The Tragedy at Boys and Girls High School: “Saving” a School and Sacrificing Children

Boys and Girls High School has a long and illustrious history. The “old” building opened in 1892 and the current building in 1975, the school has a long list of famous graduates: Lena Horne, Rita Hayworth, Norman Mailer, Shirley Chisholm and Aaron Copland, among others, basketball players. The highly controversial Frank Mickens, who ran the school as his fiefdom was principal from 1986 until 2004. In spite of constant complaints Mickens ignored rules and regulations, suspended students without due process, discharged pupils at will; he was strongly supported in the community. In 2008 a federal law suit averring that Mickens “warehoused” students in the auditorium was “settled” by the Department, in essence acknowledging the claims.

The Progress Report grades for the last three years have been “F,” no other school in the city remained open with three consecutive “F” grades. The school once had over 3,000 students currently registers 729 students with an average daily attendance of 65%, among the worst in the city.

Bernard Gassoway, the most recent principal, who just resigned spent the last few years complaining.

How did a school with three consecutive “F” grades, with appalling attendance remain unscathed by a Department of Education that was quick to close struggling high schools?

As a high level education executive told me, “The school is protected.”

From former chancellor Dennis Walcott to local electeds and community leaders Boys and Girls had to be saved; unfortunately “saved” meant sharply reducing the enrollment and ignoring the remaining students. School leadership complained about the inability to rid the school of teachers that the school hired, blamed the central board, spent their time shielding the school, the school continued to get worse and worse.

Al Vann, who represented the neighborhood in the Assembly and City Council for 34 years, defended the school regardless of the deteriorating academics and the outrageous leadership of Mickens.

A New York Times editorial is sharply critical of the de Blasio administration’s seeming abandonment of the 729 student remaining in Boys and Girls

On Monday, Mr. de Blasio is scheduled to give his first major education address as mayor. He should use the occasion to flesh out his policies on failing schools and, while he’s at it, address two questions:

One, why is the city months late in submitting state-mandated plans explaining how it would remake scores of troubled schools all over the city? And two, why he has failed to produce a credible plan to deal with Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn, a particularly troubled failing school that has been under state scrutiny for several years?

I served on a dozen State SURR Review teams (Schools under Registration Review), many of the schools had deteriorated beyond the tipping point, the central administration ignored certain schools, a triage model, save some and sacrifice others.

The recent history of Boys and Girls is particularly depressing; there is ample evidence addressing the problems. Robert Balfanz, at John Hopkins writes.

… the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research … using … indicators, it is possible to identify by the middle of ninth grade virtually everyone who will drop out. These young men are waving their hands early and often to say they need help, but our educational and student-support systems aren’t organized to recognize and respond to their distress signals.

… high-poverty secondary schools need to be redesigned with the special problems of their students in mind, with a focus on freshman year. In practice, this means starting new schools and transforming existing ones.

The Times is correct,

If any school in the system deserved a full housecleaning — a new start with a fresh staff — it was Boys and Girls. Though Mr. Bloomberg closed down many schools during his tenure, he replaced this school’s principal but passed on shutting the school down, perhaps to avoid a bruising, costly fight with politicians who loved the school and community groups that would have rallied around it.

Bloomberg simply did not want to antagonize politicians and community groups, his inaction accepted allowing the school to fail year after year.

This spring — about six years after the first warning — the state told the city that the school had not made the required improvements and gave the de Blasio administration several choices, including closing the school and relocating the students, phasing in a new replacement school, converting Boys and Girls to a charter school, or changing the administrative structure. The de Blasio administration chose the weakest option— creating a new administrative structure.

The Department “encouraged” another principal, with no creds in turning around schools, by offering a $20,000 bonus and the right to return to his former school – not a formula for school turnaround.

The administration still seems to believe that it can avoid shutdowns and that even Boys and Girls can be improved without draconian measures. Maybe so, but the bar for judging reforms needs to be very high. If Mr. de Blasio fails to deliver, the Board of Regents should use its authority to shutter those schools that are clearly beyond saving in their present form.

The former administration created the Chancellor’s High School District, four of the lowest achieving high schools in the city were closed and new small schools opened in a collaborative environment. The UFT Teacher Centers provided consistent, on-going professional development, the union, the parents and the community were fully engaged, and, the teachers who either were not hired or chose not to apply were excessed into other high schools and the superintendent had a proven record of success.

Chancellor Klein terminated the Chancellor’s District. a la the old Soviet Union, all that proceeded had to be purged.

While the graduation rates in the Bloomberg replacement small schools have increased the data is questionable. (See my blog here)

Mayor de Blasio will make a major education speech on Monday; hopefully he will build upon existing research. The Young Men’s Initiative should be expanded, the Chicago Consortium on School Research has published a wealth of research addressing high school reform, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, we simply have to have the will to implement what we know works.

As much as I am encouraged by Mayor de Blasio’s concern with the “tale of two cities” and a chancellor with decades of urban school experience I am discomforted, why has so much time gone by without a blueprint, perhaps the mayor will lay out his plans on Monday.

Why Elections Matter. (Hint: Tenure, Pensions, Teacher Evaluation, Student Testing, School Funding, Charter Schools, etc.)

In hundreds of races across the nation this weekend is GOTV – Get Out the Vote.

Back in July you’ve scrambled for signatures to get on the ballot, raised money, spent every waking hour running from meeting to meeting, shaking hands, hugging babies, mailers, printing palm cards, and now the final 72 hours.

How many supporters can you get out on the streets? How many doors can you knock?

Winning elections is pulling your voters, dragging your voters to the polls.

The TV attack ads diminished the “other guy,” the puff ads pumped up your guy. Sometime around midnight Tuesday you’ll find out whether you did your job.

Too many potential voters decide not to vote, politics is “dirty,” the Congress can’t get anything done, the Democrats act like Republicans and the Republicans are Tea Party nuts. All of which, to some extent is true.

Whether you decide to vote or not on Tuesday a Governor of New York State will be elected, and one party will lead the United States Senate.

In the current gridlocked Congress, the Republicans in the House have passed over 200 bills that will not see the light of day in the Senate, and in the Senate, bipartisan bills pass only to die as the House ignores the bills.

In spite of the gridlock the Senate approves federal judicial nominations and, most importantly, a Supreme Court nominee. The Senate must “consent” to the next Attorney General.

How vigorously will the next Attorney General challenge attacks on public employee pensions? How hard will the President fight against reductions in Medicare/Medicaid?

With a Republican speaker in the House and a Republican as Majority Leader in the Senate the Republicans will set the agenda and pass whatever legislation they choose. The President can use his veto authority, or not.

The Republicans have an excellent chance to gain control of the Senate. Every two years one-third of the Senate seats are up for election and in this election cycle more Democratic than Republican seat are on the table. The polling gives the Republicans the edge in many contests, although within the margin of error, meaning, at least twelve races are up for grabs.

A fascinating New York Times column delves into polling

Polls show that the Republicans have an advantage in the fight for control of the Senate. They lead in enough states to win control …

The polls have generally underestimated Democrats in recent years, and there are reasons to think it could happen again.

There are reasons to question whether the problems will be as acute this year, because many of the young and nonwhite voters who pose the biggest challenges to pollsters will most likely stay home in a midterm election. Even if the polls are again biased toward Republicans this year, there are reasons to doubt whether Democrats will retain control of the Senate. The Republicans might have a large enough advantage to withstand another round of modest polling errors.

Incredibly, some state pollsters still have no means to sample voters without a landline telephone, which is all but assured to result in a Republican-leaning sample

Nate Silver, the premier election pollster writes.

With only five days left until the election, TWELVE Senate races are still polling within three points — which Nate Silver calls “remarkable”!

Teachers in New York State are not voting for Andrew Cuomo, at least not on the Democratic line on the ballot, neither are they voting for the Republican Rob Astorino, some tell me that they’re staying home. Of course, the State Senate is currently equally divided, and thee election could decide who controls the Senate, staying home probably assists the Republican.

In Wisconsin the gubernatorial race is up for grabs, Scott Walker, the vigorously anti-union governor could be bumped, or, a victory would make him a presidential candidate.

We don’t always get to vote for wonderful candidates, brilliant innovative legislators, sometimes candidates are bland legislators who raise their hand and vote the party line. If the party line is our party line, so be it. If that party hack chairs a committee that buries a bill that will erode tenure we should make sure he gets elected. Candidates may not agree with us on all issues, do they agree with us on our core issues?

Yes, I’ve held my nose and voted for candidates, speaking of holding noses, I’ll probably going to vote for Andrew Cuomo, not on the Democratic line. His Republican opponent is a Tea Party Republican and I certainly can’t vote for him, and, if I simply leave the governor line blank it’s a vote for the Republican.

To the best of my ability I contribute to candidates of my choice, I spend time at phone banks; I will do a “lit drop” on Monday night, putting flyers under the door in my building.

If teachers across the nation involve themselves, knock on doors, try and convince friends and neighbors they will impact elections.

The latest email I received::

Please sign up for a shift — or more than one — now … at whatever time is convenient for you!

Sign up to make calls in these close Senate races:
• Michigan to help elect Gary Peters.
• South Dakota to help elect Rick Weiland.
• Colorado to help elect Mark Udall.
• North Carolina to help elect Kay Hagan.
• Iowa to help elect Bruce Braley.
• Kentucky to defeat Mitch McConnell.

It’s surprisingly easy to “get involved” in local politics and teacher voices at the grassroots level impact policies of electeds and potential electeds.

In New York State you have to be registered in a party to vote in the primary election, the election that selects candidates. I can’t tell you how many teachers I’ve met who are not registered in a party.
Spend the weekend campaigning for the candidate of your choice, and, win or lose, stay involved, we need teacher voices in every precinct across the nation

UPDATE: Early voting Raises Democratic Chances:

Will Anti-Teacher, Pro-Charter School Politics Help Cuomo in the 2016 Presidential Primaries? Is Cuomo the Amoral Politican?

“Every French soldier carries a marshal’s baton in his knapsack,” attributed to Napoleon, supposedly refers to every French soldier believing he could rise through the ranks to leadership, today it is the dream of every elected official, anyone can become President and Andrew Cuomo is looking to 2016 and 2020.

Jim Malatras and Joe Percoco, Cuomo’s policy strategists are probably pouring over dense political data.

If Hillary runs, as everyone expects, she will probably not have serious democratic opposition, unless Elizabeth Warren decides to challenge her from the left, if Hillary decides not to run the game is on.

Elizabeth Warren on the left, Governor Martin O’Malley from Maryland, a Hillary stand in, California’s Jerry Brown, and, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo are all possibilities.

Cuomo’s political persona is a social liberal and a fiscal conservative. New York is a marriage equality state, a medical marijuana state, supports a range of women’s equity legislation and the SAFE Act limits distribution of handguns as well as a 2% property tax cap, limitations on public employee pensions, liberal use of tax breaks and tax free zones, and most recently attacks on teachers. The NY Daily News reports on a meeting with their editorial board,

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.”

Cuomo said he will push a plan that includes more incentives — and sanctions — that “make it a more rigorous evaluation system.”

“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 accused teachers of having tried to torpedo the Common Core curriculum in fighting the evaluation standards — and expects they will again.

“They will be using it the way they used it, I believe — to get the parents upset last year about this entire Common Core agenda,” he said.

You may ask: why would Cuomo not only give up on teacher votes and chose teachers as enemies? The answer is his team believes charter school support; both in dollars and voters are more beneficial than teacher support; in communities of color charter schools are popular and Cuomo may be aiming at Black and Latino voters in early primary states.

The winter and spring of 2016 are battles in state after state – one primary after another leading up to the Democratic convention.

Who are the voters in democratic presidential primaries?

Usually party loyalists, older voters and issue voters; however in 2008 and 2012 Obama changed the scenario – through the skillful use of social media, and, hundreds of millions of dollars, Obama mobilized first time voters, college kids, millennials, women and voters of color.

Obama ran against George Bush, ignored Hillary, opposed the wars; he was younger, more dynamic and appealed to a new electorate.

Who would have thought in the fall of 2007 that a first term Senator, an Afro-American, with an Arab name would not only grab the nomination away from Hillary Clinton but defeat Republicans twice?

Cuomo will defeat his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino by 20% or more and garner national headlines. Citizen’s United allows unlimited fund-raising and the incredible influx of pro-charter school dollars served its purpose.

In January Cuomo will make his State of the State address, whether he continues his assault on teachers or presses ahead with his women’s equity agenda or anti-corruption, we will see.

Will he support eliminating caps on charter school altogether? Transfer the unused state cap to the city? Raising the NYS cap? And, how hard will he push?

The teacher evaluation law is only in its second year, first year in New York City, does he actually want to revise the incredibly dense law in the upcoming session? What does he mean by incentives? Merit pay for teachers?
Why is he willing to ignore teacher union political clout? And, the larger enigmatic question: how much clout does the teacher union have?

The state teacher union, the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), is one of the largest contributors in the state, how many teachers actually work in political campaigns? Make phone calls? Knock on doors? The grunge work that wins elections.

Teacher unions are in the forefront in gubernatorial elections in Wisconsin (Scott Walker v. Mary Burke) and Pennsylvania (Tom Wolf v. Tom Corbett).

Cuomo is betting that if he runs in 2016 democratic primary voters will pick him out of the pack, the calendar is below:

Iowa caucus: January 18
New Hampshire: January 26
Colorado caucuses: February 2
Minnesota caucuses
Saturday, February 6
Nevada caucuses
Saturday, February 13
South Carolina
Tuesday, February 16
North Carolina
Tuesday, February 23
Tuesday, March 1
Colorado caucuses

Will the Cuomo game plan: both right and left and anti-teacher, pro-testing, pro-charter schools resonate with democratic voters in the early primary states?

You may ask: Cuomo can be both devious and strategic?

Of course, he can decide to only push so hard and blame the Assembly democrats for obstructing his teacher legislative game plan, or, twist arms and get what he wants.

Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, an iconic founding father, obtained love letters that Alexander Hamilton sent to his mistress and used the letters to besmirch Hamilton’s reputation.

Politics, from Jefferson to Lincoln to Cuomo, is an amoral struggle, do what you must do to achieve your ends; for Jefferson to eliminate a political opponent, for Lincoln to get the Congress to approve the 13th Amendment, for Cuomo, to gain the democrat slot on the 2016 ballot.

And the job of public school advocates is to use our votes, our dollars and our advocacy to defeat the bad guys.

Small High Schools versus Large High Schools: Burnishing and Tarnishing Reputations or Creating/Supporting School Structures That Work for Kids, Families and Teachers

“In the three decades since the release of the Nation at Risk report, the U.S. education reform effort has failed to achieve lift-off. Why is that so? Regardless of the reform strategy—whether new standards, or accountability, or small schools, or parental choice, or teacher effectiveness—there is an underlying weakness in the U.S. education system which has hampered every effort up to now: most consequential decisions are made by district and state leaders, yet these leaders lack the infrastructure to learn quickly what’s working and what’s not. They launch new initiatives with no detailed analysis of their effects. At best, they track aggregate measures such as overall proficiency and graduation rates, which can hide the consequences for the specific schools, or grades or subjects actually affected by their initiatives … For their part, philanthropists fund new initiatives in their local schools, and never know whether their funds have made a difference for children.

We are not lacking innovation in U.S. education. We lack the ability to learn from our innovations.” (Thomas J. Kane, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University)

A prime example of the paucity of meaningful analysis is the “small high schools of choice” (SSA). Small high schools, primarily created through the closing of large high school were not “invented” by the Bloomberg administration; in fact, small high schools have their roots in the 60′s. City as School, a collaboration between the Board of Education and the teachesr union was called an alternative high school and, it has flourished for half a century. Over the ensuing decades other small high schools opened and the Department created an alternative high school superintendent to service the atypical needs of these new models of schools. The Performance-Based Assessment Consortium was formed and the State granted a waiver from state exams for many of the alternative schools – in lieu of state exams (Regents and RCT) students were assessed by a portfolio of student work and a demonstration of proficiency at a roundtable – a group of teachers, critical friends and outsiders.

In the late eighties the Department began to close large high schools, Andrew Jackson High School became Campus Magnet and in the nineties the Department created the Chancellor’s High School District, a process to close dysfunctional large high schools and replace with small schools tied to community organizations. The seventeen small schools replaced four large high schools (Eastern District, George Washington, Taft and Theodore Roosevelt). A superintendent oversaw the schools and with a common school design. Each campus had a teacher center with an intensive emphasis on staff development. The Bloomberg administration ended the Chancellor’s District.

The Gates-funded New Century initiative invested $50 million into a large school closing/small school creation model. The grant was managed by New Visions for Public Schools and concentrated in the Bronx superintendency.

The Bloomberg team accelerated large high school closing under the portfolio model and there are now hundreds of small schools and education option programs in large schools around the city.

MDRC, a national organization, has released a succession of reports praising the so-called Small High Schools of Choice (SSC) initiative, their latest reports are equally praiseworthy,

… small schools of choicer have markedly increased graduation rates for disadvantaged students of color, many of whom start high school below grade level … it is widely accepted that enrollment and success in postsecondary education is necessary for young people to be prepared for the world of work.

New York City’s SSC’s are well positioned to meet this challenge because of their focus on providing academically rigorous curricula and personalized learning environments for their students. As noted above, this approach has led to success: SSC enrollees have experienced large, positive effects on high school graduation rates compared with their control group counterparts, regardless of students’ family income, race/ethnicity, or prior academic achievement. … students who enrolled in SSC’s consistently outperformed their control group counterparts in each of the years studied. Furthermore, SSC’s achieve these gains at a lower cost per graduate than that of the high schools attended by their control group counterparts, in large part because more SSC enrollees successfully graduate from high school and fewer SSC enrollees need to attend a fifth year of high school.

The MDRC reports suffers from the fatal flaw referenced by Thomas J. Kane in the intro quote, the lack of a detailed analysis: why are the small high school graduation rates higher than the control group? More personalized instruction, widespread use of faulty credit recovery, sympathetic state exam grading, etc. Are the SSC graduates more “college ready,” as measured by the State college and career readiness metric? Are graduates of small high schools more likely to succeed in college than the control group? Were the student bodies of the small high schools comparable to large high schools as far as English language learners and student with disabilities? All unanswered by the MDRC report.

The MDRC has published a number of research reports supporting SSC, are the MDRC Reports examples of “advocacy research,” research with the predetermined goal of supporting a specific program or initiative?

Diane Ravitch, in a blog post entitled, “Are Small Schools the Magic Bullet?” begins the post explaining that she is neither for nor against small high schools. An anonymous Department of Education employee (Think “Deep Throat”) from time to time sends Diane detailed accounts of Department programs, he/she is sharply critical of MDRC reports,

Is there any truth to these claims? Does the data support any of this? The answer is “no.” The papers self-published by the MDRC are shoddily researched with clear biases and poor grounding in reality. It order to keep the size of this essay to a manageable length let’s limit ourselves to a Top 10 list of the paper’s flaws. (Read all 10 flaws here)

The two flaws listed below are serious enough to question the entire report,

1. The Gates Foundation provides the funding for these papers. The Gates Foundation also funded many of the new small high schools in New York City. What we have here is a circular process of self-congratulation. The peer-review process might be expected to uncover the biases produced by this unholy alliance. But these papers have, of course, never been peer reviewed. They are self-published by MDRC on their website and then touted in press releases and newspaper editorials.
2. It is becoming standard practice for researchers to publicly post data-sets used in such studies. MDRC has refused to release the data-set. This makes it impossible for their results to be independently verified or questioned.

The most interesting report assessing the small high schools was published five years ago by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School, “The New Marketplace:
How Small-School Reforms and School Choice Have Reshaped New York City’s High Schools
” (Read report here)

The authors visited numerous small schools and interviewed scores of students, parents, teachers and school leaders, the findings,

* Attendance and graduation rates are higher at new small schools than at the large schools they replaced. Principals and students report the new schools are safer. Yet many small schools remain fragile, with attendance and graduation rates declining

* As the city closed the lowest-performing large schools to make way for small schools, thousands of students, including many new immigrants and children with special education needs, were diverted to the remaining large schools. Many of those schools suffered overcrowding and declining attendance and graduation rates. Some were subsequently closed

* Twenty-six of 34 large high schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx saw their enrollments jump significantly as other high schools were closed. Of these, 19 saw their attendance decline and 15 saw their graduation rates decline between the fall of 2002 and the spring of 2007. Fourteen saw both attendance and graduation rates decline.

* However, the school-choice system depends on well-informed adult guidance. Many students lack adequate support in choosing and ranking their schools, and guidance counselors are under-equipped to support them. Special needs students and children of immigrants have a particularly difficult time getting the information they need to make an informed choice.

* Thousands of students have been assigned to schools they did not choose or that are not appropriate for their educational needs. Students are assigned to schools up to 90 minutes from home, each way, by bus or subway. The more extensive the system of school choice, the more it sorts children into those who can navigate the admissions process and those who cannot.

The Report concludes with three reasonable recommendations,

* The city should not limit its high school reform efforts to the creation of small schools. Midsize and large schools can be effective and should be supported.

* The DOE should recognize that large high schools still serve the majority of students in New York City, and support them accordingly.

* The city must ensure that the “default schools”—schools where kids who are not picked by the school choice process wind up—get the support they need to be successful.

In an interview in 2013 Bill Gates was asked whether the education reform movement was changing American schools for the better, he answered,

“If you said to me, are we making progress on [U.S. education reform] or not, I could talk for a long time, but I wouldn’t be able to give you a number.” –Bill Gates

Are small high schools better? Better than what? Some are better than low functioning large high schools while high functioning large high schools are better than many small high schools? Personalization versus extended course offering and after school activities, neighborhood schools versus extended travel across the city, experienced counseling staffs versus newer untried staffs; the models offer a wide range of pros and cons.

The Department should be supporting small, medium size and large high schools, and, primarily offering all schools the supports that they need to be effective. Too many small schools have had inexperienced school leaders and distant school support, too many large schools were reservoirs for English language learners and students with disabilities: credit accumulation and scores on state exams rule, dooming large high schools.

For too long we have had an unrecognized triage system, allowing schools with “difficult” populations to fail so that we can replace them with small high schools. Basically the prior administration accepted that cohorts of kids would not be supported and accepted the dropping out, or, the pushing out of kids with academic challenges. A former superintendent in a comment on a prior blog got it right,

“Past administrations have failed to provide schools with the most essentials: credible curricula, instructional guidance, meaningful professional development, and encouragement … If you want an organization structure that makes sense, first define explicitly what great instruction looks like, be willing to design curriculum and long term training to support the vision by competent personnel who have some successful experience under their belts and who can actually do the work, and then figure out the most efficient and effective system to support schools in improving their craft.”

Should Poverty Be Acknowledged in Measures of School Accountability? If We Acknowledge Poverty How Do We Avoid a Two-Track System?

After my last blog, “Superintendents? Networks?” Eric Nadelstern, the former # 2 at the Department posted a commented:

The structure/plan issue is putting the cart before the horse.

The issue should be less which management structure and more what is the Mayor/Chancellor prepared to be held accountable for around student achievement. Once that is clearly defined, then perhaps, they can figure out how to get there.

Eric is correct, up to a point, the core question is accountability, and how do we define it? How do we measure it? How do we use it to improve schools?

About ten years ago I sat in a classroom in Long Island City and listened to Jim Leibman, the Klein accountability czar (and a law professor at Columbia) explain the school progress report accountability metric… Over the years the plan bobbed and weaved as it was used more for political ends than educational ends.

For a time I worked on a team to improve struggling schools, part of the “answer” was better data management: carefully checking long term absences and finding totally legitimate ways of turning them into “good” discharges resulted in higher graduation rates, and, small high schools with smart school support structures improved, well, improved their data and their Progress Report score.

The new administration has made changes to the school accountability system – the creation of Quality Snapshots for parents and Quality Guides for schools. See a sample of a Quality Guide for middle schools here
Almost all the schools in Brownsville and East New York received grades of “C,” “D.” or “F” while all the schools in Bayside in Queens received grades of “A” or “B.” Were the Bayside kids smarter? Or richer? Or whiter? Were the Bayside principals and teachers better teachers? If we switched teachers from Bayside to Brownsville would they take their school’s progress report score with them?

A large high school in Queens received an “A” and if you wandered around the school you would see mediocre instruction, teachers lecturing and kids writing notes, very little interaction. In an elementary school deep in the poorest section of the Bronx, classroom after classroom of deeply engaged kids, excellent instruction, and no progress on state tests: which school is “better”?

Closed schools are almost entirely in the poorest sections of the city.

Will the new Quality Guides produce different results than the letter grades Reports?

A touchy question: should poverty be taken into account in defining and measuring student progress?

On November 6th the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School will release a report entitled, “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest Income Elementary Schools.” Utilizing research from the Chicago Consortium on School Research and sociologist William Julius Wilson the report identifies “truly disadvantaged schools,” and creates a new metric, “total risk load,” eighteen factors that are high predictors of chronic absenteeism and Common Core scores, and, progress report grades.

Total risk load factors include: male unemployment, housing project and shelters in school catchment zone, adult education levels, poverty rates, principal, teacher and student turnover rates, student suspensions, special education and others.

Should we use the “total risk load” factor in assessing student progress?

The MRDC Small School paper praises the initiative, small high schools outperformed large high schools, Diane Ravitch posts a response from a department insider challenging the findings, and, I ask, was the small schools initiative an example of a more effective school structure or social capital sorting?

If we acknowledge race and class in an accountability system aren’t we creating a race-based two track system? We’re not going to create an Algebra 1 for poor kids, at some point progress must lead to on track.

What happens to the “struggling schools” if they don’t show progress?

Mayor de Blasio called our attention to “a tale of two cities,” how do we address the issue within the school system? Can we create a nuanced accountability system that measures progress and acknowledges the challenges of poverty?

Nadelstern avers accountability must be “clearly defined,” he’s absolutely right, and, until it is the de Blasio/Farina leadership will lack credibility.

Superintendents? Networks? How do You Manage a 1600-School System? How Do You Lead and Empower?

How should schools be “managed?”

Elected community school boards? Mayoral Control? Superintendents? Mega Regions? Empowerment? Networks?

Should Chancellors drive educational policy in a top-down hierarchical system? Should superintendents, selected by an elected school board, or appointed by the chancellor, have wide-sweeping authority over day-to-day school operations?

Joel Klein, after moving from one management idea to another settled on the theories of the UCLA Management professor William Ouchi in “Making Schools Work” (2003)

1. Every principal is an entrepreneur
2. Every school controls its own budget
3. Everyone is accountable for student performance and for budgets
4. Everyone delegates authority to those below
5. There is a burning focus on school achievement
6. Every school is a community of learners
7. Families have real choices among a variety of unique schools.

Klein created an odd mix, 60 thinly staffed networks to support, not supervise schools, and, as required by law, superintendents, with no staffs, who conducted Quality Reviews, rated principals and made teacher tenure decisions.

The 25-school networks varied widely in quality, some prospered as schools flourished while others stumbled, the department began to replace network leaders and permanently fold up networks.

At one of the innumerable mayoral candidate panels in 2013, sponsored by the CSA, the principals union, the moderator asked, “Superintendents or Networks?” Each of the candidates, with the exception of Christine Quinn, responded “superintendents” Quinn turned to the audience and asked for a voice vote, the audience, an auditorium filled with principals were divided, and passionate. Many clearly favored returning to a superintendent structure while other strongly favored remaining with networks.

At the rollout of the newly selected superintendents the Chancellor gave a cryptic explanation of the new structure, Chalkbeat reports,

What she didn’t reveal was a plan for overhauling the city’s broader, complicated system of school support, which includes superintendents and school-support networks. But she did say that anyone looking for a full return to old systems in which district superintendents oversaw large staffs might be disappointed with her plans.

“Networks are very important in terms of assisting [schools] with doing their job,” Fariña said.

Meanwhile, Fariña offered plenty of specifics for how superintendents should approach their management of individual schools.

School visits should always be announced, she said. Getting coffee with principals is great, though not as important as visiting classrooms. Taking notes on index cards is a good way to keep track of standout teachers and principals.

Index cards? Do they still make index cards? Please, can someone show the chancellor how to take notes on an I-Phone or an I-Pad or a tablet?

The new UFT contract requires an extended professional session on Tuesdays, with a principal-UFT committee determining the focus of the professional development. 62 schools were approved to make sweeping changes in the contract rules, and half of schools report that curriculum is in place in all subject areas. UFT president Mulgrew announced that superintendents will be doing joint walk-throughs of schools with union reps in the future. At the union delegate meeting many delegates were enthusiastic, others clearly not.

My former district was fully engaged in school-based management, school-based budgeting. A third of the schools jumped on board; parents, teachers and the principal worked together to address both school management and instructional issues, a third of the schools struggled and a third couldn’t care less.

In earlier days a few highly competent superintendents lead; however, does the leadership at the district level create sustained leadership at the school level? The chancellor’s district was a completely top-down model that initially showed substantial academic gains; when the schools were returned to their district the gains rapidly eroded.

In a school system of over 1600 schools what we do know is “one size fits all” fits no one. Some schools may require a structured environment while in others ideas percolate up from classrooms.

Jeff Latto was a middle school principal and I was invited to the school’s Leadership Team meeting. An issue was being vigorous debated, most of the committee favored the idea, and the principal didn’t. At one point the principal declared, “I clearly disagree, everyone else favors the idea, you want to try it, go ahead, just make it work.” I have forgotten the idea, not the role of the school leader. He trusted his staff, and, clearly the staff respected him.

I’ve seen superintendents surrounded with sycophantic staffs, an “emperor with no cloths,” ordering this or that, everyone nodded and nothing actually changed.

I’ve seen angry and hostile staffs that “complied,” reluctantly, and the culture of the school was toxic.

I’ve seen superintendents on hall patrol, superintendents leading professional development sessions, superintendents leading teacher “think tanks,” and others who were great at issuing dreary memoranda.

As the taking heads and the sages criticize Tweed for not coming up with a management strategy the important element is creating structure that both leads and empowers principals and teachers to lead and innovate.

Fred Koury was the founder of City as School High School, one of the first truly alternative high schools. At his retirement party everyone praised Fred, the school was wonderful, Fred was the principal, and, a member of the UFT Executive Board, but Fred demurred; he said, “Wait until we’re two more principals down the road, if the school is still great then I deserve applause for creating something worthwhile.”

The chancellor has to get it right.

Will School Districts Create and Support Career and Technical Education (CTE) Programs? Will Parents Demand the Creation and Support of CTE Programs?

The Board of Regents is a policy board, teachers, principals and superintendents work for elected school boards and mayors. The gap between creating policy and implementing policy is yawning.

The number of CTE seats in New York State have been declining and the seats in New York City drastically reduced. The Bloomberg/Klein administration closed the vast majority of vocational high schools for poor academic performance. For decades vocational high schools were a combination of students seeking career skills and a dumping ground for low performing students. City administrations made no investments, equipment deteriorated, the schools were shunted aside, with the phase out of the local diploma vocational high schools were doomed, there was no way students could earn 44 credits, pass five regents exams and the 10-12 technical credits.

On the national scene the emphasis was on the “college” part of college and career ready. David Conley, Educational Policy Information Center defines career ready as “Individual possesses sufficient foundational knowledge, skills, and general learning strategies necessary to begin studies in a career pathway.”

The US Department of Education supports CTE programs and lays out a detailed plan in “Investing in America’s Future: A Blueprint for Career and Technical Education.”

The Business Council of New York State strongly supports Career and Technical Education programs.

The teachers union advocates for CTE education by hosting a major conference,

Some 400 local and regional educators gathered with business, higher-education and union leaders at a Career and Technical Education Summit at UFT headquarters … to explore ways for schools to build high-quality CTE programs to meet the needs of the city’s future labor force.

UFT leader Mulgrew and business leader Wilde wrote a joint op ed in the Daily News supporting CTE and state actions.

From Washington to Albany, from the business community to the union, all support CTE education, yet, of the 210,000 K-12 classroom teachers in NYS (2011-12) only 2200 teachers are Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers.

For a few years the Board of Regents has been grappling with the paucity of students in CTE programs around the state. The Regents took two actions this week in an attempt to jump start CTE programs.

* A “4 + 1″ option – in lieu of passing five regents exams students can substitute another option, including a CTE assessment (see details:

* The certification process for new CTE teachers will be streamlined.

Will the new emphasis encourage school districts to increase CTE seats and encourage students to enroll in CTE programs?

There are three models of CTE programs in the state,

The BOCES Model:
The state runs 37 BOCES centers around the state that provide educational services for several categories of students with disabilities as well as career and technical education programs. The student attends his or her regular district high school and takes the CTE courses at a regional BOCES site – the district pays the BOCES a set amount for each student. This is the “standard model” outside of New York City. In these trying financial times districts do not want to incur additional costs and the CTE option is frequently not encouraged. Coop Tech is a BOCES-type model in New York City – student take academic courses in their home school and CTE courses at Coop Tech on East 96th Street in Manhattan – unfortunately there is only one site. (Read about Coop Tech:

The Stand-Alone Model:
In New York City and a few other cities there are long standing “stand alone” CTE schools that are high performing, The Department did open a High School for the Building Trades and a few a few small high schools (Advertising and Media, Film-Making).

The Strand Model:
Large high school might have a CTE strand in the school, for example Park West High School, a 2000 plus seat comprehensive high school had a 60-student elevator repair program in the school. As the large high schools closed the strands disappeared. Due to complexity of the state approval process the strands were not approved by the state and not eligible for special funding, (The Perkins Act)

New York State approval process for new CTE programs is enormous complex, in fact, onerous.

An approvable program contains a related and continuous series/combination of courses/experiences in a career and technical area and academic and technical knowledge and skills in preparation for further education/training and/or employment in a career. The program is taught by appropriately certified and qualified teachers and is supported by work-based experiences, integrated and/or specialized instruction, a Work-Skills Employability Profile, technical assessments and data on student performance in academic and technical areas.

The state must streamline the approval process.

Will the state actions result in the expansion of CTE programs?

Outside of NYC, yes, if parents demand more seats.

Inside of NYC, CTE programs have to be recreated, the infusion of significant funding to rebuild the programs is crucial.

For example, Coop Tech has to be replicated in each borough; new CTE programs must be coordinated with industries and community colleges, all possible if supported by the mayoral administration.

The Regents can create policy, the business sector can offer political support, the unions can offer whatever is needed, the problems are at the local level, do school districts and cities have the desire and the ability to create and support CTE programs.

I asked a school district, “How many students do you send to CTE programs at BOCES?”

The district, “10.”

Me: “Why only 10?”

The district: “We only have 10 seats on the bus.”

Hopefully, in the future, districts will reply, “We’ll support all kids who wish to avail themselves of CTE BOCES programs,” and New York City will offer a range of CTE programs across the city.

Unfilled jobs because schoosl aren’t graduating qualified students is simply unacceptable.