Home Room, October 11, 2011

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011 at 4:08 pm by

In this post:

  • Commissioner on Twitter
  • Three BOCES leaders on school finance issues
  • Should ratings of teachers be made public?
  • More on bullying
  • Silver, Skelos, and DiNapoli on taxes

Commissioner on Twitter
State Education Commissioner John King is now on Twitter.  Follow him here, if you wish:  http://twitter.com/#!/JohnKingNYSED


Three BOCES leaders on school finance issues
Over the past week and a half, leaders of three BOCES have published columns on school finance issues in regional newspapers.

In Long Island’s Newsday, Gary Bixhorn, Chief Operating Officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES, writes, “More state aid is crucial to schools.”

In the Buffalo News, District Superintendent Michael Glover of the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership, writes “State funding system endangers rural school districts.”

In the Albany Times Union, Questar BOCES District Superintendent James Baldwin writes, “NY’s next task is to reduce school costs.”

Mr. Bixhorn observes that strong schools are a regional asset that sets Long Island apart.  He argues that new state and federal initiatives, including Race to the Top initiatives and the property tax cap, are eroding the local control that built those schools.  He calls on Long Islanders to “…work together to assure that the formulas used to allocate funds between the state’s schools recognize the needs of Long Island.”

Dr. Glover warns that many low wealth districts are in structural deficit and at risk of being unable to deliver the state constitution’s promise of a sound basic education.  He cites a national report calling New York’s system of school finance “highly regressive,… providing fewer resources to their high-poverty districts even though those districts serve many disadvantaged children with high levels of need.”

Dr. Baldwin says Governor Cuomo’s efforts have led the state a long way toward fiscal stability, and adds,   “School leaders are anxious to work with him and the Legislature to take on the expenses that, according to the Statewide School Finance Consortium, threaten to bankrupt hundreds of school districts over the next five years.”  He suggests a series of steps state leaders should take.

The tax cap compounds pressure on school budgets and that pressure will expose and and expand cracks within the public school community, between districts, regions and stakeholders.  Beyond their well-argued substantive points, the three columns also help illuminate some of those fault-lines.


Should ratings of teachers be made public
Sunday’s Syracuse Post-Standard carried a column asking, Should ratings of public school teachers be made public?

Ratings were published in Los Angeles last summer, and in New York State, courts at the first two levels have ruled in favor of releasing ratings in a New York City case. The City teacher union intends to challenge those rulings in the state’s highest court.

Robert Freeman, Executive Director of the Committee on Open Government says that the state’s Freedom of Information Law requires release, and adds, “What could be more important to the parent of a child than learning how well or poorly the child’s teacher is performing in the classroom?”

A spokesman for New York State United Teachers objects to releasing individual teacher ratings, including citing the prospect of “teacher shopping” — parents insisting that their child be assigned to the highest rated teacher.  Another concern is that ratings coming out of newly required evaluation procedures may not be reliable, at least at first.

A couple superintendents are quoted raising issues.  Jessica Cohen, District Superintendent of the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES, brings up what might be the biggest concern — that publicizing individual ratings could dissuade people interested in becoming teachers.

Dr. Cohen warns, “It would cause people to question whether or not they wanted to go into a profession where ratings which were not necessarily accurate were shared publicly.”

Rick Hess, an education scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, generally finds himself on the opposite side in policy debates with teacher union leaders.  But he has expressed reservations about publishing individual teacher evaluations,arguing,

…there’s a profound failure to recognize the difference between responsible management and public transparency. Transparency for public agencies entails knowing how their money is spent, how they’re faring, and expecting organizational leaders to report on organizational performance. It typically doesn’t entail reporting on how many traffic citations individual LAPD officers issued or what kind of performance review a National Guardsman was given by his commanding officer. Why? Because we recognize that these data are inevitably imperfect, limited measures and that using them sensibly requires judgment. Sensible judgment becomes much more difficult when decisions are made in the glare of the public eye.

I might agree with Mr. Freeman, the open government czar, on what the law requires now, but that is different than debating what the law should be.  I can be persuaded either way on whether ratings should be provided to parents — the details matter.

But I am uneasy with the idea of making all individual evaluations widely available. Is there a purpose, other than satisfying nosiness, served by allowing neighbors to look up the evaluation of a teacher down the street, when they have no children taught by that teacher, or perhaps no children at all?

The goal of the new evaluation structure is to raise the quality of teaching and leadership in our schools.  Would publicly releasing individual evaluations advance that goal?


More on bullying
Last week I reported on how a tragedy in Western New York has reignited debates about how to combat bullying, and especially cyber-bullying.

Since then,


Silver, Skelos, and DiNapoli on state revenues
Appearing on Capital Tonight, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver reiterated his support for extending the so-called “millionaire’s tax,” continuing higher personal income tax rates on taxpayers’ with incomes over $1 million.  He specifically cited increasing School Aid has one of the targets for the revenue that step would generate,

I would like to see an increase in education aid in this state…   I think school districts are hurting and students are suffering as a result in the terms of their educational opportunities.,

But appearing on an Albany-based radio program, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos re-stated his opposition to extending the tax:

“The Governor’s made himself very clear on that position. No new taxes, no new fees and I support the governor on that.”

Later, the host of that show New York Post Editor Fredric Dicker, declared,

Gov. Cuomo scored a major victory in his battle against a “millionaire’s tax’’ yesterday when Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the tax’s leading advocate, pledged not to hold up next year’s budget in order to get the measure approved.

Finally, today State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli warned of continuing job losses on Wall Street.  He noted securities related activities accounted for 14 percent of the state’s revenues last year, down from 20 percent before the financial crisis.

The Comptroller estimates that the securities industry lost 4,100 jobs between April and August 2011, and projects 10,000 additional jobs could be lost by the end of 2012.  He foresees profits for 2011 at New York Stock Exchange firms declining by 35 percent from a year ago.

Comptroller DiNapoli warns,

The industry’s current weakness has led OSC [Office of the State Comptroller] to estimate that Wall Street-related tax collections will fall short of City and State targets in their current fiscal years and that the shortfalls could be even greater next year. As Wall Street’s slowdown affects business and personal spending in the rest of the economy, overall tax collections will also weaken, widening the State and City budget gaps.

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