February 10, 2012: Transcript of Deputy Secretary for Education Dave Wakelyn

TOP February 10, 2012: Transcript of Deputy Secretary for Education Dave Wakelyn

Read the transcript from the web chat with Deputy Secretary for Education Dave Wakelyn on February 10, 2012.

David Wakelyn said:
Good afternoon, my name is David Wakelyn, and I am Governor Cuomo's Deputy Secretary for Education. I look forward to chatting with you today about the Governor's work to strengthen schools across New York State and put our students first in our state's public education system. Governor Cuomo has put education reform front and center of his agenda to rebuild our state, and I am happy to discuss with you today what we've been doing, and also to hear your ideas.

Question from tammie in verona:
What methodologies are aceeptable according to the Commissioner in the event that a district isnt making progress in ELA?

David Wakelyn said:
If a district is not making progress in English or Math, tested subjects, than the Commissioner of the State Education Department identifies the schools in the district as “In Needs of Improvement.” A district is expected to target resources to make significant gains in student achievement and improve that schools standing. If the school continues to fail, the Commissioner will label it as “Persistently Lowest Achieving” in which that district will be able to submit an application to the state outlining how they will make improvements. If the state approves that application, that school is eligible for up to $2 million a year for 3 years.

Question from John in Middle Island:
With the nation's emphasis on creativity and innovation - and the fact that the arts are listed as a Core requirement - what are you doing to ensure that music, art and theater classes remain a vital part of a child's education, despite the cuts that our schools will endure over the next few years?

David Wakelyn said:
The State Education Department has adopted new common core state standards which include ways teachers can fold more art and music into their lessons. Governor Cuomo increased education aid by 4% in his Executive Budget this year. New York spends more per student than any other state in the nation. We need to hold our local school districts accountable for prioritizing their spending in the way that yields the greatest benefit to the student.

Question from Christine in Utica, NY:
As a teacher in a very high needs district, with a very large population of ELL and special eduation students, I would like to know how using a system of competitive grants in order to receive additional state aid is fair for the students in my district. The UCSD is been under-funded for years and the most recent cuts will raise class size, limit programs, and cut teachers and staff. The teachers and administrators in our district are dedicated to helping and educating our students. The competitive grant program for state aid will only hurt our kids.

David Wakelyn said:
The Governor has pushed for performance grants for school districts as a way to incentivize improvement and better results, instead of just allocating money through old formulas. This means, for example, districts that have new ideas about how to better meet the needs of ELL and special education students and show that their methods are helping students improve will be rewarded. However, it’s important to note that competitive grants represent 1% of all state aid to schools – they are tool to encourage improvement districts, not the sole way we are allocating aid.

Question from Betsy in Schenectady:
What is your position on using student test scores for teacher evaluation? Are you aware that there is a large body of research by testing experts warning that it is wrong to judge teacher quality by student test scores?

David Wakelyn said:
There are panel of researchers who say that value-added test scores are a more powerful predictor of teacher quality than anything else out there. Commissioner King and the State Education Department have committed resources to improving New York’s standardized tests so that they accurately reflect a student’s ability. Standardized tests are currently one of the few objective measures we have to determine a teacher’s added value in improving student achievement.

Question from Angela in Rensselaer County:
What is the Governor's position on school mergers, specifically? What is the Governor doing to control all of the new,costly mandates such as APPR local assessments and does the Govenor plan to fund or contain these costs?

David Wakelyn said:
There are incentives in place to assist small school districts to merge. We should consider steps that would strengthen these incentives. There are funds available through Race to the Top to support professional development needed to implement the new standards and APPR. Teacher evaluation is a critical part of providing a sound, basic education

Question from Marc in Yonkers, NY:
This is a question that has always nagged me and I've never received a satisfactory response.Why is it that if I am a lawyer, I answer to a Bar Association made up of legal experts and if I am doctor I answer to a medical board made up of medical experts but as a teacher I answer to school boards made up of anybody who can get themselves elected or appointed without regard to expertise or educational background? If I am a professional, shouldn't I be governed by experts in my field as those in other professions are?

David Wakelyn said:
Teachers in fact can opt into a review process. The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards provides a rigorous avenue by which teachers can become “board certified” in their specialty area.

Question from Mark in Harlem, New York City:
Would you consider adding civics to education reform such as supporting current legislation in NYS Legislature allowing 16 & 17 year old to pre-register to vote which increases students interest and civics and social studies but costs very little. 10 other states allow this including CA, FL & NC.

David Wakelyn said:
That is an interesting suggestion. We have so much history here in New York State, and so many historic resources at our disposal that schools can use to get their students interested in civics and social studies! For instance, the Governor recently restored the Hall of Governors in the Capitol building and put up exhibits detailing the history of the building! You can find more out about it here: http://hallofgovernors.ny.gov/

Question from Leonie Haimson in NYC:
Class sizes have risen throughout the state, but particularly here in NYC, where they are now the largest in 11 years in the early grades. They have risen each year for the past four, despite the fact that as part of the Contracts for Excellence law passed in 2007, NYC was obligated to REDUCE class size in all grades. Class size reduction is one of four reforms that have been proven to work through rigorous evidence according to the Institute of Education Sciences, is the top priority of parents and students in NYC, and 86% of our principals say they are unable to provide a quality education because of excessive class sizes. How will the Governor address this critical issue for the sake of our students?

David Wakelyn said:
Yes, IES finds that small class sizes are effective for high-poverty students in grades K-3. But the research is less clear on what teachers in those smaller classes should be doing differently. There are 270,000 teachers in the state working with 2.8 million students. Overall NY has one of the lowest student-teacher ratios of any state in the nation.

Question from Brian in NNY:
Thank you for taking the time to listen to our concerns. Increasingly difficult financial conditions for students in our most rural areas is increasing academic inequality within our states' borders. What can be done to speed up the process of offering Honors, AP and/or International Baccalaureate programs to schools across the state?

David Wakelyn said:
We have been encouraging schools to participate in blended or online learning opportunities so that they can have access to honors and AP courses that might not otherwise be offered at their school.

Question from Michael in WNY:
How can we justify flushing so much money to education when so little of it is used to improve education? Seems to me that most of it is to benefit unions, and union members and their "perks" - reirement, health care, time off, conferences, travel etc. rather than to benefit the students.

David Wakelyn said:
New York spends more money per student than any other state in the union, and we are 38th in graduation rates. The Governor believes that this is unacceptable which is why in his State of the State he put forward a series of education proposals, including new grants that incentivize performance in school districts and implementing teacher evaluations that create accountability in our schools. We all must work together to improve the public education system and make sure that we are demanding results as readily as we are financially supporting schools.

Question from Patrick in Ballston Spa:
The claim being made by the current state leadership is that teachers are not doing a well enough job. As a Graduate student I am given the chance to see a lot of classrooms where successes are being made you cannot measure. The current line of events is telling my friends and I that we are on a track to pushing aspiring teachers away from the dream of being a teacher. What do you have to say to defend your current agenda for the 2012 years and beyond to my peers and I?

David Wakelyn said:
Teacher evaluations are intended to improve teaching and learning while creating accountability in our schools. The Governor wants a system in place that helps all teachers grow as professionals by giving them feedback on their performance that’s previously been missing from the profession. We believe that the overwhelming majority of teachers are dedicated to doing a first rate job and we want to support them and their work.

Question from Ralph in Floral Park:
There is no evidence that many years of testing under NCLB has been successful. Why is the Governor doubling down on testing?

David Wakelyn said:
There is evidence that standards-based reform has led to great improvements in states like Massachusetts and Kentucky. The State of New York has adopted the Common Core standards and is developing new, innovative assessments as part of a multi-state consortium known as PARCC. We’re using testing as a means to improve teaching and learning.

Question from Gem in Westchester:
What approach is new York planning to implement teacher evaluations? Is there a consistent method statewide? What are the factors or elements of the assessment method and finally, what will be done with the results? How will we improve our teachers?

David Wakelyn said:
Governor Cuomo has very clearly created an incentive in his budget address that all school districts must implement evaluations by January 2013. If they fail to do so, they will miss out on future increases in state aid. There’s a consistent framework statewide that relies on multiple measures to ensure that the evaluations are fair and reliable. The results will help schools understand more precisely who the most effective teachers are and what they are doing differently. We hope this will lead to new forms of teacher collaboration.

Question from Mark in Pearl River:
My sister is passionate about education and wants to be a teacher in New York. However, she is having no success finding school districts with job openings. What is your administration doing to increase employment opportunities for prospective teachers?

David Wakelyn said:
We believe school districts should make recruiting and retaining excellent teachers their top priority, because the most significant factor in student achievement is their teacher. Opportunities depend on where you live – you should go to your local school district to find out what job openings are available. You can also search, by region, for job opportunities in the education sector using the Jobs Express website: http://www.labor.ny.gov/jobs/regional.shtm.

Question from Dave in Riverhead:
The Govenor has stated several times that New York is ranked 35th out of 50 in education in the United States. What is his source of that statistic and what is his reaction to yesterday's Newsday article that ranks New York number 2 behind Maryland for the student percentage receiving a 3 or better on AP Exams (pg.A4). In his eyes does this account for anyone's hard work and commitment to education here in our schools. Can he publicly address this article and maybe congratulate the hard working teachers and administrators that make that happen?

David Wakelyn said:
Here’s the source Dave: IES April 2011, Public School Graduates and Dropouts From the Common Core Data: School year 2008-09, First Look. Check out table 3, where it shows, for the record, we’re 38th in graduation rates, not 35th.

Question from Terry in Suffolk:
As a result of the Tax Cap and the reductions in state aid to education, school districts have been left with no choice but to cut their arts and athletics programs. Are you concerned that by cutting the programs that students are most passionate about, they will lose their enthusiasm and motivation? Are you concerned that instead of spending time engaged in these valuable activities, they will fill the void with TV, video games and risky activities?

David Wakelyn said:
Because of record high deficits there have been reductions in spending for the past two years which were tough but necessary to keep our State’s fiscal house in order. However, even in the face of a $2 billion deficit this year, the Governor’s budget proposes an $805 million increase in education funding. New York spends $53 billion on K-12 education. Districts don’t necessarily need to make cuts to arts and athletics programs. They need to be strategic in how they make resource decisions.

Question from Gail in Greenville:
Teachers are not opposed to rigorous evaluation. We are opposed to flawed evaluation. Please explain the logic behind evaluating a music teacher (for example) on ELA and Math scores. We understand multiple measures and SLO's. This piece is NOT logical.

David Wakelyn said:
Glad to hear you support multiple measures and SLOs. Though it’s an issue in other states like Tennessee, New York’s regulations on APPR do not require teachers in untested grades and subjects to be evaluated by schoolwide ELA and math scores.

Question from Al in Binghamton:
250 million is not 1% of the $805 million. Is is more like a third

David Wakelyn said:
Al, as a former math teacher, I can tell you with absolute certainty that $250 million out of $20.1 billion = ~1%. You are confusing over all aid with the proposed increase the Governor put forward in his budget.

Question from Mark in Long Island:
Can you explain how your position interfaces with the Board of Regents?

David Wakelyn said:
I talk on a regular basis with the Commissioner and the Board of Regents. The Regents are appointed by the State Legislature and the Commissioner is responsible for day-to-day operations on education. As Deputy Secretary of Education, I assist with preparing the budget and advising the governor on policy issues from pre-k through college. We all agree we need to expand the number of New Yorkers who graduate from high school ready for college and careers.

Question from Carolanne in Nassau County:
What will happen if NYSUT does not reach an agreement with SED next week?

David Wakelyn said:
The Governor will propose what’s known as a 30-day amendment to the budget on the 17th which would include our own proposed teacher evaluation system.

David Wakelyn said:
Unfortunately our time has run out. Thank you for joining me this afternoon. For more information on Governor Cuomo's education initiatives, and to share your thoughts and ideas, please visit NYGetInvolved.com.