in November) and successfully (to date) challenged in court, he will likely be blamed for hurting children in those needy districts as they reduce staffing and programs to face their new fiscal reality. If however, the SIG schools satisfy SED with their evaluation plans, then SED, and by extension Commissioner King, will own a piece of those plans for better or for worse.

If Governor Cuomo chooses to impose an evaluation system, then he will own the results. Recent experience tells us that the subject matter is extraordinarily variable and complex, and seems especially ill-suited for those without years of classroom and building experience. Imposing an untested system seems more likely to fail than succeed, but it will take a few years before we can make informed judgments.

The January 12, 2012 edition of Education Week (Vol. 31; No. 16) reports in some detail the Quality Counts Report of K-12 education nationwide. In overall scoring, New York ranks third in the nation (see story on page one). That’s not a figure you hear too often in current public debate, but one which I believe will be looked upon as a point of comparison after implementation of a new evaluation procedure, regardless of who owns it.

A Lesson Learned?

By Kevin Casey, SAANYS Executive Director

Anyone familiar with the APPR can point to numerous practical difficulties
in its implementation, untested assumptions in its premise, and a slew of
unfunded or under-funded mandates imposed upon districts at a time when
districts are suffering unprecedented financial stress. It is beyond the
scope and intent of this column to cite all of the problems informed
educators can identify in the APPR law. Instead, especially since current
litigation has put the legality of many of the critical implementing
regulations in doubt, it seems appropriate to slow down and reflect upon
where we are now, and if we should adjust some of our implementation goals.
We can readily draw parallels with the NCLB implementation.

When NCLB was introduced, many educators said that the inexorable graduated
climb to the academic nirvana of 100 percent proficiency of all students in
all districts (including all sub-groups) was a fallacy. Politically, it was
easier to say every child would be proficient than to say 100 percent
proficiency is not a realistic goal. It was overly simplistic posturing. The
hard truth is that we don’t know how to make every child proficient, for if
we did, well-meaning educators would not need the threat of sanctions to
implement an educational plan that would serve all children well. Good
politics trumped realistic analysis and the law was implemented.

As we move closer to the date when 100 percent proficiency is supposed to be
attained, the politicians realize they need to backpedal. Absent statutory
and regulatory change, the number of schools that will fall into
accountability status is about to explode because AYP is no longer
realistically attainable for most. For many, sanctions will be triggered,
such as mandatory school choice, 20 percent SES set-aside and Title I
penalties. We are now hearing about NCLB waiver applications from the states
being accepted by the United States Department of Education. The cynical
part of me characterizes this as a solicitation by the feds for political
cover of their earlier folly.

I think there is a lesson here for the hurried implementation of an
evaluation system that is clearly unsettled. The APPR law says it is to
begin to be applied in the 2011-12 school year, but also says it is subject
to collective bargaining in many critical areas. Current bargaining efforts
are stymied because the legality of the implementing regulations are
unsettled. On the state law side, let the bargaining process run its course
once it is known what may be bargained. As for New York’s RTTT plan for
submission to the feds, follow Delaware’s lead and apply for a one-year
extension of the APPR component of the RTTT plan. Delaware’s application was
granted. Could it be that the DOE (or the politicians) learned a lesson from
the NCLB implementation?  One can only hope.

For Sale

We have entered a time in education when the line between public and private education is blurring, and the influence of moneyed interests is increasing. The primary drivers of this melding of public and private education are economic and philosophical. On the economic side, state aid to education has been reduced, a tax cap has been imposed, health insurance and pension obligations continue to rise, and in its haste to obtain highly conditioned federal RTTT dollars, the state legislature hurriedly passed an evaluation law so full of mandates that it costs most RTTT participating districts far more than what they will receive. For districts not participating in the RTTT, it is just all cost.
Fiscal uncertainty also emanates from Washington, D.C. The nature and extent of the federal spending cuts agreed to as part of the recent debt ceiling deal are unknown, but won’t be good. It is estimated that the automatic cuts that will go into effect if further cuts are not agreed upon will reduce federal funding to the U.S. Department of Education by $3 billion a year above and beyond the initial cuts.

The philosophical drivers are from many sources, but are commonly grouped together under the umbrella banner of the “education reform movement.” This movement includes any number of well-financed foundations (Gates, Walton, Broad, Wallace…), businesses, politicians, charter school advocates, individual philanthropists, as well as those such as New York City Mayor Bloomberg, who may fall into multiple categories.

The motives of those philosophically opposed to the status quo presumably are diverse, ranging from a heartfelt desire to do good to a pure profit motive, but there is no reasonable denial of their impact. They manifest themselves in many ways, some of which seem a little too cozy. Consider the
following:

1) Wireless Generation, a company that has worked with the New York City school system in the past, has a current $1.5 million no-bid contract with the New York City schools. Just this past June, Wireless Generation was set to receive a $27 million no-bid contract from the State Education Department to be funded from RTTT money until the state comptroller stepped in. Wireless Generation is owned by Robert Murdoch’s News Corp., which in turn employs Joel Klein, former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education as the CEO of its education division.
2) In February, the regents approved the Relay School of Education, the first new education school it has approved in 80 years, to train teachers in a non-traditional manner. The Relay School grew out of Teacher U, a partnership between three charter school management companies and Hunter
College, whose dean of education is David Steiner, formerly the New York State commissioner of education.
3) Despite the RTTT dollars, the January Regents exams were on the chopping block until Mayor Bloomberg and several anonymous donors contributed enough money to finance some of the exams this January. While our state education department gleefully announces receipt of a federal grant in excess of $28 million to provide incentives for new charter schools, the students who need the administration of the January regents are dependent upon the goodwill of Mayor Bloomberg and his friends. Excuse me if I decline to celebrate the re-direction to charter schools of more public education dollars.

4) The Regents Research Foundation, funded by many of the private foundations mentioned above, as well as by the Tisch family and the National Association of Charter School Administrators, has privately hired research fellows to “advise” the commissioner. The eleven research fellows together have one year of principalship experience and ten years of teaching experience. They essen-tially act as shadow senior SED staff, playing a central role in policy development. I do not know who they report to.

It truly seems as if public education is being hijacked right in front of our eyes. It is being purchased by those few with the financial resources to do so. If the legislature won’t intervene by providing adequate funding for public education, and a majority of the Board of Regents is willing to allow the increasing influence of those who can afford to purchase it (at the expense of the Regents’ own influence and authority), then the blurring of private and public education will continue, and we can only hope that the motives of the buyers are not profit driven.

Support for “Finding Common Ground”

We were excited to hear that SAANYS member Peter DeWitt has been selected to write a blog for Education Week entitled, “Finding Common Ground.” Based on his opening quote, I think we’re in for a thoughtful and honest discussion about schools and our kids. More at: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/finding_common_ground/

“Everyone should have at least one time in their life when they feel chosen, wanted, held up for some kind of special treatment. The times are rare, life is short, others have only a given amount of real need and generosity. It is good to be philosophical when we are not chosen, but it is a vital, precious, almost scintillating thing to be young, to be excited, to be wanted specifically for some task, and to feel a possible dream is on the edge of fulfillment. It is vital for there to be an experience of morning in our lives and for this experience to be called on in the memory of other, more difficult mornings to come. There is no mercy in this world if at least once in our lives we do not feel the privilege of being wanted where we also want to be wanted.”

—David Whyte, “Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity”