Mayor de Blasio, “We need the school system to look entirely different in the coming years,” Is the Mayor contemplating changes? And, if so, what changes?

If you read the print media, the Post the Daily News, the Wall Street Journal you’d believe the mayoral election was going to be close – as the dust settled the Republican challenger to de Blasio received a scant 28% of the vote: Blasio cruised to an overwhelming victory. Check out the map of the city indicating geographic voting patterns, not surprisingly the white working class voters; Trump voters in the presidential, were also Republican voters in the mayoral.

An older Afro-American woman, smiling, “we elected our second black mayor.”

For twenty years the heavily Democratic city elected Republican mayors (Giuliani: 1993-2001, Bloomberg: 2001-2013), and, among Bloomberg’s first actions was to move to mayoral control of the public school system.  Large cities: Boston, New York, Chicago became mayoral control and scholars generally praised the change from school boards with divided leaderships to a mayor.

The results of their examination indicate that, although mayoral control of schools may not be appropriate for every district, it can successfully emphasize accountability across the education system, providing more leverage for each school district to strengthen its educational infrastructure and improve student performance, “The Education Mayor,” Kenneth Wong and others, 2007.

The UFT, the teacher union in New York City, supported the change, negotiating with a single mayor who was fully responsible for the school system seemed far better then a school board appointed by borough presidents and thirty-two elected school boards.  In contracts negotiated in 2005 and 2007 teachers received a very substantial 42% salary increase and the union was on board, sort of on board, for a number of the initiatives pushed by the mayor/chancellor.

The union-Bloomberg relationship waned over time and by his third term turned toxic and the public began to side with the union. Sol Stern, in the NY Daily News wrote,

…  the public remains dissatisfied with Gotham’s schools. According to a poll of city voters commissioned by the Manhattan Institute, New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor: Almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28% who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

In 2013 the newly elected Mayor de Blasio appointed a familiar face, a Department of Education lifer who was the superintendent in his home district. The new chancellor returned to a superintendent system and slowly began to dismantle the Bloomberg-Klein policies. Chancellor Farina was welcomed after three chancellors, who were not educators and required waivers from the state commissioner.

At a news conference the day after the recent election de Blasio declared,

“We need the school system to look entirely different in the coming years,” Mr. de Blasio said, citing proposals to expand free education to reach all 3-year-olds and to have all students reading at grade level by third grade. “That is the mission I will be most focused on, that will be the issue I put my greatest passion and energy into.”

  In his first term the mayor has created two monumental programs, Universal Pre-K  (UPK) and 3K-for-All.  70,000 students are currently enrolled in UPK and 3K for All has begun in two of the poorest districts and rolling out adding two districts each year.

Other de Blasio/Farina policies are more controversial and have been both lauded and criticized, the Renewal Schools initiative, attempts to restore the schools instead of closing the schools, shrinking and phasing out the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool, made up of teachers bumped primarily from closing schools and the lack of curricula, all  have been both lauded and widely criticized.

Eric Nadelstern, a deputy chancellor under the Bloomberg/Klein years is sharply critical of the school renewal program,

Failed schools never reinvent themselves. Period. There’s no data that says they do. The idea essentially is part of the age-old central office practice of rewarding failure and penalizing success. Oh, you’re not doing well? We’ll give you a lot of money. You are doing well, we’re not going to give you that. They’d do much better to reverse that and close those schools. You can’t ask the people who caused the failure in the first place to come up with a better idea.

 Let’s get back to that post-election comment:

“We need the school system to look entirely different in the coming years,”

 The mayor went on to announce a goal, “…to have all students reading at grade level by third grade,” which sounds a little like the description of the mythical city of Lake Woebegone were all children are above average.

What does the mayor mean by “look entirely different?”  Is he hinting that the current chancellor is retiring? And, if she does, who will replace her?

 In early October I speculated on the possible successors to the current chancellor: check out here.

 Let’s remember, the day after the election Mayor de Blasio became a lame duck mayor, he is term limited and I’m sure is looking beyond New York City. Is he trying to make the city the model for education in other big cities across the nation?

In his first four years he added Universal Pre-K and began 3K for All, unique programs and pumped hundreds of millions into the renewal schools, the ninety or so lowest achieving schools, with, to be polite, only modest gains.

Will he continue his approach, adding targeted programs and basically avoiding any structural changes to the management system as well as avoiding any substantial changes to what happens at the school level: continue a good relationship with the unions, keep parents “happy,” and also keeping the critics at bay by throwing dollars at problems. For example, a student is killed, stabbed in a school in the Bronx, and, apparently the student was retaliating for bullying. The City Council holds a hearing and the chancellor throws seven million dollars at a number of anti-bullying initiatives.

Or, is the mayor going to “make the school system look entirely different?”

If he is there is a long, long line of reformers with ideas.

  • Does New York City need a curriculum?  For decades the former Board of Education maintained a curriculum section that produced curriculum across a board range of areas, the Bloomberg crowd folded up the section and the current leadership has not made a uniform curriculum  a priority.
  • Is the current “superintendent-lite” system,  a superintendent with a very small staff the best way to manage schools?
  • A number of states are piloting alternatives to standardized testing, the Board of Regents is discussing different approaches: Does New York City have any interest in exploring alternatives?
  • Should a limited number of schools and/or school districts have more latitude in designing and implementing educational initiatives, perhaps a return to the autonomy zone concept?

I’m sure you could add to the list. I expect the mayor will roll out his second term plans as we move toward his inaugural.

De Blasio moved from one of fifty-one City Council members to citywide office,Public Advocate and went on to an upset victory in the September 2013 four-way Democratic primary. He has been a strategic candidate, a candidate who understood his voter base. There doesn’t appear to be a political path forward in New York City; then again, who ever predicted that a Councilman from Brownstone Brooklyn, outside the normal democratic party structure would emerge as mayor, and, manage the city so well. The city is thriving, violent crime at an historic low, yes, rents rising and a lack of affordable housing; on the other hand more New Yorker taxpayers able to pay the absurd rents and buy apartments commonly in the million dollar range thereby funding a wide range of projects.  The mayor grapples with how do you maintain your high income tax payers and create more affordable housing?

I believe the mayor sees himself as the leader of the progressive wing of the national democratic party; able to unite the Bernie and Hillary wings and appeal to Afro-American voters.

Mayor de Blasio as the leader of the model city: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden,”


Are New York Schools “Inherently Unequal?” Will Diversity (aka, School Integration) Improve Outcomes for All Students? or, Are “Test and Punish,” Funding Inequities, the Absence of a Rich Curriculum and Teacher and School Leader Voice the Culprits?

Sometimes a comment made at a lengthy meeting resonates; I was at an all-day conference, “Improving Outcomes for Young Men of Color,” and, on a panel of high school seniors and college freshman one of the students asked, “Why do I have to go to school with white kids to get a good education?” The question could be the topic for an entire conference, or, a book.

Our nation has grappled with the issue of race since its beginnings, and, one hundred and fifty years ago took steps to bring about racial equality.

Section 1 of the 14th Amendment (July 9, 1868), states,

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The “original intent” of the amendment, to use the terminology of the conservatives on the court, was to guarantee “equal protection” under the law. To assure compliance President Grant and the Congress used federal troops as well as setting up the Freedman’s Bureau to ease the transition from slavery to freedom.

However, the backroom political deal that allowed the Republicans to maintain the presidency in 1877 included the end of Reconstruction and the end of the occupation of the Confederate states by the Union army; with the end of Reconstruction the erosion of rights seemingly guaranteed by the 14th Amendment began.

The Supreme Court in decision after decision eroded the clear meaning of the 14th Amendment, slowly but inexorably supporting Jim Crow laws that created a racially separate peonage system in the former Confederate states. (See Lawrence Goldstone, Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, (2011))

In Plessy v Ferguson (1896) the SCOTUS decision upholding racially segregated railway cars, averred,

The object was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but, in the nature of things, it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality or the commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either. Laws permitting or even requiring their separation in places where they are liable to be brought into contact do not necessarily imply the inferiority of one race to the other and have been generally if not universally recognized as within the competency of state legislatures in the exercise of their police powers.

 The argument also assumes that social prejudices may be overcome by legislation, and that equal rights cannot be secured to the negro except by an enforced commingling of the two races. We cannot accept this proposition. If the two races are to meet on terms of social equality it must be the result of natural affinities, a mutual appreciation of each other’s merits … If one race is inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them on the same plane.

Justice Harlen, in the dissenting opinion, “The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth and in power. So I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time if it remains true to its great heritage and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty.”

  My wife vividly remembered having to change cars in Washington DC, to a segregated car, on a trip to visit relatives in South Carolina.

It wasn’t until Brown v Board of Education (1954), fifty-eight years later, that the court overruled Plessy.

The unanimous Warren court wrote,

[D]oes segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does. …

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The effect is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system.” …

We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

 The Court appeared to resolve the issue of equal facilities and coined the term “inherently unequal.”

 A decade later the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965), which President Johnson described as “bringing equal access to quality education” directed federal dollars to high poverty schools.

The reality was quite different.

In the South poorer white students either attended integrated public schools and wealthier whites fled to private academies; in a few districts the courts forced school districts to create school integration plans, New York City introduced an integration plan for high school students, and, with considerable pushback, a few school busing plans in the elementary schools.

As the decades passed housing patterns changed, large cities became increasingly segregated. The view that school integration would be the key to improving outcomes for minority children waned. The school reform movement moved on to charter schools and vouchers, to attacking teacher unions, to testing as a tool to expose achievement gaps, to dense accountability metrics, and the goal of school integration was left behind.

In 2014 a UCLA report turned the spotlight back onto school segregation, and highlighted New York City and State

New York State’s Extreme School Segregation: Inequality, Inaction and a Damaged Future

Date Published: March 26, 2014

New York has the most segregated schools in the country: in 2009, black and Latino students in the state had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools (less than 10% white enrollment), the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools. Heavily impacting these state rankings is New York City, home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation.

The UCLA report resonated across the city and state. The Board of Regents created a Work Group on School Diversity and Equity, advocates and members of the New York City Council called for a Department of Education Diversity Plan, and, the progressive city became embroiled in battles, the same battles that were unresolved over the previous hundred years.

Two adjacent schools in Manhattan, one all white and one all minority seemed a perfect place to create an integration plan. Months of bitter conflict, the all-white school [The all-white school spent $500,000 from a 501 c 3 not-for-profit account) fighting to prevent any changes in school district lines, politicians taking sides, in a few other districts “controlled choice” plans were approved.  At most, a few hundred minority children would move to predominantly white schools; a few hundred in a school system of 1.1 million students.

From all-white private academies in the South to “screened” and “examination” schools in New York City, names changed, segregation by race, class and income was unchanged.

The NYU Metro Center just released a report  taking a deeper dive into “most” and “least” diverse schools by comparing state test scores and graduation rates.

The report examined whether school diversity had led to better outcomes for the City’s most vulnerable students.

Analysis of 2015-16 achievement data suggests that there is a modest benefit for vulnerable students attending the City’s most diverse schools. Third and eighth grade students attending the most diverse schools modestly outperformed students attending the City’s least diverse schools on state standardized tests in both English and math.

In addition, students attending the most diverse high schools were slightly more likely to graduate on-time than their peers attending the least diverse schools …. By contrast, White, Asian, and more economically advantaged students were much more likely to graduate in four years in the City’s least diverse schools than their peers.

“White and Asian students seem to benefit incongruently from segregated schooling, which means that school segregation may give some students an unfair and seemingly unhealthy advantage – thus, sanctioning uneven opportunities for success,”

“The academic achievement and high school graduation evidence that we analyzed suggests that increasing diversity can increase equity in New York City schools and significantly decrease gaps in some student outcomes such as high school graduation,” Kirkland concluded. “Thus, plans to stimulate diversity in New York City schools can pay off for the City’s most vulnerable students.”

The report recommends Breaking Up “Opportunity Monopolies,” a direct assault on examination and screened schools.

“Segregated schooling seems to allow for steroid schooling – types of performance enhancing experiences that students locked into the depravities of social injustice (e.g., racial discrimination, poverty, housing instability, inadequate school faculties, non-rigorous curricula, low expectations, unstable teacher workforces, health risks, and so on) do not enjoy.

… Policies must be aimed at disrupting systems of privilege in New York City. These systems promote “opportunity monopolies, excessive privileges for certain groups that make possible the manipulation of opportunities.

The report calls for changing the admission requirements of the so-called specialized high schools, moving away from the current test-based system to one admitting the top 10% in each middle school.[Note: the admissions requirements for the specialized high schools are embedded in the law]

An example is LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, a school with a long history of producing students who thrived in the arts. The law requires,

Candidates for admission to the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and the Arts and other schools which may be established with similar programs in the arts, shall be required to pass competitive examinations in music and/or the arts in addition to presenting evidence of satisfactory achievement.

A new principal has changed the emphasis, from demonstrating excellence in music and/or the arts to high test scores. See an article in the NY Post  focusing on complaints from staff over the actions of the principal.

Another report recommendation; to enhance inducements to promote diversity,

There is some evidence that inducements such as smaller class size, child and health care services, and additional material resources to school systems, families and students in diverse setting can foster can bolster student outcomes.

The report goes on to criticize the false choices between desirable and other schools, desirable schools controlled by elites, schools that promote hostile environments for other students, as evidenced by the extremely low number of minority applicants to Stuyvesant High School.

The report concludes by responding to the student at the conference cited supra,

While the authors suggest a number of concepts to increase diversity they also recommend, Recruiting and Retaining Highly Effective Teachers of Color and Developing Culturally Competent Educators,

A hundred and fifty years later segregation has become redefined as “more” or “less” diverse schools, the polices have morphed from laws prohibiting the mixing of the races to policies, that whether intended or not, result in racially separate schools.

Some readers will wince and argue that the failure to adopt ED Hirsch and his Cultural Literacy curriculum is the source of our current aimlessness. Others reject the concept that the race of the teacher matters and see “culturally relevant curriculum” as a return to Ebonics strategy of the 90’s.

Whether or not the race or the cultural competency of the teacher positively impact outcomes will be vigorously debated.

We have far more questions than answers, and, the push for diversity in a city in which only a minute fraction of school population can be impacted ignores the central questions. Creating diverse schools alone without impacting what goes on in classrooms is a fool’s errand. Too much of our system is fragmented, driven by the fear of standardized tests; too much is dictated by faraway offices, too many teachers are adrift.

In a classroom connecting with students is the key to success, a simple question: Is using rap to connect with students and stimulate discussion an acceptable strategy? Can Vince Staples or Kendrick Lamar lead to discussion of Shakespeare?

And, if you don’t know them, are you “culturally competent?”

Just asking …

The “Dirty Little Secret,” Millions of Tax Deductible Dollars Supporting Charter Schools …

Every month at the Board of Regents Meeting the Budget Committee meets, and, I really try and understand the complexities of the process. There are three sources of funding for public schools, local funding through property taxes, funding provided by state tax dollars and federal funding, if eligible.

Local funding is based on property taxes and property taxes are based on the dollar value of the property within the district; districts with multi-million dollar homes, districts with commercial property versus districts with no commercial property, no new home construction and low priced homes; the result is wide disparities in school funding.

The state part of the funding supplements the local funding; in other words, to the extent possible to make up for the huge disparity from district to district.

Some Examples of Per Student Funding

Statewide           $21,487

NYC                 $20,846

Buffalo             $18,648

Rochester          $19,955

Carthage            $17,807

Scarsdale           $28,977

East Hampton    $34,657

from presentation provided by the NYSED Budget Office

School districts determine how the dollars are divided up among schools in their districts; New York City uses a formula called “Fair Student Funding.”

The New York City funding by school is transparent, a few clicks allows you to access any public school in the city.

If you’re interested in a deeper dive this power point explains the bigger NYC school funding picture.

Charter schools receive funding from the school district under provisions of state law; see explanation of the formula here.

The “dirty little secret” is that many charter schools, and a few public schools, have another source of funding through the creation of 501 (c) 3 not-for-profits, philanthropy, tax deductible donations.

 What is a 501(c)(3)?

Section 501(c)(3) is the portion of the US Internal Revenue Code that allows for federal tax exemption of nonprofit organizations, specifically those that are considered public charities, private foundations or private operating foundations. It is regulated and administered by the US Department of Treasury through the Internal Revenue Service.

Other unique provisions tend to vary by state. Like federal law, most states allow for deductibility for state income tax purposes. Also, many states allow 501(c)(3) organizations to be exempt from sales tax on purchases, as well as exemption from property taxes.

501 (c) 3 organizations must file IRS form 990, the equivalent of a tax return, and, the forms are all available online.

You can access specific school info at the sites below:

I identified 120 charter schools with 501 (c) 3 accounts, there may be many more, and, the funds contain significant dollars


Success Academy Schools                             $59 million

Explore Charter Schools of Brooklyn          $15.9 million

Uncommon NYC Charter Schools                 $34.8 million

And list goes on and on, most of the schools have millions of dollars in their accounts. The form requires the listing of salaries paid, not other specific allocations. The 501 commonly pays for the salary of the principal and other school leaders; occasionally a director, a non-pedagogical title. The funds can be used for virtually anything, school trips, school supplies, building repairs or renovations, new furniture, computers, advertising, and on and on, the 990 form only requires the school to list expenditures in general terms.

The form does not require a listing of the contributors. The contributions are tax deductible.

The 990 form does require the listing of the expenditure for each year – dividing the annual expenditures by the school register and the sum added to the funds provided by the school district can be compared with neighborhood school funding; including the 501 dollars results in many charter schools having far greater dollars per student than the neighboring public schools. Not an even playing field.

Charter schools, as described below, are required to make “good faith efforts” to serve “comparable” enrollments of designated classes of students; however, the law does not define “good faith efforts.” Charters are issued for five years; the authorizer reviews school data in the charter renewal process; in spite of “good faith efforts.” charter schools frequently fail to reach comparable enrollments.

 the  charter   school   shall  demonstrate  good  faith  efforts  to attract and retain a comparable or  greater enrollment  of  students  with  disabilities,  English  language  learners,  and  students  who  are  eligible applicants for the free and  reduced price lunch program when compared to the enrollment figures  for  such  students  in  the  school  district in which the charter school is  located.

There is nothing in the law that limits charter school fund raising, or, makes any reference to external funding.

The intent of the law is to compare charter and public schools within the district, and, charter schools, sadly, frequently fail to enroll at-risk classes in comparable numbers, discharge students in large numbers and fail to backfill seats, and, commonly, have substantially greater per student funds due to 501 philanthropy. In other words, fail to comply with the letter and the spirit of the law.

The Board is considering changes Charter School Performance Frameworks; perhaps the Frameworks could clarify the intent of the statute.

A couple of years ago I was at an event at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. A panel of charter school leaders was discussing a range of issues; one of the leaders challenged the panel; he argued that unless charter schools forego philanthropy and backfill vacant seats they will never gain creditibility in the eyes of the general public. He was greeted with silence.

On the national scene we’ve moved beyond charter schools; the billionaires who have seized control of the conservative agenda (See excellent article in the NY Times here); are advocating for unregulated school choice; essentially a voucher system; public funds supporting a competition among schools; public, profit and not-for-profit charters, private, religious and home schoolers.

The days of the bake sale have morphed into well-paid directors of school 501 © 3’s  raising millions so that schools can “compete” with each other. I think Jefferson is rolling over in his grave.

“A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest.” –Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 1818.

Public schools in high poverty neighborhoods, already burdened with supporting homeless students, students with health issues, with food insecurity, now must compete with schools with far greater funding, either because of skewed funding formula or due to external dollars.

The next step will probably be the billionaire school choice crowd distributing copies of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal (A Modest Proposal for preventing the Children of Poor People from being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for making them Beneficial to the Publick)

Gates, Again: The Gates Foundation Commits $1.7 Billion to the Creation of “Networks of Schools,” Creating a “Bottom Up” Model, or, Swimming Against the Tide?

Our nation has a long history of philanthropy, the wealthy supporting “worthy causes;” the Bloomberg School of Public Health at John Hopkins, the Langone Medical Center at New York University, buildings at colleges named after a deep-pocketed contributor, and, recently, vast dollars to promote a specific cause. The Walton Family Foundation’s cause is charter schools, “The foundation has invested more than $407 million to grow high-quality charter schools since 1997.”

Daniel Loeb, a billionaire hedge fund manager chairs the Eva Moskowitz Success Academy board, and, according to Chalkbeat, “donated millions of dollars to the network.”

Bill Gates, at a speech at the Council of Great City Schools (10/19/17) announced a new major project, described below, revolves around the creation of school networks and the use of data.

“… we will expand investments in innovative research to accelerate progress for underserved students.

Overall, we expect to invest close to $1.7 billion in U.S. public education over the next five years.”

This is the third major investment in education by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. His first, the small high school initiative, Gates dollars, $600 million, helped in the creation of 1200 schools around the nation, with mixed results, as reported by Gates.

From our work creating small schools to increase high school graduation and college-readiness rates, we saw how small schools could be responsive to their students’ needs. While the results in places like New York City, Los Angeles, and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas were encouraging, we realized that districts were reluctant to scale small schools because of the financial and political costs of closing existing schools and starting new ones.

 In New York City the Gates dollars were funneled through New Visions for Public Schools to community-based organizations that supported the school theme. I worked at New Visions for a few years on a team that worked to support schools; meaning providing expertise in a range of areas. Highly dedicated people working in schools run by a number of different superintendents with differing goals and leadership styles.

The small schools movement predated the Gates initiative; the Chancellor’s High School District phased out large dysfunctional schools and created small theme-based schools. While the management model was structurally different, the small schools created by the Chancellor’s District were at least as effective as the Gates schools. One might ask whether the 600 million could have been put to better use.

Gates then moved on to the next big thing, the Measures of Effective Teaching project, a massive undertaking.

Our investments in the Measures of Effective Teaching provided important knowledge about how to observe teachers at their craft, rate their performance fairly, and give them actionable feedback. While these insights have been helpful to the field, we saw that differentiating teachers by performance, and in turn by pay scale, wasn’t enough to solve the problem alone.

 A three year-long study involving 3,000 teachers across the nation “provided important knowledge,” however, “wasn’t enough to solve the problem alone.”

The study placed 360 degree cameras in classrooms, video recording lessons, coding the teacher behavior, and attempting to isolate specific teaching behaviors. Unfortunately the study also used pupil performance on tests, value-added measurement (VAM), as the tool to assess teacher performance. Whether intended or not, the use of VAM by Gates added to the movement to assess teacher performance and pay teachers according to increases in test scores.

Two massive project intending to change the face of education that ultimately failed to achieve their goals.

The Foundation is embarking on a new massive project. “Networks of schools.”

In his speech Gates only spoke in general terms,

We anticipate that about 60 percent of this [the 1.7 billion] will eventually support the development of new curricula and networks of schools that work together to identify local problems and solutions . . . and use data to drive continuous improvement.

Many states, districts, and schools now have the data they need to track student progress and achievement, and some are using it to great effect.

If you’re scratching your head and wondering, what are these “networks of schools” and where are they? You’re not alone.

Gates continued,

We will focus our grantmaking on supporting schools in their work to improve student outcomes—particularly for low-income, Black, and Latino students—by partnering with middle and high schools and identifying new approaches that are effective and that could be replicated in other schools.

We will do this by investing in networks of schools to solve common problems schools face by using evidence-based interventions that best fit their needs, and data-driven continuous learning. We will also invest in ensuring that teachers and leaders have what they need to be successful—high-quality preparation, standards-aligned curriculum and tools, accompanied by professional learning opportunities. And we’ll keep our eyes on the horizon; advancing research and development in support of new innovations that will help our education system keep pace with our rapidly changing world.

The Foundation has published a “Request for Information,” a document requesting information from current or former self-designed networks,

We believe when teams of educators within schools and across schools work collaboratively with communities and have a strong partnership with families to solve common problems and continuously improve, change will be more enduring.

Take a look at the Request for Information document here.

The leader of K-12 Education and the new initiative at Gates is Bob Hughes, who led New Visions for Public Schools in New York City.

I first met Bob at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) trial. Bob was one of the attorneys leading the heroic effort for fair funding in New York City. I attended about 30 sessions of the 107 session trial reporting the activities of the day to the UFT legal team. A few years later Bob moved to New Visions, and with a $54 million grant managed the creation of small school communities, schools working closely with community partners.  In 2003 I began to work on a team that assisted in the design of new schools and the phase-out of Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn.

Bob and the New Visions staff are dedicated to improving schools, and, in spite of the obstacle of working within a school system that at times was obstructionist, created a network of schools.

In February, 2016 Bob moved from New Visions to the head of K-12 Education at Gates.

From the limited information on the Gates website it appears that the “next big thing” will be an attempt to marry the New Visions model with networks across the nation.

As an example of the model New Visions has created an Open Educational Resources (OER) project; curricula, designed by subject area specialists and classroom teachers. New Visions encourages,

A broad group of teachers participate in ongoing professional development which provides them with support for the use of these materials. [Explore the curricula on the site above – open and free to all]

New Visions has taken over the role of the school district.

New Visions has also created a host of data tools,

Empowering teacher and school administrators through flexible open source tools and resources, the New Visions CloudLab is a home for community driven tool development and support.

I am a supporter of the network approach, the current rigid, top-down, paramilitary structure (salute and comply) has never worked, kids did well not because of the management system, they did well because of the nature of the school population or the extraordinary ability of school or school district leadership.

Schools and school districts should be learning communities, not “absorbers” of the message of the moment.

The New Visions model, the Internationals Network, and a few others are currently embedded within New York City, and, there will be opportunities for other networks.

One interesting possibility, the creation of a PROSE network, a cluster of schools taking advantage of new section of the bargaining agreement that encourages schools to create innovative designs.

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.

Hopefully the Bill and Bob team can create interesting options to our current test prep driven school districts.

Why Have New York City Homicides (1990: 2262) Declined So Precipitously (2016: 335)? Can Small Schools Connecting with Students Be at the Core?

At the height of the crack epidemic (1990) there were 2262 homicides in New York City; in 2016 there were 335 homicides – incredible. (Check out NYC crime data here).

While homicide rates continue at high level in city after city the rates in New York City continue to decline, probably below 300 for 2017.

What are we doing right?

See top 30 city homicide rates here.

Not only are homicide rates high the rates are breaking records in a number of cities.

In spite of the spotlight homicide rates in Chicago continue to spike: The Atlantic takes a deep dive into the persistently high homicide rates.

Criminologists, sociologists, psychologists, electeds have all parsed the reams of data to attempt to provide an answer: why has the homicide rate in New York City continued to decline, to decline precipitously while in other cities the rates have been persistently high or increasing?

Broken Windows” Policing and “Stop and “Frisk”

The eight years of Giuliani and the twelve years of Bloomberg were years of what critics called “harsh” policing. Arresting turnstile jumpers and public intoxicators, “stop and frisk” widely used in communities of color targeting young men of color, policies that both administrations claim reduced homicide rates.

A 2000 National Bureau of Economic Research study reports,

Many attribute New York’s crime reduction to specific “get-tough” policies carried out by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s administration. The most prominent of his policy changes was the aggressive policing of lower-level crimes, a policy which has been dubbed the “broken windows” approach to law enforcement. In this view, small disorders lead to larger ones and perhaps even to crime.

 In Carrots, Sticks and Broken Windows (NBER Working Paper No. 9061), co-authors Hope Corman and Naci Mocan find that the “broken windows” approach does not deter as much crime as some advocates argue, but it does have an effect

 Skeptics believe that it was the economic boom of the 1990s – a “carrot” that encourages people to remain on the straight-and-narrow – that brought about the drop in crime rates in New York City and the nation.

 The contribution of such deterrence measures (the “stick”) offers more explanation for the decline in New York City crime than the improvement in the economy, the authors conclude.

 So, “broken windows” had an impact; although not as much as claimed by the proponents.

However, Mayor de Blasio ended “stop and frisk” and arrests for low level misdemeanors have ended, homicides continue to spiral downward, and, at a faster rate.

 The Impact of Legalized Abortion

 A far more controversial theory comes from the “freakonomics” guys called the Donohue-Leavitt Hypothesis  that proffers that the Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision, the legal accessibility of abortions, resulted in sharp decreases in a generation of potential victims and perpetrators.  Males from poor dysfunctional households who were not born could not be victims or perps therefore resulting in sharp decreases in serious crime rates. The hypothesis has been vigorously debated.


 Gentrification is defined as “… the renovation of a deteriorating urban neighborhood by means of the influx of more affluent residents.” The process in New York City has been accelerating; Bedford-Stuyvesant, Harlem, Williamsburg, Washington Heights and other neighborhoods have seen the steady flow of middle class families into the neighborhoods pushing the poorer residents into existing “ghetto” neighborhoods.  New York State Juvenile Justice Task Force data shows that juvenile perpetrators are increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer neighborhoods. The concentration of potential victims and perpetrators into smaller geographic areas make it easier to police neighborhoods.

Some would argue that while gentrification pushes the poor out of neighborhoods and increases racial and economic segregation; a positive byproduct could be the reduction of crime.

Small High Schools

 Disconnected youth is defined as youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not working and not in school. Higher crime/arrest rates, higher controlled substance involvement, high pregnancy rates, a long list of negative metrics, and, cities and states around the nation are struggling to create programs to engage youth.

A detailed report, “One in Seven: Disconnected  Youth in the 25 Largest Metropolitan Areas” parses the data, Boston and Minneapolis have the lowest percentages, Phoenix the highest; however, there is no correlation that I could discern between serious crime and disconnected youth by city. New York City is 17th out of the 25 Metro areas; however, much lower homicide rates.

I could not find crime rates among disconnected youth by city. We do know that victims and perpetrators are more likely not to be in school and not working.

New York City has done a commendable job of keeping school-age kids engaged in the school system.

I proffer that keeping 16 to 21 year olds engaged in school plays a role in reducing homicide rates

Beginning in the late eighties, increasing in the nineties and sharply accelerating under Bloomberg the Board and successor Department of Education closed large high schools and replaced them with small high schools. There are currently about 400 small high schools and programs by and large located in the former large high school buildings. The school registers are about 400 students. An MDRP study finds,

… small schools tended to have common traits, including a rigorous curriculum, often built around themes like conservation and law, and highly personalized relationships between students and teachers.

The schools have also formed partnerships with community groups and businesses to offer hands-on learning experiences.

The predecessor large high schools commonly had registers of over 2000 kids, and, sadly, many had high absentee rates, large class sizes and the absence of services.

I served as the teacher union representative on numerous Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams; too many schools has passed the tipping point; they had become dropout mills with large percentages of disengaged students characterized by long term absentees, cutting classes, high failure rates in classes and on Regents exams

After the 1975 fiscal crisis the school system was an afterthought, the Koch administration had little interest in schools, the decentralized school system, with exceptions, was dominated by venal politicians and patronage. Schools were starved for resources and the most disadvantaged schools suffered.

The Bloomberg administration, for his first two terms, plowed dollars into schools, (2003-2011) sharp increases in teacher salaries and a concentration on creating small schools.

While you can argue that increasing graduations rates were due to credit recovery and other management tools, the more “personalized relationships between students and teachers” cannot be disputed.  The small high schools “connected” with students.

When school leaders and teachers know the name of every kid, engage with the kids on a daily basis, kids feel part of a community.

Kids who were not surviving in small high schools, students who were “overage age and under-credited” have another chance – transfer high schools. There are fifty transfer high schools scattered around the city. A hearing in Brooklyn held by the New York State Department of Education asking for public comment around the ESSA plan and the mandated 67% graduation rate, endangering transfer high schools,  student after student, parent after parent testified how the transfer high school had saved their lives.

Only about half of the students in transfer high school graduate, a cohort, who did not succeed in small high schools, who do not succeed in a transfer school have another chance, the Pathways to Graduation program, targeting students from 17 – 21 years of age, Pathways prepares students for the high school equivalency examination, formerly the GED, now the TASC exam – once again, a program built on personalized relationships between students and teachers.

I proffer that students in the New York City school system are less likely to be disconnected. Students who struggle with academics, students from single parent or dysfunctional households, students living in gang-infested neighborhoods are “connected” with their school staffs.

The culture of these programs connects students to staffs, builds communities, acts as an alternative to the streets, and, in my opinion, plays a role in reducing homicide rates.

Smaller schools, smaller class size, schools with flexible programming, student advisory classes addressing social and emotional needs, students not left to be won over by the streets, meaning fewer disconnected youth, means fewer kids likely to be victims or perpetrators.

Smarter policing not harsher policing, more job opportunities, higher wages, all play roles;  the impact of schools have been ignored in parsing the reasons for declining homicide rates.

I allowed kids to pick their own seats in my high school classroom. On day one a student picked the seat right in front of my desk. He was small for his age, too much acne, and the other kids used unkind language, today we’d call bullying.

One day he apologized before the class began.

“I’m sorry – I didn’t do my homework, I was practicing with my band.”

Offhandedly, I replied, “Is the band any good?”

The student, hesitantly, replied, “Yes.”

Me: “Do you have a cassette?”

The kid beamed, “Sure”

I gave the cassette to my son who has a friend who books acts, he said they weren’t bad, they should book performances at open mike venues and try and build up a following. I passed the info along to the kid.

Years later I was walking down a street and someone shouted, “Mr. G”

It was the same student.

Me: “Did you’re band make it …?”

Kid: Smiling, “We weren’t good enough, I was the sound guy, and I became a sound technician, make good money, thanks for the advice.”

We do our job and impact lives; usually we never know the impact we have.








Should New York State End Regents Exams? Can Authentic Assessments Replace the Regents? Or, Will We Diminish the Value of a Diploma?

If you meet anyone who went to high school in New York State I’m sure they’ll remember Regents tests; they’ve been around since the 1870’s.  The Regents were intended for college-bound students; most students left high school and moved onto jobs that allowed them to live a middle class life; jobs, good jobs, were plentiful, commonly union jobs with fair pay and benefits.

In the high achieving school in which I taught only a quarter of students bothered to earn a Regents diploma, three-quarters of the kids earned a local diploma, the requirement, the 9th grade level Regents Competency Test, the RCT, and the accompanying diploma referred to as the RCT diploma. Today we would call the system multiple pathways.

By the mid-nineties the world of work had changed, a college degree was essential for a job. After a few years of discussion the Board of Regents moved to a single Regents diploma system, the RCT diploma was phased out. The plan, originally scheduled to take five years took a decade.

John King was appointed state commissioner,  the state won a  $700 million Race to the Top grant, and, adopted the Common Core State Standards.

Failure rates on the Common Core Algebra 1 Regents increased and the state decided to “scale’ the scores; currently students can receive a passing grade with fewer than half correct answers The state plan was to increase the number of correct answers to achieve a passing grade over time; it hasn’t been happening.

Unless student grades on the Algebra 1 exam increase graduation rates may be impacted, See “Rough Calculations: Will the Common Algebra 1 Regents Exam Threaten NYC’s Graduation Rates? (2015).

If you haven’t seen Regents exams recently look at the Global Studies here and the English here.

Click and try the Regents  ….  How’d you do?

The June, 2016 New York State rate graduation rate was 80%, the glass half full, the graduation rates keep edging up, the glass half empty, one in five kids fails to graduate in four years; six percent have dropped out and twelve percent are still registered in school. Although more kids are graduating more kids are not prepared for college and must take remedial courses in college.

The Board of Regents have been creating additional pathways to graduation,  4 + 1, CDOS, the “safety net” for students with disabilities, the re-scoring option, all part of multiples pathways to graduation options .

The members of the board and the commissioner are beginning to ask whether the emphasis on passing examinations is the best measurement of college and career readiness.

At the October Regents Meeting the members began to explore a move away from Regents exams. The commissioner set forth “potential goals,”

  • Prepare students for 21st century post secondary options, for example, Baccalaureate :programs in STEM, Humanities and Arts, Technical degree programs, Career training certificate programs, Adult education programs leading to certifications, Military service, Employment
  • Offer more flexibility in completing credit requirements, relevant pathway choice and student interest
  • Expand external certification assessment options
  • Allow students to demonstrate proficiency in multiple ways.

And the commissioner when on to list questions: called “Key Considerations”

  • How do we ensure that all students including students with disabilities and English language learners are able to access rigorous coursework?
  • Should students have the opportunity to demonstrate proficiency in a specific area of graduation through a district designed Capstone project?

 The commissioner could appoint a “blue ribbon” commission, experts, who could review the literature, ask for public input and submit recommendations, or, appoint a regents work group who would work with state education staff to draft a plan.

New York State is one of only seven states that requires exit exams, on the other hand critics defend regents exams; every school should meet the same standards, the same exams. The NY Post, the Manhattan Institute and others on the conservative side might accuse the commissioner and the chancellor of eroding the quality of a diploma.

On the other hand the opt-out parents would applaud, one in five students in the state opts-out of state tests and on Long Island more than half of families opt-out. Opting out of regents exams is not an option.

Daniel Koretz, a leading expert on testing has soured on the emphasis on test-based accountability.

High-stakes tests. Lots of them. And that has become a major problem. Daniel Koretz, one of the nation’s foremost experts on educational testing, argues in The Testing Charade that the whole idea of test-based accountability has failed—it has increasingly become an end in itself, harming students and corrupting the very ideals of teaching. 

Are alternative methods of measuring accountability, such as a portfolio of student work, a viable alternative?

The state of Vermont tried to move to a portfolio system which it abandoned; rater reliability was poor.

 A report analyzing Vermont’s pioneering assessment system has found severe problems with it and raised serious questions about alternative forms of assessment.

The Vermont system, which is being closely watched by educators around the country, is the first statewide assessment program to measure student achievement in part on the basis of portfolios.

 But the report by the RAND Corporation … found that the “rater reliability” in scoring the portfolios–the extent to which scorers agreed about the quality of a student’s work–was very low …

 … the report’s author, said the low levels of reliability indicate that the scores are essentially meaningless, since a different set of raters could come up with a completely different set of scores.

“If you’re not rating reliably, you’re not rating,” he said. “You can’t measure anything unless you measure it reliably.”

 Can the state move backwards, to a dual testing, dual diploma system aimed at improving graduation rates for students with disabilities and English language learners?

The state ESSA plan does not include this option.

The commissioner did endorse district-based Capstone projects.

Capstone projects are an excellent example of authentic assessment; at the college level a project might require an entire term to prepare.

The following comes from a partial description of the requirements of a college Capstone project

Capstone Expectations:

The capstone marks the culmination of the student’s studies. Accordingly, the topic selected should require application of a broad range of the skills and knowledge … The final paper must reflect thorough research, analysis, critical thinking and clear writing.

Capstone Content:

  • The topic students choose must be one they develop and work on independently.
  • The paper must showcase a deep understanding of an area….
  • The finished capstone must be a minimum of xx pages and include: an abstract; a background statement; a literature review; objectives; an analysis of existing research; an original analysis of the … challenges; opportunities, threats and possible solutions, critical and thoughtful conclusions; along with a bibliography, charts and any necessary illustrations.
  • The paper may contain primary research, ….Alternatively and more commonly, students may write their paper based on an analysis of secondary research. This approach may include a secondary data analysis or other specified metrics plan.
  • All secondary research must be attributed throughout the paper and in the bibliography.

This is a significant project: the commissioner suggests a “district-designed Capstone project,” how can we assure rater reliability in 770 school districts?

The commissioner and the regents are beginning a long journey with no clear outcome. Students pass courses and fail regents exams: should the failure prevent a student from graduating?  Should one three-hour exam determine graduation? On the other hand bar exams determine who becomes a lawyer; civil service exams determine who becomes a police officer or fire fighter.

I look forward to a deep discussion with experts and public participation and, I would recommend that the state hold hearings around the state.

Are we too wedded to Regents tests?

Are we jumping on a reform wave which may diminish a diploma?

Can/should we change the nature of instruction from the current modality to an authentic, project-based educational modality?

What do you think?

Abolish the ATR System, It Was Bad Policy in 2005 and Poor Policy Now. Teachers Belong in Classrooms.

On October 16th the Department of Education began to assign ATRs to vacancies in schools without the approval of the principal. The New York Times ran a harsh article   along with sharply critical editorials in the Post  and the Daily News . Unfortunately the entire process is misunderstood.

Teachers have been excessed from schools for decades, schools lost enrollment and the junior teacher was bumped and placed in another school in the district; it was an orderly procedure without favoritism or politics. In the late eighties the former Board of Education began closing schools, the Board and the Union negotiated a process; half the teachers in the replacement schools would be excess teachers from the closing school; although they did had to exhibit qualifications through an interview conducted by a Board-Union committee; once again, an orderly process.

In the early nineties a school proposed a new teacher placement plan to the Union. A committee consisting of a majority of teachers would interview and select all staff and be exempt form the seniority transfer plan. By 2005 60% of schools had opted for the School-Based Option (SBO) Staffing and Transfer Plan.

The 2005 Board-Union contract negotiations, the first for Bloomberg offered substantial raises and the Union agreed to the end the seniority plan and replace with the Open Market assignment system. All positions posted online, any teacher can transfer to any school, no years of experience required, only the approval of the accepting principal required: teacher “free agency”.

Additionally, teachers excessed from school would no longer be placed permanently in a school, the Department created an Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR), the ATRs could apply for Open Market vacancies; ATRs were assigned on a temporary rotational basis to schools. As the Bloomberg administration accelerated school closures the ATR pool grew to over a thousand teachers.

Under the Fair Student Funding formula used to allocate funds to schools actual teacher salary is credited against the school budget, a principal has to weigh potential teacher performance and teacher salary, a system clearly biased against higher paid senior teachers.

Bloomberg/Klein vigorously lobbied to change the law, to mirror the process in Chicago and Washington, if an excess teacher fails to find in a job in a specific period of time, regardless of their years of service, they are laid off.  In spite of the efforts the legislature had no interest in changing the law.

The ATR pool also contains teachers who were accused of either misconduct or incompetence, some were never found guilty of anything, and others were found guilty and paid a fine or a suspension; instead of being returned to a school the Department dumped them into the pool.

Of the teachers brought up on charges the vast percentage are accused of misconduct, not incompetence. The hearing officer, jointly selected by the Union and the Department, listens to witnesses; the burden of proof is on the Department, who must show by “preponderance of evidence” that the accused committed the acts with which they were charged. The hearing officer can dismiss the charges or, if he finds the teacher guilty, can reprimand, fine, suspend without pay or dismiss the teacher. Misconduct, for example, using inappropriate language, inappropriate discipline, an insubordinate act, etc., if the teacher has received satisfactory ratings for performance the penalty is rarely dismissal.

I was waiting to represent a teacher at a disciplinary hearing, the superintendent called me aside,

“How can you represent this teacher, he’ a terrible teacher?”

I blurted,

“You hired him, you gave him tenure and no one observed him in class.”

The superintendent reviewed the observation policy and required regular classroom observations with pre and post observation meetings.

The current teacher evaluation system combines supervisory observations and student progress as assessed by Measures of Student Learning (MOSL), described in the ADVANCE Guide for Educators, 2016-17 here .

Teachers currently are rated highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective; ATRs are rated under the former satisfactory or unsatisfactory system by a team of roving supervisors.

Under the current agreement ATRs will be assigned to vacancies, if they are rated effective or highly effective at the end of the school year under the ADVANCE system they will be permanently assigned to the school.

The ADVANCE system requires a combination of 4 or 6 formal and/or informal observations for each teacher, far different from the prior days of few observations.  Principals are not happy; thirty teachers equal between 120 and 180 teacher observations by the supervisory staff, and, the other half, the MOSL can be at variance with principal judgment.

Sadly, among the 800 or so ATRs there some who areunsatisfactory, the Department, instead of regularly observing teachers, offering the assistance, chose the easy path; dump them into the ATR pool and forget about them.

Hopefully under new leadership the ATR process will both place teachers into classrooms as well as monitor performance, work with teachers to improve their performance, and, if necessary pursue charges of incompetence under the law.

The disparity in teacher observations is a serious issue, a former Gates program officer writes,

Classroom observation is a deceptively difficult undertaking. Most teachers and administrators think they know good teaching when they see it. And they are confident in their ability to assess it accurately. I saw this firsthand as a district administrator. Occasionally, I would join teams of central office and site-based administrators on classroom visits. Invariably, as we approached the classroom, someone would mention how quickly he or she would be able to tell whether the teacher inside was “good”. Others would agree, some boasting that they could make the determination even faster.

Yet afterward, the administrators often disagreed, coming up with differing assessments of the instruction and citing varying pieces of evidence to make their case. Given the disparate opinions, it was hard to see how classroom observation could ever serve to improve teaching at scale.

The current multiple measures system used in New York City merges multiple formal and informal teachers observations with student performance metrics.

Teachers should be in classrooms; the ATR process was poor practice in 2005 and is still poor practice.