The Mayor called for immediate removal of the ban on using test data for making tenure decisions; elimination of the cap on the number of charter schools, raising pay for high-quality science, math and special education teachers; and making it easier to fire bad teachers. Some of the Mayor's ideas will require him standing firm on the collective bargaining negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers, especially as it relates to firing bad teachers sooner and higher pay differentials for science and other teachers in subjects with greater specialty and demand. But the state can be helpful here as well by relaxing laws protecting incompetent teachers and providing school district incentives to pay more for certain subject teachers.
New York Dithering as Deadline Approaches
Regarding the federal Race to the Top program, New York state has been dithering, to borrow a phrase. It takes several high-profile people to agree on policy for the state to have a competitive application for this funding. Yet the urgency for action was not apparent even though it was expected the state legislature was going to return to Albany in November. That would have been the time to make statutory changes that are now increasingly viewed as necessary, including by Mayor Bloomberg and it appears Secretary Duncan himself. Oh well, the legislature has come and gone, and Race to the Top was not on its radar and no one in the executive branch--Governor Paterson or Chancellor Tisch--tried putting it there.
The Post today is putting the spotlight on Chancellor Tisch, but she is not the only one, nor can she change any laws. In fact, the Regents are arguably an arm of the Assembly since they are effectively appointed by that legislative body. And, to be fair, Chancellor Tisch is showing leadership in reforming teacher training and has publicly expressed her support for charter schools. The Governor, Senate leadership and Assembly Speaker all must act in the next six weeks to make the kind of changes outlined by Mayor Bloomberg to have a better chance at serious federal money coming in spring -- just when we'll need it most.
The Elephant in the Room
Why this group-think on Race to the Top by New York's policymakers? I believe the elephant in the room is the teacher unions that wield enormous influence on the Board of Regents, at state Education Department and in both houses of the legislature. President Obama and his Education Department are encouraging reforms at the state level through Race to the Top that the unions typically hate, and probably would have no chance for enactment without this President willing to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars from Washington.
Ironically, it is the unions which also stand to gain with the new funding at stake in this competition. They should get out of the way of the Regents and legislature from moving quickly before mid-January to do what it takes to impress the Feds and get this funding. The kinds of changes necessary--raising the charter cap, removing the test ban and paying some science and other teachers more--won't exactly dismantle the union. What are they afraid of? It's just a little ed reform.
for The Chalkboard
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