Zombie Tests: Why Common Core Testing is Dead and Doesn’t Know It

A decade ago, with great fanfare, a bipartisan bill became law, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, renamed No Child Left Behind. The new law required testing of all children in grades 3 – 8 in English and Mathematics; the setting of goals called Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), and the publication of the results disaggregated by subgroups. The goal of AYP was to encourage states to make incremental progress with all children reaching grade level by 2014.

Behind closed doors the AYP requirement was called the Lake Woebegone law – you will remember the community of Lake Woebegone where all children are above average.

The assumption was that long before 2014 the law would be reauthorized and the punitive sections rewritten. As the years passed the House and the Senate moved further and further apart, with the Republican victory in the 2010 midterms the hope of a reauthorization faded. The House and the Senate have bills that are strikingly different.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were adopted by the National Governors Association and the US Department of Education dangled $4.4 billion in competitive grants, called Race to the Top. Among the preconditions for winning the grant was adoption of the Common Core, a teacher evaluation system based on student test scores and the creation of a student testing regime based on the CCSS.

Two organizations emerged, coalitions of states, called Smarter Balance and PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career); the coalitions, with federal and private dollars, created tests based on the Common Core. The PARCC website contains sample questions and the road to PARCC adoption.

Read a sample PARCC 4th Grade ELA questions: http://www.parcconline.org/sites/parcc/files/PARCC_SampleItems_ELA-Literacy_Grade4Items_082113_Final.pdf

As the timeline approaches for states to move to PARCC testing more and states are having second thoughts.

Barbara Byrd Bennett, the CEO of Chicago schools has doubts about PARCC

“The purpose of standardized assessments is to inform instruction. At present, too many questions remain about PARCC to know how this new test provides more for teachers, students, parents, and principals than we are already providing through our current assessment”

As the PARCC empire continues to crumble New York State, at least the commissioner, is rushing down the path to PARCC. At the November 17th Regents meeting the Regents considered making field testing of PARCC questions mandatory, urging school districts to use the Technology Bond dollars to purchase computer hardware for computerized state tests; the next step is asking the Regents to give a green light to move to PARCC testing.

An item will go for public comment to force school districts to offer PARCC field testing, a power the commissioner insists he has had since 1938.

Regent Cashin sharply questioned the commissioner, was he moving to PARCC testing, without a clear answer. The hordes of e-communication to Regents members resonated as Regents members were uneasy.

The Commissioner seems to ignore the tens of thousands of parents who are part of the opt-out movement, a movement that is spread like wildfire across the state and the nation.

The Long Island Opt-Out Facebook page has over 17,000 members, and growing every day.

Check out their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Longislandoptout/permalink/377404222432922/

As the legislature returns in January the opt-out parents will move their activism to the halls of Albany; members of the Regents are increasingly discomforted.

With the Republicans in control of both house of Congress it is altogether likely that a bill will arrive on the president’s desk, a bill that might have some Democratic support.

The bill will move accountability measures from the US Department of Education to the states, and the states may have wide latitude.

Why is it necessary to have annual testing of each and every student, why not use sampling techniques similar to the techniques used by NAEP – called the gold standard for measuring the achievement of American students?

The Republican House bill also removed the requirement for teacher evaluation based on student test scores.

Hundreds of thousands of moms and dads across the nation are telling states to quit the burdensome testing regime.

Alfred Spector Vice President of Research at Google muses about the future of education. The world is changing at an incredible pace, tests to measure accumulated knowledge are meaningless, the new tests are adaptive tests, using Artificial Intelligence (AI) the new tests learn from you, as you answer they craft new questions that emanate from your answer. The tests learn from you and your learning, your education is individualized to you. Once upon a time we would scoff, we shouldn’t, the future is now. Spector argues that all education should be based on a simple equation CS + X (computer science plus X), computational thinking in all domains.

Listen to Spector: http://www.wnyc.org/story/empowering-next-generation-world-changing-ideators/

The only purpose of the current testing regime is to “measure” the effectiveness of the $55 billion New York State spends each year as well as to “measure” the effectiveness of individual teachers.

The governor loves to talk about turning New York State into a high tech center, creating high paying jobs in the new cyber industries and harasses educators and demeans parents, he is the troglodyte.

The governor should be leading our school system into the new age, not wasting time and money and resources testing kids in a meaningless exercise.

The Next 94: Why Can’t We Repair/Assist/Support Schools Before We Have to Reconstruct Them?

For the last two decades or so the State Education Department (SED) has been “identifying” struggling schools. The acronym has changed, the charade has been the same; the SED sends a team into a low achieving school, the team writes a report, the school closes or continues on life support.

Back in the SURR (Schools Under Registration Review) days a team that included representatives from the teacher and supervisor unions spent four days perusing reams of data, observing most classes and interviewing everyone we could find. The SURR Guide directed the team to explore 21 different areas, and, in a “Findings and Recommendations” format laid out a path to success.

Unfortunately in too many instances our “investigation” was an autopsy, the only way the school could survive was resurrection,and, that hasn’t happened too many times!

At the end of each year the SED compiled a summary of the reports, the similarity from report to report was depressing; lack of support at the district and school level, polite but critical comments about teacher quality, inadequate materials, inconsistent or an absence of professional development, etc.

Today the state identifies Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA), Priority and Focus schools, 700 schools across the state, visiting the schools using the Diagnostic Tool to assess the school.

See Power Point of Diagnostic Tool: http://www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2014/January2014/P12DTSDE.pdf

Regent Cashin asked a SED staff member a question: “I hear it takes a school many months to receive the report of the state visit, how long does it take?”

SED staffer: “It has been a problem, we’re aiming at a 60-day turnaround time” (Eduspeak for it takes a lot longer than 60 days)

The SED requires school districts to take direct action to assist schools at the bottom of the list.

Chancellor Farina named 94 low performing schools and outlined, in broad strokes, a School Renewal Plan, a three-year reprieve for the schools, with a caveat,

Officials had already warned the 94 schools in the turnaround program that if they do not achieve certain improvement goals after three years of intensive support, they could be combined with other schools, split into smaller academies, or closed. But Fariña made clear … that she was eyeing schools with very few students as potential targets of consolidation.

Interestingly the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School issued a report, A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest-Income Elementary Schools, not surprisingly, there is an overlap among the 94 Renewal Schools and the neighborhoods identified in the Report,.

The report, identifies 130 [elementary] schools in which more than one-third of the children were chronically absent for five years in a row. Perhaps not surprisingly, these schools have very low levels of academic achievement … Chronic absenteeism correlates with deep poverty—high rates of homelessness, child abuse reports, and male unemployment and low levels parental education. In fact, the report states, chronic absenteeism is a much better index of poverty than the traditional measure of the number of children eligible for free lunch. Moreover, it’s very hard to schools to escape the pull of poverty: only a handful of school with above-average rates of chronic absenteeism had above-average pass rates on their standardized tests for math and reading—and most scored far below, the report states.

The report identifies 18 “risk factors” that are associated with chronic absenteeism, both in the school building and in the surrounding neighborhood. Schools with a very high “risk load” are likely to suffer from poor attendance.

Why did the Department wait so long to identify struggling schools and offer targeted assistance?

Schools do not change from high achieving to low achieving overnight, tell me the neighborhood and I’ll make a pretty accurate guess about the achievement level of the school. The Chancellor’s District scooped up the lowest achieving schools and showed progress, the problem was when the schools were returned to their original districts the gains eroded. The Chancellor’s District was a “one-size fits all” plan that did not create sustainability.

Let me ask a simple question: Why don’t we intervene/assist at the first signs of difficulty?

The current superintendent/network dichotomy does not allow for targeted help. One of the strengths of the Chancellor’s District and Region 5 (Brownsville, East New York, South Jamaica and Rockaway) was the use of UFT Teacher Centers. Consistent, on-site, high quality, teacher-friendly professional development located in your school, and, the ability of teacher centers to collaborate across schools is an enormous asset.

Under the regional structure each region had all non-instructional services (guidance, social workers, attendance, health, community-based organizations) clustered within an organization called Student Placement, Youth, Family Support Service (SPYFSS). The structure was a community school structure at the regional level. When Klein dumped the regions he abolished SPYFSS – one of his worst decisions.

Suggestions for Chancellor Farina and her team:

* cluster schools in the highest poverty neighborhoods, schools with the highest “poverty risk load,” into expanded geographic areas.

* Create a SPYFSS-type organization for each of the expanded geographic areas.

* Outside of the school budget assign the “high poverty risk load” schools a guidance counselor(s) and a social worker(s)

* Establish a District Leadership Team which includes union representatives and community organizations.

* An advisory council made up of experts, from colleges or think tanks to review the district, collect data, analyze progress, and conduct actionable research.

And, of course, assign a leader with skills in the teaching/learning, socio-emotional and management domains.

To wait until schools are on life support helps no one, in fact, it is a waste of resources; it is a never ending cycle. Creating structures with the ability to both reflect and have access to expert advice, to create structures in which a wide range of social services are at hand, to be part of an action research project that assesses programs and outcomes in real time.

With the right structures School Renewal Plans would be unnecessary.

The Albany Riddle: Can the “Average Person” Make an Impact on the Albany Legislative Process?

Which state lost the most Democratic House of Representative seats on Election Day?

New York State – 4 seats, 25% of the total seats lost nationally.

The Buffalo Chronicle reports,

Governor Andrew Cuomo is being blamed for staggering Democratic Party losses in the House of Representatives.

Despite the Governor fundraising upwards of $45 million for his own reelection campaign and finishing with many millions still in the bank, his beleaguered fellow Democrats received minimal financial support from the Governor — and top party operatives in Washington, DC are rumored to be irate.

Cuomo’s administration has been disgraced by corruption scandals in the last few months that are ongoing. He had been hoping for an election win that would catapult him to national political prominence.

… Governor Cuomo burned some very serious bridges with House Democratic leadership, which observers say could prove stifling for his presidential ambitions.

Throughout the summer and fall Cuomo was leading his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino in the polls by twenty plus points and dwarfed Astorino in fund-raising. The Republican National Committee (RNC) gave him no chance and did not invest in his campaign. The Democrats were hoping that a Cuomo landslide would drag along the remainder of the ticket; they hoped Cuomo would have deep coattails.

Cuomo decided to run an almost non-partisan campaign, while on the Democratic line his campaign was aloof from the hurly-burly of campaign politics.

The head of the ticket usually scoots around the state campaigning for fellow party members running for Congress, the Assembly and the Senate, Cuomo flooded the airwaves with his ads and ignored contentious races around the state.

Cuomo eschewed traditional democratic politics; he decided to sever himself from the teachers union, to rollback property taxes, to mumble incoherently around immigrant rights, extending rent control, decriminalizing marijuana, and a long list of progressive issues.

The state Senate was “up for grabs,” the pre-election Senate was run by Republicans and the Independent Democratic Coalition (IDC), Jeff Klein and a handful of Democrats who bolted the party and created a power sharing arrangement with the Republicans.

With the head of the ticket apparently rolling to victory the chances for a Democratic victory in the Senate looked bright. The Republicans won five of the six seats targeted by the Democrats.

When the dust settled the Democrats lost four House seats and the Republicans captured the national and the state Senate.

The state has traditionally been run by “three men in a room,” the governor, the speaker of the Assembly and the majority leader of the Senate, ultimately they control all legislation – for the last two years Jeff Klein, the leader of the IDC increased the team to “four men in a room.”

Post-election day the Democrats increased their majority in the 150-seat Assembly to 110 seats and the Republicans, with 32 seats in the 63-seat Senate hold sway.

The subplots were many.

This was a particularly partisan campaign. NYSUT, the state teacher union jumped in totally on board with the Democrats. Usually the union is strategic, endorsing candidates on both sides of the aisle. And, even if the Democrats had won, Jeff Klein and his IDC buds might have decided to remain in the middle, thwarting a Democratic majority.

Will the Governor and the Legislative Leaders Call a Lame Duck Session?

A “lame duck” session is a legislative session held after Election Day and before the newly elected legislators take their seats. In 1998 Governor Pataki called a lame duck session with two items on the agenda, a salary bump and a charter school law. Not surprisingly both bills passed; there is talk of a lame duck session before the end of the year. Could we see a deja vu, a deal involving a pay bump and raising or eliminating the charter cap, some election reforms, and other sweeteners? This is Albany: Nothing surprises.

Pre-Kindergarten Funding, Charter Schools and other Mischief

Legislators will begin the trek to Albany in January, for the first two months three-day a week sessions and the budgeting process slowly picks up speed. Bills are introduced, the traditional Tuesday invasion by the lobbying public, a session Wednesday and back home. Over the two years of the session (1/1/15 – 12/31/16) about 12,000 bills will be introduced into the Assembly and about 3-400 will end up as laws. Some legislators introduce hundreds of bills, other relatively few. On a slow day 300 or so emails will pop up on a legislator’s computer, on a busy day 1.000 or so. An intern sorts through trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, constituents, who warrant an answer and the machine-generated letters. The fax hums and prints all day, once again constituents may get an answer. On Tuesdays the hordes descend, some make appointments, other simply drop by hoping for the best. I have sat with a legislator: CUNY students opposing a tuition raise, dairy farmers concerned with milk quotas, nursing home owners worried about state reimbursements, lobbyists representing a particular client who wants help in resolving an issue with the state, on and on. Some legislators meet with groups, other pass the task along to a staffer.

As legislators draft bills they may seek co-sponsors, what bills should you join?

Click on the following:

http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/

Check “keyword” and type in “education” and 946 bills with education in the title will appear.

Each bill requires a companion bill on the Senate side, preferably with a Republican sponsor, the more co-sponsors you can line up the better, the bill is assigned to a committee, and if it involves dollars it also goes to the finance side, the budget committee. The vast majority of bills sputter and never make it to the floor; those that do may pass and die due to lack of action on the Senate side. And, if you’re determined enough to get a bill through both houses the bill requires the governor’s signature to become a law.’

A legislator who had been a science teacher introduced a bill that allowed unused New York State Textbook Law (NYSTL) dollars to be used to buy science supplies – the bill would not add any dollars to the budget.

Endless meetings with other legislators, science teachers, science teacher organizations, school board associations, the state education department and others, months and months go by, finally the bill passes both houses and goes to Governor Patterson’s desk for signature – he vetoes the bill – the veto message says the no cost bill is too costly!

In the waning days of March as the three-day a week sessions increase to four, to five, to the last few days of almost around the clock sessions, the “three men in a room,” actually their staffs, craft the one hundred forty billion dollar state budget.

Read a summary of the 2014-2015 budget: https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/press/2014/pressRelease14_enactedBudgetReleased.html

On the final night the parts of the budget come fast and furious as legislators vote on the hundreds and hundreds of pages of dense charts and graphs, hours after hours of votes on a budget that the legislators will have to read about on the blogs to comprehend.

In order to fund the $300 million for pre-kindergarten for next year the governor may extract something from the mayor? Will another concession to charter schools be part of the budget settlement? Or, conversely, will an adjustment to the property tax cap be included to ease the burden for stressed school districts?

The school budget is an enormously complex set of formula and the state has still not restored the formula that cut dollars as a result of the 2008 fiscal collapse. How will the budget deal with “stressed” districts, school districts that are in effect “educationally bankrupt,” they can’t meet statutory requirements due to lack of dollars?

Passing Laws and Preventing Laws from Passage: Reining in the State Education Department

Before or after some legislative sessions “the conference” meets just off the floor of the Assembly chamber; actually the majority caucus, a closed door, members and top staff only, with the tacit agreement that what is said in the conference stays in the conference. Conference is an opportunity for the leadership to test the pulse of the members and the members to express themselves.

In the last session Leonie Haimson, who leads Class Size Matters, led an assault on InBloom, the plan to build a warehouse of private student data and allow third party providers to use the data. Leonie built a movement, parents from around the state battered their legislators, the commissioner fought back, legislators felt the pressure and InBloom is no more.

Parents from affluent school districts were appalled by the new Common Core test results, kids moved from highly proficient to below proficient. Legislators were bombarded, the number of “opt-outs” escalated, the pressure grew and grew and in the waning days of the session a law was passed to postpone the impact of the Common Core tests on students and teachers.

Lawmakers are sensitive to grassroots constituents as well as the high profile lobbyists.

BTW, did you make a contribution to a candidate? Did you work in a campaign? Have you ever met with your local legislator? Do you write letters to the editor in your local newspaper? Do you write a column in your homeowner association newsletter? Do you ever visit your legislators in their community office?

Phone conversation: “I’m Jane Smith, representing the 650 members of the Every Town Parent-Teacher Association; we would like to meet with the Assembly member to discuss …….” I bet you get a meeting.

As Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.”

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision stated, “a sound basic education consisted of ‘the basic literacy, calculating, and verbal skills necessary to enable children to eventually function productively as civic participants capable of voting and serving on a jury. All students in New York public schools therefore have the right to an opportunity for a meaningful high school education, one which prepares them to function productively as civic participants.’”

We should be role models by acting as “civic participants” in the legislative process.

Cuomo, Education and the State Legislature: Conflict, Compromise or Submission?

Andrew Cuomo is a master strategist, careful, data-driven, and has decided that supporting charter schools, tougher teacher evaluation and pay for performance will garner him more votes than supporting teacher issues: and, he might be right!

The NY Post writes,

Gov. Cuomo is out to teach the teachers union a lesson, vowing Thursday to double down on education reform in his second term.

Cuomo — who noted that the state teachers union didn’t endorse him in either of his two races for governor — said overhauling the education system would be as important to his legacy for him as winning approval of gay marriage and enacting strict gun-control laws.

“I want performance in education. It’s that simple … Did that upset the teachers union? Yes it does. We have a difference of opinion,”

The State Senate Majority Leader speaks about education legislative initiatives,

[Senator Dean Skelos] spoke of the need to adequately fund the traditional public school system while at the same time making clear that charter schools need to be part of the solution, particularly in minority communities.

… he will push to help parochial schools. While he didn’t specifically reference it, the Senate GOP and Catholic Church last year pushed for enactment of an education investment tax credit that was blocked by the Assembly Democrats.

At a union event a Black teacher and parent mentioned her daughter was in a charter school, a public school teacher began to berate her,

“How can you send your daughter to a charter school, don’t you know they throw out discipline problems and squeeze out the public school and the school is supported by hedge funds?”

The parent, angrily replied, “Yes, they throw out the discipline problems, that’s one of the reasons I send my daughter, the charter school has much more funding, it that a bad thing? And, the charter school teachers dress professionally, in the public school they dress like slobs, it’s disgraceful and demeaning”

Cuomo is far from a fool, charter school dollars and Afro-American parents might be a more effective political path than cozying up to the teacher union.

The teacher union needs a strategy.

In early January the Governor will give his State of the State address, and probably lay out his legislative goals.

Eliminating the Charter School Cap

The charter school legislation has caps on the number of charter schools in New York City and the remainder of the state. There are 27 slots remaining for New York City and over a hundred for the rest of the state. Outside of New York City the charter schools are clustered in the larger cities, Buffalo, Albany, Rochester and Syracuse. The charter schools scheduled to open in NYC in 2015 have already been approved, if the cap is not raised there will be no additional schools opening in 2017.

The charter school advocates are calling for the elimination of a cap.

The legislature could remove the cap, increase the cap or transfer the surplus upstate slots to the city; or, do nothing and push the question forward for a year.

The Teacher Evaluation Law

The law was written by all the stakeholders, the governor, the legislature and the union; the extremely complex details were written by the commissioner and approved by the Regents. In the first year teachers were rated as follows:

51% Highly Effective
40% Effective
8% Developing
1% Ineffective

We are awaiting the scores for year 2; I suspect the scores will be similar; however, the scores are statistically unstable, most of the teachers in the 1% will not be in the 1% in year 2: It is altogether likely that the only a fraction of 1% will be rated ineffective for two years in a row.

The governor is fond of commissions and could pass a law establishing a blue ribbon commission to revise/rewrite the law, or, try to increase the student test score section from the current 20% to a higher percentage.

Performance Pay

In the last budget cycle the governor set aside $50 million (in a $20 billion education budget) to support performance pay programs in school districts and encourage “innovative” management solutions, perhaps merging school districts. The governor had very few takers. Salary schedules are negotiated with school districts and neither side has had any interest. School districts have asked that the $50 million be placed in the general state school budget.

For the past 20 years New York City has had a variety of titles in which teachers receive additional pay for additional and/or different roles. Lead teachers, created in the mid-nineties, pays teachers an additional $10,000 to support other teachers. SIG grants has created a range of titles, turnaround teacher, mentor teachers, etc., once again, at a higher pay schedule, and new UFT contract also contains a number of titles with higher pay for additional training and curriculum duties.

Do the higher paid teacher titles satisfy the governor’s “pay for performance” quip?

The Property Tax Cap

The governor has been silent on the property tax cap. Two years ago the governor and the legislature established a property tax cap, except in the “Big Five,” the major cities that do not require a public vote on school budgets. The cap has made it almost impossible to negotiate contracts; day-to-day expenses increase faster than the cap forcing districts to cut programs and staffs. In the rural, upstate low wealth districts schools can barely offer the minimum courses to allow students to graduate; at least fifty districts are in “stress” category with more entering.

In high wealth districts, school taxes exceed $20,000 per year, districts are forced to cut back on program after program.

The property tax cap is popular among taxpayers, school taxes have increased year after year as parents and teachers successfully lobbied for approval.

The law does allow districts to “break the cap” with a super majority – only a handful of districts have attempted.

Is it possible to “adjust” the cap and make it less onerous?

The governor needs the leaders of the Assembly and the Senate to support legislation. Sheldon Silver, the Speaker of the Assembly since 1994 fiercely defends the prerogatives of his chamber, and while the governor can chide and nudge, ultimately he has to make the deal with the speaker. The Republicans hold a one-seat edge in the Senate and can thwart any legislation, or, trade “this for that.”

The state testing kerfuffle was a disaster for the governor, as parent anger refused to fade the governor supported language that slowed the impact of the Common Core tests for five years. There are seven Regents positions up for election, two are vacancies and the other five will be running for reelection. The Regents are elected by a joint meeting of both houses of the legislature: will the governor seek to change the powers of the Regents? To make the commissioner the appointee of the governor?

From the convening of the legislature in January to the adjournment in late June the players in Albany will be playing according to the scenario in Federalist # 51,

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Read a detailed analysis of the NYS election results and the role of the union: http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/teachers-unions-millions-failed-to-tip-senate-20141108

How Will the Republican Control of Both Houses of Congress Impact the Reauthorization of ESEA and Other Education Policies?

The Republicans control both the House of Representatives and the Senate; they control the flow of legislation to the President’s desk, yes, the cloture rule requires 60 votes to bring a bill to a vote and the Dems can replace the Repubs as obstructionists.

While Democratic candidates tried to distance themselves from the President the election was a referendum on Barack Obama. In 2008 and 2012 the Obama team created a “new” coalition – millennials, new voters, well-educated women, Afro-American and Hispanic voters, in the midterms, 2010 and 2014 the coalition never came together.

I will leave deep analysis to the endless array of talking heads, for me a simpler question: How will the Republican congress impact education.

Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)

At the core of the Republican mantra is a smaller government, and smaller government means fewer federal dollars. The major source of federal education dollars is Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Congress determines the total pool of dollars and the formula by which the dollars are distributed. While the current funding formula is complex (Read description here) the formula is driven by levels of poverty. A Republican controlled Congress might shrink the total pool and change the formula to give states more flexibility and send a larger share to poor rural areas and away from urban areas.

The 2013 bill that passed the House contained policies that might be attractive to teachers and their unions.

The July 2013 House bill would dramatically reduce the federal “footprint” on education by

§ eliminating the current federal accountability system of adequate yearly progress (AYP) and allow states and school districts to set their own testing standards;
§ eliminating the corrective actions for failing schools;
§ repealing the “highly qualified teacher” definition;
§ eliminating “more than 70″ existing programs, consolidating others, and granting broad autonomy to states; and schools in the administration of education.
§ Removes a policy, requiring school districts to use student test scores in teacher evaluations
§ Allows parents to take federal education money and use it to send their children to other public schools, including charter schools.

The chairs of the education committees in both houses will change from 2013 and there is no way of knowing whether the Repubs will recycle the 2013 bill or start from scratch with a new bill.

The Rulemaking Authority of the US Department of Education

There is no question that any bill would curtail the role of the Department of Education. The Duncan USDOE has been more aggressive than any predecessor in driving policy through their rulemaking and budgetary powers. The four plus billions in Race to the Top dollars required a commitment to the Common Core, teacher evaluation and a host of other requirements. Two examples: students who have been in the country for more than a year, regardless of their English skills must take state tests and the data included in the school, school district and state assessments. Requests to move the requirement to two or three years have been denied by the USDOE. Student with Disabilities, except for the lowest functioning 1% must take state tests, and, once again, all the data redounds to the school, district and state. Requests to change the reg have been denied.

Advocacy organizations have supported the intensive rulemaking fearing that states may divert dollars for other purposes. Currently the feds require that all testing data is disaggregated by sub-group, by race, ethnicity and handicapping condition, and the data made public, if the requirement is removed states may not be so anxious to release, or even collect the data.

The Feds and the Common Core

The Common Core State Standards are not a federal program, although the Duncan Department strongly endorses the CCSS. No Child Left Behind (No Child Left Behind is the name given to ESEA in the 2002 reauthorization) requires testing in English and Mathematics for all children in grades 3-8 and passing exams in English, Mathematics and Science to graduate high school. Federal law does prohibit the feds from requiring any specific curriculum and the CCSS are not a curriculum. A reauthorized ESEA could curtail any endorsement of the Common Core; the abandonment of the Core is a state responsibility.

Repeal/Changing the Testing Requirements of NCLB

The annual testing requirements of NCLB are the most politically sensitive of all education policies. The revolt among parents is not dying, it continues to escalate, and, it is neither left or right, it cuts across the political spectrum. Will the Republicans try and steal the thunder and replace annual testing with tests every third year, or, use a sampling technique similar to NAEP tests to monitor academic progress?

A simpler approach is to leave the testing to the states, deflect the public anger away from Washington and move it to state capitals.

Charter Schools, Vouchers and the Marketplace Solutions.

Whatever the legislation a movement to competition, to use Governor Cuomo’s phrase, “to end the monopoly” of public schools will be part of any federal legislation. While charter schools and vouchers are a state responsibility the feds can write legislation to remove any barriers and provide dollars to encourage states to take a charter or voucher path.
You may notice that soon to be majority leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell held a press conference followed by a lengthy press conference by President Obama: both love fests; on Friday the President is meeting with the Republican leaders, over the length of both news conferences not a word about education.

In the democratic corner Joe Williams the leader of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER): supports charter schools and vouchers, the common core and opposes unions, Diane Ravitch, the leader of the Network for Public Education: opposes charter schools, the common core and works with the unions. Both democrats; miles apart. On the Republican side the Tea Partiers speak of Obamacore, revile the federal role in education as well as the dismantling of public education, also in the party are the supporters of Chambers of Commerce, supporters of testing and the common core.

Educational politics today is complicated, really complicated.

As the new Congress convenes in January committees in both houses will begin to craft reauthorizations of ESEA, and by next summer the conference committee will reconcile the bills from both houses, I suspect the many advocates of current USDOE policies and practices will urge the President to veto any bill.

Bill Gates and Eli Broad will lobby behind the scenes, the Tea Partiers in both houses will cry for returning education authority to the states.

Stay tuned.

de Blasio’s School Renewal Plan: Warmed Over Ineffective Turnaround Plans or Well Thought Out Plans Phased-In With Faculty Involvement?

Almost a year to the day after his election Mayor de Blasio, in a major address, rolled out his long awaited education plan. As the spring morphed into summer and the summer into the fall the whispers got louder – What’s happening? What’s the plan for “struggling” schools? If he’s not going to close schools, how is he going to help schools? In a lengthy address the mayor mused about his experiences as a student and a parent and described his plans.

The plan below:

Aggressive Supports and Reforms for 94 Low-Performing Schools

Each school-specific School Renewal Plan will outline the school’s approach to transforming into a Community School and offering extended time, as well as feature the following supports and reforms:
• Additional resources, such as academic intervention specialists, guidance counselors, social workers, small group instruction and individualized plans to meet the academic and emotional needs of every student
• Extensive professional learning and development for school staff, including intensive coaching for principals
• Enhanced oversight from superintendents who all recently completed a rigorous interview process
• Frequent visits from DOE trained staff to provide feedback and closely monitor progress

Additional targeted supports tailored to each school, based on its individual needs, may include:
• Modified curriculum to maximize school improvement
• New master and model teachers who can share their craft with other educators at the school
• Operational support, enabling principals to focus on supporting their teachers to ensure rigorous classroom instruction
• Additional resources for school safety and social service programs designed to address the specific identified needs of the student population

The goals for the coming years are:
• 2014–2015
o Each school must develop and put in place a School Renewal Plan for transformation by Spring 2015
• 2015–2016
o Each school must meet concrete milestones defined in its School Renewal Plan and improve on targeted elements of the capacity framework, as identified in the needs assessment
o Each school must demonstrate measurable improvement in attendance and teacher retention
• 2016–2017
o Each school must demonstrate significant improvement in academic achievement
o Each school must demonstrate continued improvement on targeted elements of the capacity framework

For some the plan looks like warmed-over State Incentive Grants (SIG) that the feds have been distributing for years. The grants fit into parameters set by the state and the details of the grant are created by the school district; principals have peripheral input and staff no input. Programs imposed from central rarely change classroom practice.

Principles of Organizational Change:
• Participation reduces resistance
• Change is perceived as punishment

Some of the schools on the list have been flirting with school closures for decades, superintendents, regional superintendents, network leaders, etc., have been “supporting” schools year after year, how will the de Blasio Renewal Plan differ from years of “new initiatives?”

If instructional practice from 9 – 3, during the regular school day has not been effective what makes you think instruction from 3 – 4 will be effective?

Andy Smarick in Education Next,
in a critical essay about school turnaround writes,

… school turnaround efforts have consistently fallen far short of hopes and expectations. Quite simply, turnarounds are not a scalable strategy for fixing America’s troubled urban school systems…

Looking back on the history of school turnaround efforts, the first and most important lesson is the “Law of Incessant Inertia.” Once persistently low performing, the majority of schools will remain low performing despite being acted upon in innumerable ways.

The second important lesson is the “Law of Ongoing Ignorance.” Despite years of experience and great expenditures of time, money, and energy, we still lack basic information about which tactics will make a struggling school excellent. A review published in January 2003 by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation of more than 100 books, articles, and briefs on turnaround efforts concluded, “There is, at present, no strong evidence that any particular intervention type works most of the time or in most places.”

Is the School Renewal Plan spending $150 million and pushing the problem three years down the road? On the other hand school closings sacrificed students in the phase-out schools, two or three years of staff moving on and deteriorating services. Over 1,000 teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool rotating from school to school at a cost of tens of millions. The Renewal Plan will involve staffs in the creation of school specific plans and the master teachers and coaches and mentors will work with school staffs. Schools will have “ownership” of the process, yes; schools plans must operate within the parameters of the Renewal Plan (extended school days, etc.). Schools will have three years to recreate their own schools in a transparent process. If schools fail to show adequate progress, in a transparent process, schools will be closed or staff changed. it is difficult to object to school closing at the end of a process in which school staffs participated in the process.

School closings vigorously resisted by schools, communities and elected or schools that improve, or not, with the total involvement of the schools and the community.

There are three keys: leadership, leadership and leadership.

The Bloomberg era leadership programs have had mixed results. An NYU study a few years ago showed no significant differences among Leadership Academy and traditional program principals. Anecdotally teachers report young Leadership graduates do not exhibit leadership qualities. To claim, as some reformers claim that experience does not matter is deeply flawed. Learning is lifelong, experience matters.

Schools blocks apart: one school chaotic, fights, suspensions, and mediocre instruction, the other orderly, effective instruction, the “feeling” that kids and teachers want to succeed, and sometimes, the same stark differences in schools in the same building.

Can current principals in struggling schools become effective school leaders?

Can school staffs become reflective, collaborative teams?

We anxiously await the implementation details of the Renewal Plan.

I used to wonder why so many secondary school principals had been coaches, and so few English and History teachers.

Have you ever watched a coach work with his/her team during a practice? Have you watched a coach teach a skill?

Description, demonstration, walk through, correction, slow practice, correction, repetition, game speed practice, review, correction … a step by step teaching of a skill with frequent “checks for understanding.” Mike Schmoker, in Focus, describes the same practice in classroom instruction: frequent checks for understanding.

I watched a U-tube of a high school basketball coach, a gymnasium filled with kids, there was less than a second left, an out-of-bounds play, the coach signaled a play, the player under the basket nodded, flashed the signal – the out-of-bounds pass was a lob to the rim and one player came around a screen and tipped the pass at the buzzer for a win. In in a tense situation players performed, coaching worked, kids learned and performed.

Coaches, principals and teachers can teach kids and can instill confidence in students. The de Blasio School Renewal Plan can make a difference with the proper leadership at the school level.

Political Axiom: “Remember, the Hand You Bite Today May Be Attached to the Ass You Have to Kiss Tomorrow.”

Buddy Cianci, the “colorful,” occasionally outrageous former mayor of Providence is running again; Cianci also served time at the expense of the feds, and is noted for his political quips, one of my favorites,

“Remember, the hand you bite today may be attached to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow.”

For many years I served as the elected union leader of a school district representing 2,000 union members. There were times the superintendent or the school board did something I strongly opposed, there were times that members were outraged by some policy. I learned that no matter how angry, no matter the political pressures, I represented all of my members, not just the “angry and outraged” members. I had to learn to both vigorously express my displeasure and at the same time not to burn bridges – to “agree to disagree.”

I asked the superintendent to sign a form to get a teacher whose payroll was screwed up and about to be evicted an emeegency check.

I had to ask him to approve a leave with health benefits for a teacher who had had used up sick days.

Ripping the superintendent in public would satisfy angy members and have tragic results for other members; I always had to keep the door ajar.

The polls close in New York State at 8 PM, minutes later Andrew Cuomo will be declared the winner by the TV stations, his opponent Rob Astorino will trail by about 20% and the Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins will end up in single digits.

My e-mail box is filled with teacher denunciations of Cuomo, endorsements of the Green candidate, refusals to vote for anyone, just plain anger directed at Cuomo.

Cuomo deserves the disapprobation of teachers.

The NY Daily News report on a Cuomo meeting with the newspaper’s editorial board,

ALBANY — Vowing to break “one of the only remaining public monopolies,” Gov. Cuomo on Monday said he’ll push for a new round of teacher evaluation standards if re-elected.

Cuomo, during a meeting with the Daily News Editorial Board, said better teachers and competition from charter schools are the best ways to revamp an underachieving and entrenched public education system.
“I believe these kinds of changes are probably the single best thing that I can do as governor that’s going to matter long-term,” he said, “to break what is in essence one of the only remaining public monopolies — and that’s what this is, it’s a public monopoly.”

He said the key is to put “real performance measures with some competition, which is why I like charter schools.”
Cuomo said he will push a plan that includes more incentives — and sanctions — that “make it a more rigorous evaluation system.”

Cuomo expects fierce opposition from the state’s teachers, who are already upset with him and have refused to endorse his re-election bid.

“The teachers don’t want to do the evaluations and they don’t want to do rigorous evaluations — I get it,” Cuomo said. “I feel exactly opposite.”

Cuomo can be described as a bully, self-serving, amoral, endlessly ambitious, and these are the kinder terms, on the other hand he’s going to be the governor for the next four years.

He is a master strategist: at the heart de Blasio’s campaign for mayor was “pre-kindergarten for all” paid for by increased taxes from earners of over $500,000. There was relatively little pushback. Under New York State law all taxes, state or local, must be approved by the legislature and the governor. Cuomo shot down the mayor’s plan and insisted the funds must come from the state budget.

de Blasio, the vassal, must show fealty to his feudal lord, pay homage each and every year to keep the pre-kindergarten dollars flowing. Any hint of disloyalty by the mayor can result in Cuomo, the lord, questioning the value of pre-kindergarten, jeopardizing the program and pointing blame at the mayor.

Mayor Bloomberg, a major contributor to the Senate Republicans, introduced legislation to end seniority for teachers in New York City; in a staff reduction principals would choose which teachers to excess, and, similar to Chicago, if “bumped” teachers could not a find a job in another school they would be laid off. The bill whisked through the Republican controlled Senate. Cuomo ended Bloomberg’s attack on “first in-last out” by announcing there was no need for the bill, the teacher evaluation law would sort teachers.

For whatever reason Cuomo chose the union over Bloomberg.

Every twenty years the legislature must decide whether to place a proposition on the ballot calling for a constitutional convention. There are some groups in support: maybe an Equal Rights Amendment or changes in the funding of schools – sounds like a good idea; however, on the other side are the dangers.

A simple clause in the state constitution,

After July first, nineteen hundred forty, membership in any pension or retirement system of the state or of a civil division thereof shall be a contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.

School districts, cities, business groups, the Tea Party, and on and on would love to delete that simple sentence. To allow the state to “diminish and impair” pensions.

The last constitutional convention was 75 years ago and in my view another convention would do mischief.

Each time the question has arisen, previous governors and legislatures have passed – no interest.

There is always the next battle, be it avoiding a constitutional convention or amending the property tax cap. Unions, properly, have responsibly criticized the governor for his unseemly and antagonistic comments, and, I hope, keep the door ajar for the next issue.