Picking a High School: The Anarchy of School Choice and Building Communities

Eighth graders families in New York City will soon be absorbed in picking a high school from over 400 school choices.

The Borough High School Fairs will take place on October 18 & 19. Speak with school representatives and learn more about high schools in your borough.

The deadline for Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) and LaGuardia audition registration is Tuesday, October 21st. Please speak to your guidance counselor or visit a Borough Enrollment Office to register!

High School applications are now available through school guidance counselors. Applications are due back by Tuesday, December 2nd.

The online High School Directory and the encyclopedia size print version is overwhelming you can check out a one-page attempt to clarify the process here.

The entire process is part of the Bloomberg-Klein choice initiative – to provide a wide range of school choices for every family, charter or public, and at the high school level access 700 programs in 400 schools.

Prior to the Bloomberg era the city had a mix of large comprehensive high schools and small schools – some were called alternative high schools with roots in the sixties and others replacing schools closed in the nineties and early 2000s.

Large comprehensive high schools had geographic zones and, in addition, many had what were called education option programs that were open to all students. For example Midwood High School has a Bio-Medical Program with academic standards; eighth graders can apply to the program. Other ed op programs were open to all students without preconditions. A school opened a fixed number of seats – the school chose half the students; the computer randomly chose the remainder, and the students reflected a range of abilities based on state test scores.

With the exception of the few remaining zoned schools, the 400 small high schools are unzoned. A few score of schools are “screened” schools – the schools utilize a combination of middle school grades, state test scores and attendance and punctuality to select students, the remainder are “limited, unscreened,” the computer spins and chooses students. Arts schools can require a portfolio or exhibition in addition to academic requirements.

Families can select up to 12 schools, if a zoned school is selected the student, if not assigned other choices, will be assigned to the zoned school. If a student does not select a zoned school the algorithm selects student.

If a student lives a block from a school, s/he must “compete” with all other students who apply to the school regardless of address.

The High School Directory provides information provided by the school as well as some data about the school. The only other source of information is Inside Schools (http://insideschools.org/), a website associated with the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School, the site provides more data and in a comment section allows prospective parents/students to both read other comments and ask questions – extremely useful. (See Comments from Columbia Secondary)

The system, in my judgment, has a fatal flaw, the system discourages neighborhood schools. It is difficult to build school cultures when students travel to the school from across the city. It is commonplace to travel by bus or subway or both, traveling and hour or more, lateness is endemic, after school programs are not available to students who trek across the city.

The Center for NYC Affairs report,
Building Blocks for Better Schools: How the Next Mayor Can Prepare New York’s Students for College and Careers, recommends,

Strengthen the remaining traditional zoned neighborhood schools and create new structures to connect all schools—neighborhood, magnet and charters alike—within given geographic areas.

All unscreened high schools should have a geographic zone; families should have the option of attending a school near their home and/or applying to any other school.

School culture is at the core of school effectiveness, and, students who live in scores of zip codes across the city mitigate against building strong school cultures.

The Bloomberg-Klein guys created a market-driven, competitive school system, low test scores led to school closings and high test scores guaranteed success. The result has been that schools located in high poverty zip codes have been closed and students “encouraged” to flee neighborhood schools. While high school graduation rates have risen college and career readiness rates for black and Hispanic student hover around an astounding 15% and community college six-year completion rate are equally appalling.

A core strategy for improving schools and reducing poverty is creating coordinated services – chasing students out of their neighborhood is antithetical to building communities.

Let’s facilitate families who want to educate their children in their community and, at the same time, allow parents any other school choice – let’s create zones for every unscreened school.

How Do We Teach About Columbus Day? A Brave Explorer? The Annihilator of Indigenous Peoples?

How do we teach about Columbus Day? How do we teach children who come from Latin America? Was Columbus a brave explorer who discovered the New World, or, is Columbus Day, as a friend of mine suggests, more properly called Indigenous Peoples Annihilation Day?

The Governor’s message treats the day as a celebration of immigrants,

Columbus Day is a time to celebrate the achievements of those who came before us – immigrants who faced untold hardships throughout history, yet persevered to build the world we inhabit today. From language barriers to harsh labor conditions, those men and women surmounted every hurdle to become a dynamic force in society.

Or, as Italian Pride Day,

As the grandchild of four Italian immigrants, I am extremely proud of my heritage and the values of family, hard work, and the promise of American opportunity that my grandparents passed along. This Columbus Day, I encourage all New Yorkers to reflect on the legacies of those who came before us and built the Empire State we know today. May we follow their example and leave a New York State that is even better for our children.

Across the country the day, if it is celebrated at all, is celebrated differently,

Not all parts of the United States celebrate Columbus Day. It is not a public holiday in some states such as California, Oregon, Nevada and Hawaii. Moreover, Native Americans’ Day is celebrated in South Dakota, while Indigenous People’s Day is celebrated in Berkeley, California.

In Latin America the celebration take on a different tone,

The date Columbus arrived in the Americas is celebrated in many countries in Latin America. The most common name for the celebration in Spanish … is the Día de la Raza (“day of the race” or “day of the [Hispanic] people”), commemorating the first encounters of Europeans and Native Americans … The day was also celebrated under this title in Spain until 1957, when it was changed to the Día de la Hispanidad (“Hispanity Day”), and in Venezuela until 2002, when it was changed to the Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance), … Día de la Raza has come to be seen by some in Latin America as a counter to Columbus Day; a celebration of the resistance against the arrival of Europeans in the Americas and of the native races and cultures

The just-released New York State Social Studies Frameworks (See Frameworks here) avoids controversy at every level, the Frameworks are heavy on standards and light on content; the new College Board Advanced Placement American History test, is far more content specific and for some, highly controversial: See APUSA curriculum here.

Columbus Day is actually an opportunity to teach about “first contact,” almost akin to discovering an alien civilization.

A few years ago a PBS documentary presented a creative view of the “first contact.”

The PBS documentary, When Worlds Collide, (Watch Vimeo here http://vimeo.com/14861182 or U-Tube here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9jLxKPnSN8) does just that as it takes the audience through the first one hundred years of the Spanish Empire in the New World. Instead of casting the Spanish as murderers or heroes and the indigenous population as victims or savages, the program explores the set of entangled exchanges and negotiations that occurred between these peoples. Although there is truth on both sides concerning the initial contacts between inhabitants of the New and Old Worlds, the aggregate is far more complicated than what is often presented in popular culture.

As teachers we must seize opportunities to encourage students to analyze, investigate and sift through evidence, to act as a guide, a critical friend, to probe, to challenge, to use our skills to encourage our students to research, write and argue their positions.

I was filling in for a friend in an American History college class, the lesson was the dropping of the A-Bomb on Hiroshima – was the dropping of the bomb a war crime, or, did we save hundreds of thousands of American and Japanese lives? I provided a number of readings supporting both positions and a few pages of raw data. A young kid immediately called the dropping of the bomb a war crime and a Vietnam War vet was just as vigorous on the other side … I probed, pissed them both off (“Where does it say that? How do you know? Is that opinion or fact?”) … some of the class jumped in, others were intimidated by the passion of the debate … I must admit I thought how I would handle threats of physical violence. When the class ended some students applauded … from my perspective it was the lesson I hoped for…

“Pride” Days, whether Italian, Irish, Hispanic or Gay should be left for parades, the classroom should be the forum to debate, to stimulate those neurons dulled by too much mindless texting and video game playing.

If we hope not to be replaced by online learning or 3-CPO we had better make sure we are the teacher who is both challenging and nurturing, probing and listening, a teacher who is far more interesting than a computer screen.

Separate But Equal or Ending Segregated Schools: A Conflicted Vision for School Improvement

(Note: Stan Litow, the IBM VP in charge of the Watson Teacher Mentor program clarifies, “no data mining …, says he’ll ‘write it in blood'”” and, a contest for teachers to select a name for the program)

The New School University and the Nation co-sponsored an intriguing event, Chris Hayes, MSNBC, acted as the moderator, Dana Goldstein, the author of the highly acclaimed Teachers Wars (Read NY Times review here ), Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director, Alliance for Quality Education, Pedro Noguera, NYU and AFT President Randi Weingarten, mused about the future of public education.

The panel was a follow-up to the current issue of the Nation, “Saving Public Education.” Read the Nation articles here, they are excellent.

This is the sixtieth anniversary of Board v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court decision that reversed Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the prior decision that confirmed “separate but equal.” There have been a number of events looking back over the sixty years since Brown and the arc of school desegregation. In the spring NYU hosted a two-day conference, “Brown at 60: Has Desegregation Stalled?”

A Report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA confirms the title of the conference.

Segregation for blacks is the highest in the Northeast, a region with extremely high district fragmentation.

 Latinos are now significantly more segregated than blacks in suburban America.

 Black and Latino students tend to be in schools with a substantial majority of poor children, while white and Asian students typically attend middle class schools.

 Segregation is by far the most serious in the central cities of the largest metropolitan areas; the states of New York, Illinois and California are the top three worst for isolating black students.

Hayes asked the panel: Are we retreating to a pre-Brown era? Is “Separate but Equal” the new norm in our schools?

Noguera has spoken loudly and frequently criticizing New York City and national policies that foster racial isolation. In an interview prior to the “Brown at 60″ event he explained his position,

Q: Many school districts have essentially re-segregated now that they’re no longer under court supervision. Is it time to reconsider legally mandated racial percentages to guarantee integration once again?

A: You need a comprehensive approach. You need to make sure that there’s affordable housing in many communities, and not just concentrate it into certain areas—which reinforces the segregation of schools. But then you also need things like magnet schools and other strategies to produce voluntary integration. We have learned that you can’t force people to participate in a desegregation effort, but you can do things to make it more attractive…

Q: Why are New York State schools the nation’s most segregated?

A: What New York did wrong is it did nothing. People attribute a lot of this to the idea of choice—that individuals are choosing where to live and where to put their kids in school. That’s not an accurate reading of history. We have a history in New York of legally sanctioned housing segregation—so that people of color, particularly blacks, were not allowed to move into certain areas. Those areas have stayed white. And that’s reflected in schools. By not taking those issues on through policy, New York State now finds itself singled out as among the most segregated in the country.

Panelist Zakiyah Ansari disagreed, to paraphrase, why do children of color have to attend a white school to get a good education? With equitable funding, a diverse staff and culturally relevant curriculum our kids can prosper. The panelists probably agree on almost everything, the almost, however, is significant, questions of race and class are the subtext of every conversation.

A few days later the Public Policy Institute at Hunter College hosted a discussion of A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education (2014) by Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter. (Read book summary here). Gerald Robinson, the former Commissioner of Education in Virginia and Florida was the commenter and David Steiner, the Dean of the Hunter School of Education was the moderator. Oddly the discussion was a continuation of the discussion at the New School.

Kahlenberg reminds us that the charter school concept began with Al Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. Shanker saw charter schools as incubators for new ideas, schools freed from school district regulations and union contracts that could experiment and share findings with public schools. In reality charter schools have been established to avoid union rules and create competition for public schools. Kahlenberg, in a book filled with sources for every assertion finds that charter schools at best are no better than public schools and in many occasions much worse. Sadly, there are only a few examples of schools that espouse the Al Shanker vision, schools with significant teacher voice and also that integrate children by race and class,

Kahlenberg backs up his assertion that children of color in integrated school setting are higher achievers. “Research suggests that students learn a great deal from their peers, and it is an advantage, on average, to have a strong core of middle-class peers for a variety of reasons.”

Low income students attending economically diverse schools benefit from the larger vocabularies, greater knowledge and more positive attitude toward learning found, on average, among middle and higher-income peers. It is an advantage to have classmates who are academically engaged and aspire to go to college. Peers in middle class schools are more likely to do homework, attend class regularly, and graduate – all of which have been found to influence the behavior of classmate.

The authors single out charters that both value teacher voice and have created student enrollment patterns that secure both racial and economic diversity, and, encourage the creation of charters that follow this pattern.

Gerald Robinson, the commenter, echoing Ansari, using an almost hip-hop lyric, pronounced, “Its place not race.” Kids are failing in inner city communities of color, that’s where we should place charter schools.

It is fascinating to me that Ansari and Robinson accept that we are living in a “separate but equal” world of schooling and we should move on and ignore the consequences of racial segregation. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor got is right in her fiery dissent in the Michigan affirmative action case.

And race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away. Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, “No, where are you really from?” regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: “I do not belong here.”

Clearly, a post-racial America is far, far down the road.

Branding the de Blasio-Farina Vision of Education: Can the “New Guys” Create a Vision for the School System?

New administrations, whether in politics or business, attempt to brand themselves – attempt to set themselves apart from the administration they replaced.

“the process of creating a relationship or a connection between a company’s product and emotional perception of the customer for the purpose of building loyalty among customers… a fulfillment in customer expectations and consistent customer satisfaction”

Sometimes a simple phrase, FDR’s New Deal branded the new administration. For de Blasio the “tale of two cities” theme has resonated through his policy choices, from ending “stop and frisk,” to a “living wage,” more “affordable housing,” and, of course, ”Universal Pre-Kindergarten,” the campaign to embed the de Blasio brand.

Days after de Blasio took the oath of office the city restarted contract negotiations with the teachers union, removing the impediment of angry teachers and other city workers was crucial.

After Cuomo refused to grant NYC the right to raise taxes to fund PreK the State budget agreement provided adequate dollars for Universal Pre K, although the time frame to implement was short.

As the summer began, and six months into her chancellorship, the whispers started, when was the new administration at Tweed going to lay out its vision, what was going to change?

The old guard, the Bloomberg-Klein devotees worried, for good reason, everything they built would be dismantled, after all, that’s what the Bloomberg administration did; they trashed everything that proceeded.

The Bloomberg administration branded themselves, dismantling decentralization and creating mayoral control, the closing of scores of schools and the creation of hundreds of new schools, supporting new charter schools, the co-location of charter schools in public school building, the letter A to F School Report Cards, all policies, according to Bloomberg, improving a dysfunctional school system: he branded himself: Michael Bloomberg, the educational mayor.

Last week de Blasio fulfilled a campaign pledge, he changed the School Report Card from A to F letters grades to a four-page “Quality Snapshot” and a multiple page “Quality Guide” for staffers with new school descriptions, “exceeding, meeting, approaching or not meeting standards.” Schools, also, will no longer be ranked.

See sample Reports here: http://schools.nyc.gov/Accountability/default.htm

Chalkbeat reports the criticism,

Groups that supported the previous administration and have been critical of Fariña called her speech a disappointment and said it failed to address head-on the city’s many struggling schools. Even people who praised the new evaluations said it was troubling that the city did not say how it will use the ratings to prop up low-performing schools.

Joseph Viteritti, a public policy professor at Hunter College, said the evaluation shift represents an improvement from the previous administration’s “top-down approach to reform.”

“Unfortunately,” he added, “it does not outline a real plan for what [this administration] intends to do with failing schools.”

Chancellor Farina is enormously popular with teachers, her praise of staffs, her emphasis on trust and collaboration, her refusal to close schools, and looked upon with suspicion by the Bloomberg crowd and the “reform” elites.

After all, didn’t they sharply increase graduation rates, close dysfunctional schools, challenge the union, and train dynamic young principals?

While the Bloomberg team was effective in branding themselves as educational innovators and reformers, the NY Post was in their pocket and the NY Daily News usually supportive, and, the NY Times occasionally critical, usually supportive. On the national scene Bloomberg was the education mayor: changing the direction of education in the city.

In reality, the credit recovery fraud, the packing of at-risk kids into schools targeted for closing, questionable marking of regents papers all cast doubt on the increases in graduation rates, and the appalling college and career readiness rates, the disastrous completion rates in community colleges all question the accuracy of the graduation rates.

de Blasio can’t wait a decade to assess the impact of pre-Kindergarten; Farina can’t wait a couple of years to see if reading and math scores jump…

de Blasio and Farina have to take ownership, to brand their approach, to convince the public that their vision of education is best for their children. And, if the vision is unclear, if the new vision looks like older visions, if the Post and the Daily News and elites and decision-makers and the political power structure lose confidence the entire administration can be in trouble.

The American Enterprise Institute Tenure Report: Half-Truths, Mistruths and Outright Lies: The Campaign to Destroy Tenure is Ugly.

The American Enterprise Institute is a right wing “think tank,” with funding ties to the Koch Brothers and others in the anti-union, anti-public education sector. AEI conducts what I call “advocacy research,” what they call research simply supports their political positions. (Read more at Right Wing Watch here)

AEI released a report on teacher tenure in New York State, not surprisingly just in time for the anti-tenure lawsuit, you can follow the case – Wright v New York here and the specifics of the claims within the suit here.

The AEI “research” tracks teachers charged under the section 3020a of the New York State Education Law between 1997 and 2007. The purported research conveniently fails to include the sweeping changes in the law in 2012.

Tenured educators have the right to retain their positions and may only be terminated if there is “just cause” pursuant to Education Law §3020. The rules specifying the process for terminating a tenured educator are set forth in Education Law §3020-a. This process was significantly modified effective April 1, 2012, by Chapter 57 of the Laws of 2012.

The authors of the report simply roll back the clock to 2007 and ignore the sweeping changes to the law since 2007. The Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) governs the assessment of teacher performance in New York State. Within the law and regulations each school district negotiated a plan with the collective bargaining agent, the union. If a teacher receives an “ineffective” rating for two consecutive years, and, the school district complied with the requirement of an assistance plan in year two, the school district can prefer charges and seek the dismissal of the teacher.

The law states,

If a teacher receives an ineffective rating for a school year in
which the teacher is in year two status and the independent validator
agrees, the district may bring a proceeding pursuant to sections three
thousand twenty and three thousand twenty-a of this article based on a
pattern of ineffective teaching or performance. In such proceeding, the
charges shall allege that the employing board has developed and
substantially implemented a teacher improvement plan in accordance with
subdivision four of this section for the employee following the
evaluation made for the year in which the employee was in year one
status and was rated ineffective. The pattern of ineffective teaching or
performance shall give rise to a rebuttable presumption of incompetence
and if the presumption is not successfully rebutted, the finding, absent
extraordinary circumstances, shall be just cause for removal

AEI claims,

The fundamental purpose of § 3020-a hearings is not to determine whether a school’s charge of inadequate performance is justified, but rather to determine whether there is any possibility that an inadequately performing teacher can be rehabilitated.

The AEI claim is blatantly incorrect. The new law, section 3012c, is ignored by AEI, the language, “a rebuttable presumption of incompetence,” places the burden on the teacher.

Yes, if a tenured teacher receives an ineffective rating the school district must provide assistance to the teacher in year two, a perfectly reasonable requirement,


Incompetent teaching in and of itself is not grounds for dismissal under § 3020.

The law states that two ineffective ratings are “a rebuttable presumption of incompetence,” and, if the teacher cannot rebut the ineffective rating the hearing officer can assess discipline; if a teacher has had many years of effective service the hearing officer may fine or suspend a teacher and require retraining, or, dismiss the teacher. Each case has a separate fact pattern. Incompetent teaching is grounds for dismissal, although the hearing officer has a range of options.

Proof that there is no possibility of rehabilitating a teacher is a necessary condition for dismissal.

Rehabilitating the teacher is an option that the hearing officer may consider; but does not have to consider. Once again, each case is determined on the merits of the case.

The law is clear: the employer must make efforts to assist the teacher in “correcting the behavior that resulted in charges being brought …” Hearing officers have wide discretion: penalties range from a reprimand to a fine, a suspension to discharge. In addition the hearing officer may require specific types of retraining in addition to the penalties described.

the hearing shall be conducted before and by a single hearing
officer in an expedited hearing, which shall commence within seven days
after the pre-hearing conference and shall be completed within sixty
days after the pre-hearing conference.
The written decision shall include the hearing officer’s findings of fact on each charge, his
or her conclusions with regard to each charge based on said findings and
shall state what penalty or other action, if any, shall be taken by the
employing board. At the request of the employee, in determining what, if
any, penalty or other action shall be imposed, the hearing officer shall
consider the extent to which the employing board made efforts towards
correcting the behavior of the employee which resulted in charges being
brought under this section through means including but not limited to:
remediation, peer intervention or an employee assistance plan. In those
cases where a penalty is imposed, such penalty may be a written
reprimand, a fine, suspension for a fixed time without pay, or
dismissal. In addition to or in lieu of the aforementioned penalties,
the hearing officer, where he or she deems appropriate, may impose upon
the employee remedial action including but not limited to leaves of
absence with or without pay, continuing education and/or study, a
requirement that the employee seek counseling or medical treatment or
that the employee engage in any other remedial or combination of
remedial actions.

The fundamental purpose of § 3020-a hearings is to determine whether a school’s charge of inadequate performance is justified, and, further to determine whether there is any possibility that an inadequately performing teacher can be rehabilitated.

Charges fall into three categories: incompetence, now governed by section 3012c, misconduct on the job and misconduct away from the job. Serious felonies result in suspension without pay and discharge without a hearing if the teacher is convicted or pleads guilty. Typical misconduct in schools is accusations of corporal punishment, excessive absence and insubordination; a typical punishment is a fine.

Misconduct outside of school: DWI, minor drug arrest, shop lifting, public intoxication, etc., are punished by a fine and/or a suspension.

The AEI report is simply a hatchet job, a crude attempt to discredit a law prior to the first judicial hearing, if you lie loud enough and long enough the public, and, the judiciary may believe you.

Schools have wide discretion in hiring; teachers serve three year under probation, with the ability to extend probation for a fourth year, and, forty percent of teachers leave voluntarily within five years.

The lowest achieving schools have the least experienced teachers, the poor have little or no legal representation, hospitals in poor neighborhoods are understaffed and the doctors come from the lowest rated medical schools.

How do we discharge incompetent lawyers or doctors? We don’t.

The AEI report is disgraceful; poorly done, filled with half-truths, and exactly what we can expect from the amoral right.

It is sad that anyone believes that the path to highly effective schools is firing incompetent teachers. We all know there is a pool of highly effective teachers just waiting to fill their classrooms.

What is amazing is that so many smart people actually believe this canard.

Can the IBM Watson Computer Whisper to Teachers? Can We All Have Our Personal Mentor-Advisor? Can We Trust IBM?

You may remember in early 2011 the IBM Watson computer took on former Jeopardy champions and defeated them – a stunning example of a “learning” computer, called “cognitive computing.”

The Roosevelt House at Hunter College hosted the rollout of a new use for Watson, a “teacher advisor.”

Every edition of Education Week is filled with computer applications for students, the Los Angeles School District is spending a billion dollars to buy I-Pads for every kid, schools commonly spend thousands to equip schools with white boards, school boards envision computers replacing teachers, During the credit recovery craze kids who failed classes made them up by sitting at a computer for a few hours answering questions.

Would real, live teachers be replaced by humming, flashing computers?

When I casually suggested that someday soon they’d be stapling a chip into your earlobe a friend, with a sneer, commented, “They haven’t done you yet?”

The still unnamed Watson system, maybe “teacher personal advisor,” is not meant to replace teachers but, according to IBM, to empower teachers, to use the power of Watson to advise and mentor a teacher.

Stan Litow, a former Board of Education Deputy Chancellor, and now with the impressive title of Vice President, Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs, and President, IBM International Foundation explained the concept.

Watson is a non-judgmental, on-demand, cloud-based, trusted advisor with the ability to provide vetted lessons, specific to the teacher and his/her students, way beyond a search engine. The Watson system is an “open domain Q & A,” Each time a teacher asks a question Watson learns and customizes the response to the teacher, a type of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

As I understood the presentation Watson is both free, available 24/7 and the teacher is anonymous. Schools and school districts will not have to purchase the system, teachers simply log on and begin to use.

The first panel: Michael Cohen, the President of Achieve, Inc., Mitchell Chester, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education, John King, the NYS Commissioner of Education, James Shelton, Deputy Secretary of Educating and Randi Weingarten, AFT President.

Weingarten called the program, potentially, a Siri for teachers, reminded us that Google Maps is far from perfect and explained the success of Share My Lesson, an AFT-sponsored site on which a few hundred thousand teachers have signed up. The other panelists were impressed by the “personalization” of the process, the ability to curate and continue to learn, one goal is to establish communities of teachers who can mentor each other online. John King saw Watson as enabling teachers to speed up the searching process, responding to student errors, offering a range of teaching strategies and translate into student native languages. Michael Cohen reminded us that teachers, not Watson, are the experts.

A teacher panel from New York City, Half Hollow Hills, Newburgh and Plainsboro, New Jersey spent time over the summer with the design team.

Every teacher expressed concerns over new teacher evaluation systems and voiced uneasiness over the use of the Watson data – Litow, again and again emphasized that the system was non-judgmental and was not intended to assess or evaluate teachers in any way, the sole purpose was to assist teacher in planning, to offer a “personal assistant,” guided by the needs of the teacher.

In one of the demonstrations Watson was asked, “What is cloze reading instruction?” and, Watson answered by giving a long quote from David Coleman and made references to PARCC. In the Q & A audience members were sharply critical of the answer, and, emphasized that teacher suspicion would only be exacerbated by these types of responses.

Many of the questions danced around: how do you ameliorate suspicions of any computer-based program? How do you deal with the privacy issues? How do you respond to the presumption that there must be an ulterior motive? After all, IBM is in the business of making money.

The Watson team is setting up their offices in New York City and the actual rollout of the product is probably two years away.

As one questioner pointed out Watson suggestions were not answers – watching a video of a lesson, trying a suggested approach, all fine, there is no guarantee of success; Watson is simply one tool in the tool kit of a teacher. It did not strike me as a “game-changer,” the net is filled with tools, teachers have their favorites. Watson may speed up lesson planning; the “proof” is in the lesson execution.

I suggested to Stan Litow that he speak with Diane Ravitch, and he said he was eager to speak with Diane.

Many of us are ultra-suspicious of the tech companies who see billions of dollars waiting to be snatched away, the lure of a computer standing in front of a classroom, a computer that doesn’t need a pension and a health plan and doesn’t belong to a union, is an attraction to school boards. On the other hand we can’t be Luddites; the world of computing can make us more effective teachers and students more effective learners.

Interactive whiteboards cost a couple of thousand dollars each and I see teachers using them as high priced projectors, is a classroom filled with kids tapping on an I-Pad the type of “teaching and learning” we want to encourage?

I peeked into a classroom in a middle school, it was pretty loud, the kids were arguing with each other and the teacher was facilitating the argument/discussions, the teacher threw up his hands, “Okay, I’ve heard enough, you have fifteen minutes, write down your arguments, remember, each point must be backed up with evidence.”

Watson may have suggested the lesson, provided the sources and kids can use Google to search the web – are we also teaching the kids to write?

What do you think?

Vergara, Fair Student Funding and Open Market: Do Department Policies Violate the Fundamental Right to Equality of Education?

The judge in the California Vergara tenure decision wrote,

Challenged Statutes result in grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining permanent employment, and, that these teachers are disproportionately situated in schools serving predominantly low income and minority students … plaintiffs equal protection claims assert that the Challenged Statutes violate their fundamental rights to equality of education by adversely affecting the quality of the education they are afforded by the state.

What if plaintiffs in New York State argue that high achieving, high wealth schools receive higher per capita funding than low achieving, high poverty schools violating the plaintiffs’ equal protection rights? and, in New York City, discourage schools from hiring experienced teachers?

What if the plaintiffs in New York City argue that high achieving selective schools have more experienced, higher achieving teachers and better educated teachers than high poverty, low achieving schools violating the plaintiffs’ equal protection rights?

The policies in New York City relating to student funding and teacher transfer both result in less experienced and in some cases less effective teachers working in schools serving poorer students.

In pre-Bloomberg days late in the school year Budget Memorandum # 1 would arrive – the hundred plus page document explaining the budget dollars for the upcoming school year was highly anticipated by each school district. The district divided up the dollars in the form of positions to each school.

In the nineties a new idea began to gain acceptance, staffing decisions should be made at the school site, not at a distant district office. Decisions over dollars should be driven by student needs, called weighted student funding.

An innovative process called weighted student formula is a fair and equitable way to distribute funds for school budgets. The amount of money given to a school will be based on individual student need, not enrollment. This means that students with more needs will receive more resources. For the first time, funding will follow students to whichever schools they attend, equalizing opportunities at the student level.

How weighted student formula works:
• A specific dollar amount will be allocated to educate each student enrolled.
• Additional money will be given to educate students with identified characteristics that impact their learning and achievement.

Eric Hanischek, an economist, questions whether the presumption that better decisions are made at the school site has a research support.

The highest-poverty schools in urban areas traditionally have received less funding than more-advantaged schools, not because of programmatic disparities, but largely because they employ more rookie teachers who come with lower salaries than more-senior educators…

A lovely school in Brownstone Brooklyn or Eastern Queens may have many senior teachers while a school in Brownsville many newer teachers, under the old system if you multiplied the school average teacher salary by the number of teachers and divided by the number of students the schools in Brownstone Brooklyn and Eastern Queens would receive substantially higher per capita funding than the school in Brownsville. Under a weighted student funding approach the funds would follow the student and the school budget would be the sum total of the students weights

The underlying motivation for weighted student funding is built on a presumption that districts are making patently bad decisions, either because of a lack of capacity or distorted incentives. Is it the case that these problems appear just at the district level, but not the school level? Why do we believe that school-level personnel—without any prior training and experience—will become better stewards of resources or better judges of personnel, curricula, or instructional techniques?

The reform envisioned is not so much about providing differential dollars based on student needs, but about changing who makes funding decisions.

The Bloomberg/Klein administration jumped on board using the term Fair Student Funding. See the latest Fair Funding Resource Guide, especially pp 49ff which explains the funding of teachers at schools: See Guide http://schools.nyc.gov/offices/d_chanc_oper/budget/dbor/allocationmemo/fy14_15/FY15_PDF/FSF_Guide.pdf

There is a significant flaw in the system, new hires are charged at their actual salary; principals are forced to factor in the cost of the teacher, i. e., should I hire the experienced $80,000 teacher or the newer $60,000 teacher? Since high poverty schools have much higher staff attrition the Fair Student Funding rules push principals to hire the least experienced, namely, “cheaper” teachers.

The Vergara law suit alleges that high poverty schools have the least experienced and least effective teachers and the current Fair Student Funding rules reinforce these claims.

There is a simple “fix,” a way to extinguish the Vergara claim, new hires should be “charged” to the school at the average district salary, not actual salary, experienced and newer teachers would be treated equally.

One of the keys to improving outcomes in high poverty schools is recruiting and retaining the best possible teachers and the current Fair Student Funding rules add an unnecessary word, “recruiting and retaining the best and cheapest teachers.” The current rules are antithetical to the outcomes we seek.

The Bloomberg/Klein administration vigorously attacked the seniority transfer system; each spring the Board posted half of all vacancies and teachers with at least five years of service could file for seniority transfer, and, no more than 5% of could transfer out of a school. Subsequent transfers required five years of service since the last transfer.

Under the Open Market Transfer System any teacher, regardless of seniority can transfer to any school regardless of years of service.

The current rules facilitate teachers moving from school to school and the movement is from high poverty, low achieving to higher achieving schools; there is considerable research,

Urban schools, in particular, have lesser-qualified teachers; and New York City stands out among urban areas. Low-income, low-achieving and non-white students, particularly those in urban areas, find themselves in classes with many of the least skilled teachers.

and, another study finds,

… we find that teachers with better pre-service qualifications (certification exam scores, college competitiveness) are more likely to apply for transfer, while teachers whose students demonstrate higher achievement growth are less likely. On the other hand, schools prefer to hire “higher quality” teachers across measures that signal quality. The results suggest that not only do more effective teachers prefer to stay in their schools but that schools are able to identify and hire the best candidates when given the opportunity.

Current Department policy is accelerating the movement of more effective teachers out of high poverty schools to higher achieving schools thereby violating the equal protection rights of minority students by adversely affecting the quality of their education.

The Department could remedy the issue by reinstituting the “five year rule” or limiting the number of teacher allowed to transfer from, “focus” and “priority” schools.

“Rules” that disadvantage one class of students passed by a prior administration are not written in stone, and, in fact, if the “rules” violate the civil rights of a class of students, if the rules adversely impact the quality of education, the courts could embarrass the current administration.

Perhaps the Chancellor should consider the recommended changes.