Category Archives: Uncategorized

Skipping Over the Pond on Spring Break: Reinvigorating the Teaching Engine.

A few weeks before the spring break I’d start poring over the ads in the back of the union newspaper looking for charter flights. Air Obscure would be flying off to somewhere at $100 or so each way – my taste buds would decide: Belon oysters from Brittany, rijsttafel in Amsterdam, the food court in Harrods, choucroute in Berlin or sfogliatella in Rome, I tried them all.

Some entrepreneur travel agent leased an airliner from a third string carrier and targeted, you guessed it, teachers.

We’d race home from school on the last day of classes before spring break, pack a bag, make sure we didn’t forget our passports and find the terminal – usually in some corner of the airport and off Europe. The charter flight would land at some secondary or tertiary airport – Orly in Paris, Stanhope in London, Tegel in Berlin or Fiumicino in Rome; we’d land at dawn and a sleepy custom official would yawn and stamp our passports, and we’d wonder how we would ever get to our seedy hotels from this obscure airport.

Standing at the Mur des Federes in Pere La Chaise cemetery in Paris … imagining the French troops lining up and executing the last of the Communards.

Spending a day wandering the Floriade, the once on a decade exhibition of every bulb known to man in the gardens of Zoetermeer, the Netherlands.

Crossing over into East Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie…

Wandering the American military cemetery in Cambridge … the endless line of grave sites of airman who died in World War 2.

The Tate, the Jeu de Palme, the Rijksmuseum … the David in Firenze, the Grand Place in Brussels …

And all tax deductible, I think, or, at least the statute of limitations has passed.

I stumbled back to class exhausted and invigorated and a better teacher. I don’t have any data, no one measured the Value-Added test scores of my students before and after each journey, I’d like to think that my enthusiasm passed on to my kids.

Low airfares, a Europass and favorable exchange rates were a boon to teachers; today, exorbitant airfares and punitive exchange rates make overseas travel virtually impossible for teachers.

I read through my travel diary from time to time, smile to myself, we didn’t get paid much but we wandered the world. I argued politics with endless Europeans, both defended and criticized my nation, The Holocaust came to life in the Jewish Museum and Cemetery in Prague, the artwork from the children at Teresienstadt, the Anne Frank House.

Teaching is so much more than writing a good lesson plan, or sticking to the 22 elements in the Danielson Frameworks, it comes from an inner glow, a burning flame.

Maybe instead of merit pay roundtrip airline tickets….?

BTW, have any interesting stories about “tripping the light fantastic” during spring break?

Share an experience in the comment box below:

Will the Success/Failure of the Pre-Kindergarten Initiaitive Determine the Future of the de Blasio Administration? Will the Common Core Wars Be Ignited by the Pre-Kindergarten Curriculum Wars?

Sharon Greenberger, the Chief Executive and CEO of the School Construction Authority was testifying before a NYS Assembly committee, there were many students on kindergarten waiting lists in Manhattan. Greenberg was explaining the method of predicting the number of kindergarten seats, projections of census data, predictive algorithms, what today we call “big data” to predict outcomes. Assembly member Linda Rosenthal interrupted, “Why didn’t you just count the number of baby carriages on Broadway?”

Mayor de Blasio came into Gracie Mansion with two education policies: rid public schools of co-located charter schools and add over 4,000 full day pre-k seats.

The Eva attack was unforeseen and the de Blasio team was unprepared – when the dust settled Mayor Bill was a loser – a big time loser.

Pre-kindergarten belongs to the mayor, there is no Eva, the success/failure is up to the mayor.

Identify Seat and Students and Match Them Up

The easy part of expanding half day to full day pre-kindergarten classes – the hard part of identifying classrooms appropriate for pre-kindergarten – bathrooms for four-year olds, sinks, furniture and the wide, wide range of learning materials. Paper, crayons, lots and lots of crayons, books, books and more books, blocks, educational toys, I-Pads loaded with the correct apps for four year olds and music players, perhaps a piano.

Principals may not be eager to give up a room for pre-kindergarten, the rooms have to be renovated, and, most importantly, the rooms must be matched to the students by neighborhood.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has already criticized the mayor’s choice of locations, claiming the seats are in low use neighborhoods and a lack of seats in high use neighborhoods.

Student Identification

The neediest students will be the most difficult to recruit – they may live in shelters, in foster homes, in projects, and their caregivers simply may not be aware of the programs, or, not be able to get themselves organized enough to hook up with the program. Half empty classrooms, kids here one day and gone the next, kids wandering in to school late, hysterical 4 year olds not wanting to leave their caregiver, again. are all critical and commonplace problems.

A Strong Parent/Caregiver Support Program

Pre-kindergarten programs need strong parent involvement programs – explaining the importance of diet, reading to children, discipline that is not punitive, how to talk with children, ask them questions, playing with them at home, talking about colors and numbers and letters, and playing; not just sitting the child in front of the TV for hours at a time.

Recruiting and Training Teachers

Can the Department identify and train appropriately certified teachers and paraprofessionals so that they can hit the ground running? Can the current network structure support pre-kindergarten teachers? The vast percentage of new pre-kindergarten teachers are not currently teaching pre-kindergarten classes, will the Department run training sessions over the summer? Will network staffs be augmented with coaches with expertise in pre-kindergarten?

Selecting a Curriculum

Will the Department select a curriculum? Allow the network or the school to choose a curriculum? Will the Department opt in to the Engage NY Core Knowledge curriculum?

I am far from an expert, however, my pre-kindergarten experts are sharply critical of the Engage NY curriculum – they complain it is poorly-written, confusing and lacks an encompassing philosophy.

The “reggio-emilia” approach is supported by a range of private schools – and antithetical to everything the Common Core espouses. See Williamsberg Northside Curriculum Guide here,

The Montessori Model, with roots extending back into the 19th century is a child-centered model, once again, antithetical to the Common Core and has extremely loyal followers.

In this highly toxic atmosphere the selection of a curriculum can set off an explosion – the anti-Common Core versus the Child-Centered adherents.

The funding of pre-kindergartens, the dollars, are only the beginning, there will be many bumps along the road, many opportunities to be sidetracked, the Department needs skill to design and implement the program. The “reading wars” – the phonics versus whole language acolytes may be replaced by the Common Core wars – the supporters and opponents. The decisions over the choice of a pre-kindergarten curriculum may create another “war.”

Who would have thought that four year olds may determine the success, or lack thereof, of a mayoral administration?

Who Will NYSUT Endorse for Governor? Cuomo? Astorino? No One? A Yet to Be Named Working Families Party Candidate?

“Unless there is some significant change, I can’t imagine our teachers would even consider endorsing the governor,” [NYSUT President Karen] Magee said in a phone interview Monday.

Could the union back Astorino? “The field is open as to who we endorse,” she said, adding that she does not know enough about Astorino’s education policies.

In the 2010 election, NYSUT sat on the sidelines in the governor’s race.

At last weekend’s annual NYSUT convention the 2300 delegates jeered every time Cuomo’s name was mentioned. While the governor is unpopular among NYSUT members his polling is positive.

Governor Andrew Cuomo leads Westchester County Executive, Rob Astorino, the only declared Republican candidate for governor 61% to 26% … By a 64% to 28% voters say Cuomo is an “effective governor.”

The 600,000 members of NYSUT may have no faith in the governor, may actually despise him, may not trust him, and may feel he is solely concerned with his own advancement, willing to trade anything to benefit himself; jumping on the charter school band wagon for crass political advantage, to deprive his Republican opponent of charter school hedge fund dollars.

On the other hand he is the governor, he is the “big dog” in the state and all legislation requires his approval. If NYSUT wants a moratorium on the impact of test scores on APPR (teacher evaluation) the governor must be on board. Sitting on the table are the Dream Act, Women’s Equality and Medical Marijuana legislation and perhaps the beginnings of a major adjustment in the property tax cap: every piece of legislation ends on the governor’s desk.

At this point the governor is 35% points ahead of the only declared Republican candidate and he hasn’t even begun to run, he has a deep political war chest.

The campaign will probably be interesting if the Working Families Party (WFP) decides to run a candidate in the primary or in the general election – a candidate to the left of Cuomo who could attract liberal voters. A WFP candidate would require Cuomo to run further to the left and leave the voters in the middle up for grabs. Teachers might have an option, and, Cuomo might decide he needs a NYSUT endorsement, all speculation.

The only elected who spoke at the NYSUT Conference was the senior Senator from New York State – Charles Schumer who ran against Alfonse D’Amato for the US Senate in 1999 – he began with 3% in the early polling. D’Amato decided to run a campaign attacking teachers – Schumer never backed off, he defended teachers, and never backed away one iota. In every speech he regales the audience with his commitment to public education – he lists the schools he attended (PS 197, JHS 234 and Madison High School), he reminds us of his teachers by name, and that his daughters also went to public schools. His teachers did something right!

In 2012 I worked in President Obama’s re-election campaign – as with most teachers I disagreed with almost all his education ideas – yet – did I want Romney in the White House? Did I want a president who opposed public schools? Who supported vouchers? Who wanted to privatize Social Security? No, I worked for Obama because while I disagreed with his educational agenda he was far better than his Republican counterparts.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough Chuck Schumers

New Leadership at the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT): Can the New Leadership Re-Energize the Union? Will the Members Put Aside Differences?

Every year 2,000 delegates elected by the members of the 1300 locals representing the 600,000 New York State United Teacher members gather, usually rotating annually between Buffalo and New York City, to set policy for the organization, listen to a range of speeches, honor their own and, until this year, listen to a speech by the State Commissioner and ask him questions from the floor.

While teachers in New York City struggled under the yoke of Mike Bloomberg, locals outside the city sliced budgets to comply with the 2% property tax cap, CUNY and SUNY faced increasingly proscriptive ukases from chancellors and urban upstate cities faced increasing poverty. Over the last few years the Question and Answer sessions with the Commissioner have become more and more testy. This year, no Commissioner, no members of the Regents.

Apparently the testiness spread within NYSUT leadership: Was the leadership too aloof from the membership? Was the leadership reactive rather than proactive? A few months ago the behind the scenes finger-pointed increased until an opposition slate emerged.

The opposing slates were both part of Unity, the majority caucus.

NYSUT leadership – the President, Secretary/Treasurer, three Vice Presidenst, at-large Directors and Directors from geographic districts are elected for two year terms in even numbered years.

The Unity Caucus met Friday night – Michael Mulgrew moved that the caucus not endorse candidates and the convention Unity members be freed from caucus discipline. In the past caucus members committed to support candidates selected within the caucus, similar to Democrats selecting candidates in Democratic primaries.

Saturday was an awkward day, beginning with a candidates forum. There were three slates: the Iannuzzi slate (the incumbents), the McGee slate (the insurgents) and a slate from the MORE opposition caucus in New York City.

Each slate divided up the time allotted among their candidates: the audience cheered loudly for “their guy/gal,” was a little like an 8th grade GO election.

Committees met, resolutions were debated, honors and awards to members, a tribute to Peter Seeger, and, finally the locals moved to their election sites at 4:30 pm.

Each delegate casts a weighted vote – if a local has 1,000 members and sends ten delegates the delegates would carry 100 votes each.

Each delegate affixes a sticker to their ballot and bubbles in their choices on a scannable ballot. The ballots are counted by an outside organization.

While the exact votes were not announced the rumors are the McGee slate won with about 60% of the total votes cast.

Both slates, the Iannuzzi and the McGee slates spoke passionately about the need for all parties to coalesce- the importance of the union over the ambitions of either side – delegate after delegate pleaded for unity – committed to fight together for the membership – it was an impressive display of commitment to ideals of the union. Randi Weingarten made one of her best speeches – again, a call to fight together for members, for families, for students, she slammed Cuomo in the strongest terms.

At the end of the convention Karen McGee made her maiden speech – impressive – she reminded us she was the first female President in a union in which 70% of the membership was women. She’s an excellent public speaker.

One of the most popular resolutions was calling on the Board of Regents to “immediately” fire the commissioner.

While the Governor’s support for charter schools received all the ink, it will be interesting to see the result of one section of the law giving the city and state comptrollers the right to audit charter schools. The increase in state aid was substantial, the limitations on the use of student test scores and vague comments from the Governor about the need to modify APPR (teacher evaluation) did not mollify the members.

Sitting with 2,000 like-minded union members is an emotional high – converting the passion to changes in state laws and regulations are another matter.

Singing, arm in arm, Solidarity Forever is emotionally satisfying – the hard work begins after the convention delegates return to their localities around the state.

The Governor, the Attorney General, the Comptroller, the 150 members of the Assembly and the 63 members of the Senate will be on the ballot in November.

Cuomo’s opponent, probably Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino is a conservative Republican, pro charter school, anti-Dream Act, anti-marriage equality, on the other side of just about every issue that NYSUT supports. Parent anger could jeopardize the re-election of some legislators; there are a dozen vacant seats in the legislature. How can the 600,000 NYSUT members use their clout the change the direction of state education policy?

The new NYSUT leadership will have an immediate test.

NYSUT Leadership at Stake: The Members Will Decide Who Leads the 600,000 NYS Teachers.

In the early seventies the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers, (AFT) locals in New York State merged into a single state federation – the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). There was considerable doubt that the merger would succeed, the organizations came from starkly different cultures – a union affiliated with the AFL-CIO and a “professional” organization.

NYSUT is incredibly diverse – New York City, locals with 100 or fewer members deep in the Adirondacks, high wealth suburbs, college teachers in the CUNY system and across the state in the SUNY system. Per capita funding is one of the most disparate in the nation; upstate urban communities have seen industry flee and the inner cities face increasingly deep poverty and less and less revenue.

NYSUT is not a union – it is a federation of 1300 local chapters. NYSUT uses dues dollars to establish and staff regional support centers around the state – the centers provide labor relations specialists and attorneys who negotiate contracts and support the locals as well as lobbying in Albany.

New York City, teachers, teachers outside of New York City and college teachers belong to different pension funds, CUNY and SUNY have chancellors selected by appointed Boards, the Board of Regents appoints a state commissioner while New York City is a mayoral control city.

For decades Tom Hobart led the NYSUT federation with élan. Tom skillfully guided the extremely diverse elements within the federation. Tom and Toni Cortese, his first vice president balanced the complexities of the needs of 600,000 members and, from the UFT, Alan Lubin, guided the political/lobbying side across the state.

NYSUT collected millions of dollars in voluntary political contributions (Committee on Political Education – COPE) and for many years has been the major contributor to political campaigns – both Republicans and Democrats.

Some months ago the unity of this extremely diverse organization began to fray. The incumbents are being challenged by a new slate – all the candidates within the same caucus (See Revive NYSUT here and a blog supporting the insurgents here)

The annual NYSUT Representative Assembly will begin on Friday evening April 4th and the election will take place on the evening of April 5th.

Rumors abound about the reasons that the split is irreconcilable:

* have the incumbents mismanaged the fiscal side of NYSUT?
* have the incumbents been tone deaf to the needs of members?
* has the split been engineered by the larger locals?

Interestingly this a not a philosophical split between different caucuses – all the candidates are within the Unity Caucus – the caucus that has dominated the federation for decades.

For the anti-Unity folk it’s a Randi Weingarten plot, the press points to a dispute between Vice President Andy Palotta and President Dick Iannuzzi. Others just think that NYSUT has been slow to respond to the attacks on public education by the governor, the commissioner and most members of the board of regents.

Jessica Bakeman at Capital NY reports,

Iannuzzi is losing ground among local unions whose delegates will vote at a convention in early April.

Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Federation of Teachers, said his members are frustrated that the current leadership wasn’t as aggressive as they’d hoped in responding to the state’s rollout of the controversial Common Core standards.

“Many of the Buffalo teachers have not been satisfied with the positions that NYSUT has taken,” Rumore told Capital on Wednesday. “Let’s put it this way: If anything, we are leaning toward a change in direction, but we haven’t made a formal decision yet.”

Yonkers Federation of Teachers president Patricia Puleo said her union’s delegates are free to decide for themselves who they’ll vote for in April, and she questioned whether new leadership would make a difference in how the state Education Department goes forward with implementation of the Common Core standards. But she recognized that the city’s teachers have grown frustrated.

“People are so upset that they are willing to make whatever changes they can,” Puleo said.

Kevin Ahern, president of the Syracuse Teachers Association, said his delegates aren’t sure how they’ll vote.
“We have to do what is best for our local, and we are waiting until we have thoroughly discussed where both slates are at in terms of what will work best for us in the long term,” Ahern said.

Rochester Teachers Association president Adam Urbanski said teachers have been dissatisfied with Iannuzzi’s handling of some issues in the past, they “have also noted a marked change in his position with the call for a moratorium and with spearheading the vote of no confidence against Commissioner King,” he said.

“I think there is considerable dissatisfaction with the way things have turned out,” Urbanski continued, “and I think they want a stronger position to be taken by NYSUT than NYSUT has managed to take until now. There is absolutely no question about that. But they don’t want change for the sake of change; they want change in position and the issues to be the focus point, not personalities.”

United University Professions, a union of about 33,000 SUNY professors and other employees, will back the challengers.
Higher education institutions in the state are facing different issues than elementary and secondary schools, and UUP president Frederick Kowal said a primary focus has been the financial troubles of Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, which might close. He’s unhappy with NYSUT’s involvement in professors’ fight to keep it open.

Universities have also faced state aid cuts. NYSUT launched an advertising campaign earlier this month advocating boosts in funding for SUNY and CUNY. But Kowal said his union has had to rely on its own lobbying.

“There needs to be a consistent and long-running commitment to the needs of members and locals,” Kowal said. “It’s just not enough to see a flurry of activity as a contested election approaches.”

Sometime late Saturday night the votes will be counted and the incumbents or the insurgents will prevail. What is crucially important is that the transition, if it occurs, is an orderly transition. The worst thing that could happen is if the losers attempt to undercut the winners.

Politics is complicated, it’s easy to attack the governor or the commissioner or the legislature, and it’s difficult to impact policy decisions. You influence lawmakers one vote, one meeting at a time, by developing relationships. As Tip O’Neill, the one-time Speaker of the House of Representatives so famously noted, “All politics is local.”

A contingent of CUNY students was meeting with an Albany legislator; they were vigorously demanding more money for the city colleges to prevent a tuition increase. The legislator asked whether the students would campaign for higher taxes, or, what programs should they reduce to add funds to colleges, the students got frustrated, angry, and threatened, “We won’t vote for you – we’ll campaign against you.” The legislator asked, “Will you work with me to find a solution?” The students angrily stalked out of the office. The legislator took the sign-in list and ran it into the computer – none of the students were registered Democrats – they were not eligible to vote in the primary in which candidates were selected.

An hour later we met with a lobbyist and some clients – they advocated for legislation and left a detailed folder with a suggested bill.

In my former school district the school board, the superintendent, the parent associations and school union leaders met with all the local legislators and provided them with a legislative agenda for the district and followed up with Albany visits and visits to the legislator’s community office.

One would hope that teacher union local presidents have excellent relationships with local electeds, that they communicate regularly, that with the assistance of the NYSUT lobbying team they are a presence in their district. Impacting policy is not an e-blast or a one-time trip to Albany – it is a day-to-day process.

For the UFT the major issue is negotiating a contract and relief from the onerous requirements of the teacher evaluation plan, for CUNY the fight is over Pathways, for SUNY the proposed closing of Downstate Medical Center, outside of New York City the property tax cap, all locals are fighting for increased state aid, locals and groups of locals have diverse interests and needs.

The voters are the elected delegates representing the membership of the 1300 local unions. The “voters” vote in proportion to the members they represent – local unions decide on the number of delegates to send to the Representative Assembly. Each voter bubbles in the candidates of their choice on a ballot with a barcode – the ballots are scanned and the totals available a few hours after the closing of the polls – Saturday night.

While it is commonplace to speculate about backroom deals and grand strategies frequently disagreements are what they seem. Members of organizations become dissatisfied and an alternate leader emerges – this is what democracy is all about.

Will the representatives of the 600,000 member NYSUT decide to stick with the current leadership or opt for a new team – I suspect they will opt for the new team.

Leaders require a “third ear,” Joyce Brown, a psychologist and President of FIT describes her process,

I have a third ear. I listen, and I really pay attention and try very hard to understand the nuances. I tell people that I will listen to what they say, and will try to incorporate what I can from their suggestions if I think they fit the objective we’re trying to achieve. If we’re not going to do what they’re suggesting, I’ll tell them why. I think people deserve that. I will tell you why, and then we will proceed. I think it works, because people feel that they were listened to, and were given the respect of an answer about why I might disagree. You gain a lot by being respectful of people’s ideas.

The current NYSUT leadership appears to have lost contact with their membership – too many members feel the leadership is neither listening nor leading. Leadership requires a deft touch – the membership goals may be unrealistic – do you follow the membership even though you know the path is futile or guide the membership to another path, even though they are reluctant?

In New York City Michael Mulgrew is a popular leader – he won the last union election with almost 90% of the vote, there is an active opposition, a former very oppositional mayor – with currently a much friendlier mayor Mulgrew will have to negotiate a contract and satisfy his members – some may have unrealistic expectations. Senior teachers want as much money as possible to augment their pensions; younger members want job security and “respect,” aka, better working conditions. Mulgrew will have to check the pulse of his membership and craft an agreement that satisfies members across the board.

Apparently NYSUT leadership was unable to find a middle ground, hence the leadership struggle.

The members will decide.

On a personal note: I have worked with candidates on both sides of the struggle and have always found them dedicated and hard-working – I hope that once the membership decides the factions can come together for the benefit of the membership.

Screened Schools, School Integration, the Portfolio Model: Will the Mayor Support Policies to Foster School Integration? Neighborhood Schools? We’re Waiting.

Over 200 schools and programs within schools in the New York City school system are screened schools, that means that school leaders pick their students, a few of the schools require auditions, others a score on state tests, or, the proper juice.

Scholar’s Academy in Rockaway is a fully screened grades 6-12 school with 36% Black and Hispanic students, surrounding schools are almost all Black and Hispanic. Scholars has virtually no Special Education students, no English language learners while surrounding schools have 20% Special Education students and 10% English language learners

Scholars is not uncommon. The purpose of the schools/programs are political, usually the result of lobbying by an elected official or an active neighborhood, to create a “special” program, let’s be honest, the purpose is to segregate the school by race and class.

The department calls the constant creation of new schools a portfolio model. Schools “advertise” themselves, parents select schools, and schools that are not selected and/or have poor scores are closed. The Bloomberg administration closed 150 schools.

The new schools are “limited, unscreened,” (schools have a limited choice over applicants) or “screened” (schools require an audition or a scores on state tests); the system is envisioned as continually creating and closing schools.

An unintended consequence is the segregation of schools – the “involved” parents scramble to seek out the “best” schools, parents with “social capital,” the poorest parents, parents living in projects or the poorest neighborhoods send their kids to schools closest to their homes.

The number of screened programs has accelerated during the twelve years of the Bloomberg year; however, the “active” communities have successfully convinced the city leadership, the Board of Education and the Department of Education to create “separate and unequal” schools for decades. Mark Twain Middle School in Coney Island was created forty years ago to provide a “gifted and talented” school in a totally Black community. If your child had the appropriate test scores or the appropriate influence on the community school board your child gained acceptance to the school.

District 3, the Upper West Side, of Manhattan created a number of small, “specialized” schools with impressive names within larger buildings; schools segregated by race and class.

A just-released ACLU Report finds New York the most segregated state in the nation, and, makes a number of recommendations,

On the state level, it proposes that New York develop and maintain interdistrict transfer programs, regional magnets, student assignment or choice policies that include civil right standards, and diverse teaching staff. The Civil Rights Project also proposes breaking down district boundaries in the New York City suburbs and that New York City make racial desegregation a priority.

The testing schools have few Black and Latino students,

Fewer and fewer Black and Latino students are admitted into New York City’s prestigious academic high schools each year. In 2013, only 12% of the 5,229 students accepted into the city’s eight elite test schools were Black or Latino. At three of the schools, Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech, state law mandates that admission be based on the high-stakes tests. But at the other five, the city is free to use other criteria, but it does not.

The Daily Beast reports,

… the report’s authors found that New York State has the nation’s most segregated public schools—dubiously led by the demographic patterns in New York City’s schools. They found that “over 90 percent of black students in the New York metro attended majority-minority schools—those with 50% or greater minority students.” Perhaps even more telling, around three-quarters of these students attended schools with student bodies that were at or above 90 percent minority students.

Parents, all parents, want their kids in the best schools, the safest schools, schools with the best teachers, the best facilities, and are willing to do whatever is necessary to get their kids into the perceived “best” schools

The ACLU Report is potentially political dynamite, the supporters of the ACLU Report tracks closely with the supporters of de Blasio – will he promote the recommendations in the Report?

If you think the pushback from suburban parents over the Common Core tests was extreme; wait until you tell parents the ability to choose their school would be relegated to a school integration initiative.

Beginning in the 70′s the courts ordered forced busing to foster school integration,

... in the Supreme Court’s 1971 decision, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, one of the first attempts to implement a large-scale urban desegregation plan. Swann called for district-wide desegregation and allowed for the use of busing to achieve integration, finding that the times and distances involved in the desegregation plan were no more onerous than those involved in the busing already undertaken by Charlotte for non-desegregation purposes. Court-ordered busing, as it came to be known, was fiercely attacked, not least by the administration of President Richard Nixon. Busing was criticized as undermining the sanctity of neighborhood schools, as social engineering, as impractical and unworkable, and as intrusive and inappropriate judicial meddling.

The Courts became less aggressive and eventually ceased to order forced busing. The ACLU Report is a throwback to a prior era – calling for policies akin to forced busing.

What would make far more sense would be the support of neighborhood schools – schools that could work with the range of assets in the community – social services, police, housing, health, job placement, the services that would enhance schools.

Will de Blasio tackle revising the portfolio model?

As we begin the fourth month of the de Blasio administration we await major announcements impacting schools.

Cuomo at the Helm: Wheeling and Dealing to Mollify Parents and Teachers and Positioning Himself for the Gubernatorial (and Presidential?) Runs.

Politics, n. Strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.

Over the last few days the key players shuttled from meeting to meeting, phone calls, strategy sessions, and different groups with different goals.

For the governor planning his gubernatorial run, and, just if, a run for the presidency.

Supporting charter schools deprives his opponent, probably Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, of funds from the deep-pocketed hedge funders. Not supporting the Dream Act and supporting the Compassionate Care Act (medical marijuana) is part of a strategy to carve out a space separate and apart from other possible 2016 contenders and assure a November 2014 overwhelming majority.

Commissioner John King and most of the Board of Regents blithely moved ahead with the full and speedy implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Common Core tests. Parent anger over the widespread student failures on the state tests never abated, the anger grew and grew.

The governor and legislature needed an answer – how could they assuage the parent anger?

As part of the budget negotiators crafted a compromise,

ALBANY >> As New York students began taking English language arts assessments on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said parents and students should be relieved knowing that the second round of Common Core-aligned test scores will not be included on students’ permanent transcripts under the new budget deal.

“Parents can now exhale, students can now exhale, the test scores don’t count,” Cuomo said during a ceremonial signing of the budget.

Students began the three-day testing Tuesday and were to continue through Thursday.

Under the budget passed Monday night, scores on Common Core-aligned tests for students from third to eighth grade will remain off their transcripts through 2018 and school districts will be prevented from using the scores as the sole way for determining student placement. (http://www.dailyfreeman.com/general-news/20140401/ny-budget-delays-putting-common-core-test-scores-on-students-records)

The commissioner insisted that the feds required an annual test for students in grades 3-8, and steadfastly refused to postpone the offering of the test. The last minute 37-page resolution delayed the impact of the tests; however, parents were not mollified.

Don’t tell the kids: would they try if they knew “the test scores don’t count”?

The decision to emasculate the exams did not impact teachers – the scores may not count for student but according to the governor they would count for teachers, or would they?

The morning after the legislature passed the weighty budget the governor tossed a fillip to teachers.

The Daily News reports,

“We have to deal with the issue of the effect of Common Core testing on teacher evaluations,” Cuomo said. “If you say Common Core testing was premature for students and you just halted the grades on the transcript, then what is your opinion about the impact of Common Core testing on teachers evaluation and what should be done. That is an issue that we have not addressed and we need to address before the end of the session, in my opinion.”

Arne Duncan must be apoplectic, instead of his buddy Commissioner King pushing ahead with the full implementation of year 2 of the Common Core tests New York State is taking a pass – pushing the impact of the tests to after 2018. The Secretary can challenge the Governor – threaten to withhold federal dollars – shake the federal stick at big, bad New York State. Or, just move on down the road and ignore the folks in the Empire State; of course, to ignore New York State may encourage other states to sidle around the federal regs and threats.

The next step is to craft a solution for teachers, “if … Common Core testing was premature for students … what is your opinion about the impact of Common Core testing on teachers evaluation … we need to address before the end of the school year.”

Cuomo is in the process of deftly marginalizing his opponent and making himself more acceptable to parents and teachers.

Power brokers craft solutions, oftentimes pragmatic solutions that serve the needs of the interests of the seats at the table.

Back in the summer of 1787 fifty-four white, male, mostly rich power brokers spent a summer in Philadelphia at a secret meeting – today we call it the Constitutional Convention. Madison, Hamilton and their co-conspirators made deals – they knew slavery was immoral and also knew that to insist on ending slavery was a fatal stumbling block to a deal. (See Lawrence Goldstone, Dark Bargain: Slavery, Profits and the Struggle for the Constitution (2005) and Paul Finkelman, Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson (2001).

Arne Duncan and Andrew Cuomo are not Madison and Hamilton. Duncan bullied and bribed and cajoled states to adopt his personal agenda – Cuomo, the pragmatist, is simply moving chess pieces, and positioning him in upcoming elections.

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H. L. Mencken (1880 – 1956), Women As Outlaws

The “No Stakes” Testing Shell Game Begins: How Can We Use Tests To Improve Teaching and Learning, not, to Flail and Fail?

In a recent letter to school superintendents, John B. King Jr., the state’s education commissioner, discouraged administrators from making placement and promotion decisions based solely on the tests. Speaking by telephone last week, Dr. King told me, “I worry that there’s a pedagogical mistake made in believing that if there’s more test prep, students will do better on the test.” … (Gina Bellafante, New York Times, March 28, 2014 )

A “pedagogical mistake?”

Over a dozen years the Bloomberg administration closed 150 schools based on poor test scores. The de Blasio administration has already retreated from their anti-charter school ideas, not to focus on test scores is foolish, the commissioner’s dismissal of test prep is simply a sign of his disconnect from the realities of life in schools in the world of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

Test scores drive school closings, tenure decisions, promotion decisions, attracting students and just plain ego … our kids “doing better” is an affirmation of our teaching skills.

New York State raced to the front of the line and decided to switch to Common Core tests without any substantive professional development, with results that should not have been surprising.

Commissioner King tried to forewarn parents, the scores were not terrible and we should look at the scores as a new beginning.

“These proficiency scores do not reflect a drop in performance, but rather a raising of standards to reflect college and career readiness in the 21st century,” King said. “I understand these scores are sobering for parents, teachers, and principals. It’s frustrating to see our children struggle. But we can’t allow ourselves to be paralyzed by frustration; we must be energized by this opportunity. The results we’ve announced today are not a critique of past efforts; they’re a new starting point on a roadmap to future success.”

The scores were terrible, in fact, appalling, two-thirds of students across the state failed the tests and subgroup passing rates were considerably more distressing.

31.1% of grade 3-8 students across the State met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 31% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• The ELA proficiency results for race/ethnicity groups across grades 3-8 reveal the persistence of the achievement gap: only 16.1% of African-American students and 17.7% of Hispanic students met or exceeded the proficiency standard
• 3.2% of English Language Learners (ELLs) in grades 3-8 met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 9.8% of ELLs met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• 5% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 7% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the math proficiency standard

The commissioner created a tsunami led by suburban parents and parents from middle class neighborhoods in the cities pushed back, the pushback grew and grew. Over 55,000 viewers clicked on a U-Tube of King’s dismal performance in Poughkeepsie.

As parents met and advocated and threatened their electeds the legislature began to wriggle in their seats. The Board of Regents hastily passed a lengthy resolution slowing the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, however, moving ahead with the tests.

The resolution did not the assuage parent outrage; the governor appointed a task force that quickly released a number of tepid recommendations.

In the scramble to complete a budget a jumble of ideas to mollify parents was included in the budget

The governor’s website describes the changes in law,

The Budget puts into law a series of recommendations to immediately improve the implementation of the Common Core in New York State, including banning standardized “bubble tests” for young children, protecting students from high stakes testing based on unfair results, ensuring instructional time is used for teaching and learning and not over-testing, and protecting the privacy of students.

The 2014 tests, for students, would be a “no stakes” test; the tests alone cannot be used for promotion decisions. To summarize Deputy Commissioner Ken Wagner, a “2″ is the new “3.” Wagner describes a grade of “2″ as “partial proficiency,” sort of a “partial pregnancy.”

Deputy Commissioner Ken Wagner has been emphasizing that no students “fail” the state tests. Students are graded on a 1-4 scale, with a 3 or 4 indicating that a student is “proficient” in a subject. A 2 or 1 have long been understood to mean that a student had failed and needed remediation. “Level 2 does not indicate failure,” Wagner said. “It demonstrates that a student is demonstrating partial proficiency.”

South Orangetown Superintendent Ken Mitchell, president of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents, called the redefinition of a 2 “Orwellian” and “a bureaucratic attempt to relieve political pressure from a public that is awakening.”

Orwellian is an excellent term. (Wikipedia definition – The encouragement of “doublethink”, whereby the population must learn to embrace inconsistent concepts without dissent, the revision of history in the favor of the State’s interpretation of it).

As I understand the new law, Common Core State Standards test scores have no impact on kids; however, they have full impact on schools, principals and teachers, and, oh yes, we should abjure test prep. Why would anyone fail to practice, especially if the end game was a high-stakes single event?

David Epstein in “The Sport’s Gene” explores the intersection of talent and practice, “Could … grit and determination overcome … lack of innate ability? Where does the intersection between talent and practice lie?”

State Ed, with a disclaimer, provides sample questions, you better believe teachers are going to integrate practice, aka, test prep, into their lessons. (See sample 8th grade ELA questions here). A few years down the road, unless sensibility intervenes, the state will adopt the PARCC tests, tests that measure achievement in the 26 states in the consortium, pretty close to a national exam. (See the sample 8th grade PARCC questions here).

The commissioner doesn’t seem to understand; as long as tests are the measurement of “principal/teacher effectiveness” the lead up to the tests will include practice, crafting lessons that enable students to master the tests. To make the task even more difficult the state tests are not based on a curriculum, the CCSS tests reflect the skills embedded in the standards (CCSS). The state has begun to release “voluntary” curriculum modules; teachers find the state produced modules, to be polite, “unwieldy.” (See Grade 8 ELA curriculum map here).

Ideally, students would produce artifacts, examples of a range of student work reflecting the standards, For example, one of the anchor standards in writing,

Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

In the current world of George Orwell the state, or PARCC, will create multiple choice questions or a “structured” response to measure the extent the student has mastered the standard, absent a “content-rich curriculum.”

Tests should inform instruction, and by “tests” I mean student work, teacher-constructed tests, a range of tasks similar to the assessments used in the Performance-Based Assessment Consortium.

The current teacher evaluation law in New York State is a charade – only 1% of teachers scored an ineffective grade in the 12-13 school year.

Linda Darling-Hammond describes a totally different system that both assists teachers as well as leading to a summative assessment. (See Linda Darling-Hammond, One Piece of the Whole: Teacher Evaluation as Part of a Comprehensive System for Teaching and Learning, in the current issue of the American Educator).

Parents are still outraged, principals and teachers feel abused, kids are nervous, maybe it’s time for a close look at where we’re going and what we’re doing, maybe time for a “restart.”

Black and Latino Males: Why Do a Few Succeed and the Many Fail? Can School Initatives Make the Difference? Are the Obstacles Beyond Schools?

Black males in American society are in trouble. With respect to health, education, employment, income, and overall well-being, all of the most reliable data consistently indicate that Black males constitute a segment of the population that is distinguished by hardships, disadvantages, and vulnerability.
[Introduction, Pedro Noguera, The Trouble with Black Boys and Other Reflections on the Future of Race, Equity and the Future of Public Education (2008)].

For decades social scientists and educators have struggled with a crisis that has become a pandemic, Black males are far more likely to be incarcerated than to finish college. (Black males high school dropouts are 38 times more likely to be incarcerated than their peers with four year degrees).

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the Director of the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, in his The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern American (2010) “chronicles the emergence of deeply embedded notions of black people as a dangerous race of criminals by explicit contrast to working class whites and European immigrants … the book reveals the influence such ideas have had on urban development and social policies.”

The images of the violent Black male have been reinforced throughout our history, as an example incarceration rates by arrest for similar crimes by race is striking (cocaine versus crack).

As we look at the data, as depressing as it is, there are Black males who succeed in schools; while the overwhelming majority falls by the wayside why do some kids succeed?

The NYC Department of Education and the Open Society Foundations commissioned the University of Pennsylvania to take a close look at 40 NYC high schools that had better data relating to Black males academic achievement. The Report, “Succeeding in the City: A Report from the New York City Black and Latino Male High School Achievement Study (2014) is below,

Read the Report: http://www.gse.upenn,edu/equity/nycReport

The CUNY Institute for Education Policy at the Roosevelt House hosted a panel, “Expanding the Success of Black and Latino Men,” the panel discussed, sort of, the NYC Department of Education Expanding Success Initiative (ESI), the initiatives in the forty schools.

Pedro Noguera, one of the panelists, in a cogent 6 minute presentation diverged from the ESI rhetoric – he pointed to the lack of jobs – Black males with jobs that pay reasonable wages have data indistinguishable from the general population. A surprising percentage of families living in shelters have jobs; however, they cannot afford rents, underlying the “tale of two cities” theme that has dominated the politics of the last few months.

The panel included a researcher who shuffled through her PowerPoint slides and the requisite principal who was proud of his school. I was afraid that the concluding speaker from the Department of Ed would injure herself as she vigorously patted herself on the back.

David Steiner, the moderator asked the principal, “Are you able to hire teachers who you feel are up to the challenges?” and, the principal said, “No.”

Why not? Are schools of education not producing adequately trained teachers? The ESI Report indicates the schools do not hire Teacher for America candidates, who do they hire? The research involved in-depth interviews with over 400 students and the report chronicles the data emanating from the interviews. The outcomes: students with greater social capital, with greater support from the home and/or the community have a greater chance of success.

Are the school techniques and programs scalable to other schools? Did the schools subtlety attract students more likely to succeed as do charter schools? Does the race of the teacher and/or principal matter? Does the educational background of the teachers matter?

Unfortunately, it was not the purpose of the study to explore these conundrums. The converse of the study is equally important, or, perhaps, more important. Why don’t kids succeed? Using the same program design, interview a range of kids who are not succeeding, can we look at subsets of data and predict success/lack of success based on the data? How can we intervene for kids who are not succeeding?

An issue of the moment is school suspensions – around the nation the percent of suspensions of Blacks are much higher than others for the same infractions, and, a deeper question, do suspensions change behaviors, and the counterpart, do alternatives to suspension, example, restorative justice programs, reduce bad behavior? (See AFT Conference on the topic here)

Teachers are proud of our student’s successes – to what extent is the teacher responsible for the success of the student? I agreed to teach a class made up of kids who had all failed the American History Regents but passed the course. I was teaching Economics, the next course in the sequence and preparing the kids for the next try at the American History exam. The data is poor on kids retaking exams- the failure rates are high – with one exception all my kids passed – I was proud – of the kids, and myself. I prodded, I bribed (I rewarded them with Dunkin Donuts), I nudged, and frequent “creative” test prep was the norm.

It wasn’t great instruction – Charlotte Danielson would not have applauded … the kids learned to master non-cognitive skills and working in teams can lead to academic success.

I wasn’t their friend – they didn’t call me by my first name – I said “no” to unreasonable asks, I used groups pressures against individuals, and I had been teaching for a long time.

Was there any “carryover” to other classes? Did they learn “life skills”? I have no idea.

David Steiner and the CUNY Institute deserve accolades for highlighting the topic – a topic that requires a much deeper discussion.

We all, I hope, agree, that schools matter, they matter a whole lot in the life of kids, and for kids living in fragile circumstances they matter much more – schools alone; however, cannot overcome societal obstacles,

We must view schools as part of a larger community and the school will only succeed for a few if the community is not part of the solution. Schools, the police, public health, affordable housing, jobs and the role of faith-based organizations all play a role – it is the synergy of an entire community that makes a difference.

Don’t want to unduly criticize the mayor and chancellor – but – we’re all anxious and willing to jump on board – we’re just waiting for the train.

The State Budget Dance: Who Will Be the Winners and Losers? Will Charters Schools Flex Their Muscles? Will Cuomo Emerge Unscathed? Will Public Schools Parents Be Assuaged?

About 5 am on Tuesday morning April 1 the Albany legislators will finally pass the budget. If you ask them what they voted on most will be exhausted and clueless. Budget decisions are made behind closed doors by the powerbrokers.

Sheldon Silver, the leader of the democrats in the Assembly since 1994 and as shrewd a negotiator as one can find will satisfy the needs of his members, on the Senate side the awkward shared leadership, the republican leader, Dean Skelos and the leader of the Independent Caucus (IDC), Jeff Klein will squirm as the big dog, Governor Cuomo, plays democrat against republican to craft a budget that assures a large majority in November and creates a path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if Hillary decides not to run.

New York State has one of the widest differences among districts in school funding as any state in the nation. Most of school funding is driven by local property taxes set by elected school boards. For the last few years increases in school taxes have been capped at 2% as a result of a Cuomo imposed limitation. Normal increases: salaries, pension costs, fuel oil, replacements, etc., exceed 2% each of the last few years; districts around the state have been forced to cut services to stay within the cap.

Reductions in extracurricular activities, teams, course offerings, and teacher layoffs, occasional agreements to freeze salaries, with no end in sight in spite of a projected increase in state aid of between 800M and 1B, schools districts will still have to continue to reduce services.

Public school parents may be unhappy, tax payers without children in schools not so.

The governor has successfully set one group, taxpayers without kids in public schools against public school parents, and all taxpayers against teacher unions; after all, if teachers would only agree to earn less, to reduce benefits the schools could retain services, at least for a while.

The goal of the governor is to sit back, watch school districts struggle and bicker, and eventually see the 700 school district consolidate and/or perhaps seek more drastic solutions.

His opponent in November will be a far, far right wing republican supporting unlimited charter schools and vouchers.

It would appear voters will have no place to go, either reluctantly vote for Cuomo or stay home, unless a third party candidate emerges

Once, the April 1 budget deadline only dealt with the budget, over the last few years a range of other items have wedged their way into the budget.

The Dream Act: allowing undocumented students access to Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) looks like it will not make it into the budget. The Compassionate Care Act, aka, the legalization of medical marijuana, unless Cuomo kills it, looks headed to passage, as part of the budget or a standalone issue later in the session.

In New York City the two issues are preK and charter schools.

The Governor made it abundantly clear, there would not be a tax on the earners of 500K plus to fund preK, the funds would emanate from the state budget and the funds would be statewide; de Blasio went through the motions of fighting for a tax on the wealthier and backed away – the preK dollars will not be generated by a targeted tax.

The charter school lobby decided to attack the new mayor early and hard.

What can $3.6m in TV ads buy for charter schools?

The Senate bowed to the dollars and passed legislation to overturn the de Blasio decision to reverse Bloomberg co-location decisions in three schools (194 kids), outlaw the charging of rent and driving many millions in construction funds to charter schools. Unexpectedly the Governor appeared at an Albany charter school rally and praised his newfound friends and de Blasio rapidly began to back peddle on his charter school co-location decisions.

Silver brushed aside the TV commercials and simply said his priority was the 8-10,000 kids in trailers.

The seemingly endless charter school dollars sent a clear message to electeds: if you don’t accept our legislative ideas we can easily fund a rival in your next election.

Another set of bills would allow “charitable” contributions to private and parochial schools to count as deductions on state income taxes – at a cost to the state of an estimated $300M a year, legislation strongly supported by Cardinal Dolan. Will the bill only apply to school servicing poorer students, or, could a parent donate to a high end private school and get a tax write-off?

Newsday reports that the legislature is approaching an agreement that would prohibit the use of state standardized tests for any decisions regarding promotions for two years. The state testing data would continue to be used for principal and teacher evaluations.

Would such a bill satisfy parent anger over the tests?

As the March 31 deadline approaches legislators will scramble to get their bill, their local “need,” into the budget package. Lobbyists will be racing down the halls of the Legislative Office Building (LOB), staff will be sleeping on couches, and eighteen hour days will be the norm.

Sheldon Silver has been the speaker for twenty years, he is the master of the end game, the ultimate negotiator, the eminence grise, the modern day Cardinal Richelieu, moving the chess pieces, planning many moves down the line, understanding foibles, trading a tit for a tat, having patience, knowing in the final moments Cuomo needs a budget. One of my favorite Richelieu lines,

IF YOU GIVE ME SIX LINES WRITTEN
BY THE MOST HONEST MAN, I WILL FIND
SOMETHING IN THEM TO HANG HIM.
—Cardinal Richelieu