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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As part of the budget negotiators crafted a compromise,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Daily News reports,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A “pedagogical mistake?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The governor’s website describes the changes in law,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would such a bill satisfy parent anger over the tests?

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

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

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

Farina Negotiates in Public: Is She “Mis-Speaking” or Challenging the Union?

Speaking at a City Council hearing, Chancellor Carmen Fariña was unequivocal that the city would stick with its current policy of not forcing teachers to work in specific schools or principals to accept teachers they don’t want.

“There will be no forced placement of staff,” she told Council members. ”This is one of the things, when I come back in a couple of weeks, we’ll be happy to discuss.”

One of the ironclad rules of negotiations is that you negotiate in private, never in public, unless you want to send a message to the other side. Whether Chancellor Farina was speaking on her own or carrying a message from the de Blasio administration is crucial. After a bargaining session with the Bloomberg/Klein crowd, no matter the confidentiality agreements, you knew the NY Post or the Wall Street Journal, the Murdoch press, would have the story, at least the mayor’s side of the story, before you got back to the office.

Both de Blasio and union leader Mulgrew have answered every question about negotiations with the same answer, “We don’t negotiate in public.” the union has to ask, have the rules changed? Do Farina’s comments mean the mayor is following the Bloomberg/Klein playbook?

The Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool is made up of over 1,000 folks with pedagogical titles: teachers, guidance counselors, principals and assistant principals who have been bumped from their schools mosly due to school closings. The lower salaried teachers tend to get absorbed into schools, the higher salaried ATRs not so because they carry their salary under the department’s Weighted Student Funding formula.

For a couple of years the department has supported ATR Field Supervisors who regularly observe and rate ATR performance. A few percent are at the low end of the scale, the vast majority in the middle of the curve.

The ATR system costs the city $100,000,000 a year – dollars that can buy many pre-k and after school slots.

Bloomberg/Klein, and apparently Farina insisted that principals alone should choose all staff. They haven’t done such a good job! Teacher attrition continues to rise and thousands of teachers change schools every year under the Open Market system. Any teacher, regardless of seniority can move to any school – principals in higher achieving schools located in “safer” neighborhoods routinely snatch teachers from lower achieving schools in tougher neighborhoods.

30% to 40% of probationary teachers have their tenure extended, new teacher hired by current principals. There is absolutely no evidence that the current ATR system has better outcomes than simply assigning excess teachers to schools with vacancies.

For decades teachers who were excessed, bumped out of their schools due to loss of enrolment and/or funding, were routinely assigned to other schools.

Is retaining the ATR system worth a hundred million dollars a year?

At the same City Council meeting the chancellor emphasized increasing the number of guidance counselors in school, has anyone told her there are 200 or so counselors in the ATR pool, guidance counselors rotating from school to school on a weekly basis?

The chancellor also spoke to increasing the arts in schools, and hinted at using the punitive School Progress Report, a “stick” to increase arts education. For the last twelve years schools/teachers have been beaten regularly with bad letter grade and school closings – the whip and the cudgel never increase performance.

How about a competitive grant program so that schools can create arts programs?

You get a lot more with candy than with vinegar.

The union and teachers really want to like the chancellor, after all she “one of us.” Mulgrew announced at the delegates meeting that the chancellor will be invited to numerous teacher events. She will be on the stage answering questions from teachers at the breakfast section of the UFT Spring Conference.

The glow of honeymoons rapidly fades away and the reality grabs hold. Teachers want a leader who is both sensitive to the indignities of the past and willing to lead the charge into the future, negotiating a “fair” contract, with appropriate financial remuneration, as well as fixing the insanely complicated and mind-numbing teacher evaluation system. A chancellor who can stand up to Albany and lead the fight to delay the full implementation of Common Core tests, a chancellor who can lead the battle nationally to restructure the insidious impact of No Child Left Behind.

We deserve a chancellor who can stand up to Arne Duncan and the assault on public education. The education system in New York City is frayed by inattention to the needs of children, families and practitioners and being used as a place to experiment, to introduce one “idea” after another that had little to do with teaching and learning.

We need a modern-day Jeanne d’Arc.

“She was truthful when lying was the common speech of men; she was honest when honest was become a lost virtue; she was a keeper of promises when the keeping of a promise was expected of no one; … she was full of pity when a merciless cruelty was the rule; she was steadfast when stability was unknown, and honorable in an age which had forgotten what honor was; she was a rock of convictions in a time when men believed in nothing and scoffed at all things; she was unfailingly true in an age that was false to the core; … she was of a dauntless courage when hope and courage had perished in the hearts of her nation…” Mark Twain, Joan of Arc

How Do You “Professionalize” Teaching Within the Context of a Collective Bargaining Agreement?

Two months into his term Mayor de Blasio’s approval ratings have nosedived, and the “tale of two cities” is the sharp disparity between white voters and black/Hispanic voters.

The mayor’s approval is 47 – 32 percent among men, 44 – 36 percent among women, 60 – 22 percent among black voters and 47 – 28 percent among Hispanic voters. White voters give him a negative 39 – 45 percent approval rating.

Is he viewed as abandoning white voters, or, as an astute friend suggests, it’s the weather.

The beginning of the year is a bummer for many — the combination of dark days, no more holidays to look forward to and never-ending bad weather make this time of year ripe for Seasonal Affected Disorder or clinical depression … The major symptoms of SAD and clinical depression are the same … You’ll experience an enduring sadness most of the day every day for at least two weeks … You’ll also experience a loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy.

Aside from snow, and more snow, freezing day after day, your colleague in the Governor’s Mansion in Albany has created a new kind of democrat: pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, tax-cutting, small government, pro-charter school, anti-immigrant, a combination of Rand Paul and Kirsten Gillebrand

The Albany Hydra, whose “poisonous breath and blood so virulent even its tracks were deadly,” seems to have defeated the wanna-be Hercules, the mayor of Gotham.

de Blasio needs a victory.

On September 11th, the day after the Democratic primary, the questions began – how would the new mayor deal with public employee unions – all of whom have not had contracts since 2010, and teachers since 2009?

Would he cave and open the city coffers, stand firm and continue the Bloomberg obstinacy or negotiate a contract fair to union members and fair to the city?

The goal is that the New York Times, Governor Cuomo, the Citizen’s Budget Commission, the national press, the “talking heads” praise the agreement. The unions are faced with the dilemma, a clock is ticking, if they can’t negotiate a deal by the end of the fiscal year, June 30th, de Blasio may take the Bloomberg route, walking away from negotiations, a dangerous route, a risky route, a route that Bloomberg and Cuomo have taken without dire political consequences.

A weak mayor is a disaster for the union, a mayor pushed by the winds will ultimately seek out deep-pocketed so-called friends.

On the other side of the table the unions need a contract that passes membership scrutiny, i.e., contains sufficient dollars both in retroactive pay and the rate going forward, as well other non-budgetary issues attractive to union members.

The City-UFT negotiations heated up over the last few weeks and both sides “leaked” the direction of the negotiations – a finger in the air for both sides – which way are the political winds blowing – are negotiators on both sides moving in the right direction?

Retroactive increases:

Retroactive 4% raises for the 9-10, 10-11 years would cost the city $3.4 billion, if you add in a rate for the next two retroactive years and rates going forward, how would the city fund the raises? The two principles are “pattern bargaining” and “ability to pay.” The pattern at the conclusion of the prior teacher agreement was 4%; however, as the nation moved into the recession the city’s “ability to pay” clearly enters the equation. Once a sum is agreed upon both sides have to determine a method of payment, it is commonplace to spread retroactive raises over future budget cycles.

Rates in the new contract:

All New York City public employee contracts are long-expired – how do you apply a pattern if there is no pattern within the city? Do you look to the pattern in the state among non-teacher contracts? Cuomo negotiated contracts had meager raises. Due to the 2% property tax cap many teacher unions have negotiated interim agreements with freezes to prevent layoffs. Suburban teacher pay scales are substantially higher than pay scales in the city.

Health Plan Savings:

Health plans for city employees cost over $5 billion a year and are increasing at 10% a year. In the past increasing co-pays transferred health plan costs to employees, requiring all prescriptions are mail order is a saving for the city (removes the pharmacist as the ‘middleman”). “Early” retirees, those who retire before eligibility for Medicare have been treated as active employees, Health plans are extremely complex and whether substantial saving can found within the system without simply transferring costs to members or limiting access to services is a difficult issue.

Increases Going Forward:

The rate, the increase over the future length of the contract is also based on the pattern and the ability to pay principles. There is no pattern within the city. The union has just released a report pointing out that the exodus of teachers from the city, including a new category, mid-career teachers, can be “corrected” by increasing salaries in the city.

Each year the New York State Comptroller issues a February Report which includes an in-depth review of the New York City finances. See pages 20-23 of the NYS Comptroller February 2014 Report on NYC finances re labor negotiations, health plans and pensions: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/osdc/rpt12-2014.pdf

Selling the Contract (non-budgetary issues):

Teachers are both professionals and work under the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement. Teachers frequently ask to be “treated as professionals,” the ability to make professional decisions, which also means being responsible for the outcomes. How do you “professionalize” teaching within the context of a collective bargaining agreement? The current system is rigidly proscriptive. The 2013-14 Instructional Expectation document drives instruction in every Network, in every school, in every classroom. ADVANCE, the teacher evaluation system is also incredibly complex; principals must enter details of every observation into a database, a couple hundred thousand observation reports in the system.

In too many schools teachers feel like well-paid assembly line workers.

The requirements of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and APPR result in a formulaic instruction. Once again, not all schools, some principals have shielded teachers from the distasteful elements, too many simply push the worst aspects into every classroom.

“Professionalization” does not mean “leave me alone and let me teach,” it means working within a team of teachers, making decisions that impact students, and, being responsible for the decisions.

For teachers near retirement I hear, “Who cares about the professional items, I want money, my pension can’t be changed.” I have one word: Detroit.

The irony is the money part of the contract may be the easy part.

The Hybrid School: Charter Look-a-Likes in the Unionized Public Sector: People, Not Ideology, Makes Great Schools

The charter school was on the top floor of a public school, I whiled away my time at the desk as security eventually called upstairs. As I trekked up the stairs I looked down the hallways of the public school, the teachers were shabbily dressed, loud angry noises from a few classrooms, too many kids in the hallways. As I walked out on the floor of the charter school a student, wearing the school uniform came up to me and introduced himself and asked if could be of assistance.

If I was a parent, which school would I want my child to attend?

We want orderly schools; the tone of a school to me drives the academics, as my superintendent was fond of repeating, “Order precedes learning.”

Networks were a failed attempt to create clusters of schools, affinity groups of schools working together, growing together, and creating a common culture. The department espoused the school leader as a CEO, in reality the system remained a top-down accountability-driven hierarchy. The network leadership was mediocre and school leaders fled to networks and Partnership Support Organizations (PSO) that were “helpful” and not intrusive. Unfortunately too many principals allowed their lives to be dominated by School Progress Reports and Quality Reviews to the exclusion of a laser-like focus on teaching and learning in collaborative settings.

Scattered around the city are highly effective schools, schools that parents fight to get into, public schools, not charter schools.

If you are against charter schools you are against quality education, you are against school reform. Gina Belfante in her New York Times article demurs,

When he was campaigning for mayor, Bill de Blasio had an enlightened formulation — that charter schools, though they educate only 6 percent of the city’s children, had usurped nearly all the conversation, and that this was an unhealthy proportion. And yet since he was elected he has been too lost in the morass to reframe and reorient the discussion.

The mayor has allowed charter school advocates, whose public-relations machine would seem to rival the operations of Paramount in the 1940s, to continue to leave too many people believing that if you are against charter schools you are against “change,” and thus by default a friend of laziness and mediocrity. To even question the motives or practices of charter schools is to be a supplicant in the cult of the teachers’ union, which is its own absurdity, just as it is a disgrace that the term “education reform” has come to refer almost exclusively to the charter movement, belying the innovation that can happen within regular public schools.

If the mayor’s messaging were more robust, determined and aggressive, he might draw attention to hybrid schools, which strive to offer poor children something like the experience of a private education within the context of the traditional public system, using union teachers.

The Eagle Academy Foundation is a consortium of five schools, grades 6-12, with an all Afro-American male student body. The schools are public schools operating under the union contract. 82% of the student body is accepted to college, well beyond the stats for Afro-American males. The students wear white shirts and ties; the school is orderly, a heavy emphasis on mentoring and counseling. The schools look and feel like charter schools – there only real comparison is fund raising. The Eagle Academy struggles to raise money to supplement department of education funding, the hedge fund entrepreneurs who so richly fund charter schools shun the Eagle Academy – their sin: they hire union teachers.

The Eagle Academy Foundation has a much harder time raising money. “A lot of the Wall Street, hedge fund guys are not pro-union guys,” David C. Banks, the Eagle Academy Foundation’s president and chief executive told me. “It’s not the world they come from. They see charters as places of innovation, and that’s the narrative the business community wants to support. I’ve had people say to me, straight up, ‘We’re not just funding a school, we’re funding a philosophy, and that philosophy is anti-union.’ ”

The International High Schools are a consortium of fourteen grades 9-12 high schools, they only enroll student who have been in the country four years or less. The graduation rate far exceeds both the city and state rates for English language learners. The schools are supported by the Internationals High School Network, a not-for-profit that must raise funds to provide professional development for their schools. The schools are all characterized by a high level of teacher involvement in all aspects of school organization – the schools are models of “practitioner lead” collaboration. The schools are department of education schools operating under the union contract. (Read article on page 19 by International Network leader Claire Sylvan)

Generations High School, located in South Shore High School has a 200-day student instructional year – teachers work under the teacher contract – the school worked out an arrangement with union – the teachers work the same number of days as all other teachers.

The anti-union bias is unfortunate – some of the innovative schools/programs engaging the most at-risk students are public schools working under the union contract.

In the 90’s District 22 in Brooklyn fully implemented School and District Leadership Teams and school-based budgeting. The district provided in-depth training for school teams, in classroom setting and tutorials. One school created a school within a school, another used state and federal funds to extend the school day, the district asked the chancellor to designate the district as a charter district with wider latitude over the expenditure of funds – request denied.

As the department moves to redesign itself it must realize the real innovation is bottom up, the antithesis of the current rigid Tweed driven accountability structure.

Hiring the innovators, the best and the brightest, the smartest, the most dedicated leaders, both teachers and supervisors with proven records of success and supporting there efforts will create effective schools.

A message to hedge funders: the absence of unions does not make for effective schools – teachers and school leaders make for great schools, dedicated, smart folks make differences.

The deepest education thinkers of the last century – John Dewey and Al Shanker, were union members.