Cuomo and the Common Core: Will Another Round of “Below Proficient” Scores Force Cuomo to Scuttle His Committment to the Common Core?

Joe Prococo was sitting at his usual table at the back of Jack’s on State Street in Albany, and, he wasn’t in a good mood. “The f______ Common Core, Andrew’s going to get blasted, King screwed this up.”

Prococo is Cuomo’s alter ego, the “go-to” guy for everything and anything in the Cuomo administration. Low profile to the public, every legislator and Democratic apparatchik in the state knows it’s a non-starter if Prococo is not on board. From the speaking order on the podium to coordinating campaigns for Democrats around the state the pugnacious Prococo is “hands on.”

The Cuomo campaign for a second term runs on two levels – win with a majority north of 60% – a landslide – and that “unspoken” question that drives the campaign. “What happens if Hillary doesn’t run?”

Elizabeth Warren lurks on the left, probably too far to the left and no one takes Biden seriously, except Biden. Are there any governors, or senators who can step into Hillary’s shoes? Where would the Hillary voters go?

Cuomo has carefully crafted a political persona,

Liberal on social issues:

marriage equality is the law in New York State – careful on marijuana – medical marijuana – pushing, unsuccessfully so far, for the Women’s Equity Agenda ( “Safeguarding Reproductive Health, Ending Pregnancy Discrimination, Fighting Human Trafficking, Supporting Domestic Violence Victims, Providing Fair Access to Housing, Stopping Employment Discrimination, Expanding Access to Justice, Ending Sexual Harassment, Securing Equal Pay”) and ethics reform (“Require disclosure of clients doing business with the state that are represented by legislators before the state and disclosure of how much they get paid, require the creation of an independent body to provide oversight and enforcement of ethics rules because, as we have seen in the past, self-policing does not work, require lobbyists to disclose any business relationship with legislators in excess of $1,000, strip pensions from those public officials convicted of a felony related to the abuse of their official duties”).

Conservative on economic issues:

the 2% property tax cap, the refusal to allow de Blasio to raise taxes to fund universal pre-k, low tax economic empowerment zones upstate and moving towards increasing casino gambling as a revenue source.

Cuomo has positioned himself as a Democrat socially left of center and economically right of center – appealing to the Hillary voters as well as the disaffected democrats on the right.

Jumping on the Race to the Top band wagon seemed like the right political stance – being out in front of the crowd on the Common Core another “smart” political move – until it all began to crumble.

Simmering anger among parents turned to a bubbling cauldron that grew and grew, in spite of calls to slow the race to fully implement the Common Core the Commissioner and the Regents (with a few naysayers) plunged ahead. The anger was on the verge of a revolution and the governor supported a complex 39-page plan to slow the implementation and. hopefully, mollify parents.

The Commissioner is about to release the next set of Common Core test scores and it’s altogether likely the scores will be flat or only slightly better than last year – last year 2/3 of kids in grades 3-8 failed the tests – received scores of “below proficient.”

The supporters of the Common core argue to stay the course – three or four or five years down the road scores will begin to increase – national tests (NAEP) and international tests (PISA) will justify the current angst.

For Cuomo and Prococo and the 223 members of the legislature the only dates are the 2014 September party primaries, the November elections and the race to the 2016 presidential.

Zephyr Teachout, Cuomo’s opponent in the primary and Rob Astorino, his Republican challenger are both enthusiastic opponents of the Common Core.

Astorino: “Cuomo’s Common Core has been a disaster for parents, teachers and children alike. Rob Astorino will end Cuomo’s Common Core and replace it with better standards, teaching and testing, all set and controlled at the local level.”

Teachout: Teachout says as governor she “would immediately halt Common Core and lead a delegation of parents and teachers to Washington to argue that we can and should develop our own standards, not use high-stakes testing to judge teachers.”

The 30,000 or parents who opted out of the Common Core tests blame all the incumbents and Teachout and/or Astorino are alternatives. Teachers are angry and any chances of an endorsement are gone- they may vote for Teachout in the primary and sit on their hands in November.

Prococo is pissed – none of this had to happen.

Jerry Brown, the Governor of California stared down the feds and delayed the Common Core tests for a year, at least a year, Commissioner King said, “Not possible.” Brown was right!

Will the parent angst wane? Can the Commissioner and the Regents spin the release of the scores to assuage the anger of parents and teachers” Or,

Does someone take the blame?

Does a “head have to roll”?

Cuomo could waffle – the Siena poll has him ahead by 37% and parent anger may have nowhere to go – sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. On the other hand the national sentiment on the Common Core is rapidly turning negative, both from the left and the right. Defending the Common Core may lose Cuomo supporters from both ends of the political spectrum. Remember that second question: What if Hillary decides not to run? You want to have your policy “ducks in a row” if the moment comes – not have to change course. Maybe it is time to unshackle New York State from its firm commitment to the Core?

The unparalleled influx of Gulf War veterans overtaxed the ability of an already overtaxed Veterans Administration. The Republicans sharped their blades and stabbed away, and, a head had to roll. Eric Shinseki, the head of the VA took the fall. When the smell of blood is in the political waters it’s better to feed someone to the sharks.

If Cuomo scuttles the Common Core the rush will begin, a signal to candidates that there is no political upside to defending a sinking ship.

I bet Prococo loves Frank Underwood! Politics is no place for the faint of heart, it can be cruel, the stakes are high, maybe House of Cards should be required viewing in Government 101 classes?

School Leadership: Is the Department Recruiting and Supporting the “Best and the Brightest” School Leaders? and, If Not, Why Not?

Teacher: “All the Leadership Academy does is teach prospective principals with no classroom experience how to get rid of senior teachers.”

Leadership Academy principal: “I must have been out of the room when that was taught – I had to read and discuss scores of books and articles and participate in seemingly endless role-plays and data-analysis sessions, I think we had an hour session with a department attorney – she reviewed legal responsibilities and constantly reminded us to call her for advice, and I’ve been an assistant principal for three years and a classroom teacher for six years.”

The disconnects between teachers and principals are disturbing.

Early in Bloomberg/Klein years the department created the Leadership Academy, and, yes, one thread sought out non-teachers with leadership experience in other sectors. The non-teacher sector was widely criticized and reduced in size and now all candidates must have teaching and leadership experience. The Leadership Programs supported by the department are below:

The DOE is committed to the development and support of new, aspiring, and experienced school leaders. It is our goal to ensure that leaders of our system enhance their capacity, and that we continuously identify aspiring leaders who demonstrate commitment, innovation, and a relentless pursuit to meet the social and academic needs of our students.

Opportunities for Aspiring Principals
PROGRAM DESCRIPTION PROGRAM DURATION APPLICATION WINDOW OUTCOME
Bank Street Principals Institute (PI)
Prepares teachers and guidance counselors for leadership positions in DOE schools with a strong focus on instructional leadership. 18 months, including part- time residency at home school Deadline for 2014-15 nominations is February 10, 2014

Application process is currently open and will close on February 24, 2014 Master’s Degree, Education Leadership

School Building Leader (SBL) certification
Advanced Leadership Program for Assistant Principals (ALPAP) Executive Leadership Institute (ELI)
Prepares strong assistant principals with an opportunity to hone existing skills, and to acquire new skills needed for the position of principal. 1 year Application process will open on March 3, 2014 and closes on May 19, 2014 Certificate of completion
Leaders in Education Apprenticeship Program (LEAP)
Prepares teachers, guidance counselors, and assistant principals to take on school leadership positions within their cluster. 1 year, including part time residency at home school Application process is currently open and closes on January 21, 2014 School Building Leader (SBL) certification

Certificate of completion
New Leaders (NL) Aspiring Principals Program (APP)
Prepares experienced teachers, assistant principals, and/or successful graduates from the New Leaders Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) to become school principals, particularly in high poverty areas. 1 year, including full time residency at host school Application process is currently open and will close on January 30, 2014 School Building Leader (SBL) certification
NYC Leadership Academy (NYCLA) – NYCDOE Leadership Advancement Program (LAP)
Prepares teachers and guidance counselors who currently serve in school-based leadership roles to become school administrators in DOE schools 2 years, including part time residency Application process will open on February 10, 2014 and will close on March 7, 2014 School Building Leader (SBL) certification
NYC Leadership Academy (NYCLA ) Aspiring Principals Program (APP)
Develops and supports individuals with some leadership experience to successfully lead low-performing schools through teamwork, simulated school projects, and a year-long principal internship. 1 year, including half-year residency Application process is currently open

Early Decision deadline is on February 7, 2014

Regular Decision deadline is on March 7, 2014 School Building Leader (SBL) certification (if required)

Certificate of completion
Relay Graduate School of Education (GSE) Instructional School Leadership (ISLP)
This program serves as an entry point for teacher leaders interested in pursuing a path to school leadership with a specific focus on honing strong instructional and cultural leadership skills that drive better outcomes for students. 2 years Application process is currently open and closes on May 15, 2014 Master’s Degree, School Leadership (pending NYSED approval)

School Building Leader (SBL)certification
Summer Principals Academy (SPA), Teachers College -Columbia University
Promotes equity and excellence in education; culminates in the design of a new school. 14 months, including administrative internship at home school Application process is now open and closes on December 15, 2013 (priority deadline) Master’s Degree, Education Leadership

School Building Leader (SBL) certification
Accelerated Master’s Program in Educational Leadership (AMPEL) – Fordham University Graduate School of Education
Prepares highly motivated individuals to become future visionary and instructional leaders, through an intensive but supportive one-year cohort model. 1 year Application process is now open and will close on March 1, 2014 Master’s Degree, Educational Leadership (Administration & Supervision)
School Building Leader (SBL) certification
Assistant Principal Institute (API)
Supports and prepares assistant principals to become principals by honing their skills of observation and feedback, facilitative leadership, and generative professional dialogue. 1 year Application process is currently open and will close on May 19, 2014

School leadership is the key to building effective schools: Are the department-supported and other leadership programs effective in producing principals, and, how do we measure effectiveness?

There are a range of obvious questions; each has been answered by scores of scholarly works,

What qualities are necessary for effective school leadership?

How do you identify candidates who have or may acquire those qualities?

How do you assess whether the leadership program transmitted those qualities to the prospective school leader?

How do you support the school leader in the first few years in charge of a school?

A Public Agenda survey reported, “A staggering 80% of superintendents and 69% of principals think that leadership training in schools of education is out-of-touch with the realities of today’s districts.”

A 2012 Wallace Foundation study tells us,

Too often, training for principals fails to prepare them for the difficult task of guiding schools to better teaching and learning. This Wallace Perspective plumbs foundation research and work in school leadership to identify five lessons for better training, including: more selective admission to training programs, a focus on instructional leadership and mentoring for new principals.

A 2007 Stanford study led by Linda Darling-Hammond examined successful leadership programs from the bottom up – studying highly effective school leaders and the programs that trained the leaders. The programs all shared,

* creating a collaborative learning environment
* planning professional development
* using data to monitor school progress
* engaging the staff in the decision-making process
* leading change efforts
* planning for improvement
* engaging in continuous learning

Classroom teachers continue to be highly critical of the leadership of their schools, and, the specific criticism seems to challenge the implementation of the goals described in the Darling-Hammond report. On the surface the newly issued Chancellor’s Regulation appears to provide a rigorous, inclusive process – the department has re-established an examination for placement in the Principal Pool – watching a video of a lesson and writing an observation report and participating in a facilitated discussion with other candidates of a school based upon a review of the school’s data.

One of the shortcomings of leadership training programs is the selection process for candidates. In the colleges and universities; the primary qualification is the ability to afford the tuition. Programs outside the department commonly accept most of their applicants. The programs consist of traditional college courses, sitting in a classroom and reading articles and textbooks, writing responses and a field supervisor who visits the work site three or four times a year and reviews logs on a regular basis.

The department programs are far more selective; after all, many of them are free.

While completion of the college program qualifies the candidate for the state license an examination is required – however, it is questionable whether the exams are useful, the exams are “administered individually, by computer, during several separate testing window opportunities per year, at Pearson VUE Test Centers throughout New York, as well as at additional testing centers in adjoining states and nationally.”

Senior teachers commonly yearn for the “good old days,” those supervisors of yore. Remember, before the 2002 No Child Left Behind kids only took exams in grades four and eight and over 80% of students in New York City graduated with a local diploma, not a Regents diploma. Graduation rates below 50% in high schools were commonplace and in many schools, especially the harder to staff schools, supervisory classroom observations took place maybe once or twice a year, if at all.

For twenty-seven years, from 1970 to 1997 supervisory appointments were made by community school boards. In the poorest neighborhoods the appointments were wholly political or sometimes required a monetary contribution. A widely distributed surreptitiously filmed video showed a principal complaining, “Just because I bought my job doesn’t mean I’m incompetent.” I knew her – in a very low achieving school in a very poor neighborhood she just stayed in her office and never observed anyone – teachers liked her – and she was grossly incompetent.

Principals are under enormous pressures today to raise scores – the primary means of assessing success. Schools do undergo periodic Quality Reviews, an extremely detailed one to two day review by a superintendent or trained observer. Hundreds of emails end up in a principal’s e-inbox requesting and/or demanding this or that. On one hand the Network Leader or a “visitor” from the State may ask you for your “mission and vision statements” while the ominous “pop-pop” echoes from the housing project down the block. Your best teacher may inform you that, yes; she is accepting that job in the suburbs and a 20k bump in pay. The pressures are never-ending and the “powers that be” frequently only data-driven.

Teaching is a stressful and frustrating job; and school leadership moves the stress and frustration to a higher level. Principals continue to leave at disturbing rates, to calmer and better paying jobs as well as just moving along to less stressful occupations.

In assessing the performance of principals, staffs should play a role – not a simple thumbs up or down, a detailed assessment that is shared with the principal as well as a detailed assessment of the teacher by the school leader. I don’t think “liking” a school leader is important, I think respecting a school leader is important. Generational conflicts are not uncommon, a teacher with thirty years of experience and a new, younger principal – can they mutually respect each other? How do you convince staff, all staff, that continuous learning is important? How do you lead by example not by memo? How do you cajole, prod, and change behavior and practices without creating a toxic culture?

We do not do a good job of selecting, supporting and assessing the performance of school leaders, in my view, especially in selecting.

Just because a teacher says “I want to be a principal” does not mean they have the skills. I’ve met too many young principals lacking leadership skills and too many senior principals who were bullies.

Effective schools require school leaders with the skills to lead – we have to up our game and seek out better candidates and support them on the job.

The Dropout Crisis: Why Are Teachers Leaving? The Job? Management? or the Generation?

As President Obama launches My Brother’s Keeper (…”a new effort aimed at empowering boys and young men of color”), as schools scramble to train school leaders and teachers, as the far more rigorous Common Core standards become the yardstick for measuring achievement, schools face an ignored crisis – the numbers of teachers who leave every year.

A new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, entitled On the Path to Equity: Improving the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers is both disturbing and not surprising.

… nearly 15 percent of the workforce [teachers] is moving or leaving every year. And, the study says, at-risk students suffer the most … nearly 20 percent of teachers at high-poverty schools leave every year, a rate 50 percent higher than at more affluent schools.

The reasons for leaving, according to the study, have been the same for decades,

The report points to a variety of reasons for the turnover, including low salaries and a lack of support for many teachers. Which helps to explain why those most likely to quit are also the least experienced: 40 to 50 percent of new teachers leave within their first five years on the job. [In high needs NYC middle schools the rate is 70%]

The more difficult the school, meaning the higher the level of poverty, the more likely teachers leave and the need for interventions become more acute.

Without access to excellent peers, mentors, and opportunities for collaboration and feedback, teachers’ performance in high-poverty schools plateaus after a few years and both morale and work environment suffer. Ultimately, the report notes, these hard-to-staff schools become known as “places to leave, not places in which to stay.” According to the report, high-poverty schools experience a teacher turnover rate of about 20 percent per calendar year—roughly 50 percent higher than the rate in more affluent schools.

The study concludes with a range of rather vanilla recommendations:

Require regular evaluations of teachers using multiple measures.

• Develop systems to encourage high-quality educator development and teaching.

• Require comprehensive induction programs for new teachers.

• Embed analysis and improvement of teaching and learning conditions.

• Support staff selection and professional growth systems that foster collegial collaboration.

The study, as I mentioned, is not surprising, and disappointingly shallow.

For decades teaching positions in “high needs” schools, aka high poverty or to be blunt schools in inner city communities of color, have been difficult to staff. In the mid-nineties 17% of New York City teachers were “Provisional Preparatory Teachers’ (PPTs), teachers who passed the coursework but could not pass the low-skilled required exams and they served in the poorest schools. About the same time I was a member of a School Under Registration Review (SURR) review team assessing a low achieving, high poverty school. On the first day of the 4-day visit the principal was late to the meeting. It was February, he had two teaching vacancies and a number of teachers were absent – his first task was to assign “coverages” to the staff, an additional teaching period. As we began the meeting one of the team members asked a softball question: What criteria do you use to assess effective teaching? The frustrated principal blurted out, “They come every day and blood doesn’t run out from under the door.”

High teacher turnover is nothing new.

Why do teachers leave?

* It’s a far more difficult and frustrating job than it appears from afar, and, anyone can decide to become a teacher – there are few, if any, admissions criteria for teacher education programs – in fact, programs scramble to admit students and collect tuition. In Finland schools of education draw from the top 10% and, in the elementary grade teacher preparation programs; we draw from the lower half.

We have too many teacher preparation programs and the programs should be more selective.

* Induction programs are slipshod. In most schools and school districts there are informal mentoring programs – an experienced teacher is assigned to a new teacher. The mentor is rarely trained. In bygone days the much maligned Board of Education required mentoring – in my school district we required training for the mentors. Experienced, highly effective teachers do not automatically translate into effective mentors of new teachers. As the union rep – the guy who teachers came to, to complain; I heard from the mentor, “They don’t listen, they think they know everything,” and from the new teacher, “My mentor reminds me of my mother, nothing I do is right.”

Mentoring is a skill unto itself.

* Teaching is isolating – all day in a classroom with kids and in most schools few, if any, opportunities to interact with colleagues. For a new teacher in an extremely high stress job with no feedback, no support system, the pressures can be overwhelming and drive out a teacher in spite of their potential. Schools with a collaborative culture, school leaders that schedule common planning time and guide the use of the time provide an emotional as well as instructional support. A new elementary school opened in my district, almost all the teachers were first or second year teachers: as a district union rep how could I support them? I organized an every-other-Friday meeting at a local tavern – with reduced price drinks. Apparently they sipped (or gulped) bright colored alcoholic beverages and talked about lessons and planning!!

Cultures of collaboration are essential.

* The days of career teachers, or, career any job are rapidly changing. Kids move from teaching job to teaching job and from career to career. I was in a “hot” restaurant in LA (at the AFT Convention) and asked a question I frequently ask servers, “What’s your real job?” The server told me he had an engineering degree, with a few friends he ran a “mustard” company and was planning to open a bar. Not uncommon.

In the waning days of June I sought out two younger teachers who were leaving teaching, for one – he heard the music scene in Austin was great and he wanted to check it out, and, for another, their partner was moving to Portland and they’re trail along … the “hipster” generation has shallow roots.

More and more jobs are not site-based, you can log-on from anywhere and go to work – the world of work is amorphous and our values, a lifetime career, might very well be outmoded.

* Teaching will never compete with other high education jobs income-wise and rarely provide ladders for promotion.

I get tired of teachers who begin with “… in Finland …” These days I interrupt and ask if they were in the top 10% of their college class – if they answer “no” I tell them “in Finland” they wouldn’t be a teacher. We live in a nation with unparalleled income inequality and teaching will never be viewed as a high status job. Up until recently the attraction was defined-benefit pension and job stability. That might be changing! A few years ago I met a guy in his fifth year of teaching – his principal raved about him – and – he was leaving and going back to school to get an MBA. He told me he looked ten years down the road – looked at his salary and decided it would not support the life he wanted for his new wife and yet to be born kid(s). The new New York City teacher contract does provide other pathways at higher salaries for excellent teachers – perhaps it will convince the “best and brightest” to remain in the classroom.

* School leadership is crucial to retaining staff.

New teachers frequently start in a “high needs” school and move up the ladder to more affluent schools – a pattern which has accelerated today with the absence of a seniority transfer plan; any teacher can transfer to any school. Recruiting, selecting, training and retaining school leaders is just as important as retaining teachers.

School leader preparation programs need tuition-paying students to survive and also have pitiable admissions criteria. How many programs require evidence of excellent teaching? You sit in classrooms, an internship with the college supervisor coming by a few times and voila!! You are the “owner” of a supervisory certificate.

The Department programs, the Leadership Programs (see list here) do have high admission standards – whether they select the correct candidates and the performance of the graduates is open to question). Too many school leaders revert to the norm, (“Do it because I say to do it.”) Too many cannot lead by example, too many are robotic and await the orders from on high to salute and pass on the order.

Highly effective school leaders retain staff.

School cultures are firmly embedded, teachers and principals may come and go – the culture remains. The culture may be one that fosters collaboration or one that may foster conflict, the culture may foster high expectations and a student-centered school or low expectations and a teacher-centered school. The core issue may always be what can we do for each and every kid or the teacher room discussions can center on getting out of the parking lot as fast as possible. The right school leader can build a school culture that attracts and retains teachers – up to a point; after all, in addition to the music scene in Austin, the bar-b-que is great!!

Common Core and the Fight for the NYS Senate: How the Failure to Comprehend the Emotional Power of Parents/Teachers/Voters Derailed the Common Core

Fifteen weeks before the November election and Governor Cuomo has a 37 point lead over his Republican opponent Rob Astorino as well as a huge advantage in dollars. Cuomo’s support of charter schools cut off a major source of funding for Astorino and the national Republican funding operation views him as a loser and has not committed dollars to his campaign. Whether we like it or not dollars decide elections, if you can’t reach the voters with your ideas, and besmirch your opponent, you’re left on the sidelines.

Cuomo’s campaign is taking nothing for granted, they are well aware in the race for Westchester County Executive, Astorino was polling behind the Democrat and won by 10% – Cuomo will be charging as hard as he can up until election day.

While the gubernatorial election will grab the headlines the key races in New York State are for control of the 63-seat Senate. The Senate is currently controlled by … well … an interesting question. Five “breakaway” Democrats, the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC), led by Jeff Klein, and Dean Skelos, the Republican leader, control the flow of legislation. On paper the Democrats hold a one seat majority; however, the last two Democratic leaders have been indicted and are awaiting trial and two Democrats lean well to the Republican side of the aisle.

In order to avoid primaries the IDC has agreed to caucus with the Democrats to establish a majority if the dems prevail in November, maybe.

Of course, the Senate, in many ways resembles the Roman Senate with “colleagues” lurking” in the shadows waiting to assassinate enemies or friends, as long they benefit.

Will Cuomo’s ample coattails drag the Democratic slate to victory?

Are there actually issues that will drive voters?

The Democrats are hoping that Andrew’s landslide will carry the day, and, worry about the major issue in the minds of voters. No, not guns, or taxes, or gambling, or marijuana, the major issue is the Common Core.

By a 49-39 percent margin, voters want to see implementation of the Common Core standards stopped rather than continued.

Voters are closely divided on viewing each house of the Legislature favorably or unfavorably, and more are inclined to re-elect incumbent legislators rather than ‘someone else.’ Yet, 65 percent say most state legislators “do what’s best for them and their political friends and it never surprises me when another one gets indicted.” Only 28 percent say “most state legislators are honest, hardworking and do what’s best for their constituents.” – (See results from the latest Siena Poll https://www.siena.edu/news-events/article/cuomo-leads-astorino-by-37-points#sthash.MFGNIHgp.dpuf)

In a week or two the Common Core grades 3-8 test scores will be released and the firestorm of last year may be re-ignited.

The 2013 scores were released on August 7th, with fanfare – the lengthy press release was almost smug, New York State was one of the first states in the nation to begin the new Common Core path to higher accountability and higher learnings. No matter how hard the Department of Education spun the numbers two-thirds of all students scored “below proficient;” meaning, they failed the test. In the fall, in order to stem the simmering outrage the Commissioner began a “listening tour,” in reality trying to convince audiences of parents ”to love the core.” The meetings were angry, hostile and the meetings were suspended for a while. Public anger moved from simmering to bubbling and eventually the Governor/State legislature passed laws to slow down the implementation of the Common Core.

Too late. Perhaps as many as 30,000 parents “opted out” of the exam and the evidence of the continuing anger is seen in the polling data.

The 2014 scores may be somewhat better; however, a majority of students will receive “below proficient” scores and the cauldron may boil over.

Astorino is seeking another line on the ballot, a “Stop the Common Core” line; the Cuomo camp champions the legislation that slowed the implementation.

Voters see these issues in simpler terms: Are you for or against?

A seasoned smart legislator asked me to give him a one-page summary of the Common Core issue with pro and con arguments, not an easy chore. At every meeting constituents raised the issue, he received letters and emails, but there was no bill to vote for or against. He was facing a visceral anger: you’re punishing my kid, do something, but what?

Do incumbents tell voters the Regents and the Commissioner moved too quickly, give them time, eventually the Common Core will benefit your kids? Or, blast the Regents and the Commissioner and promise to drastically change policies and roll back an ill-advised path?

For insurgents the path is easier, blame the incumbents and promise to throw out the Core.

The Common Core may, or may not change the course of education, on some grades the Core standards may not be appropriate, the failure to view the Core as an evolving document is foolish, politics reduces itself to the simple and the Common Core has been reduced to a “yes” or “no” proposition for many voters.

Bill de Blasio was elected mayor primarily because of a single TV commercial, the “Dante” Afro video and the laser-like focus on two issues: “Stop and Frisk” and Pre-Kindergarten for all.

As the Race to the Top dollars evaporate, as the Congress fails to re-authorize No Child Left Behind and starves education dollars, as the antipathy to the Common Core resonates across the nation, PhD dissertations will recount how policy-makers erred and how the failure to understand politics derailed the most heralded education “idea” in a decade.

In the World of “You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Measure,” When Will You Be Able to See Your Doctor’s VAM Score?

Teachers live in a cocoon; all day with our students and with other teachers, we socialize with teachers, we complain to teachers, we go to teacher union meetings and the assault on teachers seems endless, from trying to abolish tenure, to denigrating our unions to assessing our performance by serpentine algorithms.

And, we’re jealous, other professions, lawyers and doctors don’t seem to have these problems, we’re sure the American Bar Association (ABA) and the American Medical Association (AMA) would never permit it.

In reality we have a lot more in common with lawyers and doctors.

Law schools are churning out potential lawyers in spite of the paucity of jobs. Yes, a few students graduate from elite law schools and serve as clerks for prestigious federal judges and are snapped up by white shoe firms at hefty six figure salaries. The vast majority of new lawyers, as well as experienced lawyers struggle to make a living; after all, lawyers never retire! Law firms are folding and some lawyers end up as teachers.

Law is not a growth industry as alternative dispute resolution procedures spread the need for lawyers lessens.

How much do lawyers earn?

Pursuant to Article 18B of the County Law, the Assigned Counsel Plan has been providing quality legal services to indigent persons within the Bronx and New York County Criminal Courts since 1966. The Plan provides compensation to private attorneys for representing indigent clients charged with criminal offenses.

Attorneys are compensated at a rate of $60 per hour for misdemeanor matters and $75 per hour for felony matters. The Plan provides legal assistance for trial court matters as well as appellate matters.

Court-appointed lawyers who represent “indigent persons” make only a little more than teacher per session!!

What about the American Bar Association (ABA)? Doesn’t the ABA control access into the profession? Why can’t the ABA influence the incredibly low pay and surplus numbers of lawyers?

When lawyers need to be heard, the ABA is their voice both nationally and globally. We work to promote judicial independence and ensure funding for the Legal Services Corporation. We also promote the international rule of law through programs in more than 40 countries that focus on access to justice, human rights, anti-corruption, judicial reform and more.

The ABA has very little to do with the everyday life of lawyers.

Well, if the ABA is impotent at least the professional organization of doctors, the American Medical Association has clout. Not really.

Value-Added Measurement (VAM) is not limited to teachers. The statistical technique, commonly called super crunching, or regression techniques. “… the statistical regression not only produces a prediction, it also simultaneously reports how precisely it was able to predict,” has invaded every workplace (Read review of Super Crunchers here)

The world of medicine is following the world of teaching. The feds are creating algorithms to measure every aspect of healthcare. Just as the “measurement” of teachers is supposed to improve the teaching profession the world of measurement will improve the field of medicine, and, save dollars.

Physician Performance Measurement and Reporting is a value-based purchasing strategy that enables health care stakeholders to evaluate physician compliance with clinical, evidence-based care guidelines, which can lead to lower costs and improved outcomes, and informed consumers who seek care from physicians who follow these guidelines. This strategy can be utilized by a variety of stakeholders—physicians, health plans, employers, patients, and others—to improve care, monitor outcomes, and align incentives. As such, physician measurement is an end unto itself, but also a foundation for other value-based purchasing strategies that seek to reward high performing physicians.

The world of medicine eerily replicates the world of education,

Like it or not, measuring physician performance is now a key part of the conventional wisdom on improving our health care system. Borrowing from management guru Peter Drucker’s mantra “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” health care policy makers have embraced performance measurement as being central to managing our heretofore unmanageable health care system.

The measurement of physician practice, you guessed it, comes from the feds. Remember, every doctor, one way or another works for the feds. The days of the individual practitioner are long gone. Doctors work in group practices or for hospitals and the rules and regulations are drafted by the federal bureaucracy and embedded in the Affordable Care Act.

Dr. Bob Centor is an outspoken critic of the entire data-driven medicine movement.

I am obsessed with performance measurement and why it not only rarely works but often causes negative unintended consequences. As I have pondered this question recently, computers cannot replace physicians as diagnosticians.

Centor may be absolutely right, it doesn’t matter – the world of medicine is changing dramatically.

Ironically lawyers and doctors no longer have clout, their organizations, the ABA and the AMA are distant, governments in cities, state capitals and Washington set policies. One of the few organizations that are fighting back is the teacher unions. The imposition of the Common Core and harsh testing environment has angered parents across the country, mayors and governors worry about the backlash and are backing away from the “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” mantra and teacher unions are working closely with parents and community organizations.

The use of VAM and edTPA may be lagging; however, in the field of medicine, in a few years, your doctor’s “score” will be a few mouse clicks away.

Will doctor’s offices, like restaurants, have an “A,” “B” “C” or “Pending” on their door?

edTPA: Should Externally Designed National Tests Drive Teacher Preparation Programs and Curricula?

Marc Korashan is a long time union activist an adjunct professor at a local college and a frequent commenter on this blog. The following are his impressions from a discussion at the AFT Convention.

One of the more overlooked aspects of attending a national convention is the chance to look at issues from new perspectives. For me this was particularly true around the issue of the use of new teacher certification test, the EdTPA which came up in a resolution entitled “EdTPA and Respect for the Professionalism of Teacher Educators” from the Higher Education Committee.

The resolution opposes the use of this measure, which has no proven validity, as an entrance criterion for the teacher profession. We don’t know if this test really predicts who will be a good teacher. It presumes a specific pedagogical technique is applicable in all classes and it rigidly evaluates whether the teacher candidate is applying it. These problems have been evident for me in my work with first and second year Teaching Fellows (an alternative certification path in New York City geared to career changers).

The discussion from the floor, however, was focused on less visible but more vexing problem. The impact of this assessment on teacher preparation programs, curricula, and the academic freedom of teacher educators. The point was made that in order to prepare teacher candidates for the test; schools of education were warping their offerings and curricula to match the demands of the test. Teacher is being standardized, routinized and forced away from the kind of wide ranging examination of pedagogy, child development, and social issues that it should be, into a lock-step model that focused on the assumptions about what constitutes good teaching embedded into the test by its anonymous, corporate authors (the test was developed by Stanford University and now associated with Pearson); assumptions whose validity, as already noted, have not been tested or validated.

As many speakers noted, this does to university educators what the educational “reform” movement has done to P-12 educators. It makes tests the only measure of effectiveness. University based teacher educators rightly fear that they and their programs will be evaluated based on how well their graduates, who were able to enter teaching only because they scored well on an unproven measure of their potential, are able to raise the achievement of their students on other seriously flawed test-based metrics.

While well informed on the problems with Value Added Measures (which are nowhere near ready for prime time), I am also deep into the work of supporting first and second year teachers and found this discussion enlightening.

Most importantly it highlighted the need for teachers to take charge of the profession. We are, as far as I know, the only profession where politicians determine the entrance criteria. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, all enter the profession through programs and examinations designed by practitioners. Teachers are certified by the state if they meet criteria set by law and complete a teacher education program. New York State currently requires that teachers pass three tests, included in the EdTPA process and earn a Masters’ degree from an accredited Teacher Education program.

These programs are worried they can lose their accreditation if candidates do not pass the EdTPA (or if the students they teach do not show sufficient gain on the teacher accountability metrics). This fear can drive these programs into test-prep mode and give their graduates the false impression that there is only one acceptable method of pedagogy, when we as practitioners know that flexibility is the key to meeting students, especially struggling, disabled, and ELL students, where they are and engaging them in the educational process. One size, one approach will never fit every student.

It is time for the AFT and the NEA to begin to lay out their own vision for a meaningful teacher preparation and certification process; one that leaves candidates truly prepared for the rigors of the profession, able and willing to work with the neediest students across the country. We need to make the profit-driven corporations defend their work and demonstrate how it is better or more meaningful than what teachers can do collectively on their own.

I liked the charter school teacher who defined a charter school as one where, instead of a superintendent, the school reported to a corporation. Do we really want a system where test publishers determine the curriculum and rate teachers and teacher education programs based on student test scores?

See AFT White Paper: Raising the Bar: Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession (http://www.aft.org/pdfs/teachers/raisingthebar2012.pdf)

(Almost) Live Reporting on the 2014 AFT Convention in Los Angeles: Day 3 and a Retrospective

The 2014 edition of the Los Angeles AFT Convention will wrap up in few hours as the 3,000 delegates catch flights.

What I love most about these biannual conventions is the chance to meet colleagues from locals across the country. At a reception last night I chatted with a Boston teacher: how do you mobilize retirees to work on issues not related to retirement? A teacher from a local on the Texas-Mexico border was interested in involving parents, Spanish-speaking parents who may be undocumented, how do you teach the parents to help their kids outside of school? A rising star from St Paul, who, in the midst of a frigid winter, went to the brink of a strike, engaged parents and community in the negotiating process, and emerged with a contract.

Teacher leaders from Germany and Poland struggling with teachers adapting to the influx of students from the Balkans: creating a bi-lingual education structure.

The AFT continues to grow, last year the 46,000 member National Federation of Nurses merged with the AFT, and nurses and healthcare professionals continue to join the union. We may sometimes forget that the healthcare system is profit-driven and one way to save money is to skimp on both the numbers of nurses as well as overload them with duties endangering patients.

Colleges and universities are plagued by the reliance on what is called contingent staff, adjuncts who teach a few classes for low wages and commonly no benefits. How do you create strategies to improve the working conditions of part time staff? The same high-stakes regimen that has been imposed on teachers is coming to colleges. Using growth on student tests to assess the teacher and tracing the teacher score back to the college and using the score to assess the success, or lack thereof, of the college program. High-stakes testing for all.

The convention is a series of guest speakers, videos, awards to a range of members (Watch all or a few of the 22 videos here) and debating the resolutions submitted by the Executive Council and locals. The resolutions are sent to thirteen committees, delegates can choose to attend any committee, they meet at the same time, debate ensues, and the committees vote “concurrence” or “non-concurrence,” select the top three resolutions that go to the floor for debate.

The debate on the lengthy, nuanced resolution on the Common Core was extensive, and, at times, passionate. For 45 minutes delegate after delegate “testified,” over this issue, clearly, there is a rift in the ranks. For some, mostly from the Chicago Teachers Union, the Common Core is an abomination, for others, from around the country; the problem is the implementation and the high-stakes testing component.

Weingarten, serving as the chair, was extremely generous in allowing every voice, at times, with an audience wanting to get on with the next order of business. Of the many amendments offered from the floor some clarified and strengthened the intent of the resolutions while others were “wordsmithing,” arguing style over substance.

One of the more fascinating announcements was the creation of Democrats for Public Education, led by Donna Brazile, who is a great speaker. Back in the early Obama days Joe Williams, a former NY Daily News reporter founded Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), an organization which became the voice of the Obama-Duncan administration, for choice (aka charter schools), high-stakes testing, Race to the Top and anti-tenure, the supporters included democrats who in the liberal/progressive wing of the party.

The new organization (DFPE) will force Democrats to make choices – choices which will have consequences at the ballot box.

Once upon a time the AFT was sharply divided internally, on virtually every resolution the Progressive Caucus was on one side and the opposition on the other. Supporters of one side or another raced to microphones, the debate was ofttimes personal as this or that resolution passed or failed.

Weingarten has changed the culture, while a handful of candidates ran against the Weingarten slate the tent of now broad enough to encompass a wide range of opinions. Karen Lewis of the Chicago Teachers Union and Barbara Bowen of the PSC (CUNY) may disagree with Weingarten on Common Core or the role of the AFT in funding local elections, the disagreements are public and do not fray relationships.

For some delegates the position on the Common Core was the major issue at the convention for me the major issue was building for the 2014 Congressional elections. If the Republicans maintain the House and gain control of the Senate the only person standing in the way of the total erosion of labor rights will be the lame duck president.

An intense few days – many, many wonderful conversations, the passion and the dedication of teacher (and nurse) unionists are heartwarming, and, the fight is just beginning. How do you convince teachers that in spite the disappointments of the last six years of the Obama administration the November elections are crucial and they must dedicate their time and dollars?

In the words of Langston Hughes,

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.