Thursday, February 10, 2011

Recent News Articles Feb 8th

Daily News
State budget's brutal hits make clear city's long-term financial health depends on pension overhaul

Tuesday, February 8th 2011, 4:00 AM

The choices facing the Legislature grow clearer by the day:

New Yorkers can have cops on patrol or they can subsidize health care coverage for the workforce.

New Yorkers can have their garbage picked up or they can waste money meeting costly, unnecessary state mandates.

Mayor Bloomberg began introducing lawmakers to these hard and inescapable realities yesterday on his first visit to Albany since Gov. Cuomo proposed a state budget that closes a projected $10 billion deficit with spending reductions.

The numbers leave Bloomberg swimming in red ink that is deeper than planned. While he has sound gripes about the fairness of some Cuomo hits, they are not large enough to alter the fact that he will have to trim outlays by at least $3 billion.

The jobs of tens of thousands of workers - teachers, cops, firefighters, sanitation collectors and more - are on the line. How many will be determined by the Legislature's willingness to give the city and other local governments relief from unsustainable pension burdens and mandates.

As Bloomberg put it: "So if Albany feels it must walk away from their obligations because of previous mismanagement, which leaves us with enormous holes in our budget, it is critical that the governor and state Legislature help us reduce our expenses so that we can avoid the kind of layoffs and services cuts that would be devastating to our city."

According to a Citizens Budget Commission report released yesterday, Bloomberg has wrung $2 billion in savings out of city agencies over the past two years. The departments surrendered on average slightly less than 5% of their city-funded budgets, with some getting tagged for much more.

Schools, children's services, parks, homeless services and agencies devoted to the aging and housing all gave up more than 12%. After clamping down on contracting, supplies and the like, here's some of what happened to the head count:

The Education Department cut 475 positions and reduced teaching ranks by 1,440 through attrition. The Administration for Children's Services eliminated 960 positions; the Parks Department, 700. Sanitation shrank by 240 positions.

Altogether, the payroll fell by 6,588 since 2008. Meanwhile, almost 40% of spending escaped trims because it is beyond the mayor's unilateral authority. Included are pension benefits.

Retirement expenses were $1.5 billion in 2001. They will be $8.3 billion next year. Since the state Constitution bars reducing pension benefits for current workers, Bloomberg is urging what he called modest reductions for future hires that could save $1 billion over the coming eight years.

The mayor should have gone further, to calling for an end to pensions for new workers and a shift to a (401)k-style retirement savings plan. He may have pulled a punch, considering the pension-loving culture of Albany and city government.

Distressingly, city Controller John Liu suggested the stock market might provide a way out of taking action. It won't. Pension benefits are so rich, investment returns would fill, at best, part of the hole. He and lawmakers must recognize that by refusing to act, they would doom New Yorkers and their children to crowded classrooms, closed libraries and streets that are dirtier and less safe.

Daily News
Lawmakers cool toward Bloomberg's proposal to change 'last in, first out' firing rule for teachers
BY Glenn Blain

Tuesday, February 8th 2011, 4:00 AM

ALBANY - Mayor Bloomberg's plea Monday to scrap the state's "last in, first out" rule for laying off teachers barely got in the door with lawmakers.

"I think it is a red herring," said Assemblywoman Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan). "He has a policy initiative that he doesn't like any organized labor."

State Sen. Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn) engaged in a testy exchange with Hizzoner on the issue during a private meeting Bloomberg held with Senate Democrats, sources said.

Bloomberg warned state legislators that without a change in the last in, first out rule, the city could lose some of its brightest young teachers in upcoming layoffs - and have "chaos" in schools.

"That would be especially tragic," Bloomberg said.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who met privately with Bloomberg yesterday, was noncommittal about taking up the mayor's proposal to change how teacher layoffs are handled.

"If there is an objective criteria, it is something we can look at," Silver said.

New York Times

February 7, 2011, 2:30 pm

Mayor Tells Legislature That Lost Aid Will Ensure Layoffs
Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times Mayor Bloomberg at the legislative office building in Albany on Monday.

ALBANY — A week after he criticized Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget as unfair to New York City, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg appeared before lawmakers on Monday and offered grim examples to prove his point.
Classroom crowding would worsen, he said. More than a third of the city’s senior citizen centers would close. The scale of layoffs, in the schools and at government agencies, would be “devastating.”

But when he was done chronicling the budgetary fallout that lies ahead, Mr. Bloomberg sounded a note of détente. The city, he said, would largely accept the proposed cuts, which by his math add up to $2.1 billion, but he wants something in return.

“We know you have to cut back,” the mayor told legislators. “We’ll have to live with it. But you can find ways to mitigate or eliminate an awful lot of the pain.”

Rather than take aim at the governor’s sweeping cuts, the mayor spent the day lobbying lawmakers to ease a wide range of state mandates that he said had the effect of making a bad fiscal situation worse.

The word mandate was the pejorative of the day at the Legislative Office Building, where mayors and local officials — the tin cup brigade, as the annual parade of woebegone speakers is known — warned lawmakers about the consequences of Mr. Cuomo’s proposed cuts.

Mr. Bloomberg was the star attraction. While he showed a grudging acceptance of Mr. Cuomo’s proposed cuts, he made clear that he believed the governor had significantly understated the extent to which his budget would reduce money for the city, and their respective aides spent the afternoon bickering over numbers.

The mayor put the cut in funds at more than three times the $659 million that the Cuomo administration cites. The governor has framed his budget cuts in relation to spending in the current fiscal year, while the mayor did his calculations using the money that he said the city had been counting on.

Included in Mr. Bloomberg’s figure of $2.1 billion are a planned increase in school aid that Mr. Cuomo cut, and $300 million in annual revenue-sharing money that was due to be restored to the city but was wiped out in Mr. Cuomo’s proposed budget. Mr. Cuomo’s budget director, Robert L. Megna, released a statement saying it was “obviously not realistic” for the mayor to have counted on increased state funds, given the state’s fiscal condition.

In any event, Mr. Bloomberg himself seemed more concerned with winning concessions on mandates from the Legislature than with pressing Mr. Cuomo to soften the financial blow from his budget proposal.

Lawmakers and political observers have wondered whether the budget would lead to political war between Mr. Bloomberg, an independent, and Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat. Mr. Bloomberg, who met with Mr. Cuomo and legislative leaders after his testimony on Monday, seemed aware of the close parsing of his words.
Speaking to the lawmakers, he frequently complimented Mr. Cuomo for his effort to drive down state spending and improve the state’s tax climate. On Mr. Cuomo’s broader agenda, the mayor told reporters, “I’m 100 percent behind him.”

But Mr. Bloomberg took an agenda of his own to the hearing. “If Albany feels it must walk away from their obligations because of previous mismanagement,” he said, “it is critical that the governor and State Legislature help us reduce our expenses.”

In a favorite example, the mayor cited the fact that state law required the city to pay the full tuition for some special-education students to attend private schools, even if their parents refused to consider city schools that provided comparable special-education services. The private school tuition costs taxpayers more than $100 million a year, he said.

The mayor added that because of mandates, some of Mr. Cuomo’s cuts simply shifted costs from the state to the city, including $31 million for homeless shelters and $120 million for summer-school special education.

Mr. Bloomberg also repeated his plea that the Legislature pursue pension reforms for public employees and scrap teachers’ seniority protection before the city had to carry out layoffs.

The mayor’s requests seemed to find a receptive audience. Mr. Bloomberg has donated huge sums to the Senate Republicans, who control that chamber, and the Assembly is dominated by members from New York City, who if only because of geography share many of the mayor’s interests.

But even if he gets some of the legislative changes he is seeking, Mr. Bloomberg will still have to find substantial savings in balancing his own budget, which is due to be unveiled on Feb. 17.

For instance, the change on seniority, which would allow more experienced but less competent teachers to be fired before the most recently hired, would not save any substantial sum of money. But Mr. Bloomberg said it would go a long way toward blunting the effect of teacher layoffs on the quality of students’ education.

Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Bloomberg still disagree over whether layoffs will be necessary.

Mr. Megna suggested that tapping the city’s $2 billion in reserves was a way for the mayor to cut costs without firing teachers.

Mr. Bloomberg’s budget director, Mark Page, responded by calling that assertion “flat-out wrong.” Aides to the mayor said the city had only about half that amount in reserves, already planned to spend it and even then would still face a budget gap in the billions.

Mr. Bloomberg was unequivocal that job losses loomed.

“It’s not going to be just teachers,” he said. “It will filter through the whole system. Every agency is going to have fewer people.”

New York Post
Mike 'states' case on school layoffs

Last Updated: 9:46 AM, February 8, 2011

Posted: 1:29 AM, February 8, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg urged state legislators yesterday to repeal the "last in, first out" law, which mandates that teachers be laid off based on seniority instead of merit -- saying the policy sends "exactly the wrong message" to students who are judged on classroom performance.

"State law includes a 'last in, first out' provision, which would force us to lay off some of our very best teachers, while keeping some of our worst. Those layoffs would be felt heavily in the city's poorest neighborhoods, where schools tend to have the newest teachers," Bloomberg testified before the Legislature's Budget Committee in Albany.

"And they'd send exactly the wrong message to our children. We tell them, 'Work hard, and you can rise as high as your talents can take you.' But in their classrooms, they'd see that that's not really true," the mayor added.

"To lose the best and keep some who aren't carrying their weight is just a travesty."

Bloomberg said proposed cuts in Gov. Cuomo's spending plan as well as city budget reductions could force public schools to lay off thousands of teachers. He urged the governor and lawmakers to revise the law so schools can keep the best teachers and get rid of the lowest performing teachers -- regardless of how many years they have in the system.

"We need to be able to make these difficult decisions based on what matters most: success in the classroom and what's good for kids," he said.

While the schools with the highest percentage of junior teachers would be hurt the most, Bloomberg emphasized that all schools would be affected because senior teachers have "bumping" rights to fill vacant slots caused by the layoffs.

He said the "merry-go-round" of teachers going from one school to another "would create a firestorm of complaints like you've never seen before."

The mayor appealed to lawmakers' to do the right thing.

"We can't do this without you," he said.

Bloomberg later met with Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Senate Minority Leader John Sampson (D-Brooklyn).

Bloomberg said the governor was sympathetic to changing LIFO.

After meeting with the mayor, Silver -- considered the teachers union closest ally in Albany -- was noncommittal. He said he would "look at" revising LIFO, but only if there are "objective standards" by which to determine whom to lay off.

New York Post

'We all lose' with less $$ & more mandates: mayor


Last Updated: 3:30 AM, February 8, 2011

Posted: 1:26 AM, February 8, 2011

ALBANY -- Mayor Bloomberg yesterday urged state lawmakers to turn Gov. Cuomo's massive proposed cuts to the city into an opportunity to shed high-cost state mandates in areas like pensions and education.

"The public says, 'Spend less.' But Albany forces us to spend more. And our employees, and those who need their services, are getting crushed in the middle, because if we are spending on things we don't need while sacrificing the things we do need, we all lose," Bloomberg told a joint legislative finance panel.

He warned that state cuts to the Big Apple -- which he calculated at $2.1 billion -- will force layoffs in every agency, the closing of about 100 senior centers and reduced services to homeless shelters and children in adoptive homes.

Bloomberg insisted the state aid cut to city schools is $1.4 billion.

But Cuomo's budget director, Robert Megna, pegged the cut at $579 million -- below the statewide average.

Bloomberg also urged lawmakers to create a fifth pension tier to rein in city costs and end a program that provides a $12,000 annual pension bonus to uniformed-service retirees.

"Ending the bonuses would save the city upwards of $1 billion annually -- that's the equivalent cost of more than 10,000 teachers, police officers, firefighters, sanitation workers and correction officers," he said.

WNYCBloomberg Takes Aim at Special Ed Costs
Monday, February 07, 2011 - 05:14 PM
By Beth Fertig

Mayor Bloomberg called on state legislators Monday to make it harder for special education students to attend private schools at taxpayer expense.

In his testimony before state legislators in Albany on Monday, the mayor said the city spends $100 million for 4,000 students to attend private schools when the public schools can't meet their needs.

Bloomberg said these students should be required to try the public schools before taking legal action. Right now, they can take their case to a special hearing officer before even setting foot inside a public school facility, as long as they've considered a public school option.

"We can provide services to those students at a fraction of that cost," Bloomberg said.

But Kim Sweet, executive director of the group Advocates for Children, said the mayor is exaggerating the added costs of private tuition.

"This particular salvo is aimed at a very easy target that people like to blame, and blame whenever there is a fiscal problem," she said. "But in fact it's a relatively small amount of money for the school system, and it's not going to solve their problems."

Sweet said there's actually very little difference between the dollars spent on private and public schools for special education students because both can easily cost more than $25,000 annually compared to about $17,000, on average, for a general education student.

Sweet's legal team represents low-income families who have had to fight for private school placements. She said they still need to prove their child's needs can't be addressed by the regular public schools.

"The fact is that the city has been sending students with disabilities to private schools for years because it hasn’t made the necessary commitment to fixing a very broken public special education system," Sweet said. "If public school special education worked, we wouldn’t be seeing these private school costs."

Bloomberg also told Albany lawmakers that state mandates will increase special education costs by 13 percent from the current school year to the next one. He's asking the legislature to eliminate an annual bonus for retired city workers and to take other cost-cutting measures that would enable the city to save more money for public education, specifically to prevent teacher layoffs.

NY1Charter School Advocates Converge On Albany
By: Lindsey Christ

Charter school supporters took their fight to the state capital Monday, where they put legislators on notice that they're a force to be reckoned with.

Charter school supporters took their fight to the state capital Monday, where they put legislators on notice that they're a force to be reckoned with. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

More than 2,000 city parents, students and teachers arrived by the bus load Monday in Albany. Their message to lawmakers: the charter school lobby is here to stay.

"We want to make sure that people continue to support this movement every year. Not some years, we take a day off or a year off," said one rally attendee.

Last year, charter advocates successfully lobbied lawmakers to raise the statewide cap on the number of charter schools from 200 to 460. And this year, even without any specific legislation on the table, they came back. After rallying they fanned out to meet with local representatives.

"I have to let them know that it's still important. No matter's still important. I don't want them to forget about charter schools," said one charter school parent.

"When you come to Albany you have more of a voice than if you go to another, because this is the capital of New York," said one charter student.

Monday's event was all organized and funded by the New York Charter School Center, a non-profit advocacy organization. The publicly funded but privately run schools remain a political lightning rod. Critics say they're an attempt to privatize public education and are fueled by Wall Street donations. To counteract that reputation, the charter center trains parents to advocate for the schools, and then brings them out, en mass, to public meeting and events like the one in Albany.

"Lots of people think charter schools are private schools. Charter schools are public schools and we're here to correct that misunderstanding," said one charter school parent.

Most of the parents who spoke with NY1 say they've never been politically active before. Many brought their children, saying they want them to also learn about the political process.

"I want him to see that education is so important and he has to fight for it," said one parent.

State law doesn't give charters funding for facilities. Changing that will be the lobby's next big political push.

Eighty of the city's 125 charter schools were represented in the state capital on Monday. They say they're a movement that's only getting stronger and better organized, and want elected officials to listen.

New York Post
Teacher policy bad for cities: study


Last Updated: 3:30 AM, February 8, 2011

Posted: 1:30 AM, February 8, 2011

Firing teachers under the "last in, first out" policy hurts the quality of instruction in urban schools like New York, a new study claims.

An analysis of school districts in Washington state found that 84 percent of newer elementary-school teachers who received layoff notices the past two years under the seniority-based "last in, first out" would not have received pink slips at all under a system that evaluates classroom performance.

Only 16 percent of the newer teachers would have been on the firing line under either system, said professor Dan Goldhaber of the University of Washington-Bothell's Center for Education Data & Research. More lower-performing veteran teachers would have been part of the layoff mix.

It turned out that 36 percent of the teachers who received layoff notices in the study sample actually performed at or above the average for all teachers.

Goldhaber created his own alternative "value-added" layoff model that compares performance of elementary-school teachers based on how their students fared on the state's standardized math and reading exams, which could apply to New York and other cities.

"Our simulations suggest it would significantly improve student performance over the use of a seniority-driven system," Goldhaber said. " 'Last in, first out' is an anachronism."

SI Advance
Teacher layoffs and the real world

Published: Saturday, February 05, 2011, 7:16 AM

By Staten Island Advance Editorial

According to United Federation of Teachers dogma, there is no such thing as a bad teacher. Not a one. And therefore, according to the UFT, no teacher should ever be laid off, even amid an unprecedented fiscal crisis.

That kind of surreal mentality is why there are hundreds of UFT members who are paid their full salaries to sit in “rubber rooms” and do crossword puzzles and surf the Internet instead of their job. They’ve been exiled because they have been removed from their former schools because of poor performance or outright misconduct, but the UFT refuses to acknowledge such failures among its members.

That’s also why the city Department of Education is required to follow a bizarre, 83-step process that takes years in order to fire a teacher. Of course, the requirement for such a formidable, lengthy process in order to get rid of bad teachers was put in place by the union’s friends in the state Legislature. The UFT believes no teacher should ever be fired.

So it’s not surprising that UFT doctrine reflexively rejects the idea that teachers who have been in the system for some time and are burned out or lazy or too willing to cut corners might be better leaving with their pensions. After all, those teachers, however suspect their performance, have been paying their UFT dues all those years, so, as far as the union is concerned, they are members in good standing and therefore automatically entitled to hang onto their jobs until they choose to go.

This hyper-protective policy on the part of the powerful UFT may please union members, which is what the union is supposed to do. But, despite the UFT’s implicit belief that anything that is good for the UFT is good for the city’s schools, it comes into direct conflict with the goals of good public policy, especially during hard fiscal times.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s dire prediction that as many as 15,000 city school teachers might have to be laid off under the worst budget-cutting scenario, appears to be an overstatement. But there will still be numerous teacher layoffs.

The question is: Which teachers should be the ones to go?

Under the policy insisted upon by the UFT and therefore embedded by obedient lawmakers in state law, it’s “last in, first out”: The most recently hired teachers are the first ones to be laid off. Meanwhile, teachers with many years seniority are deemed untouchable.

That’s right and just, according to UFT doctrine. But is it what’s best for the children who attend New York City public schools? Anyone who’s ever spent a school year in a class with a burned-out, bitter, boring teacher knows the answer to that one.

Moreover, is it what’s best for the taxpayers? With fewer teachers in the system, the taxpayers should be getting the best teachers for their money instead of being forced to subsidize the union’s self-serving seniority system that utterly disregards merit.

New teachers come in with better qualifications than their predecessors did, and, more important, an enthusiasm and an eagerness to teach - if only because they have so recently chosen and worked toward that career path. That enthusiasm and idealism can count for a lot when it comes to inspiring youngsters.

Some - certainly not all, but enough - older teachers have long since lost that enthusiasm, have become apathetic or even bitter about their jobs, and worst of all, cynical about the children they’re supposed to be educating.

But the UFT says they must be kept on, regardless, while the young teachers are deemed expendable. The UFT leadership is willfully unconcerned about the actual quality of the teaching in the classrooms. It spins all veteran teachers, regardless of their interest or performance, as “experienced.”

There’s another factor to be considered. Senior teachers usually choose to work in schools in more affluent neighborhoods while junior teachers are typically assigned to less desirable schools in poor communities. That means schools in less affluent, minority communities will be hardest hit if junior teachers are forced out of the system. That’s led some to charge that the last-in-first-out policy is discriminatory.

At this time of shrunken education budgets, it’s imperative that New Yorkers are able to trust the city’s schoolchildren are in the hands of the best possible teachers available, young or seasoned. That isn’t the case when the law says if teachers must be laid off, senior teachers must be protected simply because they’ve been around for awhile.

By no means should seniority be completely discounted. But by no means should it be the sole criterion, either. Contrary to the union solidarity propaganda, making that observation is not picking on all teachers, just the ones don’t belong anywhere near a classroom.

Mayor Bloomberg, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a majority of New Yorkers polled on the issue are right: In deciding which teachers to keep and which to lay off, merit must count most, just as it does for any other job in the real world. The UFT would better serve the people of this city if it worked with the administration to develop a set of fair and realistic criteria to determine who should stay and who should go instead of pretending that teacher layoffs are not even necessary.

New York Post
NY schools could cover aid cuts: report
Last Updated: 9:26 AM, February 9, 2011

Posted: 9:24 AM, February 9, 2011

ALBANY, N.Y. — As many as 74 percent of school districts outside New York City appear to have enough funds in reserve to pay for the historic aid cuts proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a state Education Department report indicates.

The study, strongly disputed by groups protecting school aid, finds most districts have enough money listed as unallocated reserves and leftover funds from federal stimulus grants to pay for the 7.3 percent cut. Cuomo proposes to cut about $1.5 billion from the state’s annual school aid of about $21 billion, among the highest per capita school aid in the nation.

The report obtained by The Associated Press shows the school districts outside New York City have about $1.16 billion in reserves and $355.2 million left in federal stimulus money.

But school aid advocates say Cuomo’s cut will force thousands of teacher layoffs and larger class sizes, and will force local property tax increases to make up for the lost state support.

The Statewide School Finance Consortium, a project of the Central New York School Boards Association, released its own report this week that found hundreds of school districts would run out of money sometime next year if the Legislature approves Cuomo’s cuts.

The fiscal crises would be worst at schools in low-income communities that derive little revenue from property taxes and rely more heavily on state and federal aid, according to the group.

“Some will simply be unable to continue to meet the minimal state and federal requirements for even a basic educational program,” said Rick Timbs of the Statewide School Finance Consortium.

Cuomo, however, has said the cut in a budget that had to address a $10 billion deficit should prompt public schools to cut waste and inefficiencies.

The school boards’ project shows many schools would run out of money sometime in the 2011-12 school year, a situation addressed in past years by increasing local school property taxes or borrowing. But Cuomo’s high priority of capping local property tax growth at 2 percent or less is also gaining support in Albany and could be enacted this year.

That could limit how much a district could raise taxes to compensate for the loss of state aid and could also limit its borrowing ability, according to the school boards’ group.

The state report, however, also shows concerns. For example, five out of seven school districts in Cattaraugus County don’t have enough in reserve to cover proposed cuts while even suburban Monroe County would see about 40 percent of its districts come up short when trying to use reserves to pay for cuts.

Other counties such as Sullivan County would see all of their districts able to apply reserves to fully cover cuts and almost all wealthy Westchester County school districts would have enough cash to cover the cuts, according to the report.

According to the state report, Cuomo’s home district in Westchester would have enough reserves to cover its cuts as would the Rockville Centre district on Long Island that is home to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver lives in lower Manhattan, but New York City’s data on whether its reserves could handle the cuts wasn’t included in the report because the district uses measures different from other districts.

New York PostChicago mayoral candidate Rahm also wants to end teacher seniority

Last Updated: 4:10 AM, February 9, 2011

Posted: 3:14 AM, February 9, 2011

Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's former chief-of-staff, has endorsed scrapping the "last in, first out" law requiring that teachers be laid off based on seniority instead of merit, The Post has learned.

Emanuel, the front-runner to become the next mayor of Chicago, spelled out his position in a candidate questionnaire for a Windy City education journal.

"In Chicago's schools, layoffs are typically done by seniority. I want to change that policy to ensure that those who are laid off are the least effective teachers, not the most junior," Emanuel told the Catalyst, a Chicago paper that tracks local schools.

"This will require a new teacher-evaluation system based on a comprehensive assessment of instructional quality and student performance, not simply results from one exam," Emanuel added.

He also said it should be easier to fire low-performing teachers who have tenure.

"We simply cannot afford to leave our children in the hands of bad teachers. I am focused on teacher development and improvement, but we must have the flexibility to remove the worst teachers and ensure that our children are in classrooms run by effective leaders," he said.

A top aide to Mayor Bloomberg -- who is trying to persuade the state Legislature to repeal LIFO -- was thrilled after hearing of Emanuel's bid to end seniority-based layoffs in Chicago.

"It's clearly a big boost. We couldn't agree more with Mr. Emanuel," said Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson. "Mayors across the country are coming to the conclusion that any layoffs should be based on merit, not seniority."

Bloomberg said state and city budget cuts could force the schools to give pink slips to thousands of teachers. He argues the best teachers should remain in front of students and the worst kicked out -- regardless of seniority.

Meanwhile, the top educator in Arizona -- a state that abolished LIFO several years ago without much fuss -- said it's about time New York got on board.

"We scrapped seniority. Students come first," said Arizona state Schools Superintendent John Huppenthal.

"Performance of the teacher has to be the driving factor. When you have limited resources, you want to make sure the ones teaching the kids are the best teachers you have."

Huppenthal said it takes about 60 days to fire incompetent teachers in Arizona. The Grand Canyon State also has 500 charter schools, the most of any state in the country.

"When we look at New York, we're horrified. You've thrown so much money into the education system. You haven't got much to show for it academically," he said.

"When we look at New York City, we see a foreign universe."

New York PostWhy school reforms matter
Last Updated: 12:13 AM, February 9, 2011

Posted: 10:55 PM, February 8, 2011

The State Education Department data showing that a scant 23 percent of New York City high school graduates are prepared for college puts more pressure on -- and demands more accountability from -- educators and elected leaders alike.

That's a major reason why City Hall needs to have the maximum amount of flexibility to keep the best teachers possible -- rather than be forced to toss energetic, innovative junior teachers overboard while saving the jobs of far-less-qualified folks as the system downsizes in the coming weeks.

Opponents of education reform -- particularly the city's teachers union -- will undoubtedly try using the 23 percent college-ready number for city students to again try undermining the Bloomberg administration's overall education record.

But even taking into account SED-crafted tests -- now universally recognized as having been dumbed down to ludicrous lows over the last decade -- city students outpaced their peers statewide, especially in other large urban school districts.

Indeed, the far more rigorous National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams illustrate such gains.

Since Bloomberg became mayor, fourth-grade NAEP scores for city students went up 11 points in both math and English and seven points in eighth-grade math -- while remaining flat across the rest of the state.

Even looking at SED's college-ready figures, the city's 23 percent outstrips the less-than-17 percent results for students in urban school districts like Buffalo, Syracuse and Yonkers.

Perhaps even more tellingly, the city's college-ready rate has more than tripled -- from a minuscule 7.3 percent base in 2005 to 22.5 in 2009.

Simply put, the city's accountability-and-standards model has borne fruit.

But that progress is at risk, given likely significant city teacher layoffs due to reduced state aid.

The mayor wants to minimize the impact of those layoffs by not being forced to lose the best teachers because of the "last in, first out" seniority system.

Ending that, though, rests with Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature.

Let's hope they're prepared to help city kids become "college-ready."

Daily News
State officials admit high school graduation standards are a sham - now they must fix them

Wednesday, February 9th 2011, 4:00 AM

New York State's educrats in chief have produced a dismal appraisal of the worth of the high school diploma they have been awarding to students. It has been essentially worthless.

While school districts from Montauk to Buffalo have boasted a statewide 77% graduation rate, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Education Commissioner David Steiner now confess that the schools actually prepared only 41% of the graduates for college or careers.

In the city, the official graduation rate is 63%, but only 23% of the seniors awarded diplomas in 2009 were truly ready to begin college without taking remedial classes. Among black and Latino students, a scant 13% were college-ready, even though the graduation rates were 60% for blacks and 57% for Hispanics.

There's been a whole lot of faking going on.

Steiner is relatively new to his position. Tisch and Steiner's predecessors presided over a system that used dumbed-down scoring on English and math tests in elementary and middle school and dumbed-down Regents exams in high school.

They set a low bar for schools to meet and have worked for the past few years to start raising it. The results have been shocking. When they changed the passing grades on reading and math exams, for example, thousands of students were stunned to discover that they were suddenly subpar.

Now, Tisch and Steiner have come clean about how little the regents had been demanding of New York's kids. This is helpful truth-telling. The question is: What now?

For the time being, Tisch and Steiner say they'll count any student who got a 75 on the English Regents and an 80 on the Math A Regents exam as college-ready. In an Op-Ed piece on the opposite page, city Schools Chancellor Cathie Black argues the state is "fiddling around the edges with cut scores" rather than truly tightening standards.

Black and her aides are raising a significant and important challenge that Tisch and Steiner must address. While the state officials say they are moving toward higher standards with a revamped testing regime, they must demonstrate that they are doing so smartly, as quickly as possible and with true accountability.

If the leader of the nation's largest school system - and the most dominant in the state - is calling for more rigor, it behooves Tisch and Steiner to deliver.

New York Post Diploma deceit
Last Updated: 12:13 AM, February 9, 2011

Posted: 10:51 PM, February 8, 2011

If Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Education Commissioner David Steiner keep it up, the public one day may actually have a full and honest picture of the state of education in New York -- dismal as it may be.

But first the bad news.

Monday, officials released data revealing that fewer than half of 2009's high school grads -- 41 percent -- left school with the skills they needed for college or a career. Yet, the official statewide graduation rate had been put at 77 percent -- almost double.

Before this week, Albany had never made public the necessary-skills benchmark -- while pretending for years that schools were adequately preparing many more students than they actually were.

How did they do it?

By handing out diplomas to students with Regents test scores as low as 65 -- even though experts believe kids need at least an 80 in math and a 75 in English to show they're ready for college or a job.

That let them claim the misleading 77 percent graduation rate.

The policy was a morally corrupt sham, overseen by former Education Commissioner Richard Mills and acquiesced in by the Albany establishment.

So kudos to Tisch and Steiner for blowing the whistle on it.

"If you sit on this, you become the Enron of test scores, the Enron of graduation rates," Tisch said.

She's right -- in fact, this page has long had grave qualms about the integrity of Mills' testing regimens.

This is Tisch and Steiner's second big move to shore up standards.

Last year, they raised the bar on tests given to third- through eighth-graders to assess proficiency. (Overnight, not surprisingly, thousands of kids across the state fell short.)

Sure, the picture may not be pretty. In the city, the "preparedness" rate was just 23 percent. In Rochester, it was as low as 5 percent. In Syracuse, only 1 percent of Hispanic students left school adequately prepared for college or a career.

Fact is, the state was doing students untold harm by concealing the painful truth. Without honest assessments, teachers and administrators can't possibly craft policies to address systemic weaknesses.

What's more, those tests and graduation rates drive countless key decisions -- from teacher evaluations to merit pay to school closings. If the numbers aren't credible, nothing works.

Tisch and Steiner still have a long way to go. Now that they've come clean about graduation rates, for example, they need to figure out what to do about it.

But Step 1 was the confession.

Call it progress.

Daily News
Cathie Black op-ed on college readiness: State must stop fiddling with cut scores, improve tests
By Cathie Black

Wednesday, February 9th 2011, 4:00 AM

When Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002, he inherited a dysfunctional school system and graduation rates that had been stagnant for a decade. Nine years later, New York City's graduation rate is at an all-time high of 63%.

We should all be immensely proud of that progress. But we still have work to do to ensure that more of our students graduate and that they graduate with the skills to succeed in college.

That is why, for the past two years, the Department of Education has focused on increasing the rigor of our curriculum and working to introduce new assessments that measure whether our students are ready to succeed in college.

We are pleased that yesterday, New York State Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and state Education Commissioner David Steiner joined us in this discussion by acknowledging that the state standards have been too low. The state is, after all, responsible for setting graduation standards, creating the Regents exams, dictating how the exams are given and scored and, on top of it all, overseeing SUNY and CUNY, the state and city universities that define college-readiness requirements.

But if we are going to have a real conversation about college readiness - which we desperately need - it has to be about more than setting higher "cut scores" on the Regents exams. Right now, students are counted as passing the Regents exam with a score of 65. Everyone agrees that at this level, they're not truly prepared to do college-level work.

In its analysis, the state argues that students had to score 80 on the Math A Regents test (primarily given to ninth-graders) to truly be ready for college-level work.

But there are better, more rigorous predictors of college success: One is whether kids master higher-level math courses by the time they graduate. Another is whether students take the more advanced Math B Regents test. Success or failure on that exam correlates much more strongly to whether students go on to succeed at the college level. In fact, students who took but actually failed the Math B Regents have a better chance of being on track at CUNY than students who earned an 80 on the Math A Regents.

The state erred in using only the Math A results for its analysis, and if we are going to get this right, we need a thorough analysis using the best metrics available.

While adjusting scores has some value, it is crucial that we also focus on taking steps that will actually help better prepare our kids for college-level work. That means having a curriculum that teaches students how to write critically, how to back up their arguments with facts and how to apply mathematics to real-world situations. And it means having rigorous assessments that align with the curriculum and measure if our students have mastered those skills. The current Regents exams do not offer that.

Rather than wait for the state to act, we've begun introducing the new Common Core standards, higher-level learning benchmarks that are being embraced around the country. In 100 schools across the city, more than 1,000 teachers are using complex tasks and nonfiction texts in their classrooms to prepare for these more rigorous standards. Although the Common Core won't appear on state tests until 2014, we're getting out ahead to make sure our kids are prepared far in advance - testing them on material that is far more robust than what we see today on the current Regents exams.

Transparency is no doubt crucial to this discussion. That is why last year, we told schools we would begin including robust college-readiness metrics on high school progress reports, including information about advanced placement courses taken and college enrollment. That way, schools will get a chance to see how they are performing knowing that next year, they will be held to the new, higher bar.

It's one thing to talk about the vastness of our education challenges. But if the state agrees that we need to do the hard work to get our kids college-ready, it is time for them to stop fiddling around the edges with cut scores, make a real commitment and invest in our kids' future.

The regents chancellor and state education commissioner should start by lobbying Albany to offset some of the governor's $1.4 billion cut to New York City education funding with meaningful relief from pension costs and other state mandates. The reality of a cut of that size is that good teachers will be laid off, school belts will be tightened further and extra help for our students will likely fall by the wayside.

Everyone understands that budget times are tough. But we have an obligation to provide all of our children with a quality education that will get them college- and career-ready. It is our sincerest hope that the state will partner with us in these efforts.

Black is chancellor of the New York City public schools.

New York Post
Coach's lesson for city schools

Last Updated: 4:47 AM, February 9, 2011

Posted: 2:25 AM, February 9, 2011

Mike Tomlin is definitely old school. Moments after his team was defeated in the Super Bowl, the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers was asked to characterize the game. "A loss," a stoic Tomlin said on TV. "We don't grade on a curve. We're not interested in moral victories and things of that nature."

The answer was pure football, where winning is everything, but New York educrats could learn a thing or two from Tomlin. Though they claim to have ended social promotion and other dumbing-down tricks, many are still finding ways to erase the line between failure and success.

The result is that tens of thousands of students who get diplomas are being denied an education that will prepare them for college and work. They're led to believe they won when, in reality, they lost.

A report by the state Regents makes the case with damning numbers. It finds that many students who graduate with top diplomas are not capable of doing entry-level college work.

New York City is a prime example. Although it hands out diplomas to over 60 percent of students, only about 23 percent are ready to do college work, the Regents say. A red flag is that 75 percent who go to City University community colleges need remedial work in at least one core subject.

The polite way of describing the gap is that high-school standards are misaligned with college standards. The more accurate way is that many high schools are diploma mills, their seals of approval as worthless as the paper they're printed on.

Merryl Tisch, the Regents chancellor leading the fight to raise standards and make them stick, says to do otherwise would make New York "the Enron of test scores, the Enron of graduation rates."

Those are tough words, and absolutely appropriate for the stakes. At a time when President Obama and business leaders are decrying the state of American education, New York is shaping up as a test case.

Is the state willing to face the truth about what kids are learning? Does it have the will to adopt reforms and not water them down at the first sign of difficulty?

The new report is the other shoe dropping on Mayor Bloomberg's windy claim that city schools are a model for the nation. The first shoe fell last summer, when higher standards for elementary- and middle-school tests wiped away four years of supposed gains.

Now comes the dismal truth about high schools. It is of little consolation that Gotham is beating Yonkers or Syracuse.

It is even more disturbing that many educators refuse to be straight with students and families. Instead of demanding their charges meet standards, teachers and administrators continue to lower the bar so as many kids as possible can jump over it.

The Wall Street Journal revealed that a suspiciously high number of city students got exactly the minimum score of 65 they needed to pass the Regents exams required for graduation. The pattern leaves little doubt that scores are being bumped up so students will pass. Many teachers and principals got bonuses on those scores.

A passing score of 65 is itself a fig leaf because statistics show that only students who score 75 in English and 80 in math have a good chance of getting even a "C" in those subjects in college.

Not every student wants or can go to college. But most do, and parents across New York should support raising the bar on every part of the system. Beefed-up curricula and more accountability for administrators will be part of the mix.

But higher standards for students must lead the way. If that is done with integrity, everything else will follow.


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