Wednesday, January 21, 2015

NYS #SOTS2015: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Education-wise

I listened only to the education portion of the State of the State on my way to a meeting at TST. I'll have to listen to a rebroadcast or read a transcript to catch everything, but here are my first impressions.

The Good includes expanding pre-K to cover three-year-olds, although the amount of money attached is minimal. I'm not nearly as miserable as I expected to be with the charter plan, because it's vague and broad and actually requires charters to stop "creaming" (yeah, he said that), AKA skimming off the top kids and leaving behind English language learners, children with disabilities, etc.—and then using that creamy population to make wild claims about their own effectiveness. Adding 100 charters to the cap, when the original cap has yet even to be reached, does not distress me overmuch. And hooray for the Dream Act! Oh, and calling the current teacher evaluation plans "baloney" is actually rather kind. And I am in favor of expediting the 3020a disciplinary process for questionable teachers. And yeah, people who want to be teachers should be able to pass a literacy test, but it's not really clear what the State plans to do about the fact that one-third cannot.

The Bad includes his usual blather about how throwing money at the problem doesn't help. He talked about the division between rich and poor as though money were somehow not an issue. He wants to use the MA model for failing schools—having them taken over by not-for-profits, other districts, or turnaround experts. Not sure how it's working out in MA, and in fact, it may be too soon to tell. But I remember Edison Schools (NOT a nonprofit organization) and what a mess THAT was. It did earn founder Chris Whittle a nice little place in East Hampton, and he somehow survived, but it was a scandal and hurt more kids than it helped. And when the governor talks about the Bureaucracy of Education, I am not sure who's involved. Just the unions? Administration and unions? Organizations like NYSSBA and NYSCOSS? The Regents? Whoever it is, he just hates it. It would be nice to have a definition.

The Ugly Well, the part that will cause the greatest uproar will be the laser-like focus on teachers. Scrapping the evaluative APPR, which took so long to negotiate, and replacing it with 50% state tests and 50% classroom observations will make the unions see red. So will extending tenure to five years of effective or highly effective ratings. So will assuming that teachers booted for ineffective ratings are guilty until proven innocent—he wants them to prove their scores were invalid or get out. And here's a question: How does a school predict how many "highly effective" teachers they will have in a given year so that they can budget those $20K bonuses accordingly?

Strangely omitted from the speech: Anything on consolidation, which was his Big Thing in years past. Anything about the new Pathways to Graduation. Anything about supporting schools that are engulfed by onrushes of immigrant children. Anything on equity.

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