The New York City High School Application Process: Is It Fair to Students? Can It Be Improved?

The High School Application season is upon us and Chalkbeat is hosting a drink/snack discussion on October 12th: How can the NYC high school application process be more fair? (enroll at the link here)

Let’s begin with a review: thirty years ago there were 110 comprehensive high schools and 25 vocational high schools, as a result of the Bloomberg Portfolio Management approach, “… 150 low-performing schools were closed, reconfigured, and given a fresh start; the city opened 650 new schools.” Thirty years ago the vast percentage of students attended their neighborhood zone high schools, today, there are only a handful of zoned high schools; schools and students are assigned/matched through the high school assignment algorithm.

Bloomberg/Klein envisioned a portfolio of charter, public schools and parental choice with hundreds upon hundreds of choices; the future of schools would be decided by the application process which is actually a matching process. Schools that fail to attract applicants or perform poorly will be closed and new schools created.

The key to the process is the matching process, a dense algorithm  (“game theory”) similar to the medical school candidate selection process, it was introduced in 2004, designed by three economists.

Among the many categories of schools: geographically zoned schools, schools that are screened and unscreened – screened schools require high scores on state tests, high grades in middle school or some combination, arts schools require a portfolio or an audition.  Screened schools impact unscreened schools by removing the higher achieving students from the pool. A few years ago I counted about 200 screened schools and programs.

Over the next two months 8th graders will make up to twelve choices on their high school applications.

Check out the 626 page (really!!) High School Directory here.

The Directory does a good job of explaining the incredibly dense process; however, the essential person is the school counselor, who, hopefully will guide the student and their family through the process. The opening section of the Directory does provide many suggestions on how to navigate the many, many choices and decisions.

It is extremely difficult to  make an informed selection with hundreds upon hundreds of choices and a dense mathematical formula making the ultimate selection.

Applications are due December 1, 2017.

In January schools receive the names of the applicants, with no academic info, the school “matches,” namely, selects students; the recommendation to the school is to match at least five kids for each seat. Schools “declare” the number of available seats earlier in the school year.. The school does not know where the student placed the school on the application;  remember the student selects/ranks up to twelve choices. If a student attended a school fair and signed in the school will know the names of those students.

The number of rankings per seat varies enormously, some schools barely receive one kid per seat, other receive enormous numbers. Some schools have excellent “reputations,” aka as “more kids like my kid,” while other have never developed a following. Schools spend dollars on how to “brand” their school.

In the Spring students will receive their assignment/match – about 96% of students are assigned in the first round; the unplaced students participate in a second round, with many fewer choices.

Although the Department calls the process an application process it is actually, “…a matching process designed, in the words of the three economists who developed it, to ‘relieve the congestion of the previous offer/acceptance/wait-list process’ that conferred ‘some students multiple offers’ and ‘multiple students … no offers’ (Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Parag A. Pathak, and Alvin E. Roth, “The New York City High School Match,” American Economic Review, July 2005).”

And, although the system is complex it does work surprisingly well, ” …72 percent of eighth-graders this year and 75 percent last year, reported the DOE, got a spot at one of their top three choices (NYC DOE, Press Release, March 8, 2017). The algorithm may be confusing but it works fairly well and far better than the process it replaced.” An April, 2017 Columbia Teacher College essay does an excellent job of correcting common misconceptions and makes a number of recommendations to improve the process.

If you want to take a deep dive into how the “deferred acceptance algorithm” actually works check out a discussion with the designers here .

The process does have flaws, and the Independent Budget Office (IBO), part of the New York City government issued a report (October, 2016) “A Look at NYC’s Public High School Choice Process”  The 11-page report summarizes the process and points to specific issues,

* Students who on average are lower achieving are routinely matched with lower performing high schools. But the prime reason for this matching is student’s own preferences – in fact, the rates for acceptance to students top choice high school programs are highest among lower achieving students applying to these programs.

* Lower achieving students first choice schools tend to be lower performing, have more disadvantaged students, and have less selective programs than the first choice of higher achieving students.

* Regardless of their own academic performance students in higher achieving middle schools tend to list higher performing high schools. In contrast , even higher achieving students in  lower performing middle schools often list lower performing high schools as their top choices.

A primary goal of the portfolio management system was to encourage students in lower performing middle schools to move on to higher achieving high schools. The marketplace would determine the success or lack thereof of schools, and, students could break the chain of being tied to neighborhoods consisting of lower achieving schools. The IBO finds low achieving students in low achieving middle schools tend to select lower achieving high schools. Is that a flaw in the system?

The report concludes,

The matching process reflects  student preferences, to a large extent these preferences as stated in students’ lists of high school program ranking, are seen to be correlated with ‘background’ characteristics, their individual achievement, and the achievement level of their peers. This in turn suggests that inasmuch as there are large scale correlations between some background characteristics of students and the characteristics of the high schools they end up being assigned to, changing the algorithmic part of the application process will not succeed in eliminating such correlations.

In other words, the system works, if there is a flaw it may be at the middle school level with the advisement process, or, a reality, kids feel “safer” with peers.

I have two questions: should all schools have distinct geographic zones as well as a process to apply for students outside the zone?  I think neighborhood schools, from K to 12, both strengthens schools and neighborhoods  by tying the schools to organizations within their communities. Second, why do we have so many screened, aka selective schools?  Under the former comprehensive high school system schools served students with a wide range of academic abilities and interests. Midwood High School today contains a selective bio-medical program was well as being a zoned school, within the Midwood structure, as does Madison, a neighboring school; both schools are well integrated by race.

I look forward to the Chalkbeat evening, we always (well, almost always) learn from each other.


ESSA, Next Generation Standards, Curriculum: The Beginning of a Trip Up a Steep Learning Staircase

Once a month on a Monday morning the seventeen members of the Board of Regents trickle into the ornate Regents Room in Albany. A long table stretches across the center of the room, the members sit along both sides along with the commissioner; a video screen in one corner and automated cameras (the meetings are live streamed). The coffee is strong!!  Three rows of folding chairs surround the table: journalists, State Ed staff, lobbyists, advocates for some issue on the agenda, an occasional legislator, and me. Most of us know each other, at least by sight. On the walls portraits of bearded white men, the many chancellors who have led the Board of Regents since the origin of the Board in the late eighteenth century.

Slavery ended in New York State in 1827, I wonder if any of the first chancellors owned slaves?  (For another day)

The meeting begins with a sort of invocation. The chancellor, or other board member, muses about the role of the board, the million plus students, parents, what the member thinks and/or what should guide their decisions.

The first order of business on Monday was the approval of the ESSA Plan, all hundreds of pages.

View a 10-slide presentation here.

View presentations of various sections of the Plan here.

ESSA fatigue had set in, there was very little discussion. The year long effort is off to Washington with a decision by the feds expected in early 2018.

The meeting moved upstairs to the P-12 Committee and  a discussion of the Next Generation Standards, aka Common Core 2.0. The SED has been juggling the standards for two years. Hundreds of teachers, school leaders, college folk and SED staff have added and subtracted from what was the Common Core. I sat through an offsite meeting of teachers a few months ago. The very engaged teachers were totally committed, parsed words and phrases, and, I wondered: do classroom teachers, the ordinary Joe’s and Jane’s ever look at the standards?

Check out Highlights of the Revisions here.

In the discussion Regent Cashin, who was a teacher, a staff developer, a principal and a superintendent, asked a simple question:  Is there a curriculum that emerges from the standards?  The commissioner responded: curriculum is the responsibility of the school and/or school district and suggested that the BOCES centers, the regional State Education Department Support Centers could work with their surrounding school districts. In New York City the current leadership has been promising a curriculum for years.

Regents Cashin related that twenty schools in her district had used the Core Knowledge Curriculum with outstanding results. (The Joel Klein driven Board of Education did not renew the funding).

While the Common Core and it’s spin offs have dominated discussion for the last few years the importance of curriculum has emerged.

Charles Sahm in Knowledge Bank/US News wrote,  “A Compelling Case for Curriculum: Growing Evidence Suggests High Quality Curriculum is a Key Component of Student Success .”

One of the odd features of education policy is that while a plethora of research exists on the effects of systemic reforms (e.g., class size, charter schools, teacher and school accountability mechanisms), on student achievement there is very little data on whether curriculum – what kids are actually being taught – makes a difference.

 As Rebecca Kockler, Louisiana’s assistant superintendent of academic content, explained at the Hopkins/Hunter forum, over the past four years the state has reviewed more than 100 curricular programs according to their alignment with state content standards. The state leaves it up to districts to select curricula but helps them make informed decisions and facilitates professional development for the most highly rated curricula. Louisiana keeps track of what curricula districts are using and about 80 percent now employ materials from the state’s top rating tier. The state’s emphasis on curriculum appears to be generating results. Louisiana fourth graders achieved the highest growth among all states on the 2015 NAEP and the second highest in math.

Louisiana doesn’t write curriculum, they assess the alignment of curriculum to state standards on a public site.

Chester Finn, in Education Next, (“Curriculum Becomes a Reform Strategy”) hits the nail on the head,

Curriculum … is generally left to districts, which frequently leave it to individual schools and often to individual teachers or departments within them. When that classroom door closes, Ms. Smith and Ms. Gonzalez can teach pretty much whatever they want, using pretty much whatever materials they want, subject only to budgetary constraints, what’s in the “bookroom,” how fast are their internet connections, and what’s apt to be on their pupils’ end-of-year state test, which of course doesn’t exist for many subjects and high school courses.

New York State points with pride to the curriculum modules on the open source Engage NY web site. Unfortunately the modules are not aligned with current shifting standards; in New York, the state has spent the last two years amending the standards and will spend another set of years rolling out the standards. In other words, “ever-changing” standards, not aligned to modules and not aligned to state tests.

There is an increasing body of research that points to curriculum as the key to increasing student achievement.

Finn concludes,

  • the cumulative impact of a well-formulated curriculum over several years can be very large indeed.
  • “Changes in curriculum are relatively cost-neutral.” In other words, this is a low-budget reform. A powerful curriculum isn’t more expensive than a weak one.

Traditionally the New York City Labor Day parade takes place the Saturday after Labor Day. I met up with the UFT group on 47th Street waiting for our turn to march up Fifth Avenue. It was a spectacular day. For a couple hours you catch up with friends and make new friends. I chatted with teacher after teacher, did they know that New York State had standards? If so, did the standards impact their lesson planning and instruction? The answer was universal: they taught whatever program the school used, maybe Lucy Calkins, Teachers College Reading and Writing Project or Lucy West  or Singapore Math  or even ED Hirsch Core Knowledge or whatever the principal and/or the superintendent is partial to, in other words, the flavor of the day.

In high schools the curriculum is frequently driven by the contents of the book room.

I know this is radical, but, if we’re going to test kids wouldn’t it be a good idea to test them on the content that is actually taught?

What have we learned:

* We really good at crafting a plan, a high level of engagement across the state, every stakeholder having input, using some of the finest minds in the country to guide the process; however, will the implementation of the plan change outcomes for low performing kids and schools? Can ESSA overcome the impact of poverty, funding inequities, corrosive politics at the national and local levels?

* In spite of the federal law requiring testing state educational leaders are beginning to have doubts over the efficacy and impact of the state tests. The opt-out parents are clearly impacting thought across the state.

* Hopefully, now is the time to actually begin to explore alternatives to the traditional standardized tests

A number of states (for example New Hampshire) are piloting performance-based assessments. The Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (usually referred to as SCALE) partners with school districts to create and implement performance assessments. New Hampshire is in the fourth year is an expanding pilot, partnering with 2Revolutions, an education design lab, embedding performance assessments and working with teachers to change the practice and culture of teaching and learning.

For some the submission of the ESSA plan is viewed as a major achievement, for me, a first step up a long and steep staircase, without handrails.

DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival), Trump, Schumer and Pelosi: A One Night Stand or a Full Fledged Affair?

In the eighties the major issue in New York State was the fight to pass a death penalty law. Republicans, and Democrats from outside of New York City versus progressive and minority Democrats. Each year the advocates came closer, finally passed the bill, Governor Cuomo pere, vetoed the bill and both houses of the legislature overrode the veto.  A stunning victory for the death penalty advocates.

A few years later an older political tactician bemoaned the override, “It was dumb, we removed our best campaign issue, we bit ourselves in the ass.”

You win elections by identifying your voters, in the example supra, death penalty supporters across party lines.

A substantial chunk of voters believed that a death penalty law would reduce violent crime.

For years in New York City voters believed that “stop and frisk” was an effective crime-stopping police tactic. Under de Blasio the number of “stop and frisk” stops has been drastically reduced and serious crime continues to decrease.

Appealing to emotion is a traditional campaign tactic: emotion tops data.

Immigration is akin to the death penalty and stop and frisk, it is an emotional issue.

Democrats and a handful of Republican spent years working on “comprehensive immigration reform,” and while the attempts came close the attempts were always derailed by Republican leadership – immigration was an excellent campaign issue.

“Illegal immigrants” take “American” jobs, commit violent crimes, rape and murder, might be terrorists, the anti-immigrant sentiment was fed and inflamed.

Why pass immigration reform when you can use the issue to win elections?

On May 25, 2006 the Senate passed with amendments S. 2611, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, by a vote of 62-36. The bill was introduced in the Senate by Senator Specter (R-PA) on April 7, 2006. The House passed an immigration reform bill, H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 on December 16, 2005 by a vote of 239–182 (see Legislative Bulletin 109-10). The next likely action is a House-Senate Conference.

The House-Senate Conference failed to agree upon a bill.

 President Bush’s effort to overhaul the nation’s immigration policy, a cornerstone of his domestic agenda, collapsed in the Senate today, with little hope that it can be revived before Mr. Bush leaves office in January 2009.The bill called for the biggest changes to immigration law in more than 20 years, offering legal status to millions of illegal immigrants while trying to secure the nation’s borders

Mr. Bush placed telephone calls to lawmakers throughout the morning, but members of his party abandoned him in droves, with only 12 of the 49 Senate Republicans sticking by him on the key procedural vote that determined the bill’s fate

President Obama picked up the failed Bush efforts and once again pushed for comprehensive immigration reform.

On June 27, 2013, the Senate took a historic and bipartisan step toward an immigration system that works for all. By an overwhelming margin of 68 to 32 votes, the Senate passed, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. That bill took a comprehensive approach to modernizing the U.S. immigration system, providing a tough but fair pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants living in the country, updating the legal visa system for the 21st century, and making the largest and most expensive investments in border security to date. But the House of Representatives refused it—or any other form of immigration reform—and S. 744 died a slow, painful death in the 113th Congress

See a comparison of the 2006, 2007 and the 2013 bills here:

In January, 2012 President Obama took executive action, similar to action taken by Reagan and Bush and promulgated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA. Republicans attacked Obama claiming the executive action exceeded the powers of the presidency and the action was unconstitutional; however, they never challenged the action in the courts.

President Trump, while praising the Dreamers, surprised the Republicans, rather then simply revoke the DACA executive order he postponed the action for six months and asked Congress to take undefined actions. Trump punted.

Trump also, shocked Republican leadership by negotiating a deal with Democratic leadership to extend the debt ceiling deadline and pass a clean hurricane relief bill; the Freedom Caucus, fka, the Tea Party, the far right ideologues in the House wanted to hold the debt limit hostage to other legislation, perhaps funding for the Mexico wall or cuts to entitlement programs. The Republican leadership had absolutely no knowledge of the impending deal with the Democrats.

Keep in mind the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate control the flow of legislation, nothing comes to the floor for a vote without the approval of the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate and, in the House, there is an “unwritten rule,” no legislation comes to the floor that requires Democrat votes to pass.

The possible outcomes:

* the Republicans allow a “clean” DACA bill to come to the floor – highly unlikely

* the Republicans allow a “clean” DACA bill to come to the floor – and vote it down pushing the decision back to the White House.- dangerous, might push the president closer to the Democrats.

* the Republicans push the DACA expiration date to the 2018 or 2020 election cycle – keeping the issue alive as a campaign issue for their base – most likely

* A bipartisan effort to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill – with Trump onboard, -possible

Will the DACA issue be more helpful to the Democrats or the Republicans in the 2018 and 2020 election cycles?

With tax reform, infrastructure and more hurricane funding on the agenda  DACA will probably be pushed down the road, unless, and a big unless, the Trump, Schumer, Pelosi romance is more than a one-night stand.

The First Day: Stressful or Welcoming? The Crucial Importance of School Leadership – Setting the Tone for the School Year

Do you wake in a cold sweats? Are you nervous, grouchy,? Are your hands clammy? Yes, you got it – that beginning of school teacher anxiety. – sort of a teacher PTSD – pre-traumatic school opening stress disorder.

You want to squeeze out those last few moments of summer. Your principal is already sending e-missives, this meeting, that meeting, your class list, your amended class list, your stomach twists. Will the kids like you? Will you like your kids? You start making lists, they go on and on.

The summer is the time to decompress, to reflect on the past year, what worked? what didn’t?  Summer is the time for lounging on a beach, hiking on a far away path, to recharge the batteries and read those books you promised yourself you would read.

Your principal is your boss, theoretically, the instructional leader, the role model, and hopefully sets a tone for the school, for the kids and for the staff.

I’ve known outstanding school leaders and superintendents, some mediocre and too many wanting in leadership skills.

It was the first day of school and the first day of a teacher strike. The principal was new to the school, most of us had not met him. We were picking up our picket signs, beginning to walk back and forth and hand out flyers as passerbys gave us a thumbs up, or, mumbled, “disgusting.”

The school door opened and a lunchroom worker emerged pushing a cart with a large coffee urn. Steaming coffee, paper cups, she turned to the union rep, “Complements of the principal.”   A simple and highly meaningful gesture.


Thomas Jefferson High School was being phased out and four new, small replacement schools were beginning. The auditorium was full, the remaining Jefferson staff and the new staff for the opening small schools, it was awkward.

The superintendent walked out onto the stage.

The auditorium suddenly became quiet, really quiet.

She pointed to a woman sitting on aisle and asked her to stand.

She asked, “Are you wearing a Boy’s and Girl’s Football jacket?” Boy’s and Girl’s was the sports opponent of Jefferson.

The woman nodded.

The superintendent, “We don’t wear Boys and Girls Football jackets in Thomas Jefferson High School.”

There was a silence, one of those piercing silences, someone began to applaud, the entire audience broke into applause.

The superintendent: “Thomas Jefferson is not disappearing, we are moving toward four small schools on the Thomas Jefferson campus, The same colors, the same traditions, and we still kick Boy’s and Grit’s behinds.”

A standing ovation.


Who wants to drag to another school to hear the superintendent rattle on about some nonsense; you’d rather be setting up your room, choosing textbooks, the really important work.

The superintendent appeared and began to speak, He talked about change and risk-taking: how if we wanted kids to be more successful we had to explore changing our practices, we had to take risks.

He explained he had a hobby, he wrote songs and played a guitar.

“I wrote a song, it’s about kids and teaching, I  don’t know if it’s any good, I’m nervous, I’m going to play, you guys be the judge.”

He picked up a guitar, introduced two students who played in the school band to back him up, and sang the song.  He modeled what he hoped teachers would do – take a risk.

Unfortunately transformative leaders are too few. Every school of education has a leadership program. Teachers read about leadership, participate in discussions, serve an internship, almost always in their own school, and earn a certificate.  Do they possess the leadership skills? In fact, can leadership skills be taught? No matter how many golf lessons I take I’ll always be a lousy golfer.

Malcolm Gladwell,  in “Complexity and the 10,000 hour rule,” wrote,

 No one succeeds at a high level without innate talent, I wrote: “achievement is talent plus preparation.” But the ten-thousand-hour research reminds us that “the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.”

Others aver that the 10,000  hours research is flawed,

The best explanation of the domain dependency is probably found in Frans Johansson‘s book “The Click Moment.”

In it, Johansson argues that deliberate practice is only a predictor of success in fields that have super stable structures. For example, in tennis, chess, and classical music, the rules never change, so you can study up to become the best. 

  • In games, practice made for a 26% difference
  • In music, it was a 21% difference
  • In sports, an 18% difference
  • In education, a 4% difference
  • In professions, just a 1% difference

In education, are the skills required to be successful innate or learned?

The New York City Leadership Program, reviled by teachers, was the prior administration’s concept, pluck candidates from outside of education, from the classroom, an intense training, albeit after school hours, not full time, and serve an internship. Teachers complained about young principals;; oft times younger than the staff, who, in the eyes of staffs, were ineffective, lacking leadership skills.

Rather than look to schools of education to examine leadership training I would look to the military. The consequences of ineffective leadership in schools is low achieving schools, in the military the consequences of ineffective leadership is putting lives at risk.

A British training manual entitled “Officer Qualities” explains,

Most officers lead a complex technical life with many highly specialized duties to perform. The duties are responsibilities as an individual and as a highly trained responsible member of an exacting profession. In addition an officer must lead his men. An officer does not exist for his individual personal value, but for his ability to show the way and make his men want to follow. This is indeed the core of the officer’s existence and without it, no hope exists of grappling with the tasks of command….

Clearly people are not born with the same characteristics, and some from their earliest years have felt the power to show others the way, and to influence their minds.  We call them born leaders and they are just that, born with strong, independent assertive minds ….But this is not to say that the characteristics  of effective leadership cannot be taught and acquired ….

In all of the words spoken and written about leadership one fundamental point continually emerges, namely, that for most part the skills and qualities of leadership are not normally acquired instantly. The training of a leader, … takes many years.

The entire manual (seven pages) should be required for every supervision training/preparation program..

The Leadership Academy in New York City has been abandoned by the current leadership and  currently requires at least seven years as a teacher as a perquisite for a leadership position.

During my union reps days I always told principals and superintendents that their meetings should mirror the kind of instruction they expected in a teacher’s classroom.  Too many were incapable of engaging facilities in meaningful dialogues, they led through the promulgation of edicts and emails.

The title of principal is just that, a title, the title does not come with a scepter and orb, the title must be earned every day through the respect of the staff, and the kids.

We have created a compliance model, data points and check lists “measure” principals and schools. Data points are important; however, the data point does not define effective school leadership.

A state auditor was checking out a school: why didn’t the school have an after school program? The principal explained, many of his kids pick up younger siblings at the elementary school a block away, they wouldn’t stay after school. He had created a “lunch and learn” program, using the after school dollars to pay teachers to give up lunch and tutor groups of three kids – he had collected the data – the classroom room teachers thought it was very effective. The auditor: “lunch and learn” was not on the list – the school was debited..

Lesson: No good deed shall go unpunished.

I was invited to attend a school leadership team meeting. Something was being debated, the teachers favored it, the principal didn’t think it would work. The principal said, “I don’t think the idea is workable, you guys do, come up with a way to assess the effectiveness and let’s do it – show me I’m wrong.”

Until we recruit, train and support the “right kind” of school leader teachers will continue to move from school to school. continue to leave teaching: one of the most impactful problems is teacher retention (not “bad” teachers), and, a key to retention is school leaders who are viewed by superintendents, teachers and students as true leaders.

When you walk through the doors Tuesday morning will you be greeted by the aroma of fresh coffee, bagels, and appropriate accoutrements?   And, principals, remember, in the Army, the officers eat after the troops.

What is News? How Do We Decide What News to Accept and What to Reject? Should News Be “Created?”  Why are George Orwell and Hannah Arndt Required Reading.

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Thomas Jefferson

A calamitous hurricane has inundated Houston, Paul Klugman writes “Fascism, American Style,” Nick Kristoff pens, “There Once Was a Nation With an Unstable Leader,” comparing Trump to the Roman Emperor Caligula, who was killed by the Praetorian guard. North Korea flirts with nuclear annihilation, the Supreme Court has veered to the right and we fear years of court decisions turning back the clock; and, principals reported to work in New York City today.

A week ago, in spite of  swirling eddies of impending doom the New York City Chancellor (what the leader of the school system in New York City is called – formerly the Superintendent of Schools) made her annual state of the schools speech, a speech laying out initiatives for the upcoming year. The head of the City University of New York (CUNY)  also laid out his plans for the college year. The sponsor, the online, City and State news daily news accumulator also moderated a number of panels.

Farina, explained four new initiatives, the CUNY chancellor a striking change that could dramatically increase community college completion rates, all unreported by the attending media.

During the panels the moderator asked Betty Rosa, the leader of the Board of Regents, her views of Daniel Loeb, the billionaire hedge funder and Chair of the Eva Moskowitz Success Academy board: Loeb compared the leader of the Democrats in the State Senate, an Afro-American woman to the Klu Klux Klan: Rosa sharply criticized the Loeb comment and called upon Eva to remove him from the Success Board. When the moderator asked about the SUNY proposal for “instant” certification of prospective teachers Rosa and Elia sharply criticized the plan.

City and State released a summary of the event: “ELIA, FARIÑA AND MILLIKEN ADDRESS EQUITY AND ESSA AT ON EDUCATION,” here

Watch a U-Tube of the Farina and Milliken presentations here

Listen to a podcast of the Rosa/Elia fireside chat here

In spite of a packed room, and the leaders of the city and state schools attending and making major speeches, the meeting was ignored by the print media, and, Chalkbeat, the online education site, focused on the Rosa/Elia comments, “State ed officials rip into ‘insulting’ SUNY charter proposal and ‘outrageous’ Success Academy chair.”

I was chatting with a news site editor a few years ago, “I remind my reporters, there are two kinds of stories, ‘if it leads it bleeds’  and ‘cute kids and little puppies’.” I was aghast, the editor laughed, “You get the stories you want, we need screen views, “Clicks,” you click on the most outrageous or the cutest stories and ignore just plain boring news stories.

Investigative reporters look for “scandalous” stories, stories that will attract page views, investigations border on advocacy, the line between news, editorial and op ed are blurred. Are Twitter and Facebook news sites?  How many of us receive our news from Daily Kos or Breitbart? Are presidential tweets news? Should news sites report the tweets or comment on the accuracy of the tweet?

Governor Cuomo rarely, very rarely, holds a press conference, he releases news statements, he makes brief announcements, he controls the press, and, the press seems content with the arrangement. Mayor de Blasio has an antagonistic relationship with the media, who reports on the antagonism, not the news. President Trump is at war with the press, he portrays the press as the enemy.

Where do you get your news? newspapers, online newspapers, web sites, online news accumulators, Facebook, etc.,?   How do you know what to believe and what to reject?

Every morning I sift through my inbox …. what to delete and what to read? and, what to comment on …. what to retweet, what to share ….

Perhaps we should reread classics that are particularly relevant today, George Orwell’s “1984,” shot to the top of the Amazon list shortly after inauguration (Read NY Times  “Why 1984 is a Must Read“) and  Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism” (1951) Read why Arndt is essential reading here.

I respect and admire journalists in this combative climate, and I caution us all to sift carefully, Big Brother is watching us.

The Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR): Why is Bad Policy So Difficult to Abandon?

It’s embarrassing when leaders of school systems, or cities, or states adopt egregious policies based on false premises. The former governor of Kansas was convinced that if you drastically cut taxes the state economy with grow and create jobs.

Gov. Sam Brownback’s leadership of Kansas came to be synonymous with a single, unyielding philosophy: Cut taxes, cut the size of government, and the state will thrive.

But this week, Mr. Brownback’s deeply conservative state turned on him and his austere approach. Fed up with gaping budget shortfalls, inadequate education funding and insufficient revenue, the Republican-controlled Legislature capped months of turmoil by overriding the governor’s veto of a bill that would undo some of his tax cuts and raise $1.2 billion over two years.

At the end of July President Trump nominated Brownback as “Religious Ambassador at large,” removing him from Kansas politics.

A dozen years ago Dan Weisberg, at that time the head of Human Resources at the Department of Education under the Bloomberg/Klein administration negotiated a section of the teacher union contract: excess teachers would no longer be placed in vacancies in schools, they would be placed in a pool from which teachers could selected by principals to fill vacant positions, and, those not selected would continue to receive full benefits and serve as the equivalent of substitute teachers.. Joel Klein, the leader of the school system immediately began to trash the ATRs, they were “bad,” teachers, were under investigation, etc., and tried to get the state legislature to change the “last in, first out” seniority rules, rules that had been in place for decades.

The New York Post and other conservative sites supported Klein and the canard that ATRs, if they weren’t selected by principals must be bad teachers became “sticky.” The number of ATRs grew and grew.

As Bloomberg/Klein closed schools, they closed about 150 schools, the ATR pool grew to about 1500 teachers.

According to Chalkbeat, the education news website the ATR pool costs about 150 million dollars a year. The Weisberg “innovation” has cost the city, using the Chalkbeat numbers 1.5 to 2 billion dollars.

The current de Blasio/Farina administration announced a plan to sharply reduce the pool. Buyouts were offered to ATRs, and, the controversial part, ATRs will be assigned to vacancies in schools that occur after October 15th, and will be evaluated and rated as all other teachers. If they receive effective or highly effective ratings they will be permanently assigned to the school. ATRs will be observed the same way as all other teachers at the school, a combination of formal and informal, four to six times a year, and if performance is poor, observed by an outside assessor. As all other teachers their rating will fall under the matrix system, a combination of supervisory observations and measurements of student learning (MOSL). If a teacher receives two ineffective ratings under the new law (sec 3012 d) the Department can prefer charges and the burden of proof is on the teacher.

The lengthy process of the past is gone, the new system that combines observations and student learning is supported by the unions and the school districts.

The current ATR pool, about 800 should be reduced by half in the first year and virtually eliminated by the second year.

The New York Post continues to hammer away. (See story here ). Yes, the pool has teachers accused of “misconduct,” the question: why weren’t the accusations pursued? The answer: the Department lawyers say, not enough evidence, in the past, a speedy investigation, a letter of reprimand or charges, today: the easy way, assigned to the ATR pool permanently. A “conviction” without a trial, a stain that effectively bars a teacher from the classroom.  ATR pool teachers become modern day Hester Prynne, wearing the ATR stain as a Scarlet Letter.

And by the way, do principals do a good job of selecting new teachers?  About 40% leave within five years and in high need schools the percentage is much higher. I have sat on numerous hiring committees, sadly principals, and teachers who sit on these committees are untrained. The questions are inane, (“Why do you want to become a teacher?”  “What are your views on restorative justice practices?”) I urged hiring teams to require the candidate bring a lesson plan and the interview focus on the implementation of the plan. New teachers should be matched with an experienced teacher, school should build teams by grade and subject; and, the elephant in the room, are there long lists of highly effective teachers wafting to be hired?  Experienced teachers in the ATR pool can be a valuable school resource.

Randy Asher, the former principal of Brooklyn Tech, an enormously complicated very large high school was tapped to phase out the ATR system: an excellent choice.

What is the “misconduct” that resulted in a teacher being moved to the pool: the most frequent misconduct is insubordination, aka, an argument with the principal.  The “easy way out,” dump the teacher into the ATR pool instead of the principal and the superintendent resolving the incident.

The transition from ATR to full time classroom teacher is not automatic: teachers who have been in the pool for a number of years will need intensive professional development to prepare them to take the reins of classroom.

“Easy way outs” are always the wrong way out, avoiding responsibility is not a policy. The Bloomberg/Klein/Weisberg approach was bad from day one and based on seriously flawed premises: firing “bad” teachers instead of building the capacity of all staff, from superintendents to principals to teachers.

Superintendents leading/facilitating collaborative school climates with rich curricula as a bedrock leads to more effective learning environments.

Ridding the school system of bad policies based on faulty premises is difficult, the bad policies stick around, no one wants to admit that the policy was seriously flawed. Instead of panning the Farina administration, the administration should be lauded for hiring an experienced educator to phase out the pool is long overdue.

Is Education Reform Dying or Thriving in New York City?

A week ago Eliza Shapiro posted a lengthy, well-researched article in
Politico, “,How New York Stopped Being the Nation’s Education Reform Capital.”  My question: who are the reformers and who defines reform?

Shapiro tells us,

[Reformers] sought to make New York City — the nation’s largest school district — into the central urban laboratory for education reform. They hoped to overhaul how schools evaluate teachers, and to weaken the grip of the powerful teachers’ union by loosening tenure laws. If they could accomplish those foundational reforms — in a deep blue state, no less — then perhaps New York could serve as a beacon for similar efforts across the country.

In the last three years, education reformers have made little progress in transforming the city’s public schools. Efforts to change teacher evaluations and tenure here have sputtered and stalled. Dreams of political domination have receded as policy disappointments have multiplied.

The Bloomberg/Klein and policy think tank reforms have waned; however, perhaps less controversial and more impactful reforms are in progress.

“The rollback of education reform in New York has been the most dramatic in the country,” said Michael Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Interviews with three dozen current and former New York state and city education officials, charter school leaders, teachers’ union brass and education researchers revealed how inconsistent policies, poor implementation and shifting national politics compromised reform efforts here.

While the Duncan/Bloomberg/Klein reform efforts have fallen by the wayside reform has continued, a slower more consensus -driven reform.

Larry Cuban and David Tyack in “Tinkering Towards Utopia,” a must-read for anyone involved in education policy tracks education reform efforts over time and concludes that if reform is to become “sticky,” to actually change teaching and learning, the reforms must include teachers and parents.  The road to reform is littered with policies that have been rejected in the classrooms across the nation. The vast literature on personal and organizational change tells us, “participation reduces resistance” and “change is perceived as punishment.” The reforms of the last decade, imposed from above, were doomed, regardless of their value.

The first problem: was the system broken? The reformers worked under the assumption that the system was dysfunctional and all that came before them must be cast aside, or, to be more cynical, trashed the system to defend the sweeping changes they proposed.

I’m not going to defend all aspects of the New York City school system, dozens of high schools were dropout mills, too many teachers were provisionally certified because they couldn’t pass the required pre-service tests, the elected school boards in the poorest districts were rife with cronyism; however, the system was far from broken. A fascinating massive study of college graduates , released in January, 2017, is informative,

The most comprehensive study of college graduates yet conducted, based on millions of anonymous tax filings and financial-aid records. Published Wednesday, the study tracked students from nearly every college in the country (including those who failed to graduate), measuring their earnings years after they left campus.

At City College, in Manhattan, 76 percent of students who enrolled in the late 1990s and came from families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution have ended up in the top three-fifths of the distribution. These students entered college poor. They left on their way to the middle class and often the upper middle class.

Not only CCNY,

Three CUNY colleges are among the top 10 in the country in enrolling low-income students and graduating them into solid careers. Six more CUNY baccalaureate colleges are in the top 10 percent of the 918 U.S. colleges included in the study.

The CUNY students are almost all graduates of New York City public high schools. As a member of the board of the CCNY Alumni Association I am on the CCNY campus frequently, the student body is extremely diverse, and, impressive.

The so-called reformers, for the most part, did not come from within the system and were not traditional educators. They were lawyers, economists, Teach for America grads, who honestly believed they held the holy grail.

Sadly, they didn’t, and, the system continued swing from reform to reform.

In the late sixties David Rogers, a sociologist, wrote, “110 Livingston Street,”

This is a rigorous sociological examination of “”bureaucratic pathology within the school system.”” Rogers, who chooses New York City as a “”strategic case”” of a national sickness in public education, conducted this study for the Center for Urban Education. Here he presents a full history: unofficial blocking of desegregation, inefficiency, fragmentation of functions, failure.

The next reform, decentralization, created a fragmented school system, the middle class districts thrived, dedicated school board members, innovative programs, deep community involvement while the poorest districts were saw rapacious local leaders who fought for power and jobs, and, the local electeds who benefited from the system allowed the poorest kids in the poorest districts to suffer.

In my view the reforms of the Bloomberg years, with exceptions, were ill-conceived and harmful. For example, the creation of the Absent Teacher Reserve, at a cost of 150 million a year, was just senseless. Reformers were fixated on ridding the system of “bad teachers,” without any definition of “bad,” and succeeded in going to war with all teachers and many parents.

I an not going to recount and assess the reform policies, I am going to argue that reform is not dead, reform is now a process that has not garnered headlines but has moved the school system in a far better direction.

The Universal Pre kindergarten and the new “3K for All” are dramatic reforms that over the years will have an immense impact on improving outcomes.

Under the radar, the fifty or so transfer high schools, schools for “overage/under credited” students, about 2500 students citywide, serve students who would have been dropouts, the transfer schools graduate about half their students, while a 50% graduation rate is below the ESSA requirements the state, acknowledging the value of these schools has a separate metric for assessing the schools.

Under Bloomberg almost 3% of teachers received unsatisfactory ratings based solely on supervisory observations and about 40% of probationary teachers had their probation extended. Did this policy improve the quality of teaching? We have no idea. Under the current administration, working with Albany, teachers are now assessed by a complex combination of supervisory observations and measures of student learning, the system, referred to as the matrix, is supported by the union, in spite of some member discomfit.

Even further under the radar about 10% of all schools have chosen to participate in a UFT-Department of Education collaboration, using the acronym PROSE, (See detailed description here)

PROSE stands for Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence, and the opportunities for redesign at the heart of this program are predicated on the UFT’s core belief that the solutions for schools are to be found within school communities, in the expertise of those who practice our profession.

Schools range from staggered teacher/student schedules to teacher peer assessment, all collaboratively agreed to by the school leadership and the school staff. For me, taking ownership of your practice is the most essential reform.

Bloomberg administration, with the support of the union reinvigorated Career and Technical high schools, formerly known as vocational high schools. A Manhattan Institute report, “New CTE: A New York City Laboratory in America,”

The March, 2016, points to substantial reforms, beginning with Bloomberg and continuing under the de Blasio mayoralty,

  • The number of New York City high schools dedicated exclusively to CTE has tripled since 2004 to almost 50; some 75 other schools maintain CTE programs; 40 percent of high school students take at least one CTE course, and nearly 10 percent attend a dedicated CTE school.

 City Journal, a Manhattan Institute publication, in June, 2017 continues to track the CTE movement in New York City,

Encouragingly, policymakers have begun to offer programs to train students for such good jobs—and the early results are promising. In 2008, a task force commissioned by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg recommended overhauling and expanding the city’s career and technical training. Among the suggestions that the city adopted was a push to instill in high school technical programs “a strong academic foundation in literacy and numeracy” to prepare for today’s job market. The city also reformed vocational schooling to include apprenticeships, intern programs, and other work-related learning, seeking to ensure that students who don’t go on to college have some kind of certification or path to further training. Based on the task-force recommendations, the city has opened 25 new career and technical schools since 2010 and added vocational training to many others. New York now runs 50 schools entirely dedicated to career education and another 75 career academies within larger general-education schools, serving some 26,000 students in New York City.

Reform is far from dead in New York City, the “new” reform has continued meritorious initiatives and curtailed the foolish and harmful initiatives. The striking difference is that the union, parents and electeds are not only on board they are an integral party of the reform process.

I know there are cynics, all progress is manipulated, the school system is “bad,” the only answers are returning to the “good old days,” or, trashing everything and enlarging “choice;” the parachuting experts from the ivory towers of think tanks and universities who have “all the answers.”  A friend of mine begins each professional development session with “the answers are in the room.”

New York City is bubbling over with thoughtful, effective schools and programs, most of which bubbled up from staffs, the International High Schools Network, fifteen schools that serve English Language Learners who are new arrivals, Manhattan Comprehensive Day and Night High School, with highly flexible hours and total wraparound services, and on and on, the issue, how do we scale up success?  The International High School Network grew from one school to fifteen in the city and another fifteen or more across the nation.

With a mayor, a chancellor, a union president and a Board of Regents pretty much on the same page I am hopeful that progress will continue. Splashy reforms runoff into sewers, reforms that grow from classroom seeds embed and flower. City As School was one of the first alternative high schools;  I congratulated the founding principal; I thought the school  was a brilliant idea, he replied, “Speak to me two or three principals down the road, if you feel the same way I did my job.” Half a century later the school is still thriving. Good people, good ideas, hard work will create a better and better school system.