Teacher Evalution: Firing to Excellence is Faux Reform, Consistent, On-Going Assessment by Skilled Observers Engenders Excellence.

The State Education Department released the second year of teacher assessment scores, the first year for New York City teachers. The anti-teacher “fire to excellence” (de)former forces slammed the scores, teacher unions gave a modified approval and others appeared to be waiting for the governor’s state of the state message.

The New York Times reports,

In the city, only 9 percent of teachers received the highest rating, “highly effective,” compared with 58 percent in the rest of the state. Seven percent of teachers in the city received the second-lowest rating — “developing” — while 1.2 percent received the lowest rating, “ineffective.” In the rest of the state, the comparable figures were 2 percent and 0.4 percent.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said he wants to strengthen the evaluation system … a spokeswoman said, “As the governor previously stated, stronger, more competitive, teacher evaluation standards will be a priority” for the next legislative session.

A State Education Department press release,

… similar to the first year, the vast majority of teachers and principals received a high performance rating. The preliminary results show more than 95 percent of teachers statewide are rated effective (53.7 percent) or highly effective (41.9 percent); 3.7 percent are rated as developing; approximately one percent are rated ineffective.

Chancellor Tisch, the leader of the Board of Regents does not seem to fully understand what the rating assess,

“The ratings show there’s much more work to do to strengthen the evaluation system,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said. “There’s a real contrast between how our students are performing and how their teachers and principals are evaluated. The goal of the APPR process is to identify exceptional teachers who can serve as mentors and role models, and identify struggling teachers to make sure they get the help they need to improve. I don’t think we’ve reached that goal yet. The ratings from districts aren’t differentiating performance. We look forward to working with the Governor, Legislature, NYSUT, and other education stakeholders to strengthen the evaluation law in the coming legislative session to make it a more effective tool for professional development.”

Former Commissioner David Steiner, John King and UFT president Michael Mulgrew spent months working on a teacher evaluation plan that eventually was crafted into a statute. Commissioner King convened a technical working group that worked intensely for months to develop the final regulations and the 700 school districts in New York State negotiated plans within the regs to development district specific plans (The New York City plan was imposed by the commissioner after the union and the mayor could not agree upon a plan)..

The plans all divide into three sections: 20% of the teacher score is based on growth in student test scores, 20% on a locally negotiated metric and 60% on principal observations using an approved observation tool (New York City uses the Danielson Frameworks).

To compare student test scores on the new common core tests with teacher scores is comparing apples to oranges. The common core exams are new exams with a new baseline. The commissioner, through the standards-setting process, made an arbitrary decision, to set the “passing” grade (“proficiency”) at a high level. A few members of the Regents suggested that the “proficiency” level be phased in over a number of years, the commissioner decided to move from the former “proficiency” level to the new far higher level. Not surprisingly the 2/3 “proficiency” rates on the old exam flipped to 2/3 “below proficiency” rates on the new common core exams. The commissioner, by his actions, acknowledged his error, the new common core regents exams will have the grades phased in, what we used to call “scaling” the grades.

Governor Cuomo and Chancellor Tisch seem to be upset because the teacher scores do not match the student scores – there is absolutely no correlation between the scores.

1. Virtually every statistics expert agrees that student test scores should not be used for high stakes decisions. The American Statistical Association sharply criticizes the use of student test scores, called Value-Added Modeling (VAM).

* VAMs … do not do directly measure potential teacher contributions toward student outcomes.

* VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.

* Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores.

2. The principal observation section, the 60% of the overall score, assumes some comparability in assessments, school districts can select from six different assessment rubrics, and, most importantly, observers view lessons differently from supervisor to supervisor, from school to school, from district to district, observation scores vary widely.

The Gates-funded MET Project report, “The Reliability of Classroom Observation by School Personnel,” (January, 2013) authored by Andrew Ho and Thomas Kane of the Harvard School of Education,” takes a deep dive into the world of teacher observations. The research,

…highlights the importance of involving multiple observers … [and] to provide better training and certification tests for prospective raters … the only way a district can monitor the reliability of classroom observation and ensure a fair and reliable system for teachers would be to use multiple observers and set up systems to check and compare feedback given to teachers by different observers,,, the element of surprise [unannounced observations] may not be necessary.

…classroom observations are not discerning large absolute differences in practice. The vast majority of teachers are in the middle of the scale with small differences in scores producing large changes in percentile ranks … the underlying practice on the existing scales does not vary that much.

The American Statistical Association and the Gates Foundation directly challenge the comments by the outgoing commissioner, the governor and the chancellor; to attempt to “contrast” teacher and student test scores are to completely misunderstand findings by recognized experts,

The purpose of a teacher assessment system must be to improve practice, not to assign a grade. The current system compares to teachers to teachers instead of teachers responding to observations by skilled observers. Teachers, from year to year, change the grades they teach, groups of student vary from year to year, trying to create a “growth model” is futile, and it fails the tests of “validity and reliability.” How do you “measure” teachers of students with disabilities? Can you measure the effectiveness of teachers in high functioning schools and school districts with teachers in low functioning schools and districts?

The “vast majority” of teachers, to use the Gate terminology, fall in the mid-range. If “correcting” the teacher evaluation metric means “failing” more teachers the entire highly flawed system will crumble.

We never master teaching, great teachers, athletes, musicians and artists practice, they strive to upgrade skills; whether the novice or the expert, guided practice is crucial.

Gates suggests multiple, highly trained observers, and I add breaking the isolation of teachers by creating teams of teachers which include peer review and peer exchanges

From acceptance to teacher preparation programs, to the content of the programs, to teacher preparation exit standards, to hiring, to supporting probationary teachers and the tenure-granting process to consistent, on-going professional development, we must strive to embed research-based policies with wide stakeholder input.

Unfortunately the ideology-driven “disruptive” reformers advocate for “market-driven” solutions: teacher against teacher, public school versus charter schools, “solutions” that fly in the face of valid and reliable research.

Shaming teachers is a ludicrous. The current policies are antithetical to positive change; the (de)formers have succeeded in uniting teachers against policies. We should create polices that attract teachers, that build communities of learners,

Perhaps the governor will have an apotheosis.

Time for a Debate: Should the Governor Select the Commissioner? Should All School Funding Reflect a State Formula, Not Local Wealth? Do We Need 700 School Districts in NYS?

Over the next few weeks I expect lengthy articles parsing the three and a half years of the commissionership of John King. Did he begin the reconstruction of education in New York State or has he derailed the education system for years to come?

For some the primary function of the education bureaucracy in the state has been to defend and maintain the status quo and only nibble around the edges of renewal, King was racing down the path of “disruptive change,” deposing the vested interests: the school boards, superintendents, unions and wresting away control of policy decisions. For others King was simply the clone of Arne Duncan, ingratiating himself with the Secretary of Education, trying to impose unproven policies that erode rather than improve education.

In virtually every other nation education is the responsibility of the national government; our educational system is deeply rooted state and local governments. The Tenth Amendment is clear: “…powers not therein delegated should be reserved to the several States,” education is a power delegated to the states, which means the 14,000 elected schools boards and fifty state departments of education. In California the state superintendent of public instruction is elected in a statewide election, in other states appointed boards select a commissioner or a governor appoints a state schools leader. In New York State the Board of Regents are elected by a joint meeting of the state legislature and the Board selects a commissioner, the governor has no statutory role.

In New York State the commissioner has limited authority. Teachers, principals and superintendents do not work for the commissioner; they work for the seven hundred elected school boards. The commissioner does not have the authority to remove a school board; The East Ramapo School Board is essentially raping the school district, moving public funds to a parallel parochial school district. In a sharply worded report Hank Greenberg, the State Monitor wrote,

“What I have found is that you have a board deeply influenced and informed by the community from which they’ve come — so concerned about the children of that community that it has blinded them to the needs of the entire community,”
Nonetheless, he accused the board of “abysmal” fiscal management and said the district was teetering “on the precipice of fiscal disaster.”

In spite of his judgment he acknowledges the commissioner is limited in his remedy, “…he proposed that the legislature pass a law appointing a fiscal monitor with the power to overrule the school board’s and the superintendent’s decisions.”

In the past commissioners were hired from among the superintendents around the state and they had a low profile as did the Board of Regents. In the mid-nineties the regents, after debate that lingered over months decided to phase out the local diploma and move to a single regents diploma, the full phase-in was delayed time and time again, it took twelve years to fully phase out the local diploma.

Under King the agenda was driven from the office of the commissioner with the regents being “managed” by the commissioner. Virtually every major policy was initiated by the commissioner, after some discussion the regents, with a few members occasionally objecting rubber stamped the decisions of the commissioner.

Opposition grew, from the teacher union, from superintendents, principals and teachers, and, from parents across the state.

A Board of Regents selected by the legislature seems to be following the dictates of their hire, the commissioner. The governor, with no statutory role, selected a 25-member commission which held meetings all over the state, and after a lengthy report, nothing changed. The governor intervened to ease the impact of state tests, to delay the implementation of new prospective teacher exams. The governor has expressed his displeasure with the current teacher evaluation plan.

Should the governor select the commissioner?

This would require changes in the law and perhaps a change in the state constitution. In New York City the school board was appointed jointly by the borough presidents and the mayor; the mayor claimed credit for successes and blamed the chancellor, the schools leader, for failures. The move to mayoral control in New York City concentrated responsibility in the office of the mayor. Reading scores rise, or fall, the mayor is responsible. Should the governor bear all the responsibility for success, or lack thereof in the schools of New York State?

Others argue that the current system removes politics, governors will make decisions in his/her self-interest, political decisions not decisions in the best interest of students; however, can 700 school districts, ranging from the million plus children in one district to the hundreds of poor, rural districts scattered around the state effectively manage their schools? The property tax-based system results in staggering inequities, the high-wealth districts with high achieving schools spend far more dollars per student than low wealth districts and districts with lower achieving students: New York State is the outlier; most other states allocate funds according to need.

Should the 700 schools district be converted to regional districts, perhaps reflecting the BOCES districts?

Should all school funding be driven by a state formula, not by local wealth and local taxpayers?

Local communities are strongly supportive of their elected local school boards, even though 700 school boards with 700 superintendents and 700 local bureaucracies are an archaic structure. We have school districts with a wide range of advanced placement classes, elective courses with new sparking buildings and schools that can barely offer the minimum number of classes to meet graduation requirements in crumbling building.

For too many parents the governor, the commissioner and the Board of Regents are the enemy. Leading begins with building consensus, not “disrupting” in spite of the wishes of the populace. If Buffalo or Rochester or Syracuse or East Ramapo or Hempstead are abusing their authority, or internally bickering or simply not succeeding in addressing the core issues should the regents or the commissioner have the authority to intervene? When the legislature did allow the commissioner to intervene directly in the Roosevelt School District the district continued to stumble, does the state education department have the ability to lead school districts?

The governor sniping at the teachers union or probably forcing out the commissioner does not address the core education issues: Who should lead our schools? Who should be responsible for the decisions? How should the public, parents and taxpayers, play a role in the process?

Commissioners should not be carrying the Washington agenda, should not be immune from the criticism of the public, should not “disrupt” rather than lead by collaboration. On the other hand we cannot be wedded to failed policies; we cannot be too comfortable, too wedded to policies and practices that have not worked to decades.

Now is the time for a debate on the future of school leadership, school funding and school districts in New York State.

John King on the Way to DC: A Time to Reconsider and Rethink the Path to More Effective Teaching and Learning

Commissioner John King will be leaving his position and moving to a top level position at the US Department of Education in Washington DC.

The NY Daily News quotes both Chancellor Tisch, in her praise of the Commissioner,

“John King has been a remarkable leader in a time of true reform,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said. “He spent every moment working to open the doors of opportunity for all our students – regardless of their race, or zip code, or their immigration status.

“John has transformed teaching and learning, raising the bar for students and helping them clear that bar. In classrooms all across the state, teachers and students are rising to the challenge of higher standards. The positive impact of John King’s work in New York will be felt for generations. We’ll miss his wisdom, his calm leadership and his remarkable courage. But New York’s loss is the country’s gain. He’ll be a powerful force for educational opportunity in Washington.”

As well as the state teacher union, who was sharply at odds with the Commissioner on a wide range of issues.

“The disconnect between the commissioner’s vision and what parents, educators and students want for their public education system became so great, NYSUT voted ‘no confidence’ in Commissioner King last spring and called for his resignation,” the union said in a statement. “We hope he has learned from his stormy tenure in New York state and look forward to working collaboratively and productively with the Regents to improve public education going forward.”

If you are reader of these pages you know that I have been a frequent critic of the commissioner, not his goals, I have been critical of the path, and the lack of dialogue and transparency.

Unfortunately on too many occasions the opposition to the Commissioner has become ugly. The behavior at some of the open parent meetings last fall was disgraceful. I wonder if the Commissioner was “older and whiter” the reaction would have been the same?

My wife, an Afro-American woman from a single parent household won the Westchester Vassar Club scholarship; at her public high school she took four years of Latin and was considering a career in classical music; when she tried to sign up for a German class at Vassar she was told Afro-Americans were genetically incapable of learning German,

A generation later at an elite Northeastern college my son was told he only got into college because he was an athlete, after all a black male couldn’t get into otherwise (PS: Division 3 schools don’t offer athletic scholarships).

I’ve seen brilliant women treated in a demeaning manner by older men.

In spite decades of progress, race, gender and class are the subtext of every conversation, and the lack of civility, especially on the Internet is disturbing.

One of the most complex and difficult tasks is personal and organizational change – a basic change principle is that people view change as punishment. The Commissioner plunged headlong into a sea change: the Common Core Standards, the Common Core tests, teacher evaluation, the new college pre-service exams (edTPA) all require enormous changes, and, without adequate preparation.

Reformers, like the Commissioner, are aficionados of disruptive change theory, the theory espoused by Clayton Christensen

… disruptive innovation circumvents the political battles that have historically been at the center stage of education reform. Existing policies tend to favor the incumbent system, and hence changing those policies requires battling with those incumbents in the political arena. In contrast, disruptive innovations take root in areas outside the domain of the incumbents. Instead of challenging the status quo head-on, disruptive innovations take root and grow outside the purview of the incumbent system. They then improve independently over time until they begin to organically draw people away from the status quo. At that point, policies shift naturally to accommodate the highly-sought-after disruptive technology.

Charter schools are at the core of disruptive education theory, as well as moving ahead as quickly as possible before the “incumbents” can organize and fight the innovations.

In my view the Commissioner chose the wrong path, search and destroy is not the path that I believe leads to better outcomes for children. It ignores a reality, disruptive policies evoke resistance, at some point the change agent, the disrupter is sacrificed.

Phasing in the Common Core over a number of years, holding principals and teachers “save harmless,” until they feel comfortable with the new processes; the difficult work of working with parents, teachers and principals, working to achieve buy in brings change that is embraced by stakeholders. Transparency in the policy-building phase, a wide variety of contradictory voices is healthy noise; building a core of believers embeds change.

I don’t know whether the earlier grades of the Common Core is “developmentally inappropriate,” I’m not a math expert; however, bringing younger and older math experts into a room and facilitating a discussion leads to outcomes that are widely accepted in classrooms. Sitting around a teacher’s room and bitching and complaining are corrosive, and that is exactly what the current policies have achieved.

The disrupters created a movement, not a movement to facilitate change, a movement to defend the objects of the changes; for many it was a movement to defend the status quo, whether the status quo was a positive or a negative.

Teachers working collaboratively in a facilitated setting promotes new ideas, new protocols, and excites teachers. I watched English teachers in a school meet together once a week, they debated, discussed, they created a “drop box” with lesson plans and rubrics and, as English teachers love to do, worked together to decide on the readings. They had absolutely no problem was the Common core because they owned their practice.

I wish the commissioner well in his new endeavors and suggest, now that he’s in Washington, breakfast with Randi Weingarten once a week.

Teaching Academic Tenacity: Why the SAT, Pearson and PARCC tests Are Poor Predictors of College/Career Readiness and Why Non-Cognitive Skills Trump Faulty Exams.

We are obsessed with judging teacher quality by measuring student achievement. To make it even more complex we are measuring student achievement by a brand new yardstick, the Common Core State Standards.

Parents, educators and the New York State governor are confused, two-thirds of students scored “below proficient” on the latest tests, which the State Education Department now defines as “approaching proficiency.” (smile) and half of all teachers scored “highly effective” and less than 1% scored “ineffective” on the extremely complex APPR teacher evaluation metric.

The governor asks: if two-thirds of kids are failing state tests how can teachers score so highly on the teacher evaluation tool? How can principals give teachers high grades on the 60% lesson assessment section of the teacher evaluation tool when so many kids doing so poorly on the tests?

Unfortunately we are using the wrong tools to measure the wrong outcomes.

We base a range of decisions on a test, a few hours of bubbling in answers and writing an essay; however the SAT and the ACT, which also use bubble sheets and essays, are poor predictors of college success. The best predictor is standing in class as measured by the student’s GPA. It should not be surprising; the GPA is determined by numerous tests over four years of high school reflecting the judgment of many teachers.

The largest study of students at colleges that do not require SAT or ACT scores has found that there is “virtually no difference” in the academic performance (measured in grades or graduation rates) of those who do and don’t submit scores.

The study — involving 123,000 students at 33 colleges and universities of varying types — found that high school grades do predict student success. And this extends to those who do better or worse than expected on standardized exams. So those students with low high school grades but high test scores generally receive low college grades, while those with high grades in high school, but low test scores, generally receive high grades in college.

This is not an isolated example of research, in 2005 a study explains,

… researchers examined differences in the predictive strength of high school grades and standardized test scores for student involvement, academic achievement, retention, and satisfaction. Findings indicate that high school grades are stronger predictors of success than standardized test scores for both racial and religious minority students.

In another study the Council for Aid to Education and NYU supports the finding of the research supra

In spite of the evidence that the SAT does not achieve its purposes the folks at the College Board are rolling out a new exam in the spring of 2016, a test that reflects the Common Core standard competencies; at the same time more and more colleges are abandoning the SAT.

If tests, be it the SAT or Pearson-produced Grade 3-8 state tests or the PARCC exams are not accurate predictors of college success, or, teacher competence, how should we assess teacher performance and student achievement?

The answer may be in a Gates-funded study, Academic Tenacity: Mindsets and Skills that Promote Long Term Learning, (Carole Dweck and others, Stanford University). The introduction is exceptionally important,

In a nationwide survey of high school dropouts, 69% said that school had not motivated or inspired them to work hard. In fact, many of the students who remain in school are not motivated or inspired either, and the more time students spend in K-12 education the worse it gets. What prevents students from working hard in school? Is it something about them, or it something about school? Is there a solution to this problem?

Most education reform focuses on curriculum and pedagogy – what material is taught and how is it taught? However, curriculum and pedagogy have often been narrowly defined as the academic content and students’ intellectual processing of that material. Research shows that this is insufficient. In our pursuit of education reform, something has been missing: the psychology of the student. Psychological factors, often called motivational or non-cognitive factors – can matter even more than cognitive factors for student academic performance …

Academic tenacity is about the mindsets and skills that allow students to:

* Look beyond short-term concerns to higher order goals, and

* Withstand challenges to setbacks to persevere towards these goals.

Dweck and her co-authors make it clear, it’s not the “right” curriculum or the “right” pedagogy, there are many paths to the same ends, the “solution” is not the Common Core, the “solution” is not in the Charlotte Danielson frameworks, without a teaching/learning environment that supports Academic Tenacity too many students, too many high poverty students and student of color will be left behind.

The authors specifically define “key characteristics and behaviors” that can be defined and taught,

Key Characteristics and Behaviors of Academically Tenacious Students

* Belong academically and socially
* See school as relevant to their future
* Work hard and postpone immediate pleasures
* Not derailed by intellectual and social difficulties
* Seek out challenges
* Remain engaged over the long haul

Scientific American affirms the research findings and links to a range of research findings (Check out here)

For academic achievement, ability is not enough. What’s also needed are mindsets and strategies for overcoming obstacles, staying on task, and learning and growing over the long-term … academic tenacity is not about being smart, but learning smart.

I was visiting a middle school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, a neighborhood at the top of the list of handgun violence and homicides. As I walked toward the office a student “introduced” himself, “My name is xx, can I help you?” Each classroom displayed the banner from a college and the advisory rooms had names, the name of a college. No one was yelling at kids, a student was talking loudly and a teacher simply put his find to his lips. The school leader took me into a classroom, and asked, “”What are we learning today?” The kids all raised their hands, anxious to tell me all about the lesson.

The middle school downstairs was chaos.

Danielson frameworks are a guide and set a standard; however, students in screened schools or schools with more middle class students are far more likely to reach the “highly effective” category, as evidenced by the teacher grades on the APPR, the state teacher evaluation metric.

Challenging content, rigorous curriculum and pedagogy combined with the teaching skills that promote academic tenacity is the path to creating successful schools and college and/or career ready students.

Are schools of education and school-based professional development emphasizing the teaching of Academic Tenacity? I fear not. Hopefully research will trump the current faulty teaching and learning trends.

Parsing the NYS Election Cycle: Experts Mull the Campaigns and Muse Over the Albany Session

(For Political Junkies)

The Center for New York City Affairs at the New School convenes panels of campaign staff, consultants and advocates after major elections to reflect on the campaigns: last year the mayoral and city council, this year the gubernatorial and the State Senate races.

The first panel included the top staffers from the Cuomo, Astorino and Teachout campaigns (Matt Wing, communication director, Cuomo campaign, Peter Kauffmann, senior advisor, NYS Democratic Committee, Jessica Proud, Astorino spokesperson, Michael Lawler, campaign manager, Astorino campaign, Kate Albright-Hanna, communications director, Teachout campaign and others) as well as Zephyr herself for the first section of the panel.

A few words about the panelists, they are the pros, they run campaigns for a living, plot the strategy and the communications operations, running a campaign is intense, with a clock ticking down to Election Day. This year there were three election days, the WFP convention, the Democratic primary in September and the November 7th general election.

The Cuomo administration over their first four years has successfully managed the news. The governor rarely gives press conferences, rarely gives “off the cuff” comments. His interactions with media are managed from the Cuomo side. While candidates and electeds generally lust after “earned media” the Cuomo administration carefully crafts interactions with the press.

Let’s define “earned media,”

Earned media often refers specifically to publicity gained through editorial influence, whereas social media refers to publicity gained through grassroots action, particularly on the Internet. The media may include any mass media outlets, such as newspaper, television, radio, and the Internet, and may include a variety of formats, such as news articles or shows,

Teachout had no money, Cuomo ended up with a $50 million war chest and Astorino struggled for dollars as the national Republican organization wrote him off.

Although the panel did not discuss (there was no opportunity for questions) the governor’s charter school support was clearly intended to cut off funds to Astorino. StudentsFirstNY was richly funded, they ended up spending $4 million on Senate campaigns, where would they drop the four mil was an early question. If Cuomo opposed or was neutral on charter schools the $4 mil could have been dropped into the Astorino campaign and snowball into larger and larger Republican donations. Jumping on the charter school bandwagon closed off a potential spigot of dollars to Astorino, an example of the political calculus of campaigns.

Zephyr Teachout was a wild card, she came out of nowhere, and the left wing of the Democratic Party is housed in the Working Families Party (WFP). On the other side of the aisle the Conservative party is the right wing of the Republican Party.

At the WFP convention Teachout emerged as a serious opponent, Cuomo’s support of charter schools, the failure to pass the Women’s Equality agenda and the Dreamers legislation angered the left, and, suddenly they had a candidate: Zephyr Teachout. After serious arm twisting the WFP endorsed Cuomo. Teachout explained how they decided to run in the Democratic primary and the enormous hurtle – collecting 30,000 signatures to get on the ballot in three weeks – they collected 45,000 signatures.

The turnout in the primary was extremely low, without dollars Teachout, impressively, ended up with 34% of the vote, probably representing the left wing of Democrats in the state. I suspect Teachout votes included many teacher vote

Obama’s approval rating in NYS is 39%, lower than his national approval rating, in one of the “bluest” state in the nation. The 30% voter turnout in the November election was one of the lowest in history, and the decrease in votes was the largest among Democratic voters.

The panelists in the second panel focused on the Senate races included strategists from both parties, consultants who run campaigns, advocates and academics (Gerald Benjamin, professor SUNY, Jake Dilemani, Parkside Group, Tom Doherty, Mercury Strategy, Jeffrey Plaut, Global Strategy, Blair Horner, New York Public Interest Research Group, David Nir, Daily Kos, Nomi Konst, The Accountability Project and others) mused over the Senate races..

Of the 63 seats in the Senate only seven were competitive and the Republicans needed five of the seven seats, three of which were held by Democrats. They won six.

The panel discussed whether Cuomo wanted a Democratic Senate – would he be happier with a Republican Senate and a Democratic Assembly, with the governor in the middle negotiating with both sides? Cuomo raised $50 million, spent forty, only one million was spent on the Senate races.

A few of the panelists argued the Democrats were relying on an old paradigm, the older prime voters; there was a lack of appeal to younger potential voters who receive all their info from social media. They also felt that Obama running out of the party structure in 08 and 12 weakened the Democratic Party. Others pointed out that in off year elections the electorate is older, whiter and wealthier.

Astorino, outside of NYC “won” the election 49% to 46%; inside the city he only won 18% …twenty years of Republican NYC mayors were an anomaly, although a deep-pocketed, a very deep pocketed Republican could win in NYC in 2017.

As one panelist reminded us the Senate, which means the Republicans, drew the current district lines. The money that flowed into the races came primarily from Wall Street and Real Estate, and 99.8% of voters did not contribute. The best chances of defeating an incumbent are in a primary.

All the panelists wondered whether the sharp decline in voters was a trend: is the electorate becoming more disenchanted with politics and the elective process?

The moderator asked: what would be the toughest issue in the upcoming session.

Three laws “sunset,” they expire unless renewed by the legislature and the governor.

Rent Control: A million New Yorkers, primarily in New York City, fall under rent control; if the law is allowed to expire, landlords would be free to increase rents – this is a vital issue for the Democrats and the Republicans will extract their drops of blood or, pounds of flesh, or, human sacrifices.

2% Property Tax Cap: The tax cap is the major piece of economic legislation of the Cuomo years, failure to reauthorize would probably result in increases in property taxes around the state and could have a negative impact on the state economy, and this issue does not impact New York City, it is an enormous issue around the state.

Mayoral Control: A New York City issue, with absence of Bloomberg Mayoral Control is not a top drawer issue; however, no one wants to go back to elected school boards.

The panelists ranked Rent Control as the # 1 issue.

A “deal” could emerge in a “lame duck” session in December; the rumors are a repeat of 1998, a salary increase for legislators for an increase in the charter cap. I don’t think so, why would the Sheldon Silver want to remove a “trading chip” before the session begins?

The next key date is April 1, the date the budget is due. Over the last few budget cycles controversial issues have been packed into the budget, an opportunity to trade one item for another.

If key issues are still dangling in the final days of the session, mid-June will become the usual 24/7 days as the legislature and the governor scramble.

The “game” begins on January 7th with the governor’s State of the State address.

The Regents Have a Charter School Problem: Why Did They Grant Charters to Grossly Inadequate Applicants? Fumbling or Politics? The Public Deserves Answers

A couple of years ago I received a phone call, would I lead a team to write an application for a charter school, for a substantial fee? (I declined)

No, it’s not cheating, it’s standard practice. My school district was very successful in acquiring competitive grant dollars; they sought out the best grant writer who specialized in the topic of the grant. Potential charter school operators, I would suppose, also seek out the best writers; the content of the charter application may not reflect the capacity of the applicant.

The State Education Department (SED) website has impressive requirements for applying for a charter as well as monitoring the entire process.

The application is detailed and the State Department of Education (SED) in their guidance document sets a high standard.

The Board of Regents will only approve applications that clearly demonstrate a strong capacity for establishing and operating a high quality charter school. This standard requires a strong educational program, organizational plan, and financial plan, as well as clear evidence of the capacity of the founding group to implement the proposal and operate the school effectively.

Once approved the SED retains the right to monitor the performance of charter school,

… the New York State Education Department, is authorized to oversee and monitor each charter school authorized by the Regents in all respects, including the right to visit, examine and inspect the charter school and its records.

Additionally the SED requires specific actions in an opening procedures document, a monitoring plan, a performance framework and a closing procedures checklist

Unfortunately the SED will tell you there is no way they can monitor charter schools in the detail that the regulations allow; they simply do not have the staff. Once a charter school opens there is virtually no supervision for the initial five years.

What is disturbing is that the SED does not adequately vet the applicants, the members of the charter board.

Why did the SED not appropriately investigate the application for the Capital Preparatory Harlem Charter School? The application is filled with blatant inaccuracies or outright lies.

Read through the falsehoods: http://jonathanpelto.com/category/steve-perry-capital-preparatory-magnet-school/

Steven Perry, the lead applicant, is a talk show host, an employee of a Connecticut charter school, the members of the board are also employees of the Connecticut school, and, the Hartford school has been a disaster.

The Hartford Courant reports (Read article: http://articles.courant.com/2013-11-21/community/hc-hartford-perry-tweet-1122-20131121_1_chairman-matthew-poland-capital-prep-magnet-school-steve-perry) that Perry, on his Twitter account physically threatened his critics after the State Board of Education refused to turn a low achieving elementary school over to him to run

From Perry’s Twitter account: The only way to lose a fight is to stop fighting. All this did was piss me off. It’s so on. Strap up, there will be head injuries.

Either SED failed to vet the applicants, or, the approval was politically influenced, I have no idea; however, there is no way that Perry should have been granted a charter.

The Rochester charter school, the Greater Works Charter School has a lead applicant who is 22 years old with a fraudulent resume – how did the SED not check out the creds of the lead applicant? The other members of the board have absolutely no experience in running a school and the apparent principal in waiting has no supervisory experience and is awaiting grades from her School Leadership exam. (Read applications here)

Single entrepreneur charter schools, schools that are not part of larger networks struggle, not only struggle, if you compare charter school general education kids to public school general education kids, (subtract students with disabilities and English language learners) schools in the district do as well as or better than the charter schools. On the state Common Core grade 3-8 tests, with the exception of the Success Schools, results were indistinguishable.

Success Academy schools; however, outperformed charter and public schools by a wide margin. A colleague who has studied the Success (Eva Moskowitz) Schools muses,

The secret sauce, if there is one: longer school days, incredibly hard-driven teachers and enough money to surround the classrooms with support services of many kinds (not counseling so much but administrative and paperwork support, parent outreach, materials, attendance follow up, etc.) And yes, test prep up the wazoo, and the attrition and backfill issue. They seem to think its fine to start with 72 kids and end up with 32, and that their results as a grade or class are as legit as a school that is taking a constantly churning population of students.

In the spring of 2013 a number of regent members asked the commissioner for a report on attrition: were the charter schools dumping low achieving and discipline problems especially before the state tests – a year and half later – no report.

I hope that the fumbling of the charter school application problem is simply poor management, not political interference, and, sadly, there is no evidence that charter schools have discovered a magic sauce, longer school days and longer school years do not make for more effective schools; it’s what happens in classrooms that matters. Schools with inexperienced school leaders and the churning of school staffs do not make for exemplary schools. Success Academy schools have shown that that more dollars, spent wisely, with the careful sifting out of lower achievers can lead to higher test scores. However, what do higher test scores mean?

Sherryl Cashin, a Georgetown Law School professor, and the author of “Place Not Race,” asks for the de-emphasis of standardized tests,

“We should de-emphasize standardized test scores… and compare the achievement of the students to the resources that they have available,” she said. “The valedictorian of Ferguson, Missouri deserves a leg-up. The person who has had to overcome these enduring structural disadvantages—I don’t care what color they are—needs and deserves a leg-up in admissions.”

Cashin reminds us the SAT scores only reflect the income of the parents of the test taker and that high school class standing (GPA) and resilience, defined as substituting academics for recreation are far better indicators of college success than SAT scores.

Until we understand that there are no magic bullets, charter schools are a delusion, a dead end, the answer, as it always has been is the ability of the school leader, the staff, and support from the larger school community.

Reforming the Board of Regents: Who Do the Regent Members Represent? Parents? the Public? the Legislators Who Elected Them? Or, Themselves?

The New York State Board of Regents, established by the legislature on May 1, 1784 is the oldest, continuous state education entity in the nation. The members represent each of the 13 judicial districts in the state and four members are at large. The members of the Regents select a Chancellor, in effect the chair of the board. The regents serve five year terms and are elected by a joint meeting of both houses, the 150-member Assembly and the 63-member Senate. There are many more Democrats than Republicans in the sum of the houses; in the real world of politics the democratic majority in the Assembly “elects” the regents. In recent years the Republican members of the Senate refused to attend the election session.

Unofficially the Democrats who represent a judicial district play a major role in the selection of the regent. As with all legislative items Sheldon Silver, the Speaker of the Assembly is the gatekeeper.

Incumbents are usually reappointed to a successor term, although last year Regent Jackson was not reappointed. The failure to appoint Jackson had nothing to do with his performance; it was a dispute among the members of the Assembly.

You would think that because of the nature of the selection process the selectees would be political, not so. The regents members have impeccable resumes: three former NYC superintendents, lawyers, a judge, a doctor, and college professors, all with roots in their communities.

The members are unsalaried and have no staff.

The regents meet for two days monthly (except August) in Albany, the May meeting is usually in another city in the state.

The regents select the Commissioner of Education who serves at the pleasure of the Board.

The full board meetings are webcast, the committee meetings are not.

The board work is done in a number of committees; the committee meetings are open to the public. The meetings usually begin after the initial full board meeting and take place one after another for the remainder of the day on Monday and continue Tuesday morning. A full board meeting usually takes place on Tuesday at the end of the succession of the committee meetings. Formal actions can only take place at the full board meetings. Changes to regulations, after approval by the committee are posted for public comment and come back to committees, reflecting the comments, and approved by the full board.

There is no opportunity for public comment at board or committee meetings, written formal public comment is the only “official” opportunity for input, although regent members receive hundreds of e-communications urging support or opposition for issues.

Agendas are set by the commissioner, probably with input from the chancellor.

The agenda and backup documents are extensive. The “Agenda and Materials” for the November meeting (see here ) are lengthy and extremely detailed.

The Monday full board meeting is informational, at the November meeting a new report, the Where Are They Now Report tracked students after they leave high school in New York State. After the meeting a number of superintendents were sharply critical of the accuracy of the report.

The full board meeting takes place in the ornate “Regents Room,” with portraits of former chancellors adorning the walls. The regent members and the commissioner sit at the table with the audience sitting around the room. At the succession of committee meeting, held in a larger room there are chairs for a hundred or so visitors, the K – 12 committee is usually full.

The “Charter Schools: Initial Applications and Charters Authorized by the Board of Regents.” item on the agenda is pro-forma, the state ed staffer gives a brief outline and the recommendations are approved, occasionally questions arise over the reauthorization of a charter, if the performance is lagging the school may be authorized for less than five years. The regent representing the area of the school usually comments and the item is approved. Wade Norwood, the Regent from Rochester was not present at the November meeting.

The regents approved a new Rochester charter, a few days later the media was filled with reports: the lead sponsor is a 22-year old with a fraudulent resume; he resigned from the charter board after the media reports.

Who is at fault? The SED staff? The Rochester Board member? Will the Regents re-examine the approval?

There have been too many issues in which the commissioner appears deaf to the public.

The regents are a policy Board, they set overall policy for the state and it is the role of the commissioner to implement the policy.

There is always a tension between the board and the commissioner. On the current board three members were superintendents (Regents Cashin, Rosa and Young), one Regent (Regent Tallon) was the majority leader of the Assembly, Regents Dawson and Bennett has served as regents for more than twenty years. The commissioner has far less experience on the ground, far less experience dealing with communities, unions and the complex political demands.

Controversial items may linger for meeting after meeting until the board members come to agreement or the issue fades away.

Regents Cashin and Rosa, both with decades of experience in leadership roles have challenged decisions; teacher evaluation, the test regimen, and the current edTPA exams. The major criticism has been the lack of evidence to support decisions and the failure to respond to criticisms from parents, teachers, principals and superintendents. While a few other regents are clearly uneasy with a number of issues they have generally gone along with decisions.

There will be two regents vacancies in this year, Regent Chapey resigned in July and Regent Phillips announced he will not be seeking another term and five incumbent regents will be seeking another term: Regent Tilles (Nassau-Suffolk), Cashin (Brooklyn), Young (at-large) and Regents Bennett and Dawson

Last spring, at the height of the criticism of the state testing fiasco a conscientious and knowledgeable legislator asked me, “Does this opposition to Common Core testing have a bill number?” Legislators were receiving hundreds of e-mails asking the legislators to intervene – intervene in what? The regents and the commissioner created a political minefield, a minefield that was a political issue beyond the ability of legislators to resolve.

Will legislators seek to elect new regents more likely to respond to the political needs of legislators? More responsive to parents and teachers? Will legislators seek to replace some of the incumbent regents? Once again, to select new regent members who are more open and sensitive to the political process? And, the larger question: who does a regents member represent?

Over the last few weeks Chancellor Tisch has supported increasing the cap on charter schools and threatened to close the 94 schools in the NYC School Renewal Plan.

Is the chancellor speaking for the regents? or, is she expressing her own opinion? Of course increasing or eliminating the charter cap is not a decision made by the regents; the cap is set in law.

Can the chancellor or the commissioner intervene and force the Renewal Schools to close? Well, according to Hank Greenberg, the regents-appointed Fiscal Monitor, in a devastating report on East Ramapo, tells us no matter how outrageous the actions of the school district, the commissioner has no power to intervene. To remedy the raping of the East Ramapo schools Greenberg recommends: diversity training??? If the commissioner does not have the authority intervene in East Ramapo will he intervene in New York City?

The sharp criticism of the regents raises serious questions:

* Who do the Regents represent?

The legislature that appointed them, the constituents in their judicial district, or, do they make decisions based on their own knowledge and experiences.

* Should the Regents become more transparent and interactive?

All meetings should be webcast, the public should have the opportunity to speak at Regent Meetings; the public speaks at town and city council meetings, at school board meetings, even at UFT Executive Board meetings any member can speak. The regents should hold public forums around the state to allow public input. Transparency is crucial for public institutions, especially with institutions that make decisions that impact the children of the state.

* Should the commissioner have the ability to remove or discipline school boards?

In my view, the commissioner should not have the authority to remove school boards without a process, perhaps an external body that can review reasons for removal.

* Should the current property-taxed based system of school finance continue? Or, should all school funding reflect a state-wide formula?

To allow the current system in which the richest districts spend double the per capita spending of the poorest district is disgraceful. The poorest districts, districts in rural communities are effectively bankrupt. The lack of a tax base should not doom students to an inferior education.

* Do we really need 700 school districts in New York State?

The Cuomo Education Commission made a number of recommendations; one was to consider the consolidation of the 700 school districts, a recommendation that did not have legs. Perhaps there are ways to consolidate services…. for example: should all legal services become the responsibility of regional state ed offices?

The Board of Regents should take a serious look their own functioning, the public has clearly lost confidence in the board, either the board reforms itself or the governor/legislature will make reforms. Trying to “manage” crises eventually leads to the public forcing reforms; rather than defending, organizations should remember: change can be a healthy process when it involves all stakeholders.

Defending the indefensible is always foolish and futile.