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

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

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

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

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

The members are unsalaried and have no staff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sharp criticism of the regents raises serious questions:

* Who do the Regents represent?

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

* Should the Regents become more transparent and interactive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defending the indefensible is always foolish and futile.

Thanksgiving in the Hood: A War on Poverty is More Productive Than a War on Principals, Teachers, Families and Kids.

Teacher in a suburban school: “I can’t wait until Tuesday, I need the Thanksgiving break.”

Ed: “Tuesday, isn’t your school open on Wednesday?”

Teacher: “Most of my kids took Wednesday off, families flying somewhere for the holiday, visiting relatives, and a few days in the Caribbean, the school board decided to close on Wednesday.”

At the other end of the economic spectrum, in an inner city school, Tuesday was a thrilling day; a principal had a contact with a clothing company who donated fifty winter jackets to the school.

“We had to construct a consent form for the parents so they didn’t think their child stole a coat, the kids looked stunned, one of the kids asked, ‘Is it Christmas?'”

The school was deep in the hood, the principal tells me all his caregivers receive some type of public assistance, WIC (Women, Infants and Children) or food stamps, very few have intact families, usually a single female parent or grandmother or relative; its commonplace for a child to be shuttled from house to house. Some kids live in shelters, group homes or in the foster care system.

“We’re do lead the city in something,” the principal told me, “It’s homicides, plenty of my kids have someone in their family incarcerated, the only white people they know are cops, social workers and teachers, few have ever traveled very far from the projects.”

“For most of my kids the best meals of the day are school breakfast and school lunch, there are no supermarkets in the neighborhood, lots of Chinese take outs and fast food places, I thought about giving out turkeys until I realized that many apartments in the projects didn’t have working ovens.”

I told the principal about the school in the suburbs in which kids flew off for Thanksgiving. He replied, “I have to give the parent roundtrip metro cards to get them to come to School Leadership Team meetings – bus fare – five dollars is a lot of money for my parents.”

And the gangs, “All of my kids have some sort of gang connection, some are active members, others live in a Blood or a Crip building, gang membership is generational, kids belong to the same gangs their parents belonged to.”

Over the Bloomberg years the city created two categories of schools, “winners” and “losers” based on the geography of poverty and policies that separated the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

David Bloomfield, in Chalkbeat writes,

In his renewal plan for struggling schools, Mayor de Blasio has mistakenly fallen for a myth usually promoted by his conservative adversaries: that failure is the fault of individual schools, not the school system.

But the main reason the myth is attractive is because it is an easy way to avoid looking at systemic problems. Research demonstrates that the scale of New York’s “failing schools” is caused by district policies that lead to concentrations of highly mobile, low-achieving students. Too often, New York City has pre-determined “winners” in its school policies without admitting that other schools will lose in a trumped-up competition to cast the central administration in a positive light.

Inexorably, the city opened charter schools that attracted parents with greater social capital and concentrated poorer students in fewer and fewer schools; creating a downward spiral of low achieving schools.

Education Week, reporting on a study by the Center for NYC Affairs writes,

Poverty is not just a lack of money. It’s a shorthand for a host of other problems—scanty dinners and crumbling housing projects, chronic illnesses, and depressed or angry parents—that can interfere with a child’s ability to learn.

Researchers found that 18 factors in a student’s school and neighborhood strongly predicted his or her likelihood of chronic absenteeism and the student’s scores on New York’s accountability tests that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Taken together, these indicators create a measure of the “risk load” in each of the Big Apple’s elementary schools.

If you think about the community context, you would be able to better understand when students come into the school building, what they are carrying with them,” said Kim Nauer, the education research director of the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, and an author of the study.

18 Risk Factors
The Center for New York City Affairs identified 18 school and neighborhood indicators that contribute to high risk in urban schools with high concentration of poverty. The indicators are intended to help administrators and policymakers find areas for improvement, such as high teacher turnover or student suspensions.

School Factors:
1. Students eligible for free lunch
2. Students known to be in temporary housing
3. Students eligible for welfare benefits from the city Human Resources Administration
4. Special education students
5. Black or Hispanic students
6. Principal turnover
7. Teacher turnover
8. Student turnover
9. Student suspensions
10. Safety score on the district’s Learning Environment Survey
11. Engagement score on the Learning Environment Survey

Neighborhood Factors:
12. Involvement with the city’s Administration for Children’s Services
13. Poverty rate according to the U.S. Census for the school’s attendance area
14. Adult education levels
15. Professional employment
16. Male unemployment
17. Presence of public housing in a school’s attendance area
18. Presence of a homeless shelter in a school’s attendance area

The New York study also recommends that Mayor Bill de Blasio work with all schools to analyze child-welfare agencies system-wide in light of the indicators. “I hope it will be helpful in making [school] principals aware of the questions they should be asking,” Ms.Nauer said. “The whole endgame here is to make school as positive as possible for the little guys and make sure they are not in a cycle of failure by the time they get to middle school.”

I am not implying that poverty is an excuse; poverty is a culture that impacts the lives of children and families. Schools cannot be expected to thrive when the community around the school is in chaos. Yes, we need the finest principals and the best teachers, professionals that commit to a career, not a few years before they flee to law school or roles in school policy creation. The state has created examinations to separate the wheat from the chaff, to set a higher standard for prospective teachers; the problem is we have no way of knowing if the exams will produce that result. We do know that prospective Afro-American and Hispanic teachers fail the exams at a considerably higher rate than white aspirants.

The results of a decade-old study are disturbing,

… we actually know very little about how differences between a teacher’s race and those of her students affect the learning environment. This study makes use of data from a randomized field trial conducted in Tennessee to produce higher-quality information on this controversial subject than has been available previously. The results are troubling. Black students learn more from black teachers and white students from white teachers, suggesting that the racial dynamics within classrooms may contribute to the persistent racial gap in student performance, at least in Tennessee.

(Read more about the study here and here).

At the same time our political and educational leaders ignore the disparity in education funding across the state, children in the highest wealth districts receive the highest per capita funding, New York State, disgracefully, leads the nation in the inequitable funding of schools.

Mayor de Blasio’s emphasis on Community Schools is a beginning, not a solution. Until the feds, the state and the city change verbiage to deeds schools will struggle. A beginning is jobs. A beginning is removing the moats that isolate the poorest of our neighbors. The lesson of Finland should not only be the quality of teachers, the lesson of Finland should be the absence of childhood poverty.

The rate of childhood poverty in our nation is pitiable,

A new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, on the well-being of children in 35 developed nations, turned up some alarming statistics about child poverty … the United States ranked 34th out of the 35 nations, beating out only Romania.

Governor Cuomo, sadly, fails to understand that blaming teachers, or tweaking the teacher evaluation plan will have no impact, aggressively leading a new “War on Poverty,” is the only path to severing generational poverty.

Thanksgiving is an American holiday, an opportunity to reflect on the bounties of our nation, and an opportunity to sit down at the table with our family and be thankful. Yes, sadly, some of us can fly away to white sand beaches while others shiver in cold of the oncoming winter.

Instead of seeking solutions our leaders are obsessed with test scores, an obsession that is pathological.

The Campaign for Educational Equity report, “How Much Does It Cost? Providing Comprehensive Educational Opportunity to Low -Income Students,” provides a pathway for schools, I suggest the governor and the commissioner commit themselves to a comprehensive approach that acknowledges that spanking principals and teachers or threatening parents is futile, the governor appears to be changing our state motto from “Excelsior” to Dante’s description of the Inferno, “Abandon Hope All Yee Who Enter.”

Are the New Teacher Preparation Exams (edTPA) Racially Discriminatory? And, Why Has the State Failed to Listen to Experienced Educators?

Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play.
Immanuel Kant

From time to time I meet someone who attended the high school at which I taught, I always ask: “Who was your best teacher?”

They usually answer, “Mr. Greenman.”

Bob is a friend, a wonderful teacher and an author (“Words That Make a Difference“) At a book signing a few years ago the room was filled with former students, a few journalists, attorneys, doctors and yes, even a few teachers, all gathering to pay tribute to their former teacher.

How do we measure “great” teaching?

The State Education Department (SED) and the reformers who run education policy these days would say, “What was his Regents passing rate?” I’m sure Bob, and his hundreds of adoring students, have no idea, or care.

Over the past year SED and the Regents have jumped on the “a great teacher in every classroom” band wagon. We should have the best teachers we can find in classroom, and, BTW, the best doctors in hospitals, the best dentists and the best second baseman.

We probably had the “best teachers” in the 30’s and the 60’s. In the 30’s, the heart of the Depression, the old Board of Examiners created extremely challenging exams and with 16 million unemployed teaching drew the “best and brightest” to the civil service exams. During the 60’s the feds offered deferments from the draft for men who decided to teach in high poverty schools, better the trenches of the South Bronx than the trenches in Vietnam.

As our economy continues to recover from the 2008 economic meltdown, and employment continues to rise, guess what, the number of candidates entering teacher preparation programs will shrink, a constant negative drumbeat, an assault on teachers, attempts to diminish teacher benefits will only chase away prospective candidates; schools of education are beginning to see drops in enrollment.

Teaching has always had a high attrition rate – teaching is hard and for many not rewarding, for decades high poverty, inner city schools had revolving doors, teachers dropped by the wayside or moved on to higher achieving schools in better neighborhoods.

The road to certification varied from state to state, as did teacher quality. In New York State a Master’s Degree is required, in other states a Bachelor degree, in some states teachers commonly come from the lower half of their graduating class, in other states prospective teachers must pass a variety of exams.

The State Education Department has approved a seemingly endless line of college teacher education programs over the years.

There is general agreement that teacher education programs should meet a higher standard.

The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), issued a Report a year ago that recommended significantly increasing standards for teacher training institutions. The expectation is that as schools of education apply or reapply for CAEP accreditation they would have to meet the new and higher standards.

An example of a CAEP standard,

The provider sets admissions requirements, including CAEP minimum criteria or the state’s minimum criteria, whichever are higher, and gathers data to monitor applicants and the selected pool of candidates. The provider ensures that the average grade point average of its accepted cohort of candidates meets or exceeds the CAEP minimum of 3.0, and the group average performance on nationally normed ability/achievement assessments such as ACT, SAT, or GRE:

• is in the top 50 percent from 2016-2017;
• is in the top 40 percent of the distribution from 2018-2019; and
• is in the top 33 percent of the distribution by 2020.

The CAEP process would restrict the pool of prospective teachers by limiting the admission to education preparation programs over a number of years to students in the top third of the ACT/SAT/GRE exam pool.

New York State decided to move in a different direction. The State decided to ratchet up the exit rules from schools of education, and, to do it immediately.

For years candidate teachers had to be recommended by the teacher education program and pass two examinations – the passing rates on the exams was well above 90%. The SED decided to change the exam structure: they adopted a well-regarded exam from Stanford University, the edTPA, “The edTPA requires a lengthy electronic portfolio that includes written work and videos of candidates interacting with K-12 students,” while thirty states are in the process of adopting only NYS and Washington have adopted and NYS set a higher pass score.

In addition teacher candidates must pass two additional exams: the 135 minute computer-based Educating All Students (EAS) test (read description here) and the 210 minute, computer-based Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST) (read description here).

The commissioner presented the Regents with proposed cut scores and the Regents members who were educators strongly objected, the scores were much too high, and suggested that the scores be phased in over five years. How could colleges be expected to alter their curriculum with no notice? How could students be expected to pass an exam which may not have been the subject of the courses they took? And, most importantly, is there evidence that the Pearson-created exams are “valid and reliable” predictors of teacher success? Are the exams actually “job-related”? Or, just an academic exercise?

Unfortunately experienced educator voice was ignored, the commissioner set high cut scores with no phase-in period.

Over the months the same pushback from the field occurred that occurred over the imposition of high cut scores for the Common Core student exams. With pressure from the State legislature the SED agreed to allow the old exams to be used for one additional year.

At the November Regents meeting the SED reported on year one results of the exams. (See Report here

Pass Rates:
edTPA the pass rate was 81%
EAS the pass rate was 77%
ALST the pass rate was 68%

On a protected site, not available on the NYSED site, the results by race:

The pass rate for White test takers on the EAS was 82%, Non-White test takers 74%
The pass rate for White test takers on the ALST was 74%, Non-White test takers 55%

It appears that the required EAS and ALST tests, pursuant to Duke and Chance are racially discriminatory test.

The new, untested, teacher certification tests are acting in direct opposition to one of the primary goals of the State and also the US Department of Education, Arne Duncan (See 5 minute U-Tube here) wants our teaching force to reflect the diversity of our schools.

The exams are not only reducing the diversity of our teaching force, the exams ignore standards set by prior court decisions.

In 1971 the Supreme Court, in Griggs v Duke Power Company ruled,

The facts of this case demonstrate the inadequacy of broad and general testing devices, as well as the infirmity of using diplomas or degrees as fixed measures of capability. History is filled with examples of men and women who rendered highly effective performance without the conventional badges of accomplishment in terms of certificates, diplomas, or degrees. Diplomas and tests are useful servants, but Congress has mandated the common sense proposition that they are not to become masters of reality

A year later in a New York City case, Chance v. Board of Examiner the appellate court sustained the opinion of the trial court. The Board of Examiner licensing exams which had been the sole path to a supervisory position in New York City were challenged due to wide disparities in passing rates between white and black/Hispanic test takers,

Judge Feinberg wrote in Chance v The Board of Examiners (1972),

[T]he examinations prepared and administered by the Board of Examiners for the licensing of supervisory personnel, such as Principals and Assistant Principals, have the de facto effect of discriminating significantly and substantially against Black and Puerto Rican applicants.

The judge further found:

Such a discriminatory impact is constitutionally suspect and places the burden on the Board to show that the examinations can be justified as necessary to obtain Principals, Assistant Principals and supervisors possessing the skills and qualifications required for successful performance of the duties of these positions. The Board has failed to meet this burden.

Although it has taken some steps towards securing content and predictive validity for the examinations and has been improving the examinations during the last two years, the Board has not in practice achieved the goals of constructing examination procedures that are truly job-related.

Even were we to accept the City’s allegation that any discrimination here resulted from thoughtlessness rather than a purposeful scheme, the City may not escape responsibility for placing its black citizens under a severe disadvantage which it cannot justify

The commissioner and the Regents could have phased in the exams and as well as tracking graduates – how did the performance of the graduate correlate with their exam scores? The current teacher evaluation tool is divided into three separate sections; the newly appointed teachers can be tracked in the three categories: How did principals “score” the teachers? How did the students of the newer teachers achieve on state tests? The key question: Are the tests “valid and reliable” indicators of teacher effectiveness?

The new CAEP standards are being phased in with the expectation that the standards will be in place by 2020, the State should have followed the CAEP route, and unfortunately they’re tone deaf.

The Common Core State Standards offered an opportunity to raise the bar for all children; the standards should have been created in the blaze of sunlight not in secret. The standards are not written in stone and should be subject to emendation at the state level, and, the tests, if necessary at all, should have been phased in over a lengthy period. When the State moved from a dual diploma to a single Regents diploma it took twelve years to phase out the old system and phase in the new.

Whether the Regents or the commissioner know it or not the current testing regimen is toxic to parents. Tens of thousands of parents will opt out in the new round of testing. The recent attempt to mandate field testing of the yet to be adopted PARCC tests is a slap in the face to parents. The opt-out movement is not restricted to New York State; it is a national movement. It is possible that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will remove the annual grades 3-8 testing requirement. New York State could move to sampling methodologies and obtain state student progress data.

I suspect the State legislature will begin to rewrite regulations adopted by the Regents. In the past the legislature has been reluctant to pass legislation that altered education policy. Not so since the last round of State tests.

As thousands of emails flood in-boxes of legislators and parents flock to legislative town halls policy making will move across Washington Avenue, from the regal columned headquarters of the State Education Department to the halls of the Assembly and the Senate.

The commissioner and most of the Regents can learn from Mark Twain,

A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suggestions for Chancellor Farina and her team:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the right structures School Renewal Plans would be unnecessary.

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

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

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

The Buffalo Chronicle reports,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The subplots were many.

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

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

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

Pre-Kindergarten Funding, Charter Schools and other Mischief

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

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

Click on the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NY Post writes,

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

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

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

The State Senate Majority Leader speaks about education legislative initiatives,

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

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

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

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

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

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

The teacher union needs a strategy.

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

Eliminating the Charter School Cap

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

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

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

The Teacher Evaluation Law

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

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

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

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

Performance Pay

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

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

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

The Property Tax Cap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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