Governor Andrew Cuomo, during his state of the state address and during recent follow-up interviews, labeled New York’s 2010 legislation for the Annual Professional Performance Reviews (APPR) of teachers as “a total failure.” He has indicated that he will be creating a commission on education reform and hinted at submitting a bill to the legislature that will overhaul the evaluation system.
At the same time, the U.S. Education Department released its report on New York’s progress in fulfilling its requirements for its Race to the Top (RTTT) education reform federal award of $696 million. New York, Florida, and Hawaii have been placed on a federal watch list and may lose RTTT funding if it does not show significant progress. Education Secretary Arne Duncan stated that New York has made some progress but has “hit a roadblock” in failing to put in place a planned database to track student records and failing to fulfill a promise to adopt a system to evaluate the work of teachers and principals using student achievement. He indicated that New York is at a crossroads in its RTTT education reform agenda. “New York has a chance to be a national leader, or a laggard, and we are only interested in supporting real courage and bold leadership.”
Within this same time frame, the Board of Regents was meeting in Albany and released a statement from Commissioner John King and Chancellor Meryl Tisch. They point out the progress that New York has made in implementing key RTTT aspects like the adoption of the Common Core learning standards, development of network teams for professional development, and the progress that has been made in developing statewide curricula and assessments aligned with the new standards. However, the joint statement also admits that the department has hit “significant bumps in the road” in regards to the development of data systems and finalizing a new APPR statewide system.
Blame for the delay in implementing the new APPR process can be placed on many parties. For the purpose of securing its share of RTTT funds, the department rushed an agreement with the teachers’ unions without consulting other important stake holders like school administrators, school boards, and parent groups. The legislature passed the bill without analyzing the actual ability and impact on 700 school districts to implement this new process. The teachers’ unions agreed on the bill with the department since it opened new areas of teacher collective bargaining agreements to negotiations, while limiting the portion of teacher evaluations based on student achievement as measured by statewide assessments to just 20 or 25 percent.
The governor proposed last minute changes to the implementing regulations that would strengthen the process, but were contradictory to specific provisions of the legislation. Even though the Board of Regents had posted its original draft regulations for over one month; nonetheless, the Board of Regents quickly approved the revised regulations with the governor’s amendments without sufficient time for public input and feedback.
New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) then sued the Board of Regents and the Commissioner over a limited number of provisions within the regulations. When NYSUT prevailed on its challenge, the department quickly announced that it would appeal the court’s determination. While the appeal is still pending, this chain of events has created a significant delay in implementing New York’s required APPR process. My entry on this blog from July 2011 describes the specific time line and series of events that has led New York to this roadblock on its APPR process and crossroads for RTTT funding.
While Governor Cuomo has been using some harsh language to describe New York’s current situation on APPR and hints at presenting a new bill that will address this matter by imposing a proper APPR process, the bottom line is that it takes a significant amount of time, energy, money, and teamwork to propose and implement meaningful education reform. Moreover, where evaluations were previously a management right, the legislation required that all of these changes be negotiated individually by each school district with the teacher negotiating teams, which is never a fast or easy process.
The new APPR law was passed in May 2010 and regulations were issued in April 2011. School districts, teachers, administrators, and other education stakeholders have been working diligently to implement the new law and regulations for grade 4 – 8 teachers and principals in English language arts and mathematics for the 2011 – 2012 school year. The lawsuit challenged just certain provisions of the regulations, not the entire APPR statute or regulations. It is the lawsuit and the appeal of that lawsuit that has dragged on and has caused undue delays in New York’s RTTT progress.
What is needed to address and resolve this situation is the same thing that I called for in the July item on this blog. The department and NYSUT need to work together to achieve an informal resolution to settle the outstanding lawsuit right now. Strong leadership on both sides will immediately allow New York to get back on track with the critical work that has already been achieved by our education stakeholders throughout New York.
Of course, there are bigger issues and problems with APPR and the 2010 law. The governor is correct to create a committee on education reform that will help steer the Board of Regents to move in a more meaningful and appropriate direction. But for the immediate concerns of implementing a new APPR system and fostering the work that has already been achieved in this area for the benefit of our students, the department and NYSUT need to resolve this lawsuit as quickly as possible. Today, New York is facing a real threat of lost federal funding – to the tune of almost $700 million – due in part to non-compliance of the continuously adopted and ever-changing teacher evaluation regulations, which will only serve to cause children to lose access to valuable resources.