NYC Chancellor Richard Carranza: Assessing His Performance in a Mayoral Control Environment

Richard Carranza, the New York City school chancellor walks a tightrope; the leader of a 1.1 million student school district in a mayoral control city in which the mayor is running for president as the candidate furthest to the left. The mayor is appealing to Afro-American voters and the most progressive voters on the Democratic spectrum, his education policies, he hopes, are appealing to his potential voters.

Carranza has to juggle satisfying the political needs of his boss with his own educational philosophy.

CityandStateNY, a website reporting news online on a daily basis hosts an Education Summit every August, a keynote speaker, usually the city chancellor or the state commissioner and a number of panels that confront the issues expected in the upcoming year.

Last year Carranza, who had only been on the job a few months, gave a typical speech: Who am I? What do I believe? And, “I’m one of you;” a speech trying to connect with tens of thousands of school personnel and parents. A year later:  the agenda of the mayor has dominated the chancellor’s first year.

On Thursday Carranza returned to the Education Summit, reflected on his first year and laid out his agenda for the upcoming year, a mixture of continuing the mayor’s progressive agenda and his ideas; structural changes that I find troubling.

Listen to the chancellor speech here – about 35 minutes – I urge you to listen.

The dominant education issue last year was the segregated nature of the admission process for the Specialized High Schools, and the entrance examination, the Specialized High School Admissions Test that is required by state law. Last year at Stuyvesant High School only nine Afro-American students passed the entrance exam out of over 900 students who received acceptance offers. A year later the legislature has taken no action to change the exam and the issue continues to dominate the education debate.

The mayor/chancellor has avoided another issue. There are over 200 middle and high schools with entrance requirements: test scores, interviews, portfolios, all under the discretion of the chancellor. The students are far whiter and more middle class than the school system. The schools are extremely popular with progressive voter parents. The chancellor has taken no action to alter/reduce/eliminate the screens.

School integration: an Advisory School Diversity Task Force issued a report and the chancellor has accepted almost all of the recommendations. Three school districts will be implementing locally designed integration initiatives in September with four other districts investigating plans with modest funds supporting the efforts; nibbling around the edges of “the most segregated school district in the nation.”

The mayor and chancellor continue to juggle, supporting progressive policies and avoiding major initiatives that might antagonize progressive voters.

The chancellor’s equity agenda is progressive, and, controversial.

A $23 million implicit bias training program for all staff: will a few hours of a workshop make teachers more sensitive to their implicit biases? And, how do we know it?  Or, (my cynical side) just an appeal to the most progressive voters?

The chancellor has also adopted a state initiative: Culturally Responsive – Sustaining Education. The state describes CR-SE as,

The CR-S framework helps educators create student-centered learning environments that: affirm racial, linguistic, and cultural identities; prepare students for rigor and independent learning; develop students’ abilities to across lines of difference; elevate historically marginalized voices; and, empower students as agents of social change.

 Alert: the draft California Ethnic Studies Curriculum created a firestorm.

The [curriculum] has led to bitter debate in recent weeks over whether they veer into left-wing propaganda, and whether they are inclusive enough of Jews and other ethnic groups. Now, amid a growing outcry, even progressive policymakers in the state are promising significant revisions.

The materials are unapologetically activist — and jargony. They ask students to “critique empire and its relationship to white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism and other forms of power and oppression.” A goal, the draft states, is to “connect ourselves to past and contemporary resistance movements that struggle for social justice.”

Will CR-SE incorporate the New York Times 1619 Project , a detailed exploration of slavery in America, in my view a wonderful resource, or, stumble as the California Ethnic Studies curriculum?

I have no objection; in fact, I support these initiatives, if they are implemented in a sensible, collegial manner. If you read the Common Core State Standards you probably agree with them, the implementation was disastrous. I fear imposed checklists rather than school-developed implementation plans.

I favor targeted more school-based targeted interventions.

I’m a pragmatist: I suggest to the chancellor:

  • Twelve month school years from pre-K through the First Grade, ideally with the same teacher with a social worker assigned to a discrete number of classes.
  • Each staff member assigned to perhaps ten students as mentors for their entire time in middle and high schools.
  • Change the Fair Student Funding formula, at risk schools, defined by chronic absenteeism, disciplinary “incidents,” and student achievement, would be assigned guidance counselors and social workers apart from the standard budget allocations.

The most challenging schools are overwhelmed each and every day; disciplinary issues, parent issues, bureaucracy “demands;” are not alleviated by a myriad of “programs.”

School culture is the key to school success, schools accepting “ownership” of their own practice; I fear the chancellor thinks that “success” can be imposed from the caverns of Tweed.

The chancellor pointed to two new structural initiatives: Instructional Leadership Frameworks (ILF) and “Edustats.”

ILF appears to be attempting to align supervisory supports, from the chancellor to executive superintendents down through the ranks: sounds like a Danielson Frameworks for supervisors.

Currently the Department collects reams of school achievement data, and, much of the data is publicly available on the Department website.  Take a look at the school performance dashboard for one school here.

The chancellor introduced a new initiative: Edustats. What are “Edustats?” As I understood the chancellor’s description: multiple tests through the school year with prescriptions for targeted interventions; that’s right, more testing.  Schools have purchased these programs for decades, without any sustained impact. On August 8th the Department posted a number of high level Edustat positions and I assume a new section at the Department churning out tests and data-sets by classroom. Sigh!!!

Changing classroom practice rarely comes from being beaten into submission; changing classroom practice comes when school leaders and teachers, collectively, devise student-centered instructional practices with rigorous curriculum and supportive assistance from superintendents and the bureaucracy.

I hope I’m misreading the Carranza approach.

Are Suspensions Necessary? Overused? Signs of Implicit Bias? Pipelines to Prison? Or, Evidence of Inadequate Teacher Preparation, Absence of Early Interventions and Social/Emotional School Supports?

The teacher reprimands a student; the student mumbles something under his breath, the teacher asks, “What did you say?” According to the teacher the student becomes “belligerent” and “threatening” and the teacher demands that the student be suspended.

Not an uncommon scenario.

Is removal from class for a specific length of time the appropriate response of the principal? Are there acceptable alternatives?

The Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, published a study of school discipline practices, actually results of a survey of “more than 1200 teachers.”

The Fordham Institute article begins,

The debate over school discipline reform is one of the most polarized in all of education. Advocates for reform believe that suspensions are racially biased and put students in a “school-to-prison pipeline.” Opponents worry that softer discipline approaches will make classrooms unruly, impeding efforts to help all students learn and narrow achievement gaps.

One of the problems with the concept are the unaddressed core questions: Why are Afro-American boys being suspended at higher rates than other students? Do suspensions lead to better behavior for the suspended students? Or, are suspensions a “pipeline to prison,” Is the anti-social act that led to the suspension the beginning of the pipeline? And, do suspensions, removal of students from a class, actually increase outcomes for the remainder of the class?

To determine how practitioners see this complex issue, we partnered with the RAND Corporation to survey … teachers in grades three through twelve. And because racial and socioeconomic equity is a key consideration in the discipline debate, we over sampled African American teachers and teachers in high-poverty schools to ensure that their views were represented—something not attempted in any prior discipline survey.

Discipline Reform through the Eyes of Teachers, co-authored by Fordham Institute researchers David Griffith and Adam Tyner, yielded five findings:

  1. Teachers in high-poverty schools report higher rates of verbal disrespect, physical fighting, and assault—and most say a disorderly or unsafe environment makes learning difficult.

 Is the term “high poverty schools,” aka, schools with Afro-American student populations, avoiding what the surveyed teachers are saying; namely, Afro-American students more frequently exhibit “higher rates of verbal disrespect, physical fighting, and assault?”  Do these beliefs point to an implicit teacher bias? Does the trauma of poverty express itself in rebellious rejection of authority? Or, unfocused anger? Or, the root causes the absence of parental involvement in schools? Or, fewer teachers of color, especially male teachers of color? Or, are less experienced teachers in high poverty schools the issue?

  1. Most teachers say discipline is inconsistent or inadequate and that the recent decline in suspensions is at least partly explained by a higher tolerance for misbehavior or increased underreporting.

 The report does not address how the decline in suspensions impacted students. Did they misbehave more? Teachers never want students in a class who are “discipline problems,” once again does the skill level of the teacher determine discipline? How does the school as a whole address the issue of classroom management and “discipline,” however you define it?

  1. Although many teachers see value in newer disciplinary approaches—such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and restorative justice—most also say that suspensions can be useful and appropriate in some circumstances.

 How is a suspension “useful?” It removes the student from the class for a few days, or perhaps longer; does it positively impact the suspended student? Or, result in better outcomes for the remaining students? Is there evidence?

  1. Most teachers say the majority of students suffer because of a few chronically disruptive peers—some of whom should not be in a general education setting.

 A common belief, I can’t find any evidence to support. Are disruptive students actually undiagnosed Special Education students? Who defines “chronically disruptive peers”?  Does placement in a Special Education classroom doom students to a lesser education and a pipeline to dropping out of school?

  1. Despite the likely costs for students who misbehave—and their belief that discipline is racially biased—many African American teachers say suspensions, expulsions, and other forms of “exclusionary discipline” should be used more often.

Not surprising; teachers, regardless of race or ethnicity, have common belief systems.

These findings are the basis for four recommendations:

  1. Federal and state policy should “do no harm” when it comes to school discipline.

 I’m not to sure what that means: how do you define “harm?” The Arne Duncan “Dear Colleague” letter threatening federal civil rights interventions for “disparite impact” of suspensions was overkill and resulted in states and schools reducing suspensions without any other programs to address discipline.

  1. Local school districts should give teachers and principals greater discretion when it comes to suspensions.

 Are you saying that zero tolerance and expulsions are acceptable? I hope not. States/school districts must set clearly defined standards for suspensions and consequences for inappropriate behaviors of all kinds?

  1. Advocates for potentially disruptive students should focus on improving the environments to which they are likely to be removed, including “in-school suspension” and “alternative learning centers.”

 This already exists in New York City and should exist in every school setting.

  1. Additional resources should be used to hire more mental health professionals and teaching assistants in high-poverty schools—not to train teachers in unproven “alternatives to suspension” that may do more harm than good.

How about examples of an “alternative to suspension that may do more harm than good.”  Restorative Justice and Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies are tools; if applied thoughtfully can be useful; however, the best strategy is effective teaching. Teachers in adjoining classrooms may have different skills, no discipline problems in one classroom and some, or, many, in others.

Janelle Scott and others have taken a deep dive into the question of student discipline policies through the lens of Critical Race Theory, well worth a read,  “Law and Order in School and Society: How Discipline and Policing Policies Harm Students of Color, and What We Can Do About It,”  read here.

Teacher preparation programs provide classroom study and a specified number of hours of clinical practice, commonly called student teaching, and, many states require pre-service examinations. Requirements vary widely from state to state.

Shael Polikoff-Suransky, the President of Bank Street College argues that teacher preparation should mirror the preparation of doctors,

Higher expectations and standards have made teaching more demanding than ever. Just as we recognize that aspiring doctors need training before they can diagnose and prescribe, we must acknowledge that teaching candidates require an upfront investment. Aspiring teachers need well-designed and well-supported preparation.

 Yearlong co-teaching residencies, where candidates work alongside an accomplished teacher while studying child development and teaching methods, offer a promising path. Contrary to fast-track certification programs or traditional student-teaching, which is often a brief experience with limited opportunities to practice, strong residencies pay aspiring teachers as assistant teachers so they become fully integrated into their schools.

 The question hanging above; and unaddressed in the survey: Are suspensions effective deterrence?

Deterrence Theory explores whether incarceration acts as deterrence to further crime, what is called recidivism. A fascinating paper (“The Deterrence Hypothesis and Picking Pockets at the Pickpocket’s Hanging”)  concludes,

… this study examines the premise that criminals make informed and rational decisions, presents findings on the influences affecting criminals, and discusses crime prevention strategies that respond to the apparent roots of criminal behavior. The results suggest that 76 percent of active criminals and 89 percent of the most violent criminals either perceive no risk of apprehension or have no thought about the likely punishments for their crimes. Still more criminals are undeterred by harsher punishments because drugs, psychosis, ego, revenge, or fight-or-flight impulses inhibit the desired responses to traditional prevention methods.

Can the results of the paper cited supra be applied to student suspensions?

While we have been discussing the interaction between students and teachers a vital element of the equation is the role of parents. In high poverty schools parent involvement is frequently absent; parents are struggling to survive, schools are not seen as partners, an experienced educator who has spent a career in high poverty schools told me, “I’ve never had a parent question about curriculum.” A principal bemoaned, “No matter how much I preach to parents they tell their children to stand up to threatens or bullying, and fighting back is the appropriate response, not only appropriate but necessary and expected.”

School cultures and community cultures are commonly at odds.

Suspension cannot be a reflex action; on the other hand, there are situations that require removal from classrooms.

Early intervention, identifying student in pre-kindergarten is essential, if you are going to change behaviors you must identify students as early as possible.

Teacher residencies should become the norm, spending a year in a classroom with a mentor teacher is far, far more effective than the current clinical practice, aka, student teaching model.

Collaborative professional development is absent from the vast majority of schools; teachers rarely interact, occasionally listen to an “expert” tell them what to do and how to do it, or participate in turnkey training, a little like the kids’ game of telephone.

School district leadership too often imposes data to drive school policies instead of allowing school communities to drive policies within clear guidelines and supports.

Does the current education and political leadership in New York City and New York State have the vision to address the core issues?

If you’re around on Thursday consider attending the CityandStateNY Education Summit at Baruch College, always an excellent kickoff to the school year – Chancellor Carranza is the keynote speaker.

https://www.cityandstateny.com/events/2019-education-summit

High School Graduation Requirements: A Total Review? Eliminate Regents Exams? Strengthen Course and Accountability Standards? Restructuring School Funding?

At the July Board of Regents Meeting Chancellor Betty Rosa announced  the beginning of a process that may lead to the discontinuance of Regents Examinations.

… the state Board of Regents [is[ consider[ing] scrapping the high school Regents exam requirement as part of an effort to improve the state’s graduation rates and better define the significance of a New York high school diploma.

 This fall, a commission convened by state Board of Regents … will meet to examine — among other questions — “to what degree requiring passage of Regents exams improves student achievement, graduation rates and college readiness,”

 High School graduation rates have been steadily increasing over the last decade, from 70.9% to 80.4%, if we use the August rate to 82.6%. The New York City rate is 72.7%, well above Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse.

If you include “persisters,” students who graduate in five and six years, the graduation rates are 2% higher. The Research Alliance for NYC Schools has done an interesting study of the “persisting students,” students attending transfer high schools in New York City.

Six percent of students drop out; which means stop attending school before their graduation date and the remaining ten percent who fail to graduate in six years are mostly students with disabilities and English language learners who entered school in their middle and high school years.  White students have an 88.9% graduation rate and Black students (70.1%) and Hispanic (69.2%) students.

While graduation rates have been steadily increasing; not surprisingly Black, Hispanic and English language learners are far behind White student graduation rates.

Can the state simply no longer offer Regents exams?

The state can eliminate Regents exams; however, federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), requires testing in English and Mathematics in high schools, a common option,

  • Choose the ACT or SAT instead of a separate state high school assessment

Check out the state by state course requirements here and state-by-state high school testing requirements here.

Will students who are currently not passing Regents tests do better on the SAT or ACT? Or, Will we be creating another test prep culture in high schools?

Regents are content tests, they test what is taught, and, the results are scale scores, the state determines passing rates: why abandon the Regents and substitute SATs or ACTs?

Check out the New York State high school graduation course requirements here, and,

Check out the New York State alternative Multiple Pathways to Graduation here, and,

Check out the safety nets for students with disabilities and here.

Can the state recreate a Regents Competency Test in lieu of Regents exams targeting students with disabilities or/and English language learners?

I do not believe the ESSA allows “dual” testing. We can lower safety nets.

The problem is not the Regents exams, the problem is that totally committed principals and teachers, who love the kids they teach, decide to teach to the grade level ability of the kids; each year the kid falls further behind.

A teacher in the Bronx wrote,

“An issue we run into a lot is that the tests are not at an appropriate level for our students,” he explained. “At a certain point, I want to teach them where they’re at. I feel like that would be most beneficial for them. If you’re at a sixth-grade or seventh-grade math level, but you’re in ninth grade, I kind of want to start where you are and build you up from there.”

 For decades we have been teaching down to the level of the kids instead of raising kids, challenging kids to achieve at or above grade level.

On the international scene we are being out competed by a host of nations. Read a rather depressing account, “How Far Behind are the Very Best U.S. Students?”

The National Conference of State Legislatures has just released a relevant report: No Time to Lose: How to Build a World-Class Education System.

“Fixing” high school testing is part of a state system that needs significant rehabilitation.

The Executive Summary of the “No Time to Lose” report begins,

The bad news is most state education systems are falling dangerously behind the world in a number of international comparisons and on our own National Assessment of Educational Progress, leaving the United States overwhelmingly under prepared to succeed in the 21st century economy.

The U.S. workforce, widely acknowledged to be the best educated in the world half a century ago, is now among the least well-educated in the world, according to recent studies.

At this pace, we will struggle to compete economically against even developing nations, and our children will struggle to find jobs in the global economy.

The report will be released tomorrow, watch live streamed tomorrow, August 6th.The panel will convene at 4:30 p.m. EDT and will be live streamed on NCSL’s Facebook page.

I would recommend,

  • Pre-K for three and four year olds should be available for all low income communities across the state
  • Let’s be honest, the inequitable funding formula is the prime reason for inequities, we must drive dollars to the neediest communities and make sure the funding is used appropriately; namely, smaller class size especially in the earliest grades, small group tutoring, mentoring, etc.
  • Year round school from Pre-K through the First Grade
  • Evidence-based instructional models, including extending schools day.

I fully understand that many legislators and perhaps the governor have little interest in attacking the most challenging questions, especially inequitable funding. I hope the Board begins the process of aggressively attacking these core questions.

Substituting the SAT for the Regents are nibbles around the edges of far more deeply rooted issues.

Will “Big Ideas” Reduce/End the Achievement/Opportunity Gap? How Will Culturally Relevant Education (CRE) Impact Student Learning?

For decades researchers, think tanks, politicians, talking heads have chipped in with programs and policies to shrink/eliminate the “achievement gap.” The Moynihan Report (1965), entitled “The Black Family” pointed to dysfunctional Black families as a source of poverty, a Report long since discredited. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act  (1965), at the core of the President Johnson’s War On Poverty provided dollars to poor districts, vital dollars, and has not had the impact we had hoped for.  Court-ordered busing in the 70’s did integrate schools until higher courts intervened. No Child Left Behind (2002) was a bi-partisan widely supported law that ended up as “test and punish.”

Universal Pre-K and 3 for All in New York City will have significant impact over time.  Locally created integration plans will nibble around the edges; Race to the Top dangled dollars if states linked teacher accountability to student test scores, endorsed charter schools and the Common Core, and only succeeded in creating the Opt-Out movement.

All glowed brightly and faded to the dustbin of failed solutions.

In other words, there are no magic bullets.

School systems do need fixes.

More teachers of color, especially male teachers are a goal, although the school district with the largest percentage of teachers of color in New York City is a low achieving district. Around the city about 40% of principals are of color and a majority of superintendents are of color. Once again: no magic bullets.

In January, 2019, the Board of Regents adopted a policy endorsing Culturally Relevant Sustaining Education,

Culturally responsive-sustaining (CR-S) education is grounded in a cultural view of learning and human development in which multiple expressions of diversity (e.g., race, social class, gender, language, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, ability) are recognized and regarded as assets for teaching and learning. CR-S education explores the relationship between historical and contemporary conditions of inequality and ideas that shape access, participation, and outcomes for learners.

 The goal of the CR-S framework is to help educators design and implement a student-centered learning environment that:

  ▪ Affirms cultural identities and fosters positive academic outcomes;

 ▪ Fosters and sustains meaningful relationships between schools and communities, with an emphasis on a personal investment in the lives of youth;

 ▪ Develops students’ ability to connect across cultures;

 ▪ Empowers students as agents of positive social change; and

▪ Contributes to an individual’s engagement, learning, growth, and achievement through the cultivation of critical thinking.

 In order to make this a reality, the Department, under the Board of Regents, created a framework for CR-S practices.

Gloria Ladson-Billings has been publishing research on CRE since 1994.

“New” ideas imposed from above have depressing history in schools; few are “sticky,” they tend to fade over time as classroom teachers take a look, incorporate elements, or not, and move along.

I am unclear as to how the implementation of CR-S plays out in the classroom.

If we’re talking about choosing texts that include a range of authors including teachers of color I certainly agree, and, many teachers would agree.

If we talking about mandating specific texts or evaluating teachers on the implementation of CRE practices in classrooms, I’m  skeptical.

I asked a friend, an extraordinary high school English teacher,

Yep………reading “liberal” literature by white authors, reading “authentic” literature by authors “of color” always was a problem for me as a high school teacher.

 So…lotsa Langston Hughes and Baldwin and Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou and Piri Thomas, et.al.in my classes….. in addition to Cuban, Chilean poets and Indian novelists, et.al

 “To Kill a Mockingbird” did not engage students…too dense, too complicated, too long.

 And….the “canon” – do we want everyone to be familiar with Shakespeare?

 Many teachers in urban schools have been seeking out and teaching texts that reflect the diversity of the city, probably not enough. I spent a few years facilitating common planning time in an urban high school. In the sophomore year teachers taught “Fences,” the August Wilson play and Jack London’s, “To Build a Fire,” both texts were engrossing to the kids.

I mused, what engrossed kids, the quality of the text or the race of the author?

I posted on Twitter and Richard Gray, Jr., the Deputy Director of the Metro Center at NYU responded,

Peter Goodman

Do racially identifiable characters engage students or is it the strength of the text itself?

Richard Gray Jr

@RichardGrayJr

It’s both. The attacks on Culturally Responsive Education (CRE) are based on the belief that People of Color don’t create quality content. CRE is grounded in the knowledge that culturally identifiable content and strength of text are not mutually exclusive.

Peter Goodman

@edintheapple

  • I agree – you can’t have one w/o the other, simply reading a book by a person of color that is not engaging is a disservice; and, on a parallel topic: do we still teach Shakespeare?

Richard Gray Jr

@RichardGrayJr

  • I think we can agree curricula must change over time with authors being added & replaced. I’m 56 years old & hope students are not reading the exact same text as me 40 years ago. CRE says that change must include adding authors that reflect the culture of students in schools.

Richard Gray Jr

I’m not sure how answer that question until you tell me why you are asking it. When Shakespeare was added to the curriculum, he was deemed worth of replacing some other authors. Are you saying the curriculum must stay the same and no authors can ever be replaced or added?

Finally, I challenge the implication of your phrase “simply reading a book by a person of color that not engaging” for three reasons

Richard Gray Jr

  • There are many ENGAGING books by Authors of Color. I was not exposed to engaging Black writers like Lorraine Hansberry or Ralph Ellison until I was in college. It should have been much sooner. CRE is saying it should be sooner, too;

Richard Gray Jr

2) While we can’t assume students will be engaged by reading books by authors from their own culture or ethnicity, we can assume it will greatly increase the probability of their engagement with the text content, given their limited exposure to those authors;

Richard Gray Jr

3) Let’s be real…if “being engaging to students” is the standard, I’m not sure we would be teaching Shakespeare.

I agree with most of what Richard espouses, I worry about how CRE is rolled out across the state. New York City decided that pedagogical employees need anti-bias training?  Has the training made teachers more aware of their biases or alienated teachers by the presumption that they’re biased? In other words, how do we know the effectiveness of the training?

We may agree or disagree with Common Core State Standards; we probably agree that the roll out was terrible; it was forced down teachers’ throats and they gagged.

A colleague who served with distinction, meaning excellent results in an exceptionally poor district continues to argue,

Sometimes what remains unsaid is most telling.  The rigor and sophistication of the on-grade curricula that is ‘actually taught’ in the classrooms brings at least an additional and prominent measure of clarity as to why districts in low-socio economic areas are not competitive with those that teach higher levels of study across the board. 

 It is not surprising that what you teach has a direct relationship to how high students will reach and achieve – a further and reasonable explanation for the sturdiness of the achievement gap. Still wondering why so few minority students meet the criteria for entrance into specialized high schools? 

  Next, failure to design assessments around what is taught in classrooms is another nail in the coffin of reasonable practice – to actually measure how well the students are doing in acquiring grade-level content, knowledge, understandings and skills (standards). 

I find considerable merit in my colleague’s position, time and time again I see schools teaching below grade level arguing the grade level work is “too hard” for their poor students of color. Teachers, Black and White and Hispanic, totally invested in the success of their students falling into the trap of inexorably lowering standards.

I continue to argue that our current education model disempowers teachers and tries to turn them into mechanical widgets; akin to “by the number” painting.

School leadership, distributive leadership, a commitment to lifelong learning, a deep toolkit, namely schools with rich collaborative cultures, schools with common goals incorporate “what works,” and, with external supports, can and do change kids lives.

Does high stakes testing lead to drill and kill, aka, poor instructional practices or is testing necessary to provide accountability and assure equity for poor students of color?

Education in New York State is edging towards a crossroads: will the next commissioner and the Board of Regents begin to challenge high stakes testing, namely federally mandated grades three to eight testing and the regents examinations required for high school graduation, or, will the supporters of equity for poor children of color fight to retain testing for accountability purposes and challenge inequitable funding across the state?

On one side the opt-out supporters: parents and advocates from high wealth predominantly white schools and districts, advocates, and some members of the Board of Regents, on the other Michael Rebell and other advocates urging reform of state funding formula that are among the most inequitable in the nation as well as civil rights organizations arguing that only through testing can schools and school districts be held accountable for disparate outcomes.

Testing has a long, long history; the regents examinations began in the nineteenth century and were effectively the tracking tool for the worlds of college or work. The majority of students did not take regents exams, they took much lower level competence tests and received a local diploma, In my school, generally looked upon as a high achieving school only a quarter of students received a regents diploma. In the early 2000’s I was on a Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) team at Taft High School in the Bronx, an all minority school with 2000 plus students, I asked, “How many students received a regent diploma?” The answer was five. I said “5%?” No, five.

The students earning a regents diploma were overwhelmingly white, the students earning a local diploma overwhelmingly students of color; a parallel to the current testing to select students for the specialized high schools.

In 1996 the Board of Regents began the phase-out of the dual diplomas, a move to a single regents diploma. It took ten years.

Will the elimination of the regents diploma return to a dual track? Will accountability fade away?   Will passing courses without exit exams sacrifice rigor for higher graduation rates? How do you account for inter-rater reliability? Will a diploma in Scarsdale mean the same as a diploma in Buffalo?

The reason why we have annual grade three to eight testing is that the leading civil rights organizations in the nation fought to include testing in the successor to No Child Left Behind, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Wade Henderson, the leader of the Leadership Coalition for Civil Rights, an organization representing over 200 civil rights organizations argued that ESSA was a civil rights law.

Wade Henderson.

“Children facing the greatest barriers to their success like Black children and children from low-income communities need and deserve schools that educate all children well. They also deserve to know that the federal government will still hold states and school districts responsible if schools are not doing well or need help to improve.”

While I’m sure David Bloomfield, a highly regarded CUNY professor,  agrees with Henderson’s comments he also has grave doubts about high stakes testing, in a twitter post,

“High-stakes tests may not be high-stakes education. We’ve been beset by drill-and-kill test prep. It may be that exit exams actually are educationally deficient. That needs to be the question that the @NYSEDNews Regents study”

ESSA requires a 95% participation rate for each school, and, Fairtest an anti-testing organization reports how the law deals with the 95% participation rate requirement.

 “The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires that states assess 95% of all students, and 95% of each “subgroup” in every school with federally mandated annual state tests in English and math. It says that in calculating average school test scores, a school must include in the denominator the greater of either all test takers, or 95% of eligible test takers. If more than 5% of students are not tested, the lowest possible score will be assigned to non-test takers beyond 5%. This reduces the average score for such schools. In addition, ESSA says each state must, in its plan for ESSA implementation, “Provide a clear and understandable explanation of how the State will factor the requirement…into the statewide accountability system.”

States have responded in a variety of ways. A few have tried to avoid implementing this policy, but the U.S. Department of Education (DoE) has not approved such plans. In general, states have decided to do one of three things:

  1. Compile two lists of schools, one with the 95%+ denominator and one with only students who took the test. The intent seems to be to use the latter in deciding which schools receive interventions, but states taking this position have been vague about what they will actually do. It seems they don’t want to penalize districts in which parents choose to opt out, nor do they want to distribute ESSA improvement funds to districts that have low scores solely due to opting out. (States must provide support or intervention to schools that perform poorly; see http://fairtest.org/State-ESSA-Plans-Report-2018.)  
  2. Require districts with low participation to develop a plan to increase the number of test-takers. Some of these states may employ differing interventions based on whether the low rating is due to opting out or actual low scores.
  3. Add penalties for districts that opt out, such as lowering the school a level on the state’s ratings, on top of any lowering caused by not meeting the 95% requirement. This further penalizes schools for the actions of parents and students.

In all of this, some states are ignoring their own laws explicitly stating that parents can opt their children out, policies supported in ESSA itself. They are declaring, in effect, that you can opt out but we will penalize your school if you do”

New York State has walked a thin line, on one hand complying with the law, on the other going through the motions of requiring compliance plans without any teeth.

Opt-Out advocates are far from pacified, they applauded the resignation of Commissioner Elia and call for the appointment of a commissioner who will directly challenge the law; however, the feds could punish the state through withholding federal funds. (Read article here and here).

“Under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the federal government has the right to impose various sanctions on states that fail to ensure all students are tested, including withholding Title I funds, which go to schools based on their numbers of poor students. Under the same law, the state itself can withhold funds from districts or schools that do not have sufficient numbers of students tested. The federal government has never imposed such a punishment.”

If the feds did withhold federal dollars the schools that would be impacted are high poverty schools not the opt-out schools.

Bubbling just under the surface is the question of inequitable funding, New York State, a state that relies on property taxes, leads the nation in the unfairness of funding. Michael Rebell has challenged and continues to challenge the school funding formula. Governor Cuomo has chimed in also pointing to the wide district to district funding disparities.

 “New Yorkers have the right to know how much is being spent at their school, and for too long these decisions were being made in the dark,” Governor Cuomo said“When we understand where the money actually goes, we can begin to address funding inequalities and ensure every child gets the best shot at a quality education.”

Will the courts or the governor or a future commissioner or the Board of Regents actually address the funding disparities?  Should we abandon property taxes and fund all school through income taxes?  A Robin Hood approach?

I suspect the upcoming school year will be contentious.year

The City and State 2019 Education Summit is August 15th, always interesting with large turnouts of NYC education leaders. A good way to ease into the school

https://www.cityandstateny.com/events/2019-education-summit

 

NYS Education Commissioner Resigns (to move to another “Educational Opportunity”): Should the Next Commissioner Be an Innovator, a Reformer, an Administrator?

The July meeting of the Board of Regents is usually a discussion of key policy issues to address in the upcoming school year. The issue for the 19-20 school year has been bubbling for a few years: high school graduation requirements; with the underlying question: Do the current requirements adequately prepare students for higher education and/or the world of work? (Read Chalkbeat report here); a yet to be appointed blue ribbon commission will explore over the next school year.

After a few hours of discussion Maryellen Elia, the commissioner, read a statement, after four years in the position she is resigning to accept “another education opportunity.”  The members of the Board were shocked. (Read Chalkbeat report here)

The position of New York State commissioner of education is a complex and, at times, frustrating position.

New York State has a unique method of selecting the commissioner: the seventeen member Board of Regents who are “elected” at a combined meeting of both houses of the legislature, effectively the Democratic majority, hires the commissioner.

In most states the commissioner is selected by the governor, or, a board of education selected by the governor. The higher education governing structures, the CUNY and SUNY boards are appointed by the governor and select the chancellors of the systems.

The commissioner is only responsible to the Board of Regents, although dependent on the legislature and the governor for funding and laws that may change/amend/eliminate policies determined by the Board. It is an awkward structure.

Criticisms of actions of the commissioner are widespread due to complex policy issues.

  • Opt-Out parents demand that the state abandon state-wide testing that is required by federal statute. To challenge the federal law could jeopardize federal funding to the state.(Read Long Island Opt-Out comments re Elia resignation announcement here).
  • Should the state require that religious schools provide a level of education “comparable” to education required for all public schools?
  • Is the commissioner simply complying with the law or too lenient in addressing the reauthorization of charter schools?
  • Are the requirements for teacher preparation programs adequately preparing the next generation of teachers?
  • What is the role of the commissioner in integrating schools in New York State? For some, it is not the role of the commissioner, for others, a far more aggressive posture is required
  • Should the state take direct action in increasing numbers of teachers and supervisors of color?
  • Should the state provide a curriculum on each grade and subject, or, continue the policy that curriculum is a local matter?
  • Should the commissioner intervene aggressively in low performing school districts, and, if so, does the state have the capacity to actually manage local school districts?

And the list could go on and on.

The opt-out controversy is a prime example. New York State is unique; almost all states do not have opt-out provisions in regulation or law. The feds require a 95% student participation rate in each school; if the participation rate is lower an action plan to increase participation is required. If states refuse to comply with the federal regs the feds could withhold federal dollars, funds that go to high poverty schools, not the opt-out schools. The opt-outs argue the feds do not have the authority, and, if they try the state could intervene in the courts to prevent the actions.

I don’t know the answers, I don’t know if anyone knows the answers.

I have suggested that the commissioner establish alternative assessment pilots in schools or school districts across the state. New Hampshire has a federal waiver to use performance tasks that may replace state tests. Read a prior post that explores alternative assessments here.

The commissioner is reviled by the Opt-Outs.

The Yeshiva parents are livid; the decision of the commissioner to force “comparable” education standards, they argue, infringes their First Amendment rights. Or, should religious schools simply not take any state funding?

The state teacher union, the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) has been dueling with the commissioner for many months over teacher evaluation questions.

John King was popular in Washington, and left the position of commissioner to become the secretary of education. He was admired by some and abhorred by others.

I am surprised by the suddenness of the commissioner’s announcement; however, upon reflection, not surprised.

Newsday muses about the background politics. (“Behind the Lines“)

What happens next?

Beth Berlin, a current deputy will be the acting commissioner until a commissioner is selected.

The usual process is to use a headhunter to solicit candidates.

Do you seek a high profile candidate, perhaps a commissioner from another state?

A high profile educator from a foundation or university?

A senior, experienced superintendent from within New York State?

Is the selection solely the role of the Board of Regents or will Board involve union and parent advocates in the process?

As time goes by I’m sure names will pop up on blogs and education sites, I have my list, locked in a draw. Every candidate has pluses and minuses, advocates and detractors; the Board has a challenging task.

Each summer City and State hosts an Education Summit, education leaders and panels discussing  current education issues: the NYC chancellor Carranza is the keynote speaker – it is worthwhile attending, an excellent way to begin the school year. Check out the site:  https://www.cityandstateny.com/events/2019-education-summit

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 the Regents; 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 10th 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 viewed as 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 and the Regents were aligned to the Common Core.

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 recently look at the US History and Government here and the English  here.

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

The June, 20118 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.

Education Week muses: “Are Graduation Rates Real?” .

Although more kids are graduating more kids are not prepared for college and must take remedial courses in college.

Graduation requirements vary widely from state to state.

  • The level of rigor and expectations are not the same across schools and districts within states.
  • A significant portion of students do not complete or have access to courses that prepare them for their next steps.
  • Too many students earn a high school diploma without having taken and passed the courses needed for admission into either the more selective or broader-access colleges and universities in their states.

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; however, are the pathways an equivalent to passing Regents exams.

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.

The Regents members are beginning to explore a move away from Regents exams. The commissioner set forth “potential goals,”

  • Prepare students for 21stcentury 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 went 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 chancellor 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 eleven states that requires high school 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.

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.

 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 diplomas? Dual diplomas aimed at improving graduation rates for students with disabilities and English language learners?

The state ESSA law 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.

Currently forty high schools have a state waiver; the schools are called the Consortium for Performance-Based Assessment schools.

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?

Could we offer a Capstone Project in lieu of Regents?

The commissioner and the Board of Regents have begun 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?