In order to qualify for federal Race to the Top funding, New York implemented teacher evaluations tied to the Common Core standards. The state’s teachers’ union fought back against the requirement that 20 percent of their members’ evaluations be tied to students’ progress on state exams, especially after there was a significant decline in the number of students passing the tests amid a hasty implementation of Common Core. A last-minute deal between the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo removed student performance on the Common Core tests from the ratings system for teachers who are rated “developing” or “ineffective” for two years, and directed that the scores could not be used against teachers in decisions about firing or tenure during that time period.
Since then, some student advocates have railed against the delay and the evaluation results themselves, which showed that only 1 percent of teachers, excluding New York City teachers, were rated “ineffective.” Critics have also argued that a system that found some districts without even a single teacher rated “ineffective” must be flawed. Advocates have called for changes to the teacher evaluation process to ensure honest and thorough assessments.
School officials have argued that even if the evaluation system is imperfect, schools are now paying more attention to professional development and teacher proficiency than in previous years.
Most recently, more problems have arisen surrounding the teacher evaluations because a month into the school year Cuomo has not yet signed the agreed-upon bill to amend the teacher evaluation system, leaving schools in limbo.
The 2014 Common Core test scores for grades 3–8 in English Language Arts and math released this past August reflected only slight gains from the prior year, but provided ample ammunition for opponents who are angry that only about one-third of students passed the tests. Education officials have said the initial drastic drop in test scores was to be expected because the state has raised its standards, but a number of parents are worried about what the scores will mean for their children. The state has delayed student accountability in regard to the tests until 2022. In addition, parents and education advocates remain concerned about the lack of flexibility in Common Core for English Language learners and special needs students. Education officials have repeatedly stressed that the rollout of Common Core will take time, and have said they will be working this year to reform parts of Common Core with ELLs and special needs students in mind.
Standardized testing has come under fire as well, an issue commonly confused with the new standards by Common Core critics. Parents have expressed apprehensions about the difficulty of the tests and the amount of time spent in the classroom “teaching for the test.”
The Common Core standards will undoubtedly continue to be a highly politicized issue going in to the 2015 legislative session, as several Republican candidates will appear on the “Stop Common Core” ballot line in November, including Republican gubernatorial nominee Rob Astorino, who has vowed if elected to repeal the standards.
After making a campaign promise to deliver free full-day prekindergarten to the city if elected, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio set a goal of enrolling 73,000 children by 2016. At the time only 20,000 students were enrolled in pre-K.
Included in the 2014–15 state budget was $294.5 million for pre-K programs in New York City and $45.5 million to be shared among districts across the rest of the state.
Last month the new school year opened with a little more than 53,000 children enrolled in prekindergarten, and the city boasted a 98.4 percent enrollment rate, but concerns about the quick implementation remain, with parents and school officials recalling the problems with the Common Core implementation.
On the first day of school in September, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said he had only received 186 of 570 pre-K contracts from the city Department of Education, and de Blasio at the last minute closed nine troubled pre-K programs and delayed the opening of three dozen others.
With such a huge undertaking, there are concerns over child safety, physical space for the classrooms and how best to ensure quality programs. Education officials have also warned that the programs should not become glorified day care. The state Education Department has approved learning standards that will be taught to prepare enrolled children for kindergarten. Time will tell how effective those measures turn out to be.
After a California Supreme Court judge ruled the state’s teacher protections unconstitutional, two similar lawsuits were filed in New York State in July. The lawsuits, one spearheaded by former CNN host Campbell Brown’s group Partnership for Educational Justice, claim that the hearing process to remove a tenured teacher, the three-year period for making tenure decisions and the “last in, first out” law, which mandates that the most recently hired teachers must be the first to be laid off in the event of cutbacks, all violate students’ rights to sound and basic education.
Teachers unions argued that tenure reforms made back in 2012 have already fixed many of the problems in the hearing process, and that teachers, due to their unique and important profession, need certain protections to ensure students get a solid education. For example, they argue the “last in, first out” law protects veteran teachers with high salaries from being targeted for termination as a consequence of the school budget process.
The cases are not expected to be heard in court until next year, but the continuing debate around the Common Core standards, testing and teacher evaluations will feature prominently in the upcoming cases and in public discussion and debate.