Mayoral Control or an Elected School Board: How Should Education in New York City Be Led?

Why shouldn’t mayors be in charge of schools?  Mayors select the police chief, the head of parks, sanitation, all city agencies and fund schools, why do we need school boards? On the other hand shouldn’t educational decisions be free of politics? Shouldn’t parents and teachers play a role in education decision-making? Shouldn’t educational decisions be made to benefit children not enhance the popularity of the mayor?

Elected school boards give the citizenry a voice in decision-making, a vital part of the democratic process; however dollars drive elections. In Citizens United (2010) the Supreme Court ruled that political contributions are speech and any limit on contributions violates the First Amendment. Millions of dollars poured into Los Angeles school board elections from billionaire charter school supporters and elected a pro-charter school board. New York City could end up with a pro-charter, anti-union elected school board.

The mayoral control law contained a sunset provision, the governance would revert to the system prior to the mayoral control law if not reauthorized, read a detailed discussion of the law here.

An increasing number of large cities have moved to a mayoral control of schools starting with Boston in the 90’s and New York City in 2002. Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and others have followed suit.

In the early years mayoral control was praised by scholars, The Education Mayor: Improving America’s Schools  (2007) Kenneth Wong and others took a deep dive into mayor control,

• What does school governance look like under mayoral leadership?
• How does mayoral control affect school and student performance?
• What are the key factors for success or failure of integrated governance?
• How does mayoral control effect practical changes in schools and classrooms?

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

Mayoral control has come under increasing attack from a range of stakeholders, especially parents and teachers, the core constituency of schools.

New York City has never had an elected school board, from the creation of New York City in 1898, “the Great Consolidation,” until the late 60’s a policy board selected through a screening panel process picked a superintendent, an experienced educator from within the system.

In 60’s the system faltered, rising cries for school integration, opposition to the war in Vietnam and back-to-back teacher strikes (67/68). Riots swept across cities, Watts, Detroit, Newark, and cities appeared to be on the cusp of racial warfare. Some sociologists advocated that inner city communities be given power over their own lives, a precursor of the current Defund the Police movement; give communities control over schools in their communities (Read a more detailed discussion on a prior blog post here).

The NYS legislature passed a law decentralizing the system, an appointed seven member salaried, staffed school board, each borough president would appoint a member and mayor appoint two members. The city divided into thirty-two nine-member elected school boards with the authority to hire superintendents and principals and determine curriculum. (The power to hire superintendents was revoked in the mid-nineties). Decentralization became a patronage pool for local electeds and was plagued by corruption, especially in the highest poverty districts; the power structure ignored the corruption. A few districts thrived with deeply involved members and should have been models for the remainder of the city.

In 2001 Michael Bloomberg was elected mayor, and, with widespread support, called for mayoral control of schools and the legislature/governor agreed, mayor control legislation became law.

If the law is not reauthorized by June 30th following the election of a mayor the system reverts to the previous iteration, decentralization. The mayoral system did retain a school board, nine of the fifteen members appointed by the mayor (Panel for Education Priorities) and local school boards (Community Education Councils) made up of parent association leaders with limited authority, very limited authority.

Mayor-elect Adams is about to introduce his selection for chancellor.

The first week in January the state legislature will convene, Governor Hochel will give her State of the State message, later in January release the Executive Budget and some time before mid-June adjournment reauthorize mayoral control, or not.

After Mayor deBlasio’s re-election the Republican controlled State Senate held mayoral control hostage, trying to extract more charter schools. A New York Times ripped the Republicans and at a special session over the summer mayoral control was reauthorized. The teacher union, with a few caveats supported reauthorization.

One would think that with democrats in control of New York State mayoral control would be reauthorized without opposition. Actually dissatisfaction with soon to be ex-mayor has resulted in calls for changes in the law; from a totally new law, creating an elected school board, to changing the representation on the PEP to eliminate the mayoral majority. On the horizon is a bruising primary election to select a democratic gubernatorial candidate as well as a tough election in November. The mayoral control law could easily become a divisive campaign issue.

A few years ago the Assembly Education Committee, acknowledging the sunset provisions in the law, held hearings.

I testified, read my testimony here, Diane Ravitch submitted testimony, read here, as did other advocates, Leonie Haimson (Class Size Matter) here and Kamala Karman (NYC Opt Out) here.

The growing list of candidates for governor will all have their own views, and rubber-stamping a reauthorization may not be so easy. A democratic Governor, Assembly and Senate leaders does not presage an unamended reauthorization.  While the legislative session sits in Albany the candidates in the gubernatorial democratic June primary will duel, Republicans waiting for the November general election and hoping to seize the governorship, mayoral control may emerge as a contentious election issue.

As a history teacher I was reminded of the evils of factions in the political arena, and Madison’s warning to the People of New York should be required reading today.

To the People of the State of New York:

AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice. He will not fail, therefore, to set a due value on any plan which, without violating the principles to which he is attached, provides a proper cure for it. The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished; as they continue to be the favorite and fruitful topics from which the adversaries to liberty derive their most specious declamations.

The valuable improvements made by the American constitutions on the popular models, both ancient and modern, cannot certainly be too much admired; but it would be an unwarrantable partiality, to contend that they have as effectually obviated the danger on this side, as was wished and expected.

Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. However anxiously we may wish that these complaints had no foundation, the evidence, of known facts will not permit us to deny that they are in some degree true. It will be found, indeed, on a candid review of our situation, that some of the distresses under which we labor have been erroneously charged on the operation of our governments; but it will be found, at the same time, that other causes will not alone account for many of our heaviest misfortunes; and, particularly, for that prevailing and increasing distrust of public engagements, and alarm for private rights, which are echoed from one end of the continent to the other. These must be chiefly, if not wholly, effects of the unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations.

Is New York State preparing students to benefit from the $1T Infrastructure Law?

On Monday President Biden signed the $1 Trillion Infrastructure bill into law; that’s 1.0 x ten to the twelth power – twelve zeros. The dollars will flow into every state for the next decade and create millions and millions of jobs. From highways, bridges, ports  to broadband the projects will span the nation, New York City is considering rebuilding the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a transportation tunnel under the Hudson, the decisions will take a few years to determine and plan

Hovering over the plan is a unique problem: Does the nation have enough skilled workers to execute the projects?

My neighborhood bakery is closing three days a week, it can’t find staff. Last week was my first philharmonic concert, we usually consume a post-concert snack, the restaurant, across the street from Lincoln Center was closing, “sorry,” the manager told us, and “…we’re short staff.”

How are our schools responding?  Are we increasing Career and Technical Education (CTE) seats?  Are college teacher preparation programs training more CTE teachers?  Is the State Education Department (SED) adding more CTE seats? Is the SED “acknowledging” the problem?

John McWhorter is a Columbia University professor of linguistics and a New York Times columnist, author is a new book; “Woke Racism” and has been all over the news. In a recent interview McWhorter was asked for national policy recommendations, he responded with: end the punitive drug laws and increase student opportunities in CTE programs.

I was speaking with a middle school principal in a very high poverty neighborhood; he tries to get as many of his student as possible to apply to CTE high schools.  “My kids need jobs, they are victims of multigenerational poverty; the next step after high school must be a job.”

For decades upon decades we heralded the advantages of college, schools were divided into college bound cohorts and “others.”  CTE programs, called vocational education, was for the left behind, and, the New York State CTE regulations are unchanged, unwieldy and unsuccessful.

How many students in New York State receive high school diplomas with “CTE endorsements”?  The SED website isn’t helpful.  Can a parent go to a site and find CTE programs in their neighborhood, specifics about the programs and an application procedure?   Not that I’m aware of …..

The NYS Board of Regents and the State Education Department is beginning  a lengthy process to review “Graduation Measures,” and a major overhaul of academic standards (yes, again) called the Next Generation Standards.

Read “Graduation Measures” here

Read Standards and Assessment Workgroup” here

Are we repeating the Common Core State Standards disaster?  Hopefully not; however, dropping these massive changes at the end of a long, long day is not a great start.

In an August blog I compared the European approach, in many countries half of kids are in what we would call CTE programs, with a seamless flow from school to work, Read here

Chiefs for Change, a national organization, addresses the issue in a paper, “Let’s Get to Work,” and examines changes in a number of cities that can be models (Read Report here) The Report begins,

In today’s world, good jobs follow good education. Yet as technological innovation and a shifting economy bring rapid changes to the workplace, America has fallen far behind in preparing students for the future. It’s a problem that threatens individual young people and the American economy, and it marks an under-recognized front in the battle for equity of educational opportunity.

And continues,

Stuck in a false and outmoded choice between career preparation and rigorous academics, the United States has shunned the kind of coherent, intensive preparation that most students in Germany, Finland, and Switzerland have. The cost to individual students and families, and to the nation’s economy, is enormous. Improving the quality and reach of career and technical education (CTE) must be one of the new top priorities for the nation’s schools,

Some of the report’s key recommendations urge states and districts to:

  • Build a truly seamless transition for all students into postsecondary education and career training,
  • Improve the quality and rigor of CTE pathways and courses,
  • Expand work-based learning, such as internships and apprenticeships,
  • Expand and improve support for students and families,
  • Ensure equity for all students,

Is NYS learning from other states and upgrading their CTE program?

We’ll see …

SED has resumed holding “Graduation Measures” meetings across the state, probably thousands of comments, a two-year cycle leading to decisions, Should the Regents Exams still be required for graduation? Are the Safety Nets sufficient? Can projects replace Regents and still maintain high standards? Should course sequences be retained? Changed?  All important decisions, Should the process take two years?

The phasing in of the Next Generation Standards and the new testing regimen, changing standards in all grades and all subjects is a sea change that will impact instruction in every school. When the dust clears will we have a more impactful state education system?

NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, is called the Nations’ Report Card, New York State, to be polite, scores have been mediocre; ultimately what doe NAEP scores mean?

CTE graduates can step into jobs in an economy with increasing demands; we have an obligation to prepare our students.

How will Mayor Adams Lead/Manage NYC Schools?

On November 2nd Eric Adams was elected the 110th mayor of New York City’ with an overwhelming democratic voter base and an underfunded opponent the winner was a foregone conclusion. Mayor-elect Adams appointed United Way CEO Sheena Wright as head of his transition team and will begin to build the team that will lead New York City for the next four years.

Both of Adams’s predecessors stumbled in trying to manage the million plus student Department of Education.

On the eve of the 2013 mayoral election Sol Stern, in a City Journal essay offering advice to the new mayor wrote,

The public, for its part, remains dissatisfied with Gotham’s schools, according to a poll of city voters commissioned by the Manhattan Institute and conducted earlier this year by Zogby Analytics ….  New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office [Bloomberg]: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

Eight years later Bloomberg’s successor is facing the same sharp criticism. The City Journal writes,

Behind the system’s near-collapse is the failure of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s educational approach. Its two pillars—the search for one-size-fits-all solutions and the belief that educational quality could not be expanded but only redistributed—were not only wrong under normal circumstances but especially misaligned with the challenges posed by the pandemic. The mayor’s policies have harmed those most in need—and undermined the viability of Gotham as a place for families to raise children, with implications for the city’s long-term social and economic health.

Rather than parsing the successes and failures of the last two mayors let’s take a look at the largest education edifices in the state, the State University of New York (SUNY), the City University of New York (CUNY) and the State Education Department (SED).

SUNY has 64 campuses and almost 400,000 students spread across the state, from community colleges to four year colleges to university centers and is governed by a Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees is the governing body and consists of 18 members, 15 of whom are appointed by the Governor, by and with consent of the New York State Senate for fixed terms. The Board is currently led by Merryl Tisch, who previously served as the leader of the Board of Regents.

Governor Cuomo used the SUNY Board to reward his perceived friends and punish his perceived enemies. Teacher unions were a barb that nettled the governor, after the failure to endorse him in 2014 the 2015 budget increased service time needed for tenure from three to four years and a number of charter school perks.

The original charter school law (12/98) designated the Board of Regents as the authorizing entity 

 ,The board of regents shall be the only sole entity to issue a charter

The governor amended the law adding,

The board of regents and the board of trustees of the state university of New York
The SUNY Board of Trustees created the Charter School Institute, an extremely charter friendly organization and has become the primary charter school authorizer in the state. The Board of Trustees decided it can usurp the teacher certification role of the Board of Regents and could certify their own teachers.

The New York State courts sustained a suit by the Board of Regents. (Read description here) and squelched the attempt to enlarge the power of the SUNY Board.

Jim Malatras is a close friend of the former governor. I met him in 2013-14 at the Cuomo Commission meetings, he is smart and collaborative, I was impressed and the commission report excellent (Read ); unfortunately many of the recommendations are unrealized.

Malatras resurfaced as the director of the Rockefeller Institute for Government, an Albany-based think tank. A few years later as President of SUNY Empire , one of the smallest SUNY campuses and offers primarily online courses with only 165 full-time faculty. In August 2020 the Chancellorship of SUNY opened up and surprise, surprise, Jim Malatras, without any search, was appointed by the SUNY Board as Chancellor, the SUNY faculty Senate complained loudly   as did the student organizations, his defenders noted his close ties to the governor as an asset.h

A year later with Cuomo gone the closeness to Cuomo was no longer an asset and his involvement in Cuomo data “massaging” resulted in cries for the SUNY Trustees to fire Malatras, read a NY Post guest op ed by Fred Smith here.

Will Adams mirror Cuomo and use his office to reward his allies and punish perceived enemies? 

The City University of New York (CUNY) has 25 campuses across the city; an enrollment of 275,000 students and is governed by a Board of Trustees, fifteen members appointed by the governor, William Thompson, the former Comptroller of New York City as well as President of the Board of Education serves as chairman.

Felix Matos Rodriquez is the Chancellor of CUNY; he previously served as President of Hostos Community College and Queens College in the CUNY system, a graduate of Yale (BA) and Columbia (Phd) with a long academic career.

The Wall Street Journal ranks CCNY the “best value” college in the nation and six of the top ten colleges in the nation measuring “social mobility,” moving incoming students from poverty to the middle class a decade later are CUNY colleges.

How will the CUNY model impact Adams?

Will Adams mirror the CUNY model, select a leader from within with impeccable credentials and a board leader with a sparkling resume and political smarts, and, allow his selectees to run the school system.

The seventeen member Board of Regents oversees the State Department of Education (NYSED), 700 school districts and 4400 schools. The board is “elected” by a joint meeting of both houses of the state legislature, in reality by the Speaker of the Assembly as democrats far outnumber republicans; the board selects a leader, called the chancellor, and hires a state commissioner.  The governor has no role. The Board sets policy, establishes graduation requirements, teacher preparation requirements and a host of other regulations; however, superintendents, principals and teachers don’t work for the SED, they work for elected local school boards. Curriculum and instruction are local discretion, except for the lowest achieving schools.  The Board issued a 189-page policy paper, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (Read here), urging school districts to implement the policies and acknowledges these decisions are made at the district level.

Should Adams support both decision-making at the local level, for example, the 147 schools in the Affinity District  and work closely with low achieving schools in a Chancellor’s District model?

In other words should Adams select highly qualified educational leaders and allow them to run the schools, or, like his predecessors micromanage for political benefit?

A first Adams announcement:

Should a school named after a slaveholder , an anti-Semite and anti-Catholic Dutch governor have his name removed from the school?

Over the next six weeks the Adams administration will be rolled out – stay tuned.

Is Giftedness Akin to a Disability?   Does Giftedness Require Placement in Separate Classes? Or, a Ruse to Segregate Classes and Mollify White/Asian Parent/Voters?

Does the term Students with Disabilities include Gifted Students?

The National Association for Gifted Children writes,

Students who require modification(s) to their educational experience(s) to learn and realize their potential. Student with gifts and talents:

Come from all racial, ethnic, and cultural populations, as well as all economic strata.

Require sufficient access to appropriate learning opportunities to realize their potential.

Can have learning and processing disorders that require specialized intervention and accommodation.

Need support and guidance to develop socially and emotionally as well as in their areas of talent.

Students thought to have learning or emotional disabilities are referred for testing and as a result of the test an Individual Education Plan (IEP) determines placement in a “”least restrictive environment;” in the vast percentage of cases a period a day by a special education teacher or placed in an integrated classroom, a classroom with special and regular education children and two teachers, a regular education teacher and a special education teachers.

Why do “gifted” children require placement in a separate classroom? Shouldn’t they also be placed in a least restrictive environment?

BTW, how do we define “gifted” and identify gifted children?

The Association for Gifted Children lists a number of verbal and non verbal giftedness identification tests, Read here

The New York City Gifted and Talented program used two of the tests,

 The G&T test is comprised of two equally weighted sections taken from two other gifted assessments: a verbal section from the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test – 8th Edition (OLSAT), and a nonverbal section from the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test- 2nd edition (NNAT).(See here). The test is given to four year olds, it takes about an hour and is comprised of about 70 questions, and the test administrator may not repeat questions to the test taker.

Know any four year olds who can sit for an hour with a total stranger and answer seventy questions?

The definition of gifted is controversial, the traditional use of IQ type tests have increasingly been questioned.

Robert Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence rejects the intelligence tests typically used to measure “academic intelligence”.  (Read here)

Sternberg argues that practical intelligence—a person’s ability to react and adapt to the world around them—as well as creativity are equally important when measuring an individual’s overall intelligence. He also argues that intelligence isn’t fixed, but rather comprises a set of abilities that can be developed.  

Joseph Renzulli has been the most persistent critic of the traditional approach, test the student with an IQ type test and place the student in “gifted” class. Renzulli describes his views on an excellent youtube here and read Renzulli’s article that was originally trashed and is now required reading here.

Aside from a definition of gifted that is far more inclusive than the traditional tests Renzulli created a School wide Enrichment Model – providing an appropriate learning environment for gifted children within school classrooms setting, not in separate classrooms. Read description of the School wide Enrichment Model here.

Gifted classes have existed in New York City for decades, many, many decades, called IGC, Intellectually Gifted Classes, the selection was 3rd grade scores on reading/math tests, yes, testing has a long history. Under decentralization (1970-2002) the decision was at the district level by the elected school board. Some districts abandoned IGC classes, others clustered the children in a single school and others designed their own models.

Under mayoral control (2003 – ) Mayor Bloomberg centralized the Gifted and Talented program using testing described above, the students selected were overwhelmingly White and Asian in a school system that is overwhelmingly Black and Latinx; one might argue Bloomberg was appealing to White more affluent and Asian voters, or worse.

His successor, Mayor de Blasio was critical of the sharp racial disparities in the elite high schools (Stuyvesant, Bronx HS of Science and Brooklyn Tech) and introduced legislation in Albany to change admission procedures, without success, one could argue his attempts were tepid. The School Diversity Advisory Group, a fifty member blue ribbon team eventually (February, 2019) issued a lengthy report (Making the Grade: The Path to Real Integration and Equity for NYC Public School Students – Read here) that punted the question of Gifted & Talented classes

Between now and the end of the school year (June, 2019) , SDAG will continue to meet to explore further recommendations based on community input and engagement, and continued analysis and research. We commit to releasing a subsequent report with additional recommendations on school screens, gifted & talented programs, and school resources by the end of this school year.

The Department finally released plans,

As announced by the Mayor, the Department of Education will eliminate the Gifted & Talented (G&T) test and phase out the current G&T model. In its place, we will launch “Brilliant NYC,” a blueprint for accelerated learning for all elementary students in New York City.

The blueprint sounds like an iteration of the Renzulli Schoolwide Enrichment Model

Of course on November 2nd we’ll have a new mayor followed by a new chancellor, (The current chancellor, Meisha Porter is serving in an interim role).

Soon to be Mayor Eric Adams, in his recent debate, supported Gifted & Talented education, whether he supports the Bloomberg program, “Brilliant NYC” or something else, only time will tell.

Adams describes himself as a “pragmatic moderate,” a lengthy NY Times essay entitled “What Kind of Mayor Will Eric Adams Be? No One Seems to Know” explores, we’ll begin to find out in a few months…..

BTW, Occupy Wall Street was ten years ago ….

Should Religious Exemptions Be Available for the COVID Vaccine? Will SCOTUS Intervene in Determining Religious Exemptions?

A year ago COVID spread seemed uncontrollable and Governor Cuomo, under emergency powers granted by the state legislature placed in-person occupancy limits on attendance at religious services. We knew the virus was highly contagious and his order seemed reasonable. The order was challenged alleging the order violated the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” [The Fourteenth Amendment included states in the First Amendment guarantees, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;”]. The lower courts sustained the governor’s actions and in an unprecedented action the Supreme Court, without any oral argument, overturned the actions of the governor.

The conservative Court majority wrote,

Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.

Justice Sotomayor dissented,

Epidemiologists and physicians generally agree that religious services are among the riskiest activities. Justices of this Court play a deadly game in second guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily.

The Court, in an extraordinarily speedy hearing and decision framed the limitations on attendance at religious services as a violation of the First Amendment.

As COVID and Delta continued to ravage the nation the courts appear to have changed direction. Indiana University announced in July that all students must be vaccinated and the case was fast tracked to the US Court of Appeals, the court rejected the appeal in no uncertain terms. (Read decision here)

I wrote in detail about the question of the power of the court, and, the impact of public opinion on the courts – take few minutes and read here.

As the school year approached school districts began to require employees to be vaccinated and the New York City requirement would place unvaccinated employees on unpaid leaves. A group of teachers appealed and the court rapidly denied their appeals.

NYS Governor Hochul ordered all hospital employees vaccinated with no religious exemption. Once again a group of employees challenged the order, a federal judge in Utica issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) and Tuesday made the TRO permanent pending a full hearing before the court.

 Plaintiffs have established that [Hochul’s order] conflicts with longstanding federal protections for religious beliefs and that they and others will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of injunctive relief. Plaintiffs have also satisfied the remaining elements necessary to obtain preliminary relief. To reiterate, these conclusions have nothing to do with how an individual employer should handle an individual employee’s religious objection to a workplace vaccination requirement. But they have everything to do with the proper division of federal and state power. In granting a preliminary injunction, the Court recognizes that it may not have the final word. “Congress permits, as an exception to the general rule, an immediate appeal from an interlocutory order that either grants or denies a preliminary injunction.” Because the issues in dispute are of exceptional importance to the health and the religious freedoms of our citizens, an appeal may very well be appropriate.

Governor Hochul announced the state will appeal the decision.

In a landmark 1990 case, Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, the court ruled that states do not have to provide a religious exemption from a generally applicable law that is neutral on its face with respect to religion. Courts have consistently found that vaccine mandates do not require a religious exemption, and several states — California, Connecticut, Maine, New York, West Virginia and Mississippi — do not offer one.

The Conway Regional Health System in Arkansas, for example, requires that people who claim to oppose vaccines because of their use of cell lines from decades-old abortions must also attest that they do not use other products that were tested on cell lines, a long list that includes Tylenol, aspirin and Benadryl. (Read discussiion here)

Dr. Joseph R. Sellers, president of the Medical Society of the State of New York, said in a statement that the nonprofit organization for physicians, residents and medical students was “greatly dismayed by today’s decision.”

“We believe this step will result in a flurry of attempts to circumvent the well-reasoned vaccination requirement that was an important step towards reversing the recent surge attributable to the more easily spread Delta variant, … No major religious denomination opposes vaccinations, and the Supreme Court has for over 100 years upheld vaccination requirements as a means to protect the public health.”

Litigants cited violations of the U.S. Constitution, along with the New York State Human Rights Law and New York City Human Rights Law, claims the vaccination violates the law because the state Department of Health regulation requiring workers to get the vaccine provided no exemption for “sincere religious beliefs that compel the refusal of such vaccination.”

The appeal, submitted by the Thomas More Society, a conservative think tank court papers said all of the available vaccines employ aborted fetus cell lines in their testing, development or production. But religious leaders have disagreed over the issue and the Vatican issued a statement last year saying the vaccines were “morally acceptable.”(Read discussion here )

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in its interpretation of Title VII, defining “religious practices to include moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.” The EEOC also stipulated that “[t]he fact that no religious group espouses such beliefs or the fact that the religious group to which the individual professes to belong may not accept such belief will not determine whether the belief is a religious belief.” In other words, that Pope Francis sees vaccination as morally permissible for Roman Catholics even though vaccines were tested or developed using cell lines derived from aborted fetuses has no bearing on whether a Catholic may have a protected religious belief against vaccination because of the vaccines’ remote connection to abortion.(Read extended discussion here)

The question is whether someone’s personal religious belief can extinguish a law or regulation has been the subject of litigation for many years.

Core questions:

Why aren’t the protections afforded to individuals under the free exercise of religion absolute?

Does the rule of law, public safety and general welfare trump any claim of religious exemption?

 As far back as the late 19th century, the Supreme Court has acknowledged it would be absurd to allow people to opt out of many generally applicable laws by simply claiming their religious beliefs compelled contrary action. In 1879, the court correctly posited, “Suppose one believed that human sacrifices were a necessary part of religious worship; would it be seriously contended that the civil government under which he lived could not interfere to prevent a sacrifice?”

 Does claiming a religious exemption makes laws optional; each person would be in charge of which laws s/he wanted to comply with and when.

The “protection of society” would surely seem to include obtaining a vaccine to protect oneself and others from a deadly virus.

We know the government can sometimes impose regulations, even if those regulations burden actions taken in furtherance of religious beliefs.  

The Supreme Court concluded in 1940, “Conduct remains subject to regulation for the protection of society.”

 The “protection of society” would seem to include obtaining a vaccine to protect oneself and others from a deadly virus. This is perhaps the quintessential example of the government having a compelling interest to enact a law, even if it arguably burdens the freedom of religion in some narrow cases.

(Read detailed discussion here)

The docket of the Supreme Court is determined by the members of the court, 7-8,000 cases are appealed to the court, about 80 are scheduled for argument, and, recently the court has created a “shadow docket,” without oral argument or briefing cases that the court believes will result in “ irreparable harm” are decided, frequently in unsigned decisions.

Once a court renders a decision it rarely revisits the issue, called “stare decisis,” unless, of course, it decides to revisit the question, and, the current court has made it clear, it has no compunction about revisiting prior decisions .

On November 3rd the Supreme Court will probably expand the 2008 5-4 Heller decision, reinterpreting the founders meaning of the 2nd Amendment to allow open weapon carry in New York State.

On December 1st the Supreme Court will revisit Roe v Wade and expectations are the six member conservative faction will overturn or seriously limit.

Has the Supreme Court exceeded the authority envisioned by the Constitution? Is the time approaching that the powers of the Court should be curtailed? A NY Times guest editorial warns,

… the Reagan revolution in the law … was motivated by resistance to judicial meddling, primarily by the Warren court of the 1950s and ’60s, and it rested on the idea that judges are stewards of an existing body of law and not innovators charged with radically remaking it.

Failing to remember that will squander the public trust that is so essential to the court’s historically unquestioned authority to say what the law is. Already this year, Americans’ approval of the court has plummeted.

It will also strengthen the calls for structural changes. Some proposals to overhaul the Supreme Court — like the institution of term limits and a modest expansion of the bench — would arguably be salutary.

Is the Next Chancellor Standing Offstage? Is the Next Chancellor David Banks?

The twelve-candidate, ranked choice voting Democratic mayoral primary seems a long time ago and the presumptive next mayor, Eric Adams has three months to go until he raises his right hand and is sworn in as mayor.

Adams is overwhelmed with advice, overwhelmed with office seekers and the New York Times reports his closest confidant is former mayor Michael Bloomberg.

New York is a strong mayor system of municipal government, the mayor runs the city. S/he appoints all the commissioners, controls the budget and appoints a majority of the school board, effectively appointing the school district leader, called the chancellor. The 51-member City Council approves the budget, holds oversight hearings and has no control over spending.

Bloomberg gave his commissioners wide authority, his school leader choice, Joel Klein, was an attorney, a litigator and a disaster. Dennis Walcott succeeded Klein as chancellor and allowed the senior staff to basically run the school system.

Mayor de Blasio brought back a retired superintendent, Carman Farina, who reverted the system to the pre-Bloomberg management structure. De Blasio tried, unsuccessfully, to intertwine political and education issues: admissions to the Specialized High Schools, testing for the Gifted and Talented classes, furthering school integration plans, retaining a heavy reliance on testing and top-down lockstep centralized leadership.

The school system is in disarray.

The self-appointed cognoscenti, (and the New York Times), predicts David Banks, the CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation will be the next chancellor.

New York has a unique school management structure, most schools are part of the traditional geographic school districts superintendents reporting to executive superintendents reporting to the chancellor; however clusters of schools work with school support organizations, they look like and are not Charter Management Organizations.  Six of the support organizations are clustered in the Affinity District, 147 (out of 1800) schools with wide latitude as to educational modalities and some funding flexibilities. Other support organizations work within the traditional structure. I know, too much – Norm Fruchter at the NYU Metro Center takes a deep dive (Read here and here)

David Banks is the CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation  (checkout website here), a support organization that works with five 6-12 all boys schools in New York City and one in Newark. Let me emphasize, these are public schools, not charter schools. (David’s bio here Click to access DB-Bio-1-19-18-updated.pdf)

David did not follow the traditional route, some will criticize that he didn’t “pay his dues,” others will remind us of his extremely challenging mission, young men of color fall at the bottom of any list: highest dropout rates, lowest college enrollment etc. and David is committed to these kids.

The chancellor is at the top of the pyramid and typically the “new guy (gal)” rolls out some new testing program or other new initiative. How do we define doing the same thing over and over again knowing it isn’t working? I’m told we will be screening kids for social and emotional problems using a tool called DESSA. What will we do with the results? Do we have sufficient numbers of counselors, social workers and psychologists to address the trauma faced by far too many kids?

For endless decades chancellors have been searching for the magic bullet, the big fix, the elusive “answer,” sadly we know the search is fruitless.

Linda Darling-Hammond, at the Learning Policy Institute, asks What Will It Take to Promote Whole-Child Development, Learning, and Thriving at Scale, (Read here) and points to a cluster of schools one of which is in New York City, the Internationals Network.

The Internationals Network is a support organization working with seventeen secondary schools that only accept new immigrants, an extremely challenging cohort of students, with outstanding results. Over the summer the superintendent, principals, teachers and students met and produced a report, (See report here), thoughtful and exactly what schools should be doing – the “ask,” from the entire team including the superintendent – give us “flexibility with accountability,” the answers are in the schools, thoughtful teachers and school leaders can craft pedagogical models that work for the children in their schools.

The current hubbub over Gifted and Talented classes is an example. Mayor Bloomberg created the model, a citywide test given to four-year olds to attract supporters, a cynical and effective political decision. Mayor de Blasio’s Desegregation Task Force recommended ending the classes, de Blasio demurred, he needed the same voters, until this week when a potential run for governor might be assisted by abolishing the classes.

The decision should not be made by chancellors; these decisions should be made by District and School Leadership Teams at the local level. The battle over heterogeneous versus homogeneous classes is decades old, the Renzulli Method (Watch a superb 5-minute presentation here) explains how to deal with giftedness in a heterogeneous class.

Some schools require highly structured programs; others have or could acquire the skills to develop tools to serve their students and families. We should target funding to address the needs of, to use the words of William Julius Wilson, the “truly disadvantaged,” we should seek out more Black, male school leaders, we should ask schools: what training do you want the chancellor to provide.

We need a bottom up school system, a school system driven by the needs of the schools not by the needs of chancellors.

And, don’t be seduced by technology, we don’t need a deputy chancellor for technology, some day “they” may staple a chip into our earlobes, until then kids need relationships with nurturing mentors. We have to learn from each other, we have to learn to share, learn to ask, learn to be reflective.

David, you have seen on a day-to-day basis the challenges we face and I’m sure you have been frustrated by seemingly distant decisions that impede not assist.

The mantle of chancellor does not come with a scepter and orb, how many so-called education reforms are rightfully rusting away.

Let’s take what is working and scale it up.

We need a leader, a coach, who listens to the troops, who engages us, who challenges us, btw, as do the Mets.

Mandated Vaccinations versus Chaos: Can you run the NYC school system without 8,000 teachers and tens of thousands of others? [Updated]

Governor Hochul is requiring all health care workers be vaccinated and many are refusing; Mayor de Blasio is requiring that all New York City teachers (and other school-based employees) show proof of vaccination by Monday, September 27th. If they fail to present evidence of vaccination they will be placed on a leave without pay. The decision has been temporarily suspended pending the US Court of Appeals hearing arguments on Wednesday, September 29th.

Will the courts sustain the decision of the mayor?  Can schools operate and operate safely without thousands of employees?

The mayor is “confident” schools can run with existing staff while the UFT and CSA presidents see a school system in disarray.

UFT President Mulgrew said the mayor has said “he’s hopeful and comfortable” that redeploying some staff as well as calling in substitutes will be enough to create a safe and effective learning environment for students.

“I don’t feel ‘hopeful and comfortable’ is enough,” Mulgrew said. “Hopeful and comfortable is not a plan” to keep students sufficiently distanced, supervised and safe.

CSA President Cannizzaro also disputed the mayor’s contention that there are thousands of substitutes ready to step in to fill the gap. “Subs will be very hard to come by because everyone is looking for substitutes right now,” he said.

Both the UFT and CSA have encouraged their members to get vaccinated. Cannizzaro said 95% of school administrators had been vaccinated, while Mulgrew estimated more than 90% of UFT members in schools had been. The percentages of other school workers who are vaccinated may not be nearly as high, they said. Mulgrew noted that the president of Teamsters Local 237, the union representing school safety agents, told him that only 50% of his members had been vaccinated.

On Friday the federal court provided a respite,

A federal appeals court has issued a temporary injunction against a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for New York City educators set to go into effect early next week, temporarily blocking enforcement while the case is sent to a three-judge circuit court panel for review.

Will the courts support the mayor’s ability to place school employees on unpaid leaves if they refuse vaccinations?

 Almost a year ago the Supreme Court ignored a century of case law and overturned Governor Cuomo’s restrictions on the number of attendees at religious services citing the First Amendment, the Court wrote,

Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.

Justice Sotomayor dissented,

Epidemiologists and physicians generally agree that religious services are among the riskiest activities. Justices of this Court play a deadly game in second guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily.

The Court, in an extraordinarily speedy hearing and decision framed the limitations on attendance at religious services as a violation of the First Amendment.

As COVID and Delta ravaged the nation the courts appear to have changed direction. Indiana University announced all students must be vaccinated and the case was fast tracked to the US Court of Appeals, the court rejected the appeal in no uncertain terms. (Read decision here)

I wrote in detail about the question of the power of the court, and, the impact of public opinion on the courts – take few minutes and read here.

While I have not seen the appellate briefs in the current case one of the constitutional issues: Does the mandatory vaccination regulation violate the Fourteenth Amendment?

You can follow the New York City vaccination case here.

If the courts support the mayor and refuse to stay the vaccination order can schools function without, according to Mulgrew, 10% of teachers and tens of thousands of non-teaching school personnel?

School leaders have been provided with names of non-vaccinated personnel in their schools and are scrambling to set up plans. The union contract does provide for teachers to be assigned classes in lieu of preparation periods and compensated; although not on a permanent basis. Teachers can be voluntarily assigned to teach and additional class in lieu of preparation at a contractual rate.

The teacher contract (See here, page 48) does provide substantial additional compensation for teaching an additional class for a semester.

The number of unvaccinated teachers per school range from very few to many; entire school schedules may have to be reconfigured, schools may have no staff to cover classes. The mayor’s comment about substitute teachers being available is illusory.

If the court sustains the mayor and does not grant a stay for further appeals or a period for planning for implementation the issues will be myriad. If School Safety Officers, who monitor building entrances are placed on unpaid leaves, who monitors building entrance?  The Department is requiring only vaccinated can enter a school building, who monitors? Will unvaccinated unmonitored visitors put students at risk?

How many elementary school classrooms will require new teachers or a different substitute each day?

Will running a school system without thousands of teachers violate state education law? Union contract provisions? Will students with disabilities receive full mandated services?

Of course the actual placing of teachers on unpaid leaves may “encourage” teachers and other school personnel to get the stick in the arm.

If thousands of school personnel are placed on unpaid leaves what happens to the salary not paid?

I believe the courts will sustain the mayor and not provide a stay, effectively knocking the ball into the mayor’s court. In other words, you made a decision, you deal with the consequences.

Governor Hochul is considering using the National Guard to replace state heath care workers who refuse vaccinations: who is Mayor de Blasio considering?

One of my recent blogs was entitled, New York City Schools Adrift in a Raging Storm, an understatement.

BTW, isn’t the nation on the verge of defaulting?

UPDATED (9/27/21. 9 pm)

The NY Times reports: “New York City’s vaccine mandate for nearly all adults working in its public schools can proceed as scheduled, a federal appeals panel ruled on Monday, reversing a decision made over the weekend that paused enforcement of the mandate until later this week at the earliest.

Mayor Bill de Blasio had originally ordered well over 150,000 educators and staff in the nation’s largest school system to receive at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by tonight at midnight.

But on Monday evening, he said he would extend the deadline until the end of the day Friday, meaning that the mandate would take effect next Monday morning, Oct. 4″

Let’s finish on a high note: Marvin Gaye singing the National Anthem

Is New York State Ready to Drive Dollars and Services to the “Truly Disadvanged”?

A couple of years ago I made my annual ophthalmologist visit with the high tech gadgets, the doc said, “You’ll need cataract surgery down the road, they’re not ripe yet.” Ripeness is an interesting concept; in addition to cataracts ideas also can become ripe.

A “ripe” idea may be driving dollars and programmatic assistance into schools to the “truly disadvantaged” students.

At the height of Johnson’s Great Society the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965) allocated significant federal dollars to states and on to school districts and schools. While the law itself has morphed to No Child Left Behind to the Every Student Succeeds Act Title 1 of the law provides supplemental funding to schools. In New York City Title 1 school budgets can reflect about 10% of the total school funding. (Check out a history of ESSA here).

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act uses census poverty numbers and allocates dollars to states that in turn drive dollars to school districts and the formulas are decided locally.

At the district level in New York City, poverty cutoff rates are established by county and based on individual students’ eligibility for free lunch. Students are eligible for free lunch if their family income is at or below 130.0 percent of the federal poverty level, as self-reported on lunch eligibility forms.

“Self-reported on lunch eligibility forms” is a low bar and a crude method of determining poverty.

Twenty years after the Great Society program William Julius Wilson in the Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass and Public Policy (1987) asks,

In the period following the thirtieth anniversary of the 1954 Supreme Court decision against racial separation . . . and the twentieth anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a troubling dilemma confronts proponents of racial equality and social justice ‘ a black underclass has emerged and conditions in inner city ghettos have deteriorated, despite civil rights victories and the creation of the Great Society. What went wrong? Have affirmative action and Great Society programs made things worse? Has racism intensified? Or are other factors at work?

Wilson’s findings were highly controversial. Some argue he was blaming the poor for their failure to rise out of poverty.

In “More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City” (2009) Wilson responded to his critics pointing to cultural factors in addition to inequity and poverty, countering the “blame the victim” and pointing to how housing and transportation institutionalize inequality in America.

Critics of Wilson point to racism as the underlying reason for persistent poverty.

Molefi Kete Asante, a professor at Temple University and a leading theorist of Afrocentricism posits,

Race in America is a psychological, physical and social location for determining the conditions of one’s current and future life. This is because America’s benefits and privileges have been structured around race and its markers for difference. Those markers, largely physical, identify some people as being privileged and others as being victims. As a central concept in America’s history, race has always been an arena for selecting who will eat and who will not eat or for determining the quality and condition of a group’s possibilities.

Critical Race Theory and the Black Lives Matter movement point to the prime importance of race and aver the subtext of every conversation is race.

Ibram Kendi, the author of “How to Be an Antiracist,” (2019) rejects assimilationist ideas, the belief that African-American people and spaces should strive toward a standardized white norm — as inherently racist.

 There is no such thing as “not racist” ideas, policies or people, he argues, only racist and antiracist ones.

Kendi expands on his anti-racism beliefs here.

Can diversity training eliminate anti-racist mindesets?

Eesha Pendharkar is a race and diversity reporter at Education Week and closely followed a black-led equity and diversity training program in a high school in Bangor, Maine. Eesha comes from a privileged caste in India and concludes,

 If schools keep doing the best they can to help everyone, and, particularly, if white students and teachers understand the history of how and why people of color were treated as they were in the past and why that needs to change with the investment of a lot of time, money, and commitment, the experiences of students of color in school may improve.

But I remain skeptical. I don’t know that schools can fundamentally change the mindset of teachers, administrators, parents, and students, perhaps because I come from a culture where racism, too, is so deeply embedded. The answer might be that it can’t. Because unless you acknowledge that systemic racism is ingrained in schools, pledge to identify how, and work constantly to make changes, the education system will not get better. I stand on more than 3,500 years of Indian history to prove it.

The identification of the “truly disadvantaged” and driving funding and supports and driving funds based on specific metrics and rejecting racism are not in conflict.

The Biden American Rescue and Infrastructure Plans may have more impact than the 1930s FDR New Deal and the 1960s LBJ Great Society. Nobel Prize Paul Krugman explains here.

The time is now ripe.

The Center for NYC Affairs report “A Better Picture of Poverty” (2014)

… looked at absenteeism-endemic schools through the lens of what we characterize as a “total risk load” of social and educational factors in the schools. Our goal: To identify New York City’s “truly disadvantaged” public schools. This is a concept brought forward by researchers at the Consortium on Chicago School Research (who expanded on the term by the renowned urban sociologist William Julius Wilson). Some urban schools serve students and their families who face the heaviest misery and hardship imposed by poverty and family dysfunction, and these are typically in neighborhoods most bereft of the reserves of community “social capital” that can offset poverty’s worst effects

Inspired by recent research on truly disadvantaged public schools in Chicago and Philadelphia, we devised a risk load instrument of 18 salient indicators from census data and other sources. We wanted to go beyond the yardsticks commonly used to measure poverty in the schools. When, for example, some 80 percent of public school students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, such familiar statistical brushes paint with strokes far too broad to be very useful.  Read the Report here and an Education Week article here.

We can now readily identify the “truly disadvantaged.” The question: will we use the data to drive policy?

The San Antonio school district,

…. calculates a ranking for each Census block in the city, maps the level of poverty in each neighborhood, and pinpoints the areas with the greatest need. The district then reserves space for children from the poorest neighborhoods at its highest-performing schools. The district also adjusted the way it allocates resources to ensure that children with the greatest needs get appropriate levels of support. Texas adopted SAISD’s socioeconomic block system in what has been called “perhaps the biggest change in the way the state funds schools.”

Will New York State take the same action?  Will New York State move from identifying Title 1 by submission of free lunch forms to “risk load factors;” identifiers of the truly disadvantaged?

The New York State has adopted Culturally Relevant Sustaining Education Frameworks (Read here) and a policy statement on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (Read here), although, there is a caveat, “The Board expects that all school districts will develop policies that advance diversity, equity and inclusion – and that they implement such policies with fidelity and urgency,” in other words, the Board can only ask, not force districts or schools.

In New York State curriculum is school district responsibility; the state can “expect,” can “urge;” however the state does not control curriculum at the local level.

The State can adopt the truly disadvantaged “risk load factors,” in the distribution of state and Title 1 funds

The time is ripe.

New York City Schools Are Adrift in a Raging Storm [UPDATED]

The bagels were piled high, a steaming urn of hot coffee, a welcoming “gift” from the Parents Association. For some back to school after a few weeks break after teaching summer school, for others back from trekking across Europe, a few squeals of joy, an engagement ring, a baby on the way, everyone anxious, no matter how long we taught the first day back to school evoked anxiety.

We’d all trickled into the auditorium; the principal’s welcoming back speech, all the administrators rattling off the changes and expectations, the principal and the administrators leave and the school union leader makes announcements: class size grievance timelines, end of term reorganization grievances and welcoming the new teachers.

This year: COVID protocols, what happens if (when?) a student or staff member tests positive, the length of quarantines, in-school testing, and on and on.

And more questions for the school union leader:

Can the mayor refuse medical or religious exemptions for vaccinations? Who determines the frequency of in-school testing of students, Btw, Is class size too high?

If masking is required, who enforces? Can non-masking students be barred from schools? Are these questions resolved by the governor, the state commissioner of education, the board of regents? or, are these decisions made at the school district level…? UPDATE: an arbitrator rules on mandatory vaccinations for school staffs, medical and other exemptions, see decision here.

9/13/21 UPDATED FAQ – Vaccination Regulations fo ALL staff members read here

Notice the absence of debate over the instructional program.  A scandal bubbling beneath the surface surrounds the former chancellor, Richard Carranza who slid away mumbling about differences with the mayor.

The NY Post reported Carranza hired a principal from Houston (clearly no one in NYC was qualified) and rapidly promoted her, and somehow failed to note their relationship  – see NY Post reporting here and here.

Was de Blaso aware of Carranza’s relationship, and, when was he aware and why didn’t he take any action?

Carranza was committed to testing, he called his program Edustats; a diagnostic/proscriptive test, Instructional Leadership Teams in every school, tailoring classroom instruction to address to student shortcomings; we’ve been seeking the testing magic bullet for decades, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, the Common Core, the educational landscape is littered with the detritus of failed education reforms.

Tyack and Cuban in Tinkering Towards Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (1995),

Wherever you are on the political spectrum one lesson should be clear, without teachers and parents, no educational innovation or policy will gain traction. Cuban and Tyack in “Tinkering Towards Utopia” parsed one hundred years of education reforms, one after another they faded into the dustbin of education policy initiatives without the support of parents and teachers.

The NYC School District is adrift in a raging storm.

Two years of billions of American Funds dollars are flowing into the city, are the funds targeting specific issues, will the funding be used to redesign the system to address the post American Rescue Fund era?

The Research Alliance for NYC Schools asks the right questions,

The Research Alliance conducts rigorous studies on topics that matter to the City’s public schools. We strive to advance equity and excellence in education by providing nonpartisan evidence about policies and practices that promote students’ development and academic success.

  • The Research Alliance Blueprint proposes developing a system of education equity indicators, including not just outcomes, but also opportunities and resources. What opportunities and resources should be tracked to better understand and address the root causes of educational inequality? 
  • How can schools best use new state and federal dollars to meet students’ needs? Which staffing and partnership models hold promise for delivering effective individualized support and instruction?
  • How can service coordination and partnerships between schools and communities be strengthened? 
  • How could budgets be reallocated to invest more in schools, communities, and families with the highest levels of need?
  • What innovations from the last year are most promising for improving educational quality and equity?

The NYU Metro Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools also has a thoughtful blog with pragmatic policy recommendations.

Norm Fruchter and Christina Mokhtar, in “Vulnerable Schools and COVID 19” write,

Ten years ago, we published Is Demography Still Destiny? Neighborhood Demographics and Public High School Students’ Readiness for College in New York City. In that study, we linked the college-readiness rates of graduating NYC students to the racial/ethnic composition of their home neighborhoods. We found that the higher the percentage of Black and Latinx residents in city neighborhoods, the lower their students’ college readiness scores. We concluded that, against the claims by the then mayor and Schools Chancellor, unfortunately, demography was still destiny for the city’s Black and Latinx students. 

Though the city made significant efforts to distribute laptops and iPads to students without such devices, overarching connectivity issues and limited broadband access locked many city students out of remote learning. Worse, because so many Black and Latinx family members in high COVID-impacted neighborhoods are employed as essential front-line workers, they could not work remotely and were often unable to effectively support their children’s online educational experience. Finally, because many families of essential workers were consistently exposed to COVID-19 at work, their children witnessed the ravages the pandemic wreaked on their families, friends, and neighborhoods. Far too many Black and Latinx students suffered the emotional and mental health tolls of these experiences.

The new stimulus funds must be distributed equitably, with a particular focus on the city’s most vulnerable schools. Of the city school system’s 650 elementary schools with early grades in 2020-21, almost 400, or more than 60%, are predominantly Black and Latinx, low-income and perform poorly on standardized tests. No single approach to improvement will fit the diverse needs of these challenged schools, whose vulnerabilities were heightened by the effects of COVID-19. For example, the subset of schools that serve significant populations of homeless students (who had lower rates of online participation during remote schooling), need enhanced transportation resources and consistent outreach, so that student learning capacity is not disrupted by the bureaucratic demands, continual transfers, and other limits of the shelter system. This subset of schools must also provide full-time after-school programming, including homework help and Internet access not available in shelters. Finally, homeless students (as well as many other vulnerable groups of students who have experienced different types of trauma during this pandemic) need the full range of social/emotional supports that effective school-based counseling and nurturing can provide. 

Another subset of vulnerable schools, made even more vulnerable by the effects of COVID-19, has high percentages of students with chronic absenteeism. (NYC public schools with the lowest attendance rates were predominately in the same neighborhoods with the highest COVID-19 rates). A Better Picture of Poverty (Read full report here) estimates that nearly 130 city elementary schools struggle with persistent chronic absenteeism–some 30% to 40% of the schools’ students are absent more than 10% of the school year. (This figure was likely much higher in 2020-21 due to the pandemic.) Effective teaching is severely challenged in schools whose attendance varies so significantly. Curriculum continuity is threatened; teacher-student connections and relationships are attenuated; and student academic achievement suffers enormously. (The New School’s maps of the city school districts most deeply affected by persistent chronic absenteeism correlate very strongly with the neighborhoods we identified as having the lowest levels of college readiness in our Demography/Destiny study.) 

To advance the city’s capacity to respond to student and family need in those vulnerable elementary schools, and to intervene to improve them, the DOE should build on the analyses begun by A Better Picture of Poverty. The DOE should use its extensive data library to precisely characterize the conditions of student and family need in as many subsets of vulnerable elementary schools as possible. Then the DOE, in collaboration with community schools and advocacy and school reform groups, should define the interventions that will make a difference in those subsets of vulnerable schools.

. The DOE needs to similarly incentivize and support the principals and teachers of those 400 vulnerable elementary schools to design and develop a menu of specific programs that meet the needs of each school and their students, needs that the pandemic has cruelly exacerbated. 

Why hasn’t the Department used the Research Alliance and the NYU Metro Center blueprints to both redesign the use of the Biden Rescue Fund dollars and the functioning of the Department itself?

Meisha Porter, the acting chancellor is doing a yeoman job under trying circumstances, tiptoeing along a tightrope waiting for Eric Adams, the presumptive mayor to select a new chancellor while a lame duck mayor tries to burnish a tarnished reputation in his waning days following a crumpled Carranza plan.

We all know children can’t wait; they only get one shot at schooling.

Governor Hochul, the UnCuomo Governor: A Supporter of Public Schools or a Machiavellian with a Velvet Glove?

Governor Hochul, a fresh voice, a new pathway and checking many of the boxes; rent relief, emphasis on ethics, on culture of openness, a “kinder and gentler” voice in the Mansion. 

The NY Times called the new governor the “UnCuomo,” collaboration across geographic and party lines instead of cracking a whip. (Read here)

On his last day former governor Cuomo whined about being forced from office on his way out the door (Read here)

Hochul selected two key staffers, secretary to the governor and counsel to the governor – both highly respected across party lines. (Hochul top aides here)

Schools do not fall under the direct purview of the governor; in New York State the members of the Board of Regents are “elected” by a joint meeting of both houses of the state legislature – in reality by the Speaker of the Assembly chooses; however, the members of the Board of Regents act independently, the Commissioner of Education is chosen by the 17-members of the Board of Regents, the governor has no role.

Within a week or so Hochul will choose a Lieutenant Governor, probably an Afro-American elected official from New York City. (UPDATE: Hochul selected Brian Benjamin, a 44 year old State Senator representing upper Manhattan, he was a 4th place finisher in the June primary for NYC Comptroller) and have to determine whether to replace the Commissioner of Health and the Budget Director, both close to Cuomo and maybe involved in questionable decisions.

What can we expect from Governor Hochul?

  • Ask the Department of Health to require everyone entering schools to wear a mask and leave enforcement up to school districts?
  • Will she require that all school personnel must be vaccinated with religious and medical exemptions with frequent testing for non-compliers? Who pays for testing and additional staffing to enforce compliance?  Is there an accurate data-bank of vaccinated school employees?
  • Will remote options be left to the discretion of the school districts?
  • Does the governor have a position on charter schools?  Buffalo has been overwhelmed with charter schools with more in the pipeline. Will she support legislation to increase oversight responsibility and transparency of charter schools and explore the impact of charter schools on district public schools? 
  • Does the governor support, oppose, or have no position on parents opting  children out of federally required standardized testing?
  • Will the governor take a position on mayoral control of New York City schools? Eric Adams, the presumptive mayor favors extending mayoral control.
  • Will the governor seek to revise the state school funding formulas?

Any items we missed?

The Governor will have a 4-month Grace Period, a New York City mayor beginning to exit and a new mayor preparing to come on board, the legislature not in session, a time to travel across the state, campaign without actually campaigning, preparing for her first legislative session.

In whatever is the equivalence of a “smoke-filled” room, gubernatorial wannabes will be plotting out their runs in the June primary. No rank choice voting, no matching funds, a  Cynthia Nixon from the left, a candidate of color, a Social Democrat, Scott Stringer, who knows, and, the Republican candidate, Lee Zeldin, a Congressman from Suffolk County, an avid Trumper and pro-Netanyahu waiting for the primary winner in November

In the summer of 2014 a few teacher union locals on Long Island endorsed Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham, in the Democratic primary. After Cuomo won the primary and the general election he used the broken budgeting process to add a year to teacher probation (from three to four years) and a few pro-charter bills.

Cuomo was the most Machiavellian of recent governors.

“it is much safer to be feared than loved because …love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”
― Niccolo  Machiavelli,The Prince

Will Hochul balance openness, collaboration, teamwork and bipartisanship with the toughness needed to pass legislation?

Hochul originally opposed approving driving licenses for the undocumented, and later recanted: who is the real Hochul?  Is she the conservative upstate democrat or the “flexible” democrat who moves across and within the fragmented Democratic Party? A Machiavellian with a velvet glove?