Will the Feds RttT Evaluators Grade on Promises?
Other reform areas are not nearly as sanguine. The Chancellor continues to insist that New York will meet Race to the Top eligibility requirements even though it has a law on the books banning the use of student test data for making tenure determinations. This "data firewall" is set to expire in June and the state legislature has "no appetite," according to Tisch, to renew the statute. Fine. It is from private conversations with U.S. Department of Education officials that she, along with state teacher union president, Richard Iannuzzi, are so confident of the state's eligibility. I do not doubt either one's veracity on this question.
Still, any evaluator of the state's Race to the Top application this winter must weigh the promise that the legislature in New York will actually not renew an expiring law in months hence, and therefore make an award determination before this law expires. A federal evaluator knowing this law's history in New York may have further pause.
New York's statute banning the use of test scores, let us recall, was furtively and brazenly jammed through the legislature last year at the behest of the powerful teachers union at the last minute before state budget adoption. The brazen part came from the fact that this law undid a reform of Gov. Spitzer's enacted the year before, in 2007. The union wasted no time undoing this measure by imposing the ban not three weeks following Spitzer's resignation.
Another mention from Chancellor Tisch is that the cap on the number of charter schools in New York will be raised, as she assured her audience at TC and at other forums. It's encouraging that the Chancellor has this position, but how confident can one be on this hot-button issue? The state Assembly has never been enthusiastic about charter schools, even though tens of thousands of constituent families either benefit from them or have their children on waiting lists hoping for them. The risk of losing hundreds of millions of extra dollars from Washington perhaps will allow enough Assembly Members to shelve their antipathy. Perhaps not.
Real or Potemkin Charter Cap Lift?
The problem is that not all cap-lifts are the same. In 2007, for example, the Assembly proposed its version of a charter cap lift accompanied by more than a dozen poison pills that would have rendered New York's charter law an unworkable joke and a farce. In the end, most of these inimical proposals fell off the table, the cap was doubled, and the state's charter law remained intact for more successful public schools to be created.
New York's charter cap and data firewall should be dealt with now -- before the state submits its Race to the Top application on the 19th of January. The legislature can accomplish these necessary changes rapidly and cleanly. This is not complicated or unfamiliar territory. It need not take months--and more months--to accomplish.
Failure to act on these provisions would make some of New York's RttT application built on promises of future action, rather than reforms already achieved. This strategy is not putting our best foot forward, to say the least. Chancellor Tisch claims that New York will have a "very competitive" application; in fact, it will contain unnecessary vulnerabilities that will forego needed points on the USDOE's scoring rubric. There is no educational excuse for the Regents and legislature to not eliminate these barriers in the next six weeks.
There are only political reasons for failing to do so. That is no excuse, and is unlikely to garner empathy from the Obama Administration that seeks to transform public education.
for The Chalkboard
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