An outline of education reform proposals in budget

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Budget bills are stacked on a cart before being distributed in the Assembly Chamber. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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ALBANY—The final budget bill containing education funding and policy, introduced on Tuesday afternoon, included modified versions of many of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s original reform proposals, including an overhauled teacher evaluation system.

The bill passed late Tuesday, after hours of debate

The following is an outline of what’s in the bill, by topic.

TEACHER EVALUATIONS:

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A new teacher evaluation system will be based on two components: student performance on state exams and observations. It will be based on the same scale as the current system: “ineffective,” “developing,” “effective” and “highly effective.”

The component that's based on student performance on state exams includes a mandatory state test and an optional one.

Educators who teach English and math to third through eighth graders will be evaluated based partially on the federally required state tests in those grades and subjects. Similarly, those who teach high school classes that culminate in Regents exams will be evaluated based on those state tests.

Teachers won't be evaluated based on students' absolute performance; rather, the state will develop “growth scores” based on the exams that measure how much students improve from one year to the next. In the past, the state has weighted these scores for some factors, like in the cases of teachers whose students live in poverty, have disabilities or speak English as a second language, for example.

Teachers whose courses don’t end in state exams will be evaluated based on “student learning objectives,” or expectations of what students will learn in a year, which will be developed by the state.

Districts may also choose to include an optional second “state-designed” standardized test, according to the bill.

The budget describes the following as eligible options for the second test: “state tests or assessments developed or designed by the state education department, or that the state education department purchased or acquired from another state; an institution of higher education; or a commercial or not-for-profit entity.” Tests designed or acquired by local school districts may be used if they are approved by the state.

For the observation component of the evaluation, there will be two required observations and one optional one.

The required observations will be performed by a principal or administrator and an “independent” evaluator, who can be a principal or administrator from another school within the district or another district.

Districts will have the option to also include an additional observation performed by an educator's peer within or outside the school or district, as long as the peer has been rated “effective” or “highly effective.”

The state education department “shall determine the weights and scoring ranges” and “set parameters for appropriate targets for student growth” for the required and optional components and subcomponents of the rating system.

However, there are certain rules prescribed in law that determine the overall scores that teachers can receive depending on their scores on the two components.

For example, if teachers earn an “ineffective” rating based on student performance on the required state test, they may not earn “effective” or “highly effective” overall, according to the bill.

If teachers use both the required and optional tests, and their combined score based on student performance on the tests is “ineffective,” they must be rated “ineffective” overall.

Teachers who are rated “ineffective” on the observation category may not get “effective” or “highly effective” ratings overall.

Districts may no longer consider the following in determining educators’ evaluations: lesson plans, student portfolios (with some exceptions) and student or parent feedback surveys.

Districts must negotiate the optional components of the evaluations with their local unions, submit their plans and obtain state approval by Nov. 15, or they will lose an increase in state aid, according to the bill.

“No school district shall be eligible for an apportionment of general support for public schools from the funds appropriated for the 2015-2016 school year and any year thereafter in excess of the amount apportioned to such school district in the respective base year unless such school district has submitted documentation that has been approved by the commissioner by November fifteenth, two thousand fifteen,” the bill says.

The bill says students may not be instructed by two “ineffective” teachers in consecutive years. If that requirement is “impracticable,” districts may apply for a waiver from the state.

TEACHER TENURE:

Before teachers and principals may be offered tenure, they’ll serve a probationary period of four years, instead of the current three years, and they must earn “effective” or “highly effective” ratings for three of the four years. Educators who earn an “ineffective” rating during the fourth year may not be offered tenure, but they may be offered an additional probationary year.

Teachers who have received tenure in another school district who weren’t fired for poor performance will serve a three-year probationary period.

Teachers who have successfully held substitute teaching positions at the school for two years will serve a two-year probationary period.

Educators may be fired at any time during their probationary periods.

TEACHER DISCIPLINE:

Teachers or principals who earn two consecutive “ineffective” ratings may be brought up on charges of incompetence by their school boards and would have to provide “clear and convincing evidence” in order to avoid being fired. The decision must be made within 90 days of the charges being initiated.

Educators who earn three consecutive “ineffective” ratings must be brought up on charges of incompetence and could argue only “fraud” as a defense. “Fraud” includes mistaken identity. The decision must be made within 30 days.

“The employee may be suspended pending a hearing on the charges and the final determination thereof, and such suspension shall be with pay,” the bill says.

Disciplinary hearings will be conducted by a single hearing officer.

When teachers are brought up on misconduct charges of physical or sexual abuse of students, they may be suspended without pay pending an expedited hearing.

RECEIVERSHIP:

Schools whose performance falls in the lowest 5 percent in the state for three consecutive years will be designated “failing schools” under the budget. Schools with 10 years of low performance will be called “persistently failing schools.” Special act school districts, which serve students with severe behavioral problems, are exempted.

“Persistently failing schools” will have one year to implement “a comprehensive education plan … that includes rigorous performance metrics and goals,” which has to be approved by the state. “Failing schools” will have two years.

When the one-year or two-year periods expire, the education department will conduct a performance review of the schools. If the schools show “demonstrable improvement” based on their turnaround plans, they will remain under local control, and their performance will continue to be reviewed annually.

If the schools do not improve, a receiver will be appointed for a period of no more than three years to “manage and operate all aspects of the school and to develop and implement a school intervention plan.” The district has the ability to choose the receiver, subject to state approval. If a district does not choose a receiver within 60 days, the state appoints one.

“The independent receiver may be non-profit entity, another school district, or an individual,” according to the bill language.

The receiver “shall have the power to supersede any decision, policy or regulation … that in the sole judgment of the receiver conflicts with the school intervention plan.”

The receiver will be able to “replace teachers and administrators” and “abolish the positions of all members of the teaching and administrative and supervisory staff assigned to the failing or persistently failing school and terminate the employment of any building principal assigned to such a school, and require such staff members to reapply for their positions in the school if they so choose.”

When teacher or principal positions are abolished, the current teachers or principals with the lowest rating on their most recent performance evaluations will be fired. Seniority will be considered in case of a tie.

When teachers and principals reapply for their jobs, a staffing committee will determine whether the applicants are qualified. “The receiver shall have full discretion regarding hiring decisions but must fill at least fifty percent of the newly defined positions with the most senior former school staff who are determined by the staffing committee to be qualified.”

Those who are not rehired “shall not have any right to bump or displace any other person employed by the district, but shall be placed on a preferred eligibility list.”

Here’s what the bill says about collective bargaining when schools are under receivership: “In order to maximize the rapid achievement of students at the applicable school, the receiver may request that the collective bargaining unit or units representing teachers and administrators and the receiver, on behalf of the board of education, negotiate a receivership agreement that modifies the applicable collective bargaining agreement or agreements with respect to any failing schools in receivership.

“The receivership agreement may address the following subjects: the length of the school day; the length of the school year; professional development for teachers and administrators; class size; and changes to the programs, assignments, and teaching conditions in the school in receivership,” the bill says. “The receivership agreement shall not provide for any reduction in compensation unless there shall also be a proportionate reduction in hours and shall provide for a proportionate increase in compensation where the length of the school day or school year is extended. The receivership agreement shall not alter the remaining terms of the existing/underlying collective bargaining agreement which shall remain in effect.”

The receiver will be able to “order the conversion of a school in receivership that has been designated as failing or persistently failing … into a charter school.”

The receiver will also be able to increase salaries of current or prospective teachers and administrators, extend the school day or year and add full-day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten classes, in the case of elementary schools.

The receiver will have the authority to reallocate resources within the school’s existing budget and review proposed budgets before they’re presented to voters for approval. The receiver will be a non-voting member of the school board.

The intervention plan must include introducing community services into the school, such as medical and mental heath care, substance abuse screening, language instruction, mentoring and greater access to career and technical education and workforce development services for students and their families.

After the initial period of receivership, subject to a performance review, the state may renew receivership for a period of up to three years, terminate the contract with the receiver and hire another one, or elevate the schools out of the “failing” or “persistently failing” categories.

TEACHER CERTIFICATION:

Teachers and administrators with lifetime certification must register with the state every five years.

Applicants for registration must complete 100 hours of continuing education or professional development every five years. “The department shall issue rigorous standards for courses, programs and activities that shall qualify as continuing teacher and leader education,” according to the bill.

Principals or teachers who perform observations for the purpose of the state’s teacher evaluation system may count those hours toward the total.

If educators don’t complete the state-approved professional development, they will not be able to maintain certification.

TEACHER PREPARATION PROGRAMS:

The budget will establish new admission requirements for graduate schools of education in New York as well as scholarships for high-achieving students who attend graduate schools and commit to teaching in the state for five years.

Graduate schools of education will be required to “adopt rigorous selection criteria geared to predicting a candidate's academic success in its program,” including a cumulative 3.0 grade point average during an applicant’s undergraduate career and a minimum score on the Graduate Record Examination or an equivalent entrance exam.

Up to 15 percent of an incoming class may be exempted from the selection criteria “based on a student's demonstration of potential to positively contribute to the teaching profession or other extenuating circumstances.”

If more than half of students that satisfactorily complete a graduate school's education program fail state certification exams for three consecutive years, the state will suspend the program.

Full scholarships will be available for students who attend full-time, two-year graduate programs in education at public universities who “achieved academic excellence” as a resident student at an undergraduate college in New York. The recipient would have to sign a contract agreeing to teach or serve in an educational leadership position in a New York public school for five years.

The scholarship would be applied at the end of each term, and if a recipient did not successfully complete the program or ultimately teach in the state for five years, the award would be converted into a student loan.

Up to 500 awards may be given annually.