Friday Wrap-Up — April 13, 2012

Friday, April 13th, 2012 at 1:44 pm by

The debate over teacher evaluations continued to be the most discussed issue in state education policy this week.

Also, it was “Kids Speak Week” at the Education Speaks blog – students supplied essays and videos on how budgeting decisions were affecting their schools.

Teacher issues
Several newspapers ran editorials on whether individual teacher evaluations should be released, either only to parents, or to the public at large.

The Auburn Citizen concludes, “Public has the right to see teacher evaluations” but cites an erroneous understanding of how current state law applies to other public employee evaluations.

Several commentators have blithely asserted the public has a right to see teacher evaluations, without offering any thoughts why or considering any possible detrimental trade-offs for students from doing so, such as those Bill Gates has identified.

The Kingston Freeman does suggest one possible benefit from disclosing evaluations:

Only by making evaluations public will there be continued pressure to improve both the reliability of the measures and the most important thing of all being measured, which is the learning of our children.

But there are other means to improve evaluations, including State Education Department reviews, as called for in the new state law, or publishing aggregate school or district counts of teachers by performance levels to spotlight suspicious outliers.

Newsday argues the state has been having, “Wrong debate on teacher evals,”arguing over whether to publish the evaluations, rather than how to make them as effective as possible.

Newsday concludes,

One key to the success of teacher evaluations is making certain the standardized testing we’re soon supposed to be applying to teachers doesn’t have a miserably high margin of error. Agreeing to publicize those scores may convince the teachers unions to protect their members by helping develop a great system, rather than fighting implementation.

Whatever our disagreements with New York State United Teachers over the years, they have demonstrated a long-running interest in the soundness of state testing practices.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports full release.  The Wall Street Journal explains,

Mr. Bloomberg, whose schools policies are grounded in competition, said making teacher rankings public as the city did earlier this year will “provide pressure to constantly upgrade.”

Meanwhile legislative discussions reportedly have focused on how to make evaluation results available to parents but not the public at large.

Newsday explained,

Autopsies are the only public document for which access is limited to a subset of society, but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state legislative leaders are trying to walk a tricky legal line in trying to create similar limitations on who can have teacher evaluations, experts said Wednesday…

Even if lawmakers devise a way to allow parents alone to see the records — the same way only the next of kin has a right to an autopsy — there’s seemingly no way they can prohibit parents from disseminating them to other parents or PTA groups, or from posting them on the Internet, said Robert Freeman, head of the state Committee on Open Government and a specialist on the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

Newsday added,

Cuomo himself seems to have yet to reach a conclusion. “I understand the initial, knee-jerk, ‘reveal everything, just put it on a website’ view,” Cuomo said in a radio interview Wednesday. “But this is a relatively new topic: What should the disclosure policy be for public employees?”

The governor indicated no solution was at hand, saying, “It’s a conversation we’ll have over the next few months.”

Cuomo said the notion of making it a criminal offense for parents to disseminate the teacher evaluations was “absurd,” but speculated whether there was a way to supply the “data in a way that doesn’t reveal the names.”

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) has said he wants no restrictions on the public release of teachers’ evaluations. But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said last week that he favored a “method by which parents can know how a particular teacher or a particular grade performs” and added “that doesn’t mean that some newspaper can have a picture of a teacher with their evaluation.”

In other news…

Finance items
It was “Kids Speak Week” at the Education Speaks blog launched by Capital Region BOCES.  Each day, the blog posted compelling essays and videos prepared by students on their schools, their lives, and how local budgeting decisions are affecting both.

An editorial in the Albany Times Union warned about the “The hidden cost of school budgets,” and said, “The state needs to watch upcoming school budget votes to see if a new tax cap is widening the disparity between rich and poor districts.”

The New York Times explained management and labor perspectives on the Triborough law and how it allows public employees to continue to receive “step increases” for additional years of service while working under an expired collective bargaining agreement.

In an editorial, the Journal News (serving the lower Hudson Valley) commended the Governor and legislature for approving a new lower cost tier in state retirement systems last month.  But the paper also warned that retirement security for private sector workers demands attention.

Citing Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research, the Journal News wrote,

The center’s new National Retirement Risk Index found that the post-employment landscape is “shifting dramatically, making the outlook for retiring Baby Boomers and Generation Xers far less sanguine than for current retirees.”

Writing in Bloomberg Business Week, a Duke University professor argues, “U.S. Schools Are Still Ahead—Way Ahead.”

He contends, “The independence and social skills American children develop give them a huge advantage when they join the workforce. They learn to experiment, challenge norms, and take risks. They can think for themselves, and they can innovate. This is why America remains the world leader in innovation.”

Governor Cuomo made news this week by:

…receiving an all-time performance rating in a new Siena Research Institute poll; 63 percent of voters gave him a positive job performance rating;

…issuing a news release announcing the request for proposals for the new School District Management Efficiency Grants

…vetoing 122 items in the state budget totaling $640,000, as well as several reappropriations of unspent education funding items from past state budgets.

The Governor said the vetoed items were reprogrammed funds from past budgets and thus amounted to new legislative member items, something he said would not be included in this year’s state budget.

Here is a Buffalo News article on the vetoes.

Following-up on an item we covered last week, the New York Post reports,

Groups backing charter schools, vouchers, merit pay for teachers and limits on teacher tenure plan to unite under a new, statewide supergroup, The Post has learned.

The New York State Education Reform Council will include the new StudentsFirstNY — which has hired away Mayor Bloomberg’s Albany lobbyist — Democrats for Education Reform, and charter-school-advocacy and upstate organizations.

In a television interview today, New York State United Teachers president Richard Iannuzzi said his union is withholding all campaign contributions as it reassesses its endorsement decisions.

State of Politics blog explains that Mr. Iannuzzi said,

 …we are hearing – from our leaders and our members that the level of anger and distrust is at the highest point it’s certainly ever been in my seven years here as NYSUT president. So, with that in mind we have said let’s stop business as usual and let’s be sure we can take their pulse before we make any decisions…Unquestionably starting with the governor.”

Finally, this week State Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari (D-Cohoes) announced he will not seek re-election.

Mr. Canestrari has been the highest ranking upstate in the Assembly’s Democratic leadership.  He has been a friend to schools and the Council.  We thank him for his years of dedicated service.


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