Guest Blog: An Experienced Educator Comments on the Receivership Metrics (“Will the Metrics Improve Struggling Schools?”)

Marc Korashan is a teacher, a teacher of teachers, a trade unionist and a frequent commenter on this blog.

It is hard to see, from a reading of the State’s power point, how an Independent Receiver is any different from the District Superintendent other than in the Receiver’s ability to require Collective Bargaining from the unions on changes to working conditions. The District Superintendent can request those negotiations and the unions can refuse, but they must comply with a request for negotiation from the Receiver. Other than the ability to compel negotiations the District Superintendent and the Receiver have the same tools available to them to try to improve a school. Of the fifteen metrics listed, six are reiterations of the failed approaches in NCLB:

iv student promotion, graduation and dropout rates
v student achievement and growth on state measures
vi progress in areas of under-performance
vii progress among subgroups
viii reduction in the achievement gaps
xiv using age appropriate assessment in grades pre-k to three

They are invitations to cheat, as they did in Houston, Atlanta and many places in New York City where high stakes are attached to highly flawed measures of student achievement.

Two of the metrics are beyond the authority or control of any administrator:

i. student attendance
x parent and family engagement

We can try to increase engagement and attendance but the real world will have its say and these are difficult issues in high poverty communities.

Four of the metrics are so vaguely worded as to be meaningless on their face:

ix development of college and career readiness including in elementary and middle schools
xi building a culture of academic success among students
xiii building a culture of academic success among teachers and staff
xv measures of student learning

This leaves two metrics where educators can have an immediate and positive impact in schools:

ii student discipline
iii student safety

Improving discipline and safety can be accomplished at the local level, without recourse to the district superintendent or an independent receiver, if administration and staff collaborate. The tools for doing both these things are well documented and known. It is merely a matter of having the will to apply them consistently and intelligently on a case-by-case basis. The Governor wants to be able to claim he did something on Education even though he has not really addressed the fundamental issues that impede progress for students. This is smoke and mirrors and political hocus-pocus, not sound educational policy.

Until politicians recognize that education happens in schools, as a direct result of the relationship that teachers can establish with students, and the provision of time and resources for teachers to plan, assess, and implement curricula that meet the needs of their individual students, then we will continue to waste time and money on meaningless power struggles like the ones that preceded this new iteration of old failed policies.

Schools will get better when, and only when, teachers are treated as the professionals they are and given real voice and the authority to serve their students.

Receivership: A Magic Bullet for “Struggling” Schools or Another Chimera, Castor Oil or Ambrosia?

Governor Cuomo was impatient over the direction and pace of educational reform in New York State, so, he essentially replaced the Board of Regents, with himself.

In December, Jim Malatras, his Chief of Operations sent an accusatory letter to Merryl Tisch, the Chancellor of the Board of Regents. The letter asks, “What is the right thing to do for our students?” In the guise of seeking “advice” the letter poses twelve questions, and, tells the Board that the Governor intends to make dramatic changes, in spite of his lack of constitutional authority,

…the Governor has little power over education. which is governed by the Board of Regents. The Governor’s power is through the budget process and he intends to introduce the reforms during that process.

True to his word the Governor attached a number of proposals to the budget: extending tenure for new teachers from three to four years, another principal-teacher evaluation plan (the third in four years) and receivership, a system to deal with low performing schools.

From April through June the Board of Regents grappled with the dense, new, teacher evaluation law: an Education Learning Summit, two lengthy and contentious public Regents meetings, thousands upon thousands of emails, faxes, letters and phone calls to the Governor and Regents members all protesting elements of the new law. Eventually the Regents approved a set of regulations that will require the 700 school districts in New York State to negotiate the implementation of the new law.

What received virtually no discussion was receivership – a system by which “struggling” schools are given two years to improve before they are removed from their school district and placed under the supervision of a receiver, who has sweeping powers including the ability to change sections of collective bargaining agreements. The Lawrence Massachusetts receivership district is frequently referenced as a successful example of the receivership model (See discussion here and the Mt Holyoke School District is in the process of entering receivership, with strong opposition from the community and teachers (Read discussion here).

The New York State model is directed at schools rather than school districts.

In a district with a “Persistently Struggling School,” the superintendent is given an initial one-year period to use the enhanced authority of a Receiver to make demonstrable improvement in student performance or the Commissioner will direct that the school board appoint an Independent Receiver and submit the appointment for approval by the Commissioner. Additionally, the school will be eligible for a portion of $75 million in state aid to support and implement its turnaround efforts over a two-year period.

In the first year the superintendent, with “enhanced authority” has to show that the school has made “demonstrable improvement in student performance” or the school board, with the approval of the Commissioner will appoint an Independent Receiver.

“Struggling Schools,” have been Priority Schools since the 2012-13 school year and will be given two years under a “Superintendent Receiver” (.i.e., the superintendent of schools of the school district vested with the powers a Receiver would have under §211-f and §100.19) to improve student performance. Should the school fail to make demonstrable improvement in two years then the district will be required to appoint an Independent Receiver and submit the appointment for approval by the Commissioner. Independent Receivers are appointed for up to three school years and serve under contract with the Commissioner.

On Wednesday and Thursday the state conducted a workshop for stakeholders: school boards, superintendents, teacher unions and advocacy organizations; leaders from State Ed, the new Commissioner, other top staffers, “experts” (maybe) from around the country, rolling out the receivership model.

Unfortunately “receivership” bumps heads with “renewal.” Earlier this year the NYC Department of Education identified 92 low performing schools, called them Renewal Schools, with a state-approved plan. The schools would have three years, a planning year (14-15) and two additional years to turnaround the school. To the extent possible the schools would become community schools with a wide range of social services and the Department would commit additional funds to the schools.

I’ve met a number of teachers from Renewal Schools, some have been planning for a few months with outside assistance while others, if they are planning, the staff isn’t involved. A new teacher opined, “My kids came into pre-k with the skills of a three year old, they were a year behind the day they walked into my classroom.” Teachers are inherent optimists; the successes are kid by kid; for too many kids the successes are “one step forward, two steps back.” It is inordinately difficult to extinguish the burdens of poverty. Receivership only deals with measuring progress.

Most of the Renewal Schools fall under the receivership designation – 62 of the schools are in New York City. Can the schools transition from Renewal to Receivership easily? Or, are the processes different?

At the core of the receivership model is “demonstrable improvement,” and the task seems almost insurmountable.

The law requires that the schools “demonstrate improvement”: in the following areas:

i. student attendance
ii student discipline
iii student safety
iv student promotion, graduation and dropout rates
v student achievement and growth on state measures
vi progress in areas of under performance
vii progress among subgroups
viii reduction in the achievement gaps
ix development of college and career readiness including in elementary and middle schools
x parent and family engagement
xi building a culture of academic success among students
xiii building a culture of academic success among teachers and staff
xiv using age appropriate assessment in grades pre-k to three
xv measures of student learning

Additionally the school has to develop metrics to measure “demonstrable improvement” in each of the above areas, a method of attributing a numeric score between 0 and 100. The law requires a “grade” of 67 to demonstrate improvement. Check out the Power Point for a more detailed explanation here .

If the school does not show demonstrable progress under the district receivership the school moves to the Independent Receiver, the school is carved out of the Department of Education and placed under the authority of the receiver, who has sweeping powers, including requiring that all teachers reapply for their positions.

Read a detailed explanation of the powers of the Independent Receiver here.

Bottom line: is there any evidence that the receivership process improves student outcomes?

The Lawrence receivership is a district model, the district has improved; however, the district is still in the lowest cohort of schools in Massachusetts.

There are a number of “turnaround specialists” who specialize in taking over low performing schools, for example, Mass Insight and the John Hopkins Talent Secondary Model, both claim success,

New York State is not attempting to improve a handful of schools, 63 schools in New York City and another hundred candidates around the state. 75 million in additional dollars divided over three years and many score of schools is not much … and … where are the hundreds of highly quality teachers and school leaders who are going to restaff the schools? If the receivership model improves schools will the improvements be sustainable?

Over 100 schools both in New York City and around the state will be entering the uncharted world of receivership, yet another magic bullet. The Chancellor’s District in New York City showed success while under the close guidance of talented district leadership and slipped back into mediocrity when the supports were withdrawn. Is the state providing a content rich curriculum with relevant materials, or, are schools totally dependent on the EngageNY modules? Are the modules, the Common Core State Exams and the Regents Exams aligned? Jumping from one “fix the schools” magic bullet to the next is folly and receivership is another chimera.

Reform has become castor oil, not ambrosia.

Credit Recovery is a Scandal: The New York State Education Test Integrity Unit Must Open an Investigation.

Has the statute of limitations expired? I admit it, I scrubbed Regents exam essays, or. to use the current term, “re-scored” the exams. We weren’t worried about graduation rates or teacher evaluation; we simply wanted to give kids a break. We took a look at every paper with grades from 61 to 64, sometimes you “found” one or two points, and, sometimes not. If the kid came to class, did his/her homework and tried, a little push over the top seemed warranted. If the kid cut class, was truant, no mercy, if he/r failed the course, take the course over, night school or summer school; such were the unwritten rules for decades.

In the post 2002 world of accountability graduation rates matter, they determine the future of a school and they determine the future of a teacher. Under federal rules states must identify low performing schools as identified by student scores on state grades 3-8 tests and graduation rates determined by credit accumulation and Regents passing rates. In New York State 700 out of the 4400 schools fall into the “struggling” categories – focus, priority and persistently struggling. 62 of these schools could fall into receivership, i. e., removed from the school district and handed over to a company to manage. (Read the program description here).

There are three ways to increase student achievement:

1. Improve teaching and learning by improving the skills of the school leaders and teachers.

From Washington to Albany to school districts and schools we all “talk the talk,” walking the walk is much more difficult; hiring talented school leaders and teachers, providing them with consistent supports, creating a climate of collaboration, rich curriculum and materials, all essential, and, often lacking.

2. Schools can attract more capable students:

Charter schools commonly have fewer Students with Disabilities, fewer English language learners and fewer poor kids, if you compare “apple to apples,” exclude the above categories publics perform at least as well as charter schools. The Bloomberg administration created over 200 screened schools and programs, picking kids increases the data for your schools and decreases the data for everyone else.

3. Cheat, well, increase the frequency of credit recovery and re-scoring.

In the years after No Child Left Behind the statewide test scores in New York State increased almost every year. We appeared to be doing something right, although we didn’t know what we were doing right. In 2008 Chancellor Merryl Tisch and newly appointed Commissioner David Steiner asked a Harvard professor to take a look – and – low and behold, the questions on the state tests, by design or by incompetence, were similar every year; test prep prepared the kids who did increasingly better.

New tests were instituted and the scores lagged, with consequences.

At the high school level a reasonable idea become a ploy. If a student fails a course why should he have to repeat the entire course – all 54-hours of required seat time – why shouldn’t the kids only have to exhibit competency in the areas s/he had failed – sounds reasonable.

A confidential report commissioned by a member of the Regents showed widespread misuse of credit recovery. Schools purchased computer software packages by course, a kid sits in front of a computer screen and answers questions, looks up answers in a text book, and, continues until s/her achieves competency. Instead of 54-hours, maybe a few hours, without any actual instruction and nobody fails, you keep plugging in the answers until you “gain competency.” After a public hearing and increasing state scrutiny the city issued regulations to curtail the practice.

In spite of the regulations, nothing changed. A series of articles in the NY Post is disheartening. The practice is once again widespread across the city with the knowledge and consent of the administration.

… nearly 40 schools awarded between 5 percent and 31 percent of their credits to kids through makeup work in 2011-12, while close to three dozen gave between 5 percent and 46 percent of their credits that way the previous school year.

Multiple sources claim [John] Dewey [High School[ is cutting corners by passing kids with the help of a shady “credit recovery” program that students sarcastically call “Easy Pass.”

Flushing HS put 150 flunking students in quickie online “credit recovery” courses and pressured teachers to reverse failing grades to boost a lower-than-50 percent graduation rate, a stunning internal ¬e-mail shows. “Our benchmark of a 60 percent graduation rate in June is nonnegotiable,” ¬Patricia Cuti, assistant principal for guidance, insisted in a June 1 missive to staff.

Investigators are knocking on the doors of Richmond Hill HS teachers to question them about a Regents re-scoring scandal — and who leaked an incriminating internal ¬e-mail to The Post, sources said.
Officers asked staffers of the Queens school if they gave The Post an e-mail from an assistant principal about assembling a team of teachers to re-score exams. “They’re going after the whistle blowers,” a source said.

The widespread use of inappropriate credit recovery practices across the school system is not a coincidence; superintendents and upper school district leadership encourage “whatever is necessary” to bloat graduation rates. Every grade is entered in the Department database, including the name of the teacher; credit recovery courses have distinct codes. Did the credit recovery course taker attend school regularly? Did s/he fail the course because s/he was truant? Did the course attendance plus the credit recovery seat time equal the required 54-hour of instruction? Was the credit recovery teacher licensed in the subject area of the credit recovery course? Did any actual instruction take place? The Department knows the practice is widespread and chooses to ignore.

The Department policy seems to be plausible deniability (…the ability for persons (typically senior officials in a formal or informal chain of command) to deny knowledge of and responsibility for any damnable actions committed by others (usually subordinates in an organizational hierarchy because of a lack of evidence that can confirm their participation); protecting the higher ups as they fight off pressures to increase graduation rates.

A scandal only becomes a scandal when the scandalous nature of the action is acknowledged. In spite of the excellent reporting from the NY Post the Department has gone into the “raise the drawbridge, defend the castle” mode. The NYC Department Investigation Unit is pursuing the whistleblowers not the evil-doers.

The state has the power to investigate test integrity, and, the misuse of credit recovery, which, in my judgement, falls under the “Test Security and Educator Integrity Unit

The new State Commissioner should direct the Integrity Unit to begin an investigation of misuse of credit recovery, rescoring exams and the role of the city administration.

A Suggestion to the NYS Board of Regents: Create Policies That Increase High School Graduation Rates?

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

While the 10th Amendment to the Constitution reserves education as a state power Washington has steadily eroded the state authority to determine education policy within the states. From the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965) to No Child Left Behind (2002) to Race to the Top (2010) the feds increasingly set the rules. The latest set of rules are the different bills passed by the two houses of Congress, bills that actually return a range of authorities to the states.

Sadly there is no evidence that the feds, and especially the Obama-Duncan policies have actually improved student performance, in fact, one could argue that student performance has been diminished.

Since 1784 education in New York State has been guided by the Board of Regents, a body established under the state constitution. Just as the feds have ripped policy away from the states, Governor Cuomo has ripped powers away from the Regents. The changes in the law directing how teachers and principals are assessed, increasing the length of teacher probation, removing perhaps scores of schools and handing them over to receivers, all initiatives that are both unproven and destabilizing.

The required federally imposed grades 3-8 testing regimen is in disarray. At least 165,000 parents have opted their kids out of the tests. The tests themselves have been widely criticized and the Regents have dumped the testing company, and, rather than “raise the bar” the new Common Core State Standards are widely criticized. Are our student learning more? No one knows …

Hopefully next year authority will be returned to the states and New York State education policy will be set by the Board of Regents.

Perhaps the Regents should look at graduation rates and allow data to drive policy decisions.

25% of students entering the 9th grade fail to graduate with four years.

Who are the students?

Why are they failing to graduate?

What policy changes are necessary to increase graduation rates?

Chronic Absenteeism

The State Education Department (SED) provides a wealth of data – see press release with links here
and a deck of PowerPoint slides here; however the releases are more interested in self-praise than a useful examination.

The major reason kids don’t graduate is simple, after years of poor attendance they drop out of school – the primary reason for dropping out is chronic absenteeism. A November, 2014 Report from the Center for NYC Affairs spotlights the issue: A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest Income Elementary Schools.

The report … identifies 130 schools in which more than one-third of the children were chronically absent for five years in a row. Perhaps not surprisingly, these schools have very low levels of academic achievement as measured by standardized tests.

Chronic absenteeism correlates with deep poverty–high rates of homelessness, child abuse reports, male unemployment, and low levels of parental education. In fact, the report states, chronic absenteeism is a much better index of poverty than the traditional measure of the number of children eligible for free lunch. Moreover, it’s very hard for schools to escape the pull of poverty: only a handful of schools with above-average rates of chronic absenteeism had above-average pass rates on their standardized tests for math and reading–and most scored far below, the report states.

The quality of the instruction is irrelevant if the student is not in school.

How many of chronically absent student families are in the social service system? To what extent do social service and schools interact? Numbers of school psychologists, guidance counselor and social workers in schools have been decreasing since the economic debacle in 2008.

State education, school district and schools must work closely with social service agencies at the state, county and local level, the burden of poverty-driven risk loads sharply increase chronic absenteeism, and, if the kid isn’t in his seat day in and day out Common Core or master teachers or iconic principals don’t matter.

The agencies/services that impact families in poverty cannot continue to operate in silos, and, we should not blame schools for the failure of public policy.

Students with Disabilities

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1973, amended 2004) requires all states to establish mechanisms to identify students with disabilities and place them in settings appropriate to their disability. Except for the severely disabled all students must take federally imposed grades 3-8 tests and Regents exams, with testing modifications determined by their Individual Education Plan (IEP), commonly extended time. The safety net for students with disabilities was the Regent Competency Test (RCT), a path to a local diploma for the student who was unable to pass Regents exams. The state has fully phased out the RCT exam, the only path to a diploma are the five required Regents exams.

The New York State Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) commencement credential is another path; however, the credential is not a diploma (See regulations for CDOS here).

Can we create a path for the student with a disability who can pass two, three or four, but not five Regents exams?

Advocates for Children has issued a Report (December 2013) entitled, Rethinking Pathways to High School Graduation.

Each year, approximately 48,000 students in New York State are at risk of dropping out, representing a significant cost to individuals and the State.

This number is only likely to increase as the State rolls out more rigorous Common Core standards. It is therefore time for the State to develop a plan that ensures students are not prevented from graduating because they cannot adequately convey their knowledge or abilities on high-stakes standardized assessments.

The Report examines how other states have adapted graduation requirements to address the student with a disability and makes a wide range of recommendations. New York State, sadly, has lagged far behind other states. Our state has granted a waiver to 42 schools who offer graduation by portfolio in lieu of five Regents exams (the ELA Regents is required), surely we can develop a range of options, and, yes, we must avoid the credit recovery debacle that allowed schools to skirt state regulations. To punish students who come to school every day, pass their subjects and can pass three or four Regents is both cruel and senseless.

English Language Learners

As part of the enrollment process every student whose home language is not English takes the NYSESLAT, a test that examines a student’s ability to read, write and speak English. If a student “fails” test the student is placed in a bilingual class, or, in schools with multiple language an ESL class. The regulations are compliance regs.

Let’s address three categories of students, “Ever-L’s,” students who entered a bilingual or ESLclassroom and never “score” out, students with “interrupted formal education (SIFE), frequently teenagers who arrived after a number of years with no schooling, and “unaccompanied minors,” the influx of students from Central America who arrived throughout the year. The State regs, Part 154, are compliance regs, requiring appropriate teacher certification and minutes of instruction, the regs leave the implementation to schools.

Disturbing numbers of ELL’s fail to graduate, and we again have to ask ourselves, why? What is especially disturbing is that some schools, the Newcomer and Internationals Network in New York City have both graduation and college placement rates similar to all other schools. The SED spent years hassling over a revision of the Part 154 regs and, unfortunately, the revision failed to address the failure of L’s to graduate. Why do L’s prosper and graduate in a few schools and not in the much larger cohort of schools? Are our regs flawed? Are our school structures flawed? A lack of professional development? The Regents have an obligation to address and create a path for our increasing numbers of English Language Learners.

Arne Duncan and Andrew Cuomo have forced “reforms” that not only will not improve teaching and learning they will probably erode teaching and learning.

Hopefully the Board of Regents will take a close look at graduation rates; “Understanding By Design ” or “planning backward” is a well-established, highly regarded educational tool – why not use the tool to address a crucial issue: how can the Board of Regents create a state-wide plan to increase graduation rates; a plan that may require legislative action, a plan that involves the entire education community.

To leave school without a high school diploma dooms kids to a life of endless struggle.

Why We Should All Get On Board the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) for Hillary Campaign

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

Niemöller is remembered for the quotation:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

The November, 2016 elections are the most significant in generations – on one side the far Republican Right Wing poised to drive the nation’s economic, social and political agendas versus a divided and dispirited Democratic Party. The decision of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to get in early, select a candidate and spend the next sixteen months building support for that candidate is smart and essential.

The next president may appoint a number of Supreme Court justices who write decisions that will impact for decades, the current court – four liberals, four conservatives and Justice Kennedy, a swing vote.

The Republicans control the House of Representatives and are within reach of a 60-vote super majority in the Senate.

We once thought that public employee pensions were guaranteed by state constitutions, until the courts ruled that federal bankruptcy rules trump state constitutions. Republican House leader Paul Ryan supports converting Medicare to a voucher program, and, of course, ending the Affordable Care Act.

The Scott Walker playbook, sharply limiting negotiating rights of public employee unions, would be imbedded into federal legislation.

Education policy would continue to move towards vouchers – encouraging parents to choose public, private, parochial and charters schools with tax-dollar driven vouchers.

The list is endless, and with a Republican president and Republican super majorities in Congress what once appeared to be crackpot ideas would become the law of the land.

On November 8th, 2016 a president will be selected, the president will either be a Republican or a Democrat, and, neither Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders will be elected.

Sanders reminds me of a Senator from South Dakota. George McGovern.

Sanders and McGovern have a lot in common,

I really liked George McGovern, the three-term Senator from South Dakota, who challenged Hubert Humphrey and defeated him in the Democratic primaries in 1972. McGovern, a World War 2 veteran, a Phd history professor, a leader of the anti-Vietnam War movement, a long resume of sponsoring liberal legislation, was trounced in the general election – Nixon won 49 states. (Read a description of the 1972 primary battle here). The liberal wing of the Democratic Party – the New Democratic Coalition (NDC) was derisively referred to “NDC – November Doesn’t Count.”

Winning a presidential election means creating a broad coalition, the traditional core of your party, in the case of Democrats unions, women, the “issue” voters (gay rights, immigration, environment, seniors, etc.), Afro-American and new Latino voters and appealing to the expanding pool of independent voters.

Winning a presidential election means raising a billion dollars, that’s right, a billion dollars, as well as mobilizing an army of foot soldiers. Coalitions aren’t always comfortable, the very same hedge fund folks who support charter schools may be the very same folks willing to provide the millions necessary to run a campaign for a Democratic candidate – depending on the candidate. Yes, the world of politics is complex.

Donald Trump is eating up all the air as the Republican Party moans, rather than building support by debating the narrow differences among the Republican candidates the media is concentrating on Trump, who almost daily breaks the Ronald Reagan 11th commandment, “Thou Shall Not Trash Another Republican,” In a few months Trump will fall by the wayside, remember Herman Cain, “In May 2011, Cain announced his presidential candidacy. His proposed 9–9–9 tax plan, along with his debate performances, made him the Republican front-runner in fall of 2011, during which he briefly led President Obama in the polls; by December he had withdrawn,” never-proven allegations of sexual misconduct.

On the Democratic side the Republicans are overjoyed as the Sander’s campaign pushes Hillary to the left, and you will hear nary a Republican word criticizing Sanders, the Republicans want him in the campaign as long as possible and even dream of a repeat of 1972.

A 73-year old Jewish Socialist from Vermont by way of Brooklyn, no matter how nice a guy, is not going to get elected president. Just as McGovern chased away the mainstream of the Democratic Party, the traditional coalition, Sanders would face the same fate.

The attacks would accuse him of weakness, of being too old, not willing to defend America, destroying our economy, Socialist equals godless Communist, and, of course, whatever whispering campaign they create – politics is a nasty, blood sport. Hillary has faced the attacks ever since Bill was elected.

The mantra of most newspapers and most e-news sites is “If it bleed it leads.” A reporter for a leading print newspaper tells me her editor reminds her, sex and violence bring “hits,” and hits drive advertising revenue.

The days of my falling love with a candidate are long gone, I want a candidate who will win and I want to get on board the campaign early enough to play a role setting the policy direction of the campaign.

Hillary bears the scars of attack after attack, she has the ability to raise the mega-bucks necessary to fund a campaign, and, I believe, she can win.

There are no moral victories, staying on the sidelines is a vote for the “other guys,” and there are no “do-overs,” you get one-shot at electing the next president.

The AFT jumped in early, endorsed the Democratic candidate with the best change of winning and we should all jump on board and get involved.

Can the House and the Senate Agree on Reauthorized NCLB? Would the President Sign or Veto the Bill? The Ages-Old Federalist versus Anti-federalists Debate Being Fought Out Once Again.

With the end of the Revolutionary War the new nation stumbled along under the Articles of Confederation, a loose alliance of the thirteen colonies. No president, no judicial system, no method of collecting taxes, with unanimity required for major decisions, a dysfunctional government adrift, the Brits were sure the rebellious colonies would be back in the Commonwealth within a few years.

The Constitutional Convention convened to amend the Articles, actually the key players intended to write a constitution, a new system of government. The delegates hassled over the powers of the states versus the powers of the national government. The convention divided into the federalists, the supporters of a strong national government and the anti-federalists, the defenders of the rights of the states, the former colonies.

The final document, our Constitution, was a victory for the federalists, led by Washington, Madison and Hamilton. Slowly the national debate began; state after state fended off the critics and ratified the guiding document, the Constitution of the new nation. Madison, Hamilton and John Jay under the pseudonym of Publius, published eighty-plus essays that we would calls op eds, in major newspapers, defending and justifying the Constitution. (Read the Federalist Papers here – especially numbers 10 and 51).

One of the most effective criticisms of the new Constitution was the absence of a Bill of Rights, and, the new Congress responded by drafting the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

The Tenth Amendment was simple and straightforward,

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Education was “not delegated to the United States,” or “prohibited … to the states” and clearly was “reserved to the states.”

The fifty states created their own rules and regulations governing education. Different graduation requirements, different requirements for teachers, different curriculum, different methods of schools funding, and, in the South, segregated schools.

States with segregated school systems argued that the black school systems were equal to white school systems, and, these decisions were “reserved to the states.”

In 1954 the Supreme Court, in Brown v Board of Education, a unanimous court disagreed,

[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 impact 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.

A decade later Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary School Education Act (ESEA), a law that provided billions of dollars to the states under provisions of the law. Education was no longer solely the domain of the states.

At end of a section of the Constitution that enumerates the powers of the Congress the final clause states,

The Congress shall have Power … To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

The fears of the anti-federalists, the fear that the national government would erode the powers of the states was slowly coming to fruition. The modern day federalists argue that it is the responsibility of the national government to provide for the “welfare of the people,” to create a national education policy.

Chief Justice John Marshall, in McCulloch v Maryland (1819) wrote a decision that is as prescient today as it was over two hundred years ago,

We admit, as all must admit, that the powers of the Government are limited, and that its limits are not to be transcended. But we think the sound construction of the Constitution must allow to the national legislature that discretion with respect to the means by which the powers it confers are to be carried into execution which will enable that body to perform the high duties assigned to it in the manner most beneficial to the people. Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the Constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, are constitutional.

The Obama administration has moved the needle, education policy has moved from state houses to the White House. What began as ESEA, a law to drive dollars and programs to the poorest schools and school districts, morphed under the 2002 reauthorization, to No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a law that declares ”each state shall establish a timeline for adequate yearly progress. The timeline shall ensure that not later than 12 years after the 2001-2002 school year, all students in each group described in [the law] will meet or exceed the State’s standards,“ all cities would become the imaginary town on National Public Radio, “Lake Woebegone, where all children are above average.”

The once praised, now reviled law, required states to redesign, transform, turnaround, close or convert to charter schools that did not achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) within a preset number of years. By 2015 virtually all schools in urban inner cities fall under the punitive clauses of NCLB.

Under the leadership of Arne Duncan the administration used the lure of 4.4 billion dollars, competitive grants to states, to encourage the acceptance and full implementation of the Common Core State Standards, continued annual testing of students, the use of test results to grade teachers, aggressive school closings, and a series of tests for preservice teachers, The feds also have forced states to test all student regardless of their handicapping condition or limitation of English language skills.

While Democrats and Republicans sharply disagree with many aspects of Obama/Duncan education policy initiatives, up to now they disagree with themselves more.

In January Lamar Alexander (R – Tennessee), the chair of the Senate Education Committee and Patty Murray (D – Washington), the ranking member, have slowly and cautiously constructed a bill that, to a large extent, moves the needle back to the states. The bill has progressed through the hearing stages and is currently begin debated on the floor of the Senate. A number of amendments have been proposed and a final vote on passage is expected next week. (Read Education Week summary of the amendments here)

Across the Capitol the House of Representatives passed, by a narrow vote, their own version of an overhaul of NCLB. The Republican bill is opposed by all Democrats and by almost sufficient Republicans to derail the vote – the bill passed 218-213. (Read Education Week description of the politics here).

Arne Duncan, speaking for the Obama administration is sharply critical of the House bill, and not in love with the Senate bill either.

“America’s students deserve a strong education bill that builds on the tremendous progress of the last decade and supports opportunity for every child. Instead, House Republicans have chosen to take a bad bill and make it even worse …”

For the Obama administration the best outcome would be the status quo, no reauthorization means no erosion of the current sweeping powers over education policy.

With the passage of bills in both houses the next step is for the leadership of the houses to appoint members to a joint conference committee – an attempt to craft one bill from the widely differing House and Senate bills. At this point it appears to be a heavy lift: the Republican bill barely passed the Republican dominated House – however – we are moving towards November, 2016.

If the bills are reconciled and returned to the respective houses they face an up or down vote. If the reconciled bill is voted up in both houses it moves to the presidential desk.

If the President vetoes the bill he angers Democrats who have expended enormous energy to bring the bill forward, and. if the President signs the bill he is admitting that a core of his legacy was flawed. A presidential veto could result in an attempt to override the veto with many Democrats and Republicans supporting the override.

If you haven’t noticed we are in the midst of the race to the White House – about fifteen Republicans and a half dozen Democrats are on the campaign trail. The first set of candidate debates are scheduled for next month and you know the candidates are already crafting responses to NCLB reauthorization questions. Senator Rubio was not in the Senate for votes on the amendments- he was out campaigning.

Normally I would say, no way, the corrosive politics of our era almost guarantees that throwing hand grenades are more palliative than crafting solutions. However, the bill is being managed by Lamar Alexander, a highly skilled, highly respected legislator. Alexander served as Secretary of Education in the Bush administration, and, this would be the crowning achievement of his long tenure.

The key question: do Senate Majority Leader McConnell and House Speaker Boehner want an education bill? Would a reauthorized NCLB help or hinder the Republican candidate in 2016?

The leaders appoint members to the conference committee with instructions – – if Speaker Boehner appoints members who represent the well-respected members from the Republican party, if the instructions provide room for compromise, a reauthorized bill might be possible.

Obama would argue that Congressional dysfunction requires an activist president who pushes the boundaries of his powers. Many civil rights organizations support the President; organizations that are traditional allies, i. e., the teacher unions, are on opposite sides of many aspects of the reauthorization battle. The classic struggle over the power of the executive versus the power of Congress and the states is being played out before the American people.

Can the New Commissioner and the Board of Regents Begin to Win Back the Public? A Few Suggestions.

Mary Ellen Elia begins a new, complex and intensely political job – the New York State Commissioner of Education. After John King “moved on” to the US Department of Ed in December Ken Wagner and Beth Berlyn have managed the Department, and did a superb job under difficult conditions.

To say the last few months have been contentious is polite. Two hundred thousand or so parents have opted their children out of state grades 3-8 exams, the governor is at war with teachers, the legislature is at war with the governor, Mayor de Blasio publicly trashed Governor Cuomo, a new and reviled teacher evaluation plan is being rolled out, the lowest performing schools and school districts in the state are moving to receivership, English language learners continue to struggle, the disparity in funding between school districts is disturbing, and I’ve just scratched the tip of the education iceberg.

Dysfunction is nothing new for New York State.

Edward J. Larson, in The Return of George Washington (2014) writes, “The state’s [New York State] delegation to the Continental Convention was so split, and its instructions were so indecisive that it abstained on the epic vote for independence- the only delegation to do so.”

A dozen years later the newly created United States of America were selecting their first president. Each state was selecting electors who would cast ballots to elect a president and a vice president. Alexander Hamilton and Governor Clinton were bitter enemies. “…after a brutal state convention and weeks of legislative gridlock, two battle-scarred parties held their ground and New York sat out the election.” Hamilton gloated, “I am not sorry, as the most we could hope for would be to balance accounts and do no harm.” New York State was the only state not to cast ballots for the first president.

New York State was so involved in internecine political battles that they did not participate in the most iconic elections in our history – the approval of the Declaration of Independence and the vote to elect George Washington. Not much has changed in two hundred and twenty-five years!!

Can a new commissioner begin the healing process? Or, is dysfunction too inbred into our DNA?

Elia faces a vital first task: winning back parents, teachers, school boards, superintendents and the legislature who have all lost confidence in the education establishment.

Her second task is working with an increasingly assertive Board of Regents. For decades the state education agenda was set by the commissioner and the chancellor. Under John King an extremely aggressive agenda mirroring the policies of Arne Duncan were pushed through the Board of Regents. A few members of the Regents voted “no,” others had questions and voted “yes” with reluctance while the majority were were on board for each and every vote. The election of four new members to the Board totally changed the direction of the Board. The discussion of teacher evaluation plan was driven by six members of the board – the four new members and two who have consistently questioned previous initiatives. The “new” faction includes five retired school superintendents and clearly intends to propose a Regents-driven agenda.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires annual exams in grades 3-8, and, the results were zip code driven. If you lived in a middle class district the chances are excellent that your kid did well on the exam and if you lived in a poor district the scores were low. Suddenly, the state moved to the Common Core exams, King steadfastly refused to phase in the exams and the state moved from 2/3 passing the tests to 2/3 failing the test. The Department tried to manipulate the language, instead of “failing” using “approaching proficiency,” without success. John King embarked on his “listening tour” and insisted on making it a “convincing tour.” After he was booed off the stage in Poughkeepsie the meetings were halted, King blamed outside agitators, the resistance grew into the opt-out movement.

Suggestions for the new commissioner and the board:

* Announce a broad-based committee to review, and, if necessary, recommend changes to the Common Core Standards.

While I find the secondary school English and Social Studies standards are appropriate there has been a steady criticism of the math standards and the standards for the earlier grades – appoint a task force: superintendents, principals, teachers, colleges, nothing should be written in stone. New York State should assess and, if necessary, revise core policies. Participation reduces resistance.

*Announce that next year the grade 3-8 state exams will be scored the same way the Regents exams are scored; using a standards-setting system that phases in the new standards over an extended number of years.

The Common Core Regents are being phased in over eight years (we are entering year three) with the standards-setting, aka, the curving of the scores, reflecting incremental changes. About the same percentage of kids will pass the Regents each year. The same process was used to phase in the single Regents diploma, passing scores were dropped to 55 and each year students had to pass an additional regent with a score of 65. Instead of the phase in taking four years the phase in took about ten years. The system took much longer than expected; however, the save-harmless protected the students and was viewed as reasonable around the state.

* Quietly announce that State Ed will grant hardship waivers without undue hassling.

We are about to experience the third teacher evaluation plan in the last four years, and, we expect revisions next year. The plan is incredibly dense and the State can ease the complexity by making available the algorithms that were successfully used in New York City. School districts cannot be expected to “go it alone,” mere mortals do not understand the system, principals and teachers don’t understand the system, and, the only purpose is to evaluate teachers and principals. The tool doesn’t even do a good job of assessing staff performance. The feds may, and I stress may, amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) over the next few months. What should a teacher evaluation plan look like? How should the State assess student progress across the state? Should progress look differently in high tax, high wealth versus low tax, low wealth districts? The commissioner and the board should begin to explore a new plan that emanates from the field, from superintendents and teachers, not from anonymous members of the governor’s team.

* Move the format of the Regents meetings to a more open and inclusive platform

Currently only the formal parts of the monthly Regents Meetings are webcast, the “meat” of the meetings is the committees, which are not webcast. The entire meeting should be available to the public, as was the Education Learning Summit. The current system does not allow for public input except for the comment period after the Regents have proposed changes to regulations. The Commissioner should propose to the Regents changes to open the meetings to public scrutiny and allow brief public comment at some point during the monthly meetings. Transparency builds credibility.

* Use the July Regents Retreat to set an agenda for the Board.

Commissioner King set the agenda and the Board responded. Although the Board of Regents is a policy board the policy was set by the Chief Executive Officer, the CEO who is the commissioner. The broad outlines of policy should be set by Board not the CEO; the commissioner should recommend systems to implement the policies. The Board has tended to steer clear of contentious issues – a prime example is the way education is funded in New York State. The funding system in New York State is property tax driven and guarantees a wealth disparity, the system is established by the governor and the legislature. The Regents, if they choose, can make substantive recommendations to the legislative and executive branches.

Should the state adopt a system of assessing student progress that incorporates “risk load factors”?

The recent Report from the Center for New York City Affairs suggests a totally different method of viewing schools,

Chronic absenteeism correlates with deep poverty–high rates of homelessness, child abuse reports, male unemployment, and low levels of parental education. In fact, the report states, chronic absenteeism is a much better index of poverty than the traditional measure of the number of children eligible for free lunch. Moreover, it’s very hard for schools to escape the pull of poverty: only a handful of schools with above-average rates of chronic absenteeism had above-average pass rates on their standardized tests for math and reading–and most scored far below, the report states.

The report identifies 18 “risk factors” that are associated with chronic absenteeism, both in the school building and in the surrounding neighborhood. Schools with a very high “risk load” are likely to suffer from poor attendance. Some of the school factors are: students in temporary housing; student suspensions; the perception of safety; and principal, teachers and student turnover. The neighborhood factors include: male unemployment, presence of public housing or a homeless shelter in a school’s attendance zone, adult levels of education, and involvement with the Administration for Children’s Services.

Should the state continue to simply use test scores to assess and stigmatize schools or move on to more useful and meaningful data sets?

How should the state assess the progress of English language learners and Students with Disabilities?

While the feds have denied the request of the state exempt or delay the testing of students referenced supra the state should begin to consider the issue. Who are the students who fail to graduate in four years? Do the non-graduates include inordinate numbers of ELLs and SWDs? If so, should we offer alternative pathways for these cohorts of students?

The Commissioner and the Board can continue to joust with a public who has lost confidence or begin to set an agenda that will both win back the public and set a saner path for students across the state.

Perhaps the Commissioner and the Board can set an example for the political establishment.