Trump, Ignorance and the Electorate: Why is the Public Unable to Intelligently Debate Election Issues?

Donald Trump is a buffoon, an egomaniac, a racist and appeals to the basest instincts of the electorate, and, might end up as our president.

Bernie Sanders is nipping at Hillary’s heels, Joe Biden, with the blessing of Elizabeth Warren is mulling a run, and in every poll Trump is leading the Republican cabal and is in the mix with Democratic contenders.

In 2008 talking heads proudly proclaimed we had entered a post-racial world, a world in which a black man can be elected president; surely the election of Barrack Obama symbolized the coming of a new age in which race no longer was perceived as a stigma.

Sadly Charleston and the seemingly endless examples of white police officers slaying unarmed blacks or mistreating people of color assail claims of a post-racial America. The “Black Lives Matter” movement on one hand has mobilized a dormant civil rights movement and on the other hand awakened racial antipathy hidden behind smiling faces.

In state after state Trump has tapped into the sentiments that sizzle beneath the surface, Trump says what voters fear to say outside of the confines of the four walls of their home.

In the fall of 1787 Madison, Hamilton and Jay began to write the Federalist Papers, eighty-four what we would call op eds arguing for votes to ratify the constitution. The Federalist Papers were printed in the major newspapers across the thirteen colonies. . In Federalist # 10 Madison warns against the dangers of faction, an issue we see day in and day out in our Congress,

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.

Would the average voter understand Madison? What has happened? Why have we moved from an electorate able to debate Federalist # 10 to an electorate that cheers for the rantings of Donald Trump, not only cheers but supports him in numbers to drive him to the top of the Republican pool of candidates.

A NY Times article discusses the study of ignorance, a field called agnotology,

People tend to think of not knowing as something to be wiped out or overcome, as if ignorance were simply the absence of knowledge. But answers don’t merely resolve questions; they provoke new ones.

Candidates spew simple answers to complex problems, if we drive out the eleven million undocumented immigrants unemployment will disappear and prosperity will reign. The Chinese are ruining our economy, controlling our debt and we should boycott Chinese products.

Answers are easy to find, just Goggle the Internet, read a blog, and listen to Fox or Bill O’Reilly, simple answers to complex ambiguous questions.

Even more troubling is the poorly educated, the ideologues are not the only citizens who refuse to analyze the complex problems. Paul Krugman worries about the nerds seeing themselves as above politics, and asks,

… why people who pride themselves on their ability to think things through slide into lazy clichés when it comes to politics. And that’s important: just lecturing Silicon Valley types on the need to get serious about politics won’t work if there are deeper reasons smart people get stupid when politics enters the picture.

Fourteen months before the presidential election, ignorance and apathy rule: when will candidates, if ever, debate issues on their merits?

Last week a widely read website sponsored an event entitled “On Education” at the New School University. Chancellor Farina outlined her plans for the upcoming school year. Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch was on a panel with teachers and new State Commissioner Elia was interviewed one-on-one. After the event two “talking heads” discussed the event. The interviewers were unprepared, the talking heads prattled, and there was no serious discussion.

Complex issues are reduced to 140 characters on Twitter, the 24 hour news cycle has been reduced to the 24 second news cycle; “if it bleeds it leads” is the mantra of the NY Post and the NY Daily News.

Aside from Diane Ravitch and a handful of other commenters the educational issues of the day are misunderstand, or reduced to slogans.

Perhaps the CFE lawsuit definition of a “sound basic education” should be a precursor to voting,

In Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State (CFE I), the court provided what it called a template definition of a sound basic education for the parties and the trial court to explore on remand. The court, like courts in many other states, tied the standard to preparing students to exercise citizenship duties; it said, “Such an education should consist of the basic literacy, calculating, and verbal skills necessary to enable children to eventually function productively as civic participants capable of voting and serving on a jury.” 86 N.Y.2d 307, 316 (1995).

Schools Are NOT a Pipeline to Prison: We Cannot Blame Schools, School Leaders and Teachers for the Failures of National Policies.

A few weeks after the de Blasio election I drifted down to the transition tent on Canal Street. The Transition Team was sponsoring a series of panels of community members and experts recommending directions for the newly elected administration. The education panel was chaired by an NAACP leader and the panel members included a well-known religious leader and other activists from the Harlem community. As the discussion moved from topic to topic one of the panelists bemoaned the “school to prison pipeline” and quoted a statistic: the staggering number of Afro-American males suspended from school in kindergarten. I was sitting next to a high ranking Department of Education official, I turned to him with a querulous look, he tapped into his hand-held device and shook his head, absolutely not; the assertion had no basis in reality. . It was accepted by the panelists and the audience. The suspension polices in schools are a pipeline to prison.

The same students who are suspended are the students who drop out of school and end up in prison; if we halted or sharply limited suspensions would we halt dropouts and incarcerations? Neighborhoods with high poverty risk load factors, neighborhoods with high crime rates include schools that are burdened with the pathologies of the neighborhood that surrounds the schools. We cannot single out schools as the “cause” of incarceration rates. As teachers we have the obligation to protect students from the mean streets and too keep the culture of the streets outside of school buildings.

We need rules and regulations to set a standard for behavior in schools.

New York City has a detailed discipline code, a list of infractions and punishments that are reviewed and revised every few years, The current code, called the City-Wide Behavioral Expectations to Support Student Learning (April 2015) is is a 32-page guide to student discipline. The behavioral infractions are grouped into five levels from Uncooperative/Non-Compliant Behavior up to the most serious level, Seriously Dangerous or Violent Behavior.

The Code emphasizes guidance interventions; “restorative approaches” and recommends a series of activities: collaborative negotiation, peer mediation and formal restorative conferences.

One of the most common, and controversial reasons for disciplinary actions are,

Defying or disobeying the lawful authority of school personnel in a way that substantially disrupts the educational process and/or poses a danger to a school community …

The intervention, depending on the severity and frequency of the infraction can be: admonishment, conferences, reprimand, parent conference, in-school disciplinary action, removal from classroom, principal suspension (1-5 days), superintendent’s suspension (30-90 days), superintendent’s suspension (one year) and expulsion (over 17 and extremely rare).

All actions can be appealed and students are entitled to legal representation at the superintendent level suspensions.

Every incident in a school must be entered into the Online Occurrence Reporting System (OORS) in detail, the reports are tracked and schools with persistent discipline issues develop Incident Reduction Plans that are closely monitored by the Department.

In spite of the detailed lists of infractions, in spite of the attempts to view responses to infractions as guidance before punishment the school to prison canard is alive and well.

The NYCLU website writes,

The School to Prison Pipeline is a nationwide system of local, state and federal education and public safety policies that pushes students out of school and into the criminal justice system …. Schools directly send students into the pipeline through zero tolerance policies that involve the police in minor incidents and often lead to arrests, juvenile detention referrals, and even criminal charges and incarceration. Schools indirectly push students towards the criminal justice system by excluding them from school through suspension, expulsion, discouragement and high stakes testing requirements.

Yes, schools in New York City are all staffed with School Safety Officers who monitor school entrances and work with school staffs to maintain order and discipline. And, yes, many high school schools require students to pass through metal detectors, referred to as scanning. Scanning is required at virtually every public building; every court, City Hall, State Offices buildings, in fact, photo IDs are required at most office buildings around the city.

Sadly schools can be dangerous places. Mayor David Dinkins was on his way to Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn for a community event when he received stunning news – a student had been shot to death by another student in the building. A few years earlier the Board of Education had designated twenty high schools for the placement of metal detectors. Carol Beck, the principal of Jefferson vigorously opposed the placement in her school. The students were being treated as criminals and stigmatizing communities of color; she was supported by a range of civil rights organizations around the city, the Board relented, and a child died. (Read NY Times article here).

Chalkbeat reports that the number of suspensions is down by 10% (as of 3-31-15), of course the department controls the number of suspensions, all suspensions at the superintendent level must be approved by the hierarchy. Whether restorative practices resulted in a decrease in suspendable offenses or whether the department simply is not approving requests to suspend we do not know, whether schools will become less safe under the de Blasio/Farina administration or whether schools were too quick to suspend is also an unknown.

I suspect the department has changed the administration of the rules to make it extremely difficult to suspend a student.

Some schools in similar neighborhoods have much higher suspension numbers than other schools and some schools with no or very low suspension rates are chaotic.

School tone is set by the school leader, and, unfortunately too many school leaders are leaders in name only. On a visit to a middle school the principal proudly told me, “We are committed to restorative justice, no one will ever be suspended in my school.” She may very well have been totally committed, the kids weren’t, they were floating around the building, the building was a mess. Conversely, in another middle school in a very tough neighborhood the first kid who saw me walked up, introduced himself, shook hands, and asked how he could help me.

One principal monitors Facebook pages and social media: did something happen in the projects that might spill over into the school?

I was sitting in on a principal council in a multi-school campus; the item on the agenda was school tone. The principals were finger pointing, why did “your kids” wander into my part of the building? Why were “your kids” picking fights with “my kids?” After a while I asked, “Why don’t you meet with the gang leaders?” A principal, aghast, asked “Why would I wanna do that?” Perhaps unkindly I responded, “Because they run the building.”

Leadership is way beyond applying Danielson Frameworks to classroom lessons. Leadership are kids respecting the school leader, leadership is establishing the tone that allows for teaching and learning in classrooms.

Years ago I worked with a superintendent, his favorite line, “Order precedes learning.”

How does a school leader convince kids to leave the culture of the streets at the school door? Do school leaders have the tools to discipline students for egregious acts?

To blame schools, to blame suspension policies for incarceration is foolish and harmful to all students. Just as in the larger world schools must have rules with a set of sanctions for violating the rules. Just as in the larger world the rules must make sense and be equitably applied.

Suspending kids as a surrogate for effective leadership is unacceptable as is failing to sanction kids for bad behavior.

What Did the Release of the New York State Grades 3-8 Common Core Scores Tell Us About Teaching and Learning? (Aside from Geography, Sadly, is Destiny)) The Answer: Nothing.

Four months after the administration of the federally required grades 3-8 tests the state released the scores.

See lengthy state press release here.

Test scores by school here.

Diane Ravitch trashes claims about the tests,

But also bear in mind that the “cut scores” or “passing marks” are not based on science. They are judgments that may be affected by politics. If too many children pass, the cut score may be raised; if too many children fail, the cut score may be lowered. Ultimately, there is no objective way to measure how many students are “college-and-career-ready.”

Take a look at the third grade Literature/Reading Standards here – the issue is the test constructors, the psychometricians, have to create questions to assess the “learning” of the standards, and, as the NY Times shows the third grade questions that were released by the state were “tricky” and ambiguous.

In the third year of Common Core tests we have seen minimal progress, not because teachers are inept, or kids aren’t learning, the flat scores simply reflect tests that are meaningless.

Chancellor Tisch touts the “value and importance of these tests for our children’s education.” What value? The tests are required by the 2002 No Child Left Behind law and in order to qualify for the $700 million in Race to the Top funding; the state adopted the Common Core and created the new tests. Scores flipped from two-thirds of kids “passing” to two-thirds of kids “failing.”

“This year, there was a significant increase in the number of students refusing the annual assessments,” Chancellor Tisch said. “We must do more to ensure that our parents and teachers understand the value and importance of these tests for our children’s education. Our tests have been nationally recognized for providing the most honest look at how prepared our students are for future success, and we believe annual assessments are essential to ensure all students make educational progress and graduate college and career ready. Without an annual testing program, the progress of our neediest students may be ignored or forgotten, leaving these students to fall further behind. This cannot happen.”

The current tests do not impact children: why are we giving tests that have no impact on students? In New York State the only purpose of the tests are to judge teachers, principals and schools.

The Chancellor’s accusation that “Without an annual testing program, the progress of our neediest students may be ignored or forgotten, leaving these students to fall further behind” is absurd.

We have been testing students for over a century, the Regents exams, and before NCLB the state required testing in the fourth and eighth grade and city gave tests on all grades each year.

As teachers we “test” students all the time, the Friday spelling test, unit tests, projects, we ask kids to write essays, to answer in class; teaching and learning is a process. I sat in on a meeting of secondary school math teachers a few days after the new Common Core Algebra Regents. The teachers had created an error matrix, the most frequent incorrect answers, and examined their lesson plans for the specific lesson. The teachers asked, “How can we change our lessons to address the incorrect student answers?” The Regents exams are marked within days and can inform instruction.

Unfortunately the state tests are not based on a curriculum; schools have adopted the Engage NY curriculum modules, and, hope that the modules will be reflected on the state exams. Scores released in August, four months after the administration of the test and only releasing some of the questions does not aid teachers in planning.

Parents of 200,000 kids chose to opt-out of the exams, and the movement may very well grow next year. The new Commissioner poured gasoline on the opt-out fire by threatening to withhold funding from high opt-out schools .

Individual schools could lose funding if large numbers of students opt out of state standardized tests in April, state education commissioner MaryEllen Elia said on Wednesday.

The state Education Department is in conversations with the U.S. Department of Education working on a plan regarding possible sanctions for districts with high opt-out rates, Elia said.

In the conference call with reporters, Elia said the sanctions weren’t clearly defined and could simply consist of a phone call to superintendents asking what happened and what they plan to do differently next year. But it’s also possible that federal Title I funds will be withheld, she said.

If Commissioner Elia thinks she can coerce parents into not opting out she is mistaken. If the reauthorization of NCLB becomes law, states will have wider discretion in their testing program, and, with the firing of Pearson, the state should reconfigure the tests.

Cut scores are set by the Commissioner, there is no formula, the state decided to create a test that failed two-thirds of all students. Secretary of Education Duncan and former Commissioner King believed that principals and teachers could be threatened into “teaching better” and kids into “learning better.” (“The beatings will continue until the scores increase”)

We have always incorporated standards into our teaching, the Common Core State Standards are simply a new set of standards, and the standards are a list of skills we expect a student to acquire at each grade.

Unfortunately the modules, the de facto curriculum, vary widely, from clear and coherent to incoherent, and, the modules are not aligned to the state tests.

Next year is an election year, every member of the state legislature is up for election, and the parents of 200,000 students are angry. The members of the legislature will have to decide whether to stick with a commissioner who threatens school district funding, or intervene to support parents by changing the direction of the state testing program.

As a former Speaker of the House of Representatives opined, “All politics is local.”

Beyond Credit Recovery: Who Are the Students Who Don’t Graduate, and, Why Are They Failing to Graduate?

Mayors are judged by falling crime rates and increasing student test scores and graduation rates.

The reasons for falling crime rates are complex and controversial, Giuliani boasted of a “broken windows” strategy, Bloomberg pointed to “stop and frisk.” Criminologists and sociologists muse: ComStat, better policing, more cops on the street or maybe Roe v Wade (See the Roe v. Wade arguments here and here)

Donohue-Levitt hypothesis that legalized abortion in the 1970s explains a substantial part of the crime decline in the 1990s …individuals born into poverty in high crime neighborhoods who were likely to commit crimes were never born.

Bloomberg touted higher test scores and graduation rate increases, although the test score claims were widely challenged. Graduation rates did rise and the closing of large dysfunctional high schools and the creation of small schools were responsible. Too many high schools had been floundering for decades, the board of education leadership simply followed a triage model, allowing schools to fail by tracking kids to failing or succeeding schools; Taft in the Bronx and Jefferson in Brooklyn were the dumping grounds. Klein closed the schools beyond the tipping point as well as many schools that were addressing the issues. The creation of hundreds of small schools led to greater personalization, teacher collaboration, and, unfortunately “progressive” policies that verged on inappropriate – “generous” scoring of regents exams and granting of credits for subpar work. The Farina administration continued the same highly questionable practices; until the recent New York Post assault.

Article after article exposed egregious acts, changing grades (‘rescoring”) and the dubious practice called credit recovery – kids who failed subjects received credit for minimal work School principals set passing quotas, complaints were brushed aside by the investigative arm of the department and Sol Stern takes the chancellor to task for a career of “progressive” ideas that, in Stern’s opinion have resulted in ill-prepared students and teachers.

The department has responded by claiming that only .15% of high school students (6,000 out of over 300,000 earned credit through credit recovery) and intends to closely monitor and reduce the number sharply in the future.

The goal of education policy must not be to elect mayors or burnish legacies; the goal is to graduate kids prepared for post-secondary education. High student failure rates are distressing and the blame should be placed at the feet of the electeds and school district and state leaders who established the flawed policies.

There are core questions that must be explored: Are current New York State graduation requirements fair and equitable for all students? Are we asking too much of students, or, are we appropriately preparing them for the cold, cruel future in a rapidly changing economy?

Over the last twenty years the state has made dramatic changes to graduation requirements

In the mid-nineties the regents began the phase-out the local diploma and move to a single regents diploma. The majority of students in the state were settling for a local diploma that did not require any regents exams – the “regents competency test,” the RCT, was at the eighth or ninth grade level. The move to the single regents diploma was highly controversial. The plan was to drop the “passing” grade on all regents to 55 and phase up to 65 over four years – it took ten years to totally phase out the RCT. Along the way the regents changed: the English exam from a two-day six hour exam to a one-day three hour exam, the global regents will move from an exam covering the ninth and tenth grade curriculum to a tenth grade only exam.

The state is beginning to phase in the common core regents exams; the plan is to phase in the exams over eight years with the scores being scaled each year until fully phased in.

As we continue to ratchet up the rigor of the work, basically raising the bar for students, teachers and school leaders, how are we addressing the students who are unable to meet the new, higher standards?

New York State does have the highest standards of any state in the nation.

Most states across the country demonstrated large discrepancies between student proficiency rates as reported by state tests and rates measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “the Nation’s Report Card.” However, New York was one of only two states to achieve proficiency benchmarks that are more rigorous than NAEP

Should we applaud and pat ourselves on the back or should we be concerned with the 25% of students who do not graduate?

Latest state data reports that the six year graduation rate for students with disabilities is 53% – the state graduation for all students is 76%.

Students with disabilities have an Individual Education Plan, an IEP that determines levels of services, perhaps a self-contained class with lower class size, or a class with a paraprofessional, or, guidance services, the student is expected to pass the same regents exams as all other students. In other words the IEP directed services are expected to “cure” the student of the disability.

The Committee on Special Education and the school-based teams that determine levels of services should also determine graduation requirements appropriate to the handicap of the student. The IEP should become the Individual Education and Graduation Plan. Should we assume that students with dyslexia can master the common core Algebra regents? These decisions should be left to the educators who determine the student’s education plan.

Currently there are two choices: a regents diploma or the C-DOS credential. The C-DOS credential is not a diploma – the Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) Commencement Credential is intended for moderately to severely handicapped students, a small percent of students with disabilities. The modifications to the regents diploma could be attached to the diploma. Currently we condemn a cohort of kids who have passed all of their subjects, and pass some of their regents. The failure to pass regents due to a handicapping condition should not bar a student from a regents diploma.

Additionally English language learners (ESL) only have a graduation rate of 31%; Afro-American male students have distressingly low graduation rates. As we look around the state some schools have graduation rates for ESL students that approach the rates for all students, and, the same holds for Afro-American male students: why are some schools highly successful and others stumbling? The skills of the school leader and teachers? Greater access to funding? Larger numbers of teachers with language skills or minority teachers and school leaders?

Before the state embarks on major changes to graduation requirements, aside from the obvious changes regarding students with disabilities, the state should explore: who are the 25% who fail to graduate, and why do they fail to graduate?

I suspect the large percentage of kids who fail to graduate have dropped out of school; I also suspect we can identify kids most likely to drop out early in their school career.

We could probably provide a school with a list of fourth graders likely to drop out of high school and require the school to intervene and track the success, or lack thereof, of the intervention.

The Cuomo approach: flail teachers and school leaders is asinine. Chase out the “bad” teachers has resulted in discouraging kids from entering teaching.

Let’s allow educators to guide not only the student with disability education plan but also the requirements for graduation and let’s take a deep dive into who is not graduating and why?

Removing the Credit Recovery Stain: Will the Chancellor Restore Credibility to the High School Diploma?

Kids stumble in middle school, self-destruct in high schools and begin to fail subjects; reading and math skills two or three years below grade with Regents exams on the horizon, school is hard, really hard. The frustrations may lead to cutting classes or cutting school, a diploma moves further and further away. The light bulb suddenly pops! Without a diploma I can’t get a good job, I can’t even join the military; however, it’ll take me five or six years to collect the credits I missed. Some kids find a transfer high school, schools designed for kids with limited credits. For others perhaps the GED, whoops, the GED is gone; New York State has replaced the GED with another exam, TASC, a test aligned to the common core. I’m eighteen year old, how can I earn a high school diploma?

About a dozen years ago I worked with a not-for-profit that both created and worked with small high schools; we were working on a “tool kit,” a variety of skills/programs that can assist principals/schools. As I was sifting through papers I found my “credit recovery tool kit” file. Under state regulations each high school course requires 54 hours of seat time. If a student fails a course should the student have to repeat the entire course? What if the student “mastered” come topics and “failed to master” other topics? Is it possible to determine the topics passed and failed and develop a program to address the failed topics?

A few years later I was working with a small high school, a former college student of mine developed a credit recovery program that addressed the issue. His team would train teachers and produce templates for a variety of courses. The student would work with the teacher, using the template, to produce a 12-15 page term paper. The school would set aside blocks of time – four days during the Christmas, winter and spring breaks – 24 hours (6 hours x 4 days) – the student could earn three credits over a school year.

Unfortunately what began as a program to assist students to earn credits morphed into a “quicky” path to graduation. Writing a 12-15 page term paper became a few hours at a computer. As flawed credit recovery became endemic newly elected Regent Cashin asked an experienced high school principal to investigate. The principal compiled a report: schools routinely purchased software packages; I believe one was called Plato, a student sat at a computer, read passages and answered questions, sometimes using a textbook to seek answers, sometimes with the assistance of a teacher, and, after a few hours the student achieved mastery. Fifty-four hours of seat time was reduced to a few hours of punching keys on a computer.

As the Chancellor Merryl Tisch began to investigate the Department rushed to issue new regulations to address this problem to begin July 1, 2011.


Making Up Incomplete or Failed Course Credit.
Commencing July 1, 2011 and thereafter, a school district, Title may provide a student, who had the opportunity to complete a unit of study in a given high school subject but who failed to demonstrate mastery of the learning outcomes for such subject, with an opportunity to make up a unit of credit for such subject toward either a Regents or local diploma, pursuant to the following:

i. To receive credit, the student shall successfully complete a make-up credit program and demonstrate mastery of the learning outcomes for the subject, including passing the Regents examination in the subject or other assessment required for graduation, if applicable.
ii. The make-up credit program shall:
a. be aligned with the applicable New York State learning standards for such subject;
b. satisfactorily address the student’s course completion deficiencies and individual needs; and
c. ensure that the student receives equivalent, intensive instruction in the subject matter area provided, as applicable, under the direction and/or supervision of:

… a school district teacher who is certified in the subject matter area;

In the case of a school district or registered nonpublic school, the student’s participation in the make-up credit program shall be approved by a school-based panel consisting of, at a minimum, the principal, a teacher in the subject area for which the student must make up credit, and a guidance director or other administrator.

Are the software packages that schools purchase “aligned with the applicable New York State learning standards?” Does the make-up credit program “satisfactorily address the student course completion deficiencies and individual needs”? Do the students receive “equivalent, intensive instruction” under the direction of a “teacher certified in the subject matter area?”

There are no safeguards in place to assure compliance with the regulations, they were routinely ignored.

Six months later the Office of the Auditor-General issued a report. HIGH SCHOOL ACADEMIC DATA AUDIT REPORT. February, 2012 with recommendations:

Credit recovery: In addition to following the NY State regulation on make-up credit, guidance staff will identify students who may be eligible for credit recovery based on their course grades as an initial step. A subject-certified teacher will assign students to an approved credit recovery course that covers content materials they had not mastered. The subject committee will meet regularly to assess students’ progress and will be responsible for signing-off on the final test taken in the subject area. The school administrator will review the committee’s decision and have final authority to assign credit.

There was no follow-up, the audit was filed away and gathered dust.

Thanks to the relentless work of the reporting staff at the NY Post we know that the Department routinely ignored state regulations and the Report of the Auditor General. What is so sad is there is no conspiracy, schools openly flouted the regulations, superintendents ignored the regulations, in fact, may have encouraged “whatever is necessary” to pump up graduation rates. Networks facilitated the creation of credit recovery efforts; the goal was higher graduation rates “by any means possible.”

The Bloomberg administration was closing the doors at the end of 2013 and higher graduation rates were part of the legacy.

The Farina administration made no effort to remedy the egregious failures of the Bloomberg administration. As the pressure on the principal at John Dewey High School increased the Chancellor defended the principal at Dewey, until she was fired in July.

Farina and her deputy, Phil Weinberg, an experienced high school principal should have immediately intervened. Weinberg has been a high school principal for more than a decade he is not a naïf.

To address the growing scandal the Chancellor has created a mechanism to “monitor concerning trends,”

“By creating a Regulatory Task Force on Academic Policy and forming dedicated teams to monitor any concerning trends, we are once again sending a clear message that violating academic policies will not be tolerated,” Fariña said in a statement.

The editorial and op ed side of the NY Post flail away calling for the firing of the Chancellor and the creation of more charter schools, soiling the excellent work of the reportorial staff. The editorial writers praise Bloomberg, sadly ignoring the reality, the credit recovery scandal, and it is a scandal, was created and sanctioned by the Bloomberg administration.

A high school diploma is a crucial achievement, without the diploma the job market is sharply reduced, the difference between a career of bagging groceries versus a job with benefits and a pension. Creating a variety of pathways to high school graduation should not include “short cuts” that are fraudulent. The credit recovery chimera is not in place to assist students, it is in place to pump up graduation rates, and its purpose is to burnish the reputation of the adults, not to assist students.

The Regents must explore whether the single Regents diploma should be the sole pathway to graduation. Should the Regents create additional pathways? Are the new Common Core Regents exams aligned with state curricula? Why are students struggling with grades 3-8 Common Core exams? Are the exams flawed? Are the Common Core standards flawed?

I fear the “Regulatory Task Force” is simply a face saver, simply a presser to relieve the pressure. I fear the new administrative superintendent-driven system will not be able to create learning communities at the school and district level.

We know the students, the schools, the communities that are over-burdened with poverty risk load factors – how are the de Blasio and Farina administrations addressing generational poverty and the impact on schools?

Bloomberg closed over 150 schools and created 500 plus smaller schools, graduation rates have risen, we are suspicious about the data, the many small schools are far more personalized and can address the needs of individual students. A teacher in a Renewal Schools told me, “My students enter pre-k at least a year behind, attendance is poor, no matter how much we try too many of our children fall further and further behind.”

How are we addressing the concerns of that pre-k teacher?

Mixed Martial Arts: The Republican Debates Begin the Race to the Top – Will the Republicans Self-Destruct and Can the Democrats Coalesce Around a Candidate?

On Thursday all of America can watch the Fox Mixed Martial Arts presentation – the Republican debates – the preliminary, the also-rans, followed by the ten contenders. Fifteen months before the election Donald Trump is leading the Republican polling.

Trump tops the field at 20% in the poll, Quinnipiac’s first since the businessman announced his run for the presidency in June. He is followed … by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 13%. Bush follows … at 10%. This trio comprises the only Republican candidates in double-digits in each of the last four publicly released national polls.

Behind them, Quinnipiac finds a group of four tied at 6%: retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are just a shade behind at 5%.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) and the Republican brain trust have to be increasingly nervous. The press covers Trump as he rails against the other candidates, threatens to run as a third party candidate, and, in match-ups with the Democrats does poorly.

And in general election match-ups, Trump lags far behind three potential Democratic opponents: He trails both Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden in head-to-head matchups by 12 points, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders holds an 8-point lead over Trump.

Bush and Walker each run about even with Clinton and Biden in their head-to-heads, while Sanders narrowly trails the two Republicans.

On the Democratic side Clinton far outpolls her rivals,

… Quinnipiac’s poll finds Clinton solidly ahead, with support from 55% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters. That puts her nearly 40 points ahead of her closest competitor, Sanders at 17%.

(See the results from a range of polls here)

While Clinton may be polling well her “likability” numbers are weak; as the campaign escalates and the attacks increase in intensity and virulence will her numbers erode?

Multiple media outlets and pundits have suggested that her personal unpopularity well over a year before the presidential election is a major problem for her. A Washington Post article described the poll numbers as “decidedly sobering for Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects in 2016.”

The Republican contenders have been pushed aside by the media attention on Trump, at this stage the election is still entertainment and Trump is a better entertainer than any of his rivals. Instead of a debate among the candidates the campaign has become outrageous comments by Trump with the rivals avoiding getting pulled into the mud pit. The contenders have been waiting for Trump to self-destruct; however, each seemingly destructive comment adds to the entertainment factor. On Thursday Trump will be center stage, do you attack Trump? Engage in a tit-for-tat? Attack the other wannabees and ignore Trump? Each camp is carefully creating a strategy, trying to distinguish themselves from the crowd.

“Fox told campaigns this week that the candidates will be lined up onstage according to their poll numbers, with the leader in the center and the others to his left and right. That means if current numbers hold, [Donald] Trump will be in the center flanked by Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.”

“… there won’t be opening statements. In addition, there will be a minute to respond to a moderator’s question and an extra 30 seconds to respond if you call out a rival by name.”

To raise money candidates must be relevant, if you linger in the single digits in the polls the dollars will no longer flow, the tens and tens of millions necessary to run a campaign. Federal law caps contributions to candidates at $2700 per contributor; there are no caps on Super-PACs, independent committees with no formalized ties to a candidate’s campaign. One contributor gave Ted Cruz’s PAC $10 million, no one can survive as a candidate without a Super-PAC and Jeb Bush has over $100 million in his PAC.

The caucus/primary season begins in February with the Iowa caucus followed by the New Hampshire primary; March 5th is Super Tuesday with a dozen primaries. (See primary calendar here).

Candidates have to run a campaign in all the early primary states, and campaigns cost dollars.

Who are the likely voters? Campaigns buy voter lists and disaggregate the “likely” voters by gender, race, income and social views. How is it possible to collect that data? Facebook and every other social media site. The sites sell data; every time you click on Facebook, click on any site: make comments, read magazine or books online, you’re cyber life is for sale.

You might be outraged, this can’t be legal! Isn’t this is violation of my right to privacy? Did you read Facebook terms of use agreement? Facebook and other social media sites collect and sell data – that’s how they make money. The details of your life are for sale; welcome to the cyberworld.

If you were running a campaign in New York City you’d contact Prime NYC and purchase lists of likely voters (“prime” voters), and create a campaign around the voters who you have identified as most likely to support your candidate. TV, print and electronic media buys, foot soldiers to knock on doors; multiply by each and every primary state, a massive organization with tens of thousands of volunteers and paid workers, an army.

I read blog after blog bemoaning the power of money in elections, I agree; however Citizen United changed the rules of the game. There are no longer any limits on Super-PAC donations; if you want to play you need the dollars.

In a prior post I agreed with the AFT endorsement of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders and many readers were angry. I wish we lived in a nation in which a Socialist could be elected president; I wish our health care system was a single-payer system, basically Medicare for all. I wish we lived in a nation without the incredible income disparities. Unfortunately we have never resolved our racial issues. The Sunday New York Times magazine A Dream Undone: Inside the 50-year campaign to roll back the Voting Rights Act is a must read; a depressing recounting of the dismantling of the Fifteenth Amendment and the current dismantling of the Voting Rights Act.

I support the election of Democrat in the November, 2016. any Democrat; it is vital for the nation as we know it. My anti-Hillary friends tell me that Jeb Bush is not an ultra-conservative, that he’s a moderate Republican. Moderate Republican is an oxymoron. The next president will in all likelihood appoint Supreme Court justices, will face Republican legislation to turn Medicare into a voucher program, privatize Social Security, sharply reduce federal dollars for education and move public education to a voucher-based choice program, and, of course, do everything possible to weaken or eliminate labor unions. A Republican president and a Republican Congress will make the nightmare reality.

Fighting it out in the primaries strengthens candidates, forces them to respond to challenges. The negative side is supporters of the loser staying on the sidelines. While McGovern won the nomination in 1972 in a bruising primary campaign he was trashed in the general election as too many Democrats stayed on the sidelines or voted for Nixon.

The New York Times and columnist Maureen Dowd report that Joe Biden is considering a run; the more the merrier as long as the party coalesces around the eventual winner.

I am asked what is Hillary or Bernie’s position on the Common Core or charter schools or this or that education issue – the answer is that education is far down the list is issues that attract voters. Hopefully teachers will be knocking on doors, for Hillary, or Bernie, or maybe Joe, the crucial question is whether teachers will be knocking on doors for the Democratic nominee. The combination of Democratic supporters will be across the spectrum, you may find hedge funders who fund charter schools supporting Clinton or Biden, you may find the remnants of moderate Republicans supporting the Democrat; you win by coalition-building and the Democratic nominee needs a coalition to reach the threshold of 270 electoral votes.

The future of public education and the achievements from Roosevelt through Johnson to the today are at stake.

Receivership, Renewal, Credit Recovery Abuse, Partner Schools, Showcase Schools, Cheating: What is the Message from Central? Do Teachers Have to Be Led or Can They Be Trusted to Lead?

In a recent editorial the New York Daily News lauded the comments of the new Commissioner of Education and encouraged the New York City Chancellor Farina to aggressively force teachers in “struggling” schools, the Renewal and Receivership schools to reapply for their jobs.

Like a no-nonsense principal, the state’s new education commissioner is setting refreshingly clear expectations for New York’s struggling schools:

Shape up or face serious consequences.

Consistent with important new state powers granted under Gov. Cuomo’s budget agreement this year, Elia announced that 144 underperforming schools across New York, including 62 in the city, will enter receivership.

Fariña now has wider authority to make staff reapply for jobs en masse — as she and the principals at two of the worst high schools, Automotive and Boys & Girls, have already done. Those housecleanings will send more than half the staff at each school packing, giving the campuses crucial opportunities to build healthier, more academically challenging cultures.

If 12 or 24 months pass and kids are still being left behind, the state can get even more aggressive — forcing the handover of schools to independent non-profit groups or other school districts, who will have still broader overhaul power.

The editorial writers assume there is a long line of highly effective teachers just waiting to enter the “struggling” schools and that the “restaffing” means ridding the school of “bad” teachers; in reality “good” teachers also decide to flee “struggling” schools.

Under the staffing rules in New York City, called “open market,” any teacher can transfer to any school as often as they can find a job. There is a steady flow of teachers away from lower achieving, “struggling” schools to higher achieving schools. “Housecleaning” is often perceived as driving away the more senior teachers instead of retaining effective teachers. Research confirms what we already know,

We find that teachers’ perceptions of the school administration has by far the greatest influence on teacher retention decisions.

Sadly school districts continue to operate under the old paradigm, paramilitary organizations, orders come down from on high and everyone is expected to salute and carry out the order. We know, of course, that each step down the ladder the salute is with less enthusiasm and the new initiative or new idea fizzles. The new paradigm, the Goggle or Zappos management styles; the best decisions are made by the teams with significant authority working independently. In the eighties/nineties one school district in Brooklyn fully engaged in school management/decision-making and school-based budgeting. High functioning school leadership teams supported by a district leadership team; parents, district office staff, school leaders, the union and teachers working together: what a concept! The district decided not to bus special education students, they had to attend their local school that had to provide appropriate instruction, all middle schools became magnet schools, school budgets were fully transparent, and local school leadership teams were supported by extensive training.

Rather than a model for the city the “powers” at Central reined in the district, compliance trumped innovation.

The Bloomberg/Klein era created networks, clusters of 25 or so schools, principals chose which network to join – an affinity grouping of schools. A few of the networks actually functioned as quasi-independent clusters of schools. The network leaders regularly led school faculty conferences, taught summer workshops for school leaders and teachers, encouraged schools to dive deeply into discussions of teaching and learning. Again, reined in by central, the networks weren’t “aligned” with the messages from central.

The return to geographic school districts led by a superintendent has had a stumbling start. How many of the 42 new superintendents have met with school staffs during monthly faculty conference? How many taught workshops over the summer? How many meet with teacher leaders?

What is the message from the top?

In my union rep role I always told principals that their meetings with staff should mirror the instruction they want to see in classrooms. I was sitting in the auditorium; the principal handed out a dense packet of papers and proceeded to read the written material to the staff. Respectfully, I interrupted and suggested that perhaps we could do what we do in church, the principal can read one line and we can read the next line aloud. The appointment of a school leader is not accompanied by a scepter and orb, only a larger salary and a title – respect is earned by performance.

While the messenger, the chancellor is popular with teachers, I am confused by the message: abuse the rules, just don’t get caught, press releases trump real change, we know what’s best, jump on board and don’t make waves.

Recent actions continue not to be encouraging.

For decades during the testing days “monitors” were sent into schools on testing days. The ‘monitors” were district office and central staff. During the testing days they “assured” that proper practices were followed in schools; from the opening of the test packages at the beginning of the day to the sending of the completed exam papers to the scoring centers. And, then, during the mid-Klein years the practice ended, no reason, it just ended. How many principals filled in answers for kids who couldn’t finish exams? How many teachers “coached” during exams? We’ll never know; we do know that the powers at central didn’t seem to care: were they sending a very discrete message? I would have hoped the current administration would have revived monitors.

In spite of regulations limiting the use of credit recovery abuse is endemic. Chancellor Merry Tisch had forced the city to issue regulations as well as regulations to eliminate “re-scoring” (aka “scrubbing”) of Regents exams. The recent events at John Dewey High School are especially distressing. The principal blatantly ignored the regulations, the network leader and superintendent chose to turn their backs, critical teachers were punished with adverse ratings, and, until the NY Post exposed the scandal the Chancellor and the administration defended the principal. Dewey is not unique: similar practices were taking place in a host of schools.

Whether totally unaware of cheating or skirting the rules, whether just deaf and blind or just giving a “wink and nod” to the evil-doers the administration spins out partnership schools and showcase schools, somehow they think that “good practices” can be absorbed from school to school. One principal who was taken on a walk-through of a “highly effective” school told me she wanted to ask, “Can we exchange student bodies?” Another told me, “I said hello to two of my best teachers who had transferred.”

If receivership, re-staffing, partner schools, showcase schools, etc., are not an “answer;” on what should central be concentrating?

I sought out highly successful school district leaders and posed the question: A few of the responses:

* Student discipline and school safety – without clear behavioral expectations and the enforcement of those expectations, most schools will be unable create a learning environment that is conducive to learning. And while many schools need assistance in strengthening disciplinary approaches as a means to diminish constant student interruptions, disruptions, bullying, harassment, intimidation, violence; we must also prepare children for successful interactions with peers and authority figures in the world beyond school.

* School feeder patterns that ensure in a school more than a critical mass of children who are struggling learners, promote, no, ensure school failure. For those on high who lecture on an equal playing field, isn’t time they became part of the solution rather than merely finger pointers? It’s time to develop policies and placement procedures that promote equity for all rather than favoritism for a chosen few.

* All schools need content specialists … experts in content to guide teachers in their planning, their selection of text, their curricula development and in their lesson planning. We now have generations of teachers and supervisors who have to survive on their own with limited or bizarre support and guidance. With the introduction of common core standards there was anticipation that close attention to content on all levels would be a necessity to support teachers and to ensure higher standards and challenging and engaging learning opportunities. Instead, the very practices that have proven ineffective and blatantly lacking in grade level content remain, without regard to evidence of decades of failure while school quality criteria demand close attention to questionable practices with little research to back them up (i.e.., differentiation, and obsessive group work). Course content, knowledge and curricula, among the most essential elements of an effective education, remain underfunded and under the radar.

I fear educational leadership skips from idea to idea, more concerned with the spin than the value of the idea. We don’t have hundreds of freeze-dried great teachers to plop into receivership schools, compliant school leaders skilled at skirting the rules will not “turnaround” stumbling schools, teacher centers provide the synergy to improve instruction: how many struggling school include teacher centers? And on and on.

I worry.