Category Archives: Business

Chief Judge retains state’s commitment to Commercial Division

Regular readers of this space will know The Business Council is a big fan of the Commercial Division of the state court system. For a primer on the Commercial Division, please revisit our blog post from February of last year.

At the time of our previous post, the new Chief Judge of New York State, Janet DiFiore, had just been confirmed to the position. Well, we are happy to report that over a year into her tenure, Chief Judge DiFiore has not only retained the state court system’s commitment to the Commercial Division, she has enhanced it.

Just read these quotes from Chief Judge DiFiore in a recent update to the Commercial Division video highlighted in the link above:

  • “New York State is the center of finance and commerce for the entire country, and even much of the globe, and along with that world class status comes a world class court — the Commercial Division of the New York State Supreme Court…The Commercial Division is a model for the way we want all of our courts, civil and criminal, to function.”
  • “The goal and mission throughout our court system is excellence.  It is vitally important for New York to maintain a cost-effective and consistent forum for complex business litigation.”
  • “The Commercial Division is a model for the nation.  A forum comprised of dedicated, informed judges who are provided with the resources to handle complex business disputes efficiently, effectively, consistently, and above all, fairly.  I’m committed to ensuring that the Commercial Division remains a crown jewel in the New York State Court System.”

The video is available on several sites, including the court system’s YouTube channel. A full transcript is available on the court system’s website.

IBM CEO urges focus on “new collar” jobs

Ginni Rommety, the CEO of IBM (a member of The Business Council) is out with a new opinion piece in the USA Today urging U.S. policy makers to focus on policy decisions that will help prepare today’s youth for tomorrow’s jobs. In the piece, which you can read in full here, Ms. Rometty specifically cites the P-TECH model as one to follow. We here at The Business Council have made no secret of our affinity for this program. If you’re unfamiliar, here is Ms. Rommety’s decription:

“But in many other cases, new collar jobs may not require a traditional college degree. In fact, at a number of IBM’s locations spread across the United States, as many as one-third of employees don’t have a four-year degree. What matters most is that these employees – with jobs such as cloud computing technicians and services delivery specialists – have relevant skills, often obtained through vocational training.

Indeed, skills matter for all of these new positions, even if they are not always acquired in traditional ways. That is why IBM designed a new educational model that many other companies have embraced – six-year public high schools combining a relevant traditional curriculum with necessary skills from community colleges, mentoring and real-world job experience. The first of these schools – called Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH – opened five years ago in Brooklyn. It has achieved graduation rates and successful job placement that rival elite private schools, with 35% of students from the first class graduating one to two years ahead of schedule with both high school diplomas and two-year college degrees.

There will soon be 100 schools of this kind. Governors and mayors from across the political spectrum have become champions for this new approach, and at IBM, we have committed to work with states to open at least 20 more P-TECH schools in the next year.”

Ms. Rommety closes by saying that the onus should not fall on lawmakers alone. It is incumbent on stakeholders from across the public and private spectrum to work on developing curriculum and strategies that harness the potential of these “new collar” jobs and ensure our children and grandchildren acquire the skills necessary to fill these needs

Former lawmaker gets it right

Have you seen former state Assemblyman and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s OpEd in today’s Times Union?

It should be required reading for all state lawmakers. In the piece Mr. Levy lays out a list of policy initiatives that, if enacted, would reduce state and local government costs; provide the local government mandate relief promised, but never delivered, as part of the real property tax cap; and provide tax relief for employers and residents alike. Taken together, they would greatly improve the business climate of New York State. If many of these look familiar, it’s because we have been talking about them for years.

You can read the full OpEd here, but we’ve included a portion of it below.

  1. Enact pension reform by installing a 401(k) –type defined contribution pension for new public sector employees, as opposed to the present defined benefit pension, which keeps taxpayers on the hook for a guaranteed rate of return.
  2. Cap mandatory arbitration awards that have propelled law enforcement salaries over the $200,000 mark.
  3. Eliminate overtime from being factored into the base of a pension for all employee tiers. This practice has allowed for pensions to be dramatically inflated. Six-figure pensions are now quite common.
  4. End the Triborough Amendment that provides for automatic step salary increases in the public sector, even after a contract has expired.
  5. Control Medicaid benefits in New York to levels no greater than required by the federal government. New York taxpayers expend more than a billion dollars above the standards established by the Feds. For instance, while the Feds allow Medicaid to be made available to legal immigrants here more than five years, New York voluntarily waived the five-year threshold.
  6. End the Wicks Law. This relic from the early 1900s was originally enacted as a way to supposedly counter fraud in the letting of contracts. Instead of allowing the general contractor on public works projects to choose certain sub-contractors, the Wicks Law mandates that the subs be hired through a bidding process outside the control of the general contractor. It has been estimated by numerous budget experts that the law increases by up to 30 percent the cost of constructing public buildings in the state.
  7. End the Scaffold Law that holds building owners liable for accidents occurring at their construction sites even though they might not have been negligent in any way. Any employee contributory negligence is discounted. New York is the only state that has such absolute liability.
  8. End disability abuse that allows for some workers to get 3/4 of their pay tax-free if injured on the job. This has resulted in some employees (mostly in law enforcement) getting more staying home than if they are actually working, thereby eroding incentive to get back to work. Also end the “presumption” that heart and lung ailments are necessarily job related.
  9. End sick day abuse. Some local governments allow for employees to cash out huge amounts of unused sick days upon retirement. Some Long Island police, for example, get 26 sick days a year, and many of those not used can be banked for payment upon retirement. The employee is paid for the day at the salary rate he or she has in the last year of service. This has led to some employees getting severance packages of almost a half-million dollars. The New York City policy for sick days of “use it or lose it” should apply.
  10. End 20-year retirements. While the idea of allowing “20 years and out” policies in New York may have in the past been palatable, it is hard to justify such a policy with folks living so much longer today. By the time an officer age 23 reaches 83, the taxpayer could be funding one active and three retired officers (through their pensions) for that one position. It is simply unsustainable.

PPI Series: Making Sense of the Controversy Over Raising Education Standards: Redefining Proficiency

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part seven of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

Based on the publicity that the issue has received in recent years, one might think that standards and testing were new to our state, or that the number of tests administered by the state had suddenly increased.  But New York has been administering standardized tests for 150 years and has had learning standards since 1996, as shown in the timeline below.  The last time the state added a new mandatory test was about a decade ago, when the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind/NCLB) began requiring every state to administer ELA and math tests in grades 3 through 8.   The number of tests that the state administers has essentially remained the same since then.  What has changed is the level of performance that the Board of Regents now expects from students in order for those students to be considered “proficient.”  And because a test is used to measure mastery of the standards, the state’s ELA and math tests have been rewritten to “align” with the Common Core standards.

Under NCLB, each state established its own definitions of “proficiency” at each grade level, which is how they set passing scores on those tests.  Under the definition of proficiency that New York had in place in 2009, 77% of children passed the ELA tests and 85% passed the math tests in grades 3-8.  Yet the state’s persistently high rates of college remediation told a different story:  fewer than 40% of New York’s students were graduating with college- and career-ready ELA and math skills.  In other words, the state was telling parents that their children were “proficient” in English and math, yet when those students eventually graduated and enrolled in college, large numbers of them were being labeled in need of remediation and forced to spend their financial aid dollars to re-take high school material.

Figure 7. New York Standards and Testing Milestones

Source: NYSED, http://www.p12.nysed.gov/assessment/timeline-historyrev.pdf, http://www.p12.nysed.gov/ciai/lscorehistory.htmlhttp://www.p12.nysed.gov/newsnotes/archive/20100728.html

In 2010, the Board of Regents made a major first step towards instituting higher standards when they re-set proficiency cut scores against college readiness benchmarks.  This means that a student is now rated “proficient” on the grades 3-8 ELA and math tests only if that student is considered on track to graduate from high school and to be able to enter college without needing remedial courses.  The percentage of students scoring “proficient” or above fell sharply, and is now closely in line with college- and career-readiness rates—earning New York top marks from education reform advocates for its transparency:  New York has opted to tell the unvarnished truth about whether its students are prepared for the world they will face when they leave school.

Criticism of New York’s move to higher standards has focused on (1) the speed of the rollout, and (2) the use of the Common Core-aligned assessments as the basis for making decisions about individual students or educators.  Many parents and educators have argued that New York should have implemented higher standards gradually, starting with Kindergarteners and adding one grade each year thereafter.  The state’s position is that all students will face higher standards in the world of work, and that New York cannot afford to write off an entire generation while our schools raise education standards at a comfortable pace.

Figure 8: New York is Phasing in the Common Core Standards Over 12 Years

Please click here to read part six in this ongoing series.

PPI Series: Business and Higher Education Leaders Support College- and Career-Ready Standards to Boost New York’s Economy

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part six of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

By themselves, new education standards cannot solve New York’s skills gap or remedial education epidemic, but they are an important piece of the puzzle.  Here’s how it works:  With clearer standards to guide educators, a higher percentage of high schoolers should graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college, and fewer of them should require remedial courses.  A reduction in the need for remediation should increase college attainment rates.  Economists have shown that higher levels of college attainment lead to a more productive workforce.  College-educated workers earn higher wages, which enables them to contribute more in tax revenue and rely less on state assistance programs.

Figure 4. Theory of Action

New York’s neighbor to the east, Massachusetts, provides a convincing case study of how raising standards is an important step to improving educational outcomes and economic productivity.  In the early 1990s, a group called the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education issued a report that became the blueprint for a bipartisan reform bill.  The reform package included three main components:  (1) More money to urban schools and pre-Kindergarten programs; (2) ambitious academic standards; and (3) a new set of testing requirements, including high school exit exams (analogous to New York’s Regents Exams), known collectively as the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).   When the MCAS was first administered in 1998, students in urban schools performed terribly.  Improvement was so slow at first that researchers thought the reforms had failed, but State Superintendent David Driscoll insisted on staying the course.

Over the next ten years, Massachusetts became the envy of the nation for its education outcomes.  In 2005, Massachusetts scored at the top of all four categories measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (4th and 8th grade ELA and math).  In 2008, Massachusetts 8th graders tied for first in the world in science on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study exam.  From 2002 to 2009, NAEP scores for Massachusetts African-Americans and Hispanics on the 4th and 8th grade ELA improved faster than those of white students.  If Massachusetts were a country, its 2009 PISA scores would place it in the top ten, with countries like Singapore, Korea, and Finland.  Economic outcomes have improved as well.  The share of adults with a college degree has grown more in Massachusetts than in any other state, and worker productivity has grown more quickly in Massachusetts than in all but two other states.

If our policymakers wish to replicate Massachusetts’ outstanding educational trajectory, they will have to resist political opposition to tougher standards and tests, continue to gather high-quality data via standardized tests and other means, and throw their strong support behind policies that have the best chance of improving student outcomes.  Understanding this, New York’s business and higher education leaders—from IBM’s Stanley Litow and Xerox’s Ursula Burns, to SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken—have been vocal supporters of the Common Core standards, vigorously urging their colleagues, policymakers, and the public to see them through to full implementation.

Please click here to read part five in this ongoing series.

PPI Series: Teachers Point to Early Benefits of Higher Standards

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part four of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

While there have been plenty of challenges with the adoption of higher standards in New York, the public has not been hearing enough about the positive results that the state is already seeing.  Student outcomes are not going to improve overnight, as Massachusetts learned when it raised standards in the 1990s (more on that in a future post).  But the results of New York’s math tests, which are used to measure students’ mastery of the standards, are encouraging:  The percentage of all test takers in grades 3-8 who scored at the proficient level has increased by seven points, from 31% in 2013 up to 38% in 2015.  Even more promising, the Common Core movement seems to have tapped a phenomenal burst of energy and creativity among New York’s teachers.  In today’s post, you’ll hear from some of those teachers in their own words.

The “Engaged Voices” section of the New York State Education Department’s EngageNY.org site is full of ideas, videos, and testimonials by New York teachers and administrators.  (The teacher and principal testimonials throughout this post are from Engaged Voices unless otherwise noted.)  Angela Logan-Smith, principal of the Goldie Maple Academy in Queens, describes how teachers are using the standards as a jumping-off point for innovative learning activities: 

Children get engaged in ideas and love to do projects to extend their learning. Teachers love this too; it gives them a chance to pursue their students’ interests in creative ways. Last year, one class of kindergartners was fascinated with recycling after finishing [a Common-Core-aligned unit] called Taking Care of the Earth. Their teacher took them on a walk near the school in which they identified litter that could have been recycled. The next day, the teacher brought in clean examples of all the things they identified. After donning their white lab coats, these little scientists figured out which recycling bin each item belonged in [and] discussed what could have been saved if all the litter they saw outside had been recycled.

The EngageNY.org site also contains free curriculum resources for teachers and principals and has received tens of millions of hits.  Katherine Hesla, a humanities teacher in Webster Central Schools near Rochester, talks about the advantages of sharing ideas and resources in a recent Wall Street Journal article.  “One of the huge benefits of the Common Core is that it gave us someplace to start from and collaborate,” she explains.  “Before, we were all just making up our own thing.”

Louis Cuglietto, the principal of JFK Magnet Elementary School in the Mid-Hudson Valley, explains the way math instruction is changing under the new standards:

Instead of lessons that feature a single procedure, teachers are facilitating learning by giving students multiple ways that they can use to come to the answer. Students then discuss both their answer and the process they used, which provides the opportunity for all students to learn from each other and develop a more fluid, conceptual understanding of mathematics.

Karen Marino, a math specialist in Skaneateles, Central New York, describes it as a “new rigorous math world in which struggle and persistence precede success.”  According to Marylee Liebowitz, a math coach from Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES, these shifts are long overdue:

As a math teacher for twenty-two years, I witnessed first-hand how American students have slipped further and further behind their global competitors…. We, as educators, have been unable to raise student performance in math and have repeatedly found US students near the bottom of the math rankings, despite the disproportionate amount of money spent on educating each child. During these years, I worked hard to design my own classroom lessons to stress understanding and mathematical thinking over a “step by step” process so my students truly comprehended the math behind the algorithm….  I was so pleased and surprised to find that the functional changes that we are making to teaching math are reflective of the strategies that I have found to be most successful with my students….

I truly believe these standards will result in the curricular and instructional changes that New York students need to become college ready and have an opportunity to participate positively in the global economy they will encounter when entering the workplace. The Common Core Learning Standards will help ensure that students are not hindered by poor qualifications and remediation but rather provide them with the footing they need to have real choices about their education, and careers.  Their futures will be in their hands.  

Teachers in other subjects are no less enthusiastic about the Common Core shifts in the way students are learning literacy skills.  The changes start early, according to Rochelle Jensen, an elementary school teacher in Rome, in the Mohawk Valley:

I don’t want a quiet classroom with kids sitting at their desk and hands folded waiting for me to spill out the next lesson. My classroom is filled with inquisitive students gaining knowledge through complex text, using close reading strategies to infer meaning and providing supporting evidence in their responses. When students are doing most of the talking their thinking gets stronger and they can then build on this knowledge when they write.

Andria Finch, an English language arts teacher in Franklin, in the Southern Tier, agrees that close reading leads to better writing:

Because my students now closely analyze authors’ use of language and the ways these authors unfold their stories, not only are they generating their own ideas and providing evidence to support their claims, but their own creative writing has improved tremendously as well. 

And Roberta Faery, a high school social studies teacher and curriculum facilitator in Newfane, in Western New York, says these shifts are leading to gains across the curriculum:

When students know what it means to ‘make a claim’ in their writing they start to write for a purpose and not just because their teacher assigned it. Students have developed as writers.  Now feedback and revisions are key and an essential piece to the writing process.  The students’ time spent on editing and refining their writing has enabled them to develop a much deeper understanding of content.

To be heard above the sometimes strident controversy, teachers are joining pro-common core organizations, such as the New York Educator Voice Fellowship, and stepping forward to pen op eds in support of the standards and tests.  The New York Post’s “Passing the Common Core” series features teacher perspectives and sample lessons at each grade level.  Many of the teachers speaking out are motivated by a vision of equal educational opportunity for our state’s disadvantaged students.  Joshua Cornue, a fourth grade teacher in Rochester, explains:

The Common Core has allowed me to embrace higher expectations for my students. These kids who come from the most impoverished areas of the city, and who have often faced a track record of failure in school, are now coming in with more knowledge and confidence since they have been exposed to higher level work.

Teresa Ranieri, a first grade teacher at P.S. 11 in the Bronx, expresses a similar sentiment in a recent op ed in support of the annual state tests:

The data and results derived from assessments are a path to providing equal opportunity to a quality education for all.  I believe that by providing all students with an education they deserve, and annually measuring their growth and making instructional improvement, we can begin to bridge the inequality gaps in our education system.

Tim O. Mains, superintendent of the Jamestown Public Schools in Western New York, shares his perspective:

These new exams are more sophisticated than those given years ago. The stronger emphasis on skills like problem solving and critical thinking focus on building what students need for success.…  We believe that the tests are one fair measure of how well our students are learning the Common Core standards. The exams become a valuable measure of how well we are doing as a district. 

Educators who have seen first-hand the benefits of the new standards in their own schools and classrooms are making their voices heard.  Michelle Helmer, director of curriculum and instructional coach in the Silver Creek and Forestville School Districts in Western New York, concludes a recent article in the Observer Today with a strong call to action:

Let’s not divert our resources, change our trajectory, or back down. Let’s not settle for reactionary changes to the Common Core Standards in order to calm the political waters or make our work easier when it may leave a wake of superficial learning in its path. Let’s instead continue to support our teachers, leaders and students. Let’s provide the resources, time, and encouragement needed to work for the changes we wish to see in our classrooms for our students.

Please click here to read the third part in this ongoing series.

Biopharmaceutical sector provides outsized economic benefit

PhRMA is out with a study that shows the biopharmaceutical sector has an enormously positive impact on job creation and economic growth in New York State. According to a newly released report, the sector provides more than 50,000 direct jobs and nearly 200,000 in additional jobs are supported by the sector. These jobs range in industry from science, to management, to architecture and engineering, to transportation, and more.

Those jobs account for more than $19B in wages to New York State residents. That income translates to roughly $4.5B in tax revenue for the state and federal government.

Beyond that, between director and indirect output, the goods and services produced by the sector generates a combined $74.1B in economic activity. That equals roughly $182,000 in economic output per employee, a truly astounding figure.

The full PhRMA report can be accessed here. A copy of the New York economic impact is posted below.

Biopharmaceutical sector provides economic benefit

PPI Series: The Common Core Standards Represent “the Best of Our Knowledge”

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part two of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

Ever since 1983, when President Ronald Reagan called for state leaders to raise expectations for their education systems, the issue of state standards has been part of the education policy conversation.  Over the decades that followed, each state developed its own standards, including New York, which approved “learning standards” in seven content areas in 1996.  But this patchwork led to frustration among policymakers, who wanted to be able to compare student data across states in order to determine the relative effectiveness of their schools and education policies.  State-by-state variation in standards also meant that American students faced vast differences in educational expectations depending on where they happened to live. Some states intentionally set low standards, in a so-called “race to the bottom,” so that they could claim that a higher number of their students were achieving proficiency.

Thus, in 2009, governors and state education commissioners from 51 states and territories agreed to create shared standards in ELA and math.  A team of content experts, education researchers, teachers, and higher education faculty was assembled to begin the development process.  New York contributed more experts to the K-12 standards development teams than any other state; these included certified teachers, representatives of the teacher’s unions, and SUNY faculty. In March 2010, the National Governors Association released a draft for public feedback, and more than 10,000 individual comments were received.  New York had more than 570 commenters—including parents, higher education faculty, and over 300 teachers—far outnumbering the participation in any other state except California. The final standards were released in June 2010, and over the months that followed, individual states further reviewed them and decided whether to adopt them.

Ultimately, more than 40 states and the District of Columbia adopted the Common Core standards.  Because the Common Core standards were developed through a state-led, open and collaborative process that drew on the best available expertise, they can truly be said to embody “the best of our knowledge.”  The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a think tank that specializes in analyzing education standards, describes the features that make the Common Core standards so much better than pre-existing state standards:

They are admirably aligned with rigorous research (on early reading instruction, for example); explicit about the quality and complexity of reading and writing that should be expected of students every year; very solid on arithmetic as a clear priority in the elementary grades; ambitious in aiming for college and career readiness by the end of twelfth grade; and relatively jargon-free.

Moreover, expectations are now consistent across more than 40 states and are no longer dependent on a student’s zip code.

Yet every passing week seems to bring a news story about another state in which the Common Core is under attack.  Many of these stories are based on bills that were introduced by state legislators but ultimately failed to become law, or lawsuits sponsored by interest groups who misleadingly paint the standards and testing consortia as forcible intrusions by the Obama administration into state and local matters.  While it is true that federal Race to the Top grants provided financial incentives that hastened adoption of the standards and financed the testing consortia, state participation in those programs was voluntary.  The state-driven common standards movement pre-dates Race to the Top, and most states welcomed the influx of federal funding in support of their efforts.

The Common Core standards are in effect in more than 40 states, including every state that originally adopted them except Oklahoma and South Carolina.  In response to political controversy, some states have re-branded the standards by changing the name but have quietly retained the substance.  More than a dozen states, including New York, have adapted the standards by adding supplementary language—a move that was anticipated by the original adoption agreement under the so-called “15 percent rule.” Numerous states, including New York, have postponed or pulled back from full-scale participation in the Common Core testing consortia, while retaining the standards themselves.  Several states, including New York, have launched processes to review the standards and associated tests.

All of this has done little to roll back the Common Core standards, and it is arguable that the additional scrutiny and fine-tuning at the state level will ultimately strengthen the standards and improve their implementation.

To read part one in the series, please click here.

Congress worried about overtime rules

As we all sit and wait for the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hours Division to release the new final rules regarding the salary level for exemptions from overtime pay, some in Congress are beginning to worry about how these new rules will affect their staff.

As you know, the proposed rules would raise the minimum salary level for exempt employees from its current $455 per week ($23,660 per year) to perhaps as much as $970 per week ($50,440 per year).  (Our discussion of the proposed rules can be found in the link above).

According to an article in Bloomberg BNA, some members of Congress wonder how their budgets can accommodate such a dramatic rise in salaries. Congressional staffs are often made up of young, exempt, professionals who are paid less than the proposed $50,440 threshold and often work in excess of 40 hours per week. Many House Democrats who favor the expansion of overtime protections to employees in the private sector are concerned they won’t have enough money to maintain their current staffing levels.

Once the rules are finalized, all New York employers will be scrambling to adjust their budgets to reflect the new reality. Unfortunately, unlike Congress, private employers cannot just “appropriate” more money for themselves. Important decisions will need to be made regarding staffing levels and pay practices.

For questions on how these new rules may affect you, please contact Frank Kerbein, Director, Center for Human Resources at frank.kerbein@bcnys.org or at (800) 332-2117.

New video highlights benefits of New York’s Commercial Division

A new film about the Commercial Division of the New York State Supreme Court explains why the court has become the premier forum for business litigation.

In less than 15 minutes, the film describes the origins of the court and the reasons why it has transformed New York from a dreaded venue for the resolution of business disputes, to the preferred setting.

The professionally filmed video, produced by the Historical Society of New York State and the Commercial Division Advisory Council, comes on the heels of a special event last spring when the Business Council hosted a breakfast spotlighting the business benefits of the Commercial Division (see July/August issue of Connect). At the breakfast, Heather Briccetti recalled the “bad old days” when it would have been inconceivable that the New York courts could be viewed as an attraction for businesses seeking to relocate to New York.

Those days, as the new video makes clear, are gone.

Featured speakers include:

Gregory Palm (Goldman Sachs), Joseph Wayland (ACE Limited), Michael Fricklas (Viacom, Inc.), Michele Mayes (New York Public Library), Daniel Jonas (ConMed Corporation), Stephen Cutler (JPMorgan Chase & Co.), Elizabeth Moore (Consolidated Edison, Inc.), Richard Walker (Deutsche Bank AG), Douglas Lankler (Pfizer Inc.) and David Ellen (Cablevision Systems Corp.).

The video is available on several sites, including the court system’s YouTube channel. A full transcript is available on the court system’s website.