New York education officials support more charters

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — New York's top education officials on Wednesday recommended that the governor and lawmakers allow more charter schools, particularly in New York City, and make it easier to fire ineffective teachers.

Weighing in on several issues at the request of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration, the Board of Regents and the Education Department also recommended revising the statewide teacher evaluation system so that virtually all teachers don't get high marks, keeping New York City schools under mayoral control and making it illegal to assign students to low-performing teachers two years in a row.

"While New York state has done much to improve public education in recent years, we continue to face critical challenges," read a letter to state Operations Director Jim Malatras.

The letter was signed by Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and soon-to-be acting Education Commissioner Elizabeth Berlin.

The letter cited a low percentage of high school graduates considered ready for college or the workforce and persistent achievement gaps between low-income and minority students and their more well-off peers.

Cuomo sought the input as he prepares what he said will be an aggressive legislative package for 2015.

The recommendations also included giving the state more power to intervene and, if necessary, shut down persistently low-performing schools. In addition, it suggested strengthening the law to require charter schools that do not improve student performance to close.

"Charter schools can be an effective choice for parents and lead to educational innovation if they are held accountable for increases in student achievement and outcomes," according to the letter, which added that there should be no "arbitrary barriers" to increasing the number of seats available in charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated.

The officials recommended either adjusting or raising the existing cap on charter schools to allow for more in New York City, an idea supported by Cuomo but vigorously opposed by the state's largest teachers union.

Executive Director Jenny Sedlis of StudentsFirstNY, which supports charter schools, said the recommendations are "useful ideas for improving schools." But the group said in a statement that the suggestions could have gone further, including advocating for stiffer consequences for colleges that do not produce high quality teachers.

Outside the governor's mansion Wednesday, the New York State United Teachers staged a protest against what it said were "attacks on public education and teachers." Meanwhile, Cuomo supporters staged a counter protest.

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