Needed: A Fair and Meaningful Method of Assessing School Progress

The New York Times ran a scathing article ripping Mayor de Blasio in regard to the Renewal Schools, the city’s plan to revive the lowest achieving schools. “New York Knew That Some Schools in Its $773 Million Plan Were Likely to Fail. It Kept Children in Them Anyway.” The schools were likely to fail because the student bodies were made up of significant number of students with disabilities, English language learners, homeless children, children who are “truly disadvantaged,” configurations that past mayors and chancellors have ignored, or, to be cynical, created.

Coincidentally (maybe) the “EightCities” Bellweather Education Partners blog wrote a highly laudatory article “New York City, New York,” recounting the Bloomberg approach to schools, ending with a shot at the de Blasio initiatives.

  • Mayoral control enabled bold change
  • Principals empowered by school-level autonomy in new small schools
  • Massive and formerly corrupt central office reoriented in service of kids
  • Failing high schools phased out and new small schools of choice phased in
  • New administration changed course and slowed progress

A  former New York City official had doubts,

“Once you slap a summative grade on [schools], everyone in the system is afraid they’ll get a bad grade. And [they’re] trying to figure out, ‘How do I game the system to avoid being embarrassed?’ It took their eyes off their students and put their focus on how to maximize their scores on state exams.”

  “There’s an ideology that we created around [accountability] that I think has been used widely, … and I’d say it’s not the solution. It is a tool, but it has to be balanced against other strategic tools … it’s important to be honest about the fact that test scores, while they are important, will never tell you the whole story.”

No one seems to be tracking whether progress is being made by the “truly disadvantaged students.” No Child Left Behind (NCLB) required states to set adequate annual progress goals with punitive sanctions if schools fail to reach performance goals. The lowest five percent of schools require state interventions with the threat of closing schools

I hate to tell you – there will ALWAYS be a lowest five percent.

Does closing schools simply reshuffle the lowest five percent to other schools?

Who are the lowest five percent students?

Who are the students scoring lowest on the state tests? Not a surprise: students with disabilities, English-language learners, chronically absent (>20%) students, frequently suspended students, homeless students, students in foster care, etc., the at-risk students scoring well “below proficiency.”

We know thar principals are, “… trying to figure out, ‘How do I game the system to avoid being embarrassed’”

I spent a couple years working for a not-for-profit on a school support team – assisting principals, showing them how to “game the system” within the rules: cohort management, recruiting students “smartly,” targeting funding to particular cohorts of students, all geared to attract and retain the most “academic” students and targeting funding for the  greatest impact on achievement.

Smart principals can “bump” scores, at least for a while.

Interestingly, during the phase out of closing schools school achievement data sometimes increases. Why?  Are the teachers trying to save the school and changing their pedagogical strategies? Is the phase-out principal more talented?  To the best of my knowledge the folks who ordered the phase-out had no interest in this phenomenon.

The feds, states, mayors, superintendents have been moving in the wrong direction, schools alone, no matter the dedication, cannot move all students to “proficiency;”  we will never have a nation in which all students are “above average.”

We should be measuring growth within each school component.

William Julius Wilson, a Harvard Sociologist coined the term “truly disadvantaged,” too many of the families in struggling schools are from “truly disadvantaged” families.

For example schools with ‘persistent chronic absenteeism” frequently are among the lowest achieving schools,

Kim Nauer, Nicole Mader and others at the Center for New York City Affairs, in “A Better Picture of Poverty” investigated the impact of persistent chronic absenteeism,

Persistent chronic absenteeism, … contributes to the dishearteningly slight success that students in such schools have had meeting the state’s new, academically rigorous Common Core learning standards. In the 2012–13 school year, only about 11 percent of students at schools with persistent chronic absenteeism passed Common Core–aligned math and reading tests, compared with a pass rate of more than 30 percent at other elementary and K to 8 schools citywide.

Persistently absent students frequently are part of the truly disadvantaged cohorts. Nauer, et. al., suggests using a different set of metrics to assess poverty,

Measuring Poverty Risk Load Factors

The fact that family and neighborhood poverty can have an adverse effect on school performance is well known. But typical measures, like free and reduced lunch or even community poverty data, fail to capture the volume and nature of the challenges that many schools in New York City face … We layered in data from the city and state education departments on students, teachers and school climate. We found that the following 18 variables were strong predictors of both Common Core test scores and chronic absenteeism.

SCHOOL FACTORS: 1. Students eligible for free lunch  2. Students known to be in temporary housing  3. Students eligible for welfare benefits from the Human Resources Administration  4. Special education students  5. Black or Hispanic students  6. Principal turnover  7. Teacher turnover  8. Student turnover  9. Student suspensions  10. Safety score on the Learning Environment Survey  11. Engagement score on the Learning Environment Survey

NEIGHBORHOOD FACTORS: 12. Involvement with the Administration for Children’s Services  13. Poverty rate  14. Adult education levels  15. Professional employment  16. Male unemployment  17. Presence of public housing in a school’s catchment  18. Presence of a homeless shelter in a school’s catchment

Developing a metric that encompasses the risk load factors could result in a growth measurement that is realistic.  We could identify schools with large percentages of truly disadvantaged children and identify the strategies that work, in schools and in neighborhoods. Schools should be making progress with all children; the question: how do you define progress and the rate of progress, aka, growth?

Clearly the turnaround programs that suck up federal, state and local dollars have not been effective ; they haven’t found the magic bullet.

Additionally, Raj Chetty and others have parsed many millions of data bits from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and used the data in a number of groundbreaking reports dealing with equality of opportunity.

The poverty risk load data metrics along with the Chetty datasets can allow us to both better define levels of poverty and to apply the Chetty data to assess economic/academic progress in addition to (instead of) changes in test scores.

The Opportunity Atlas  is another incredible tool, a wide range of datasets by geographical areas encompassing many of the risk loads identified by the Nauer, Mader, et., al., in the Better Picture of Poverty Report.

Nothing is coming out of Washington, and, states seemed tied to the spawn of NCLB, the new federal law, ESSA.

Only two states even applied for the federal innovative assessment program, New Hampshire and Louisiana.

New York City may become the innovator, a progressive mayor in his second term looking for national credentials, a new chancellor anxious to make his mark, a union leader who just negotiated a collaborative contract …. Who knows?  The innovative, and underreported, teacher contract contains  the “Bronx Plan,” and changes in teacher evaluation. The “Bronx Plan” selects high poverty, high teacher mobility, lower achieving schools with collaborative cultures and intensive professional development leading to school-based plans. We know that ownership of plans leads to sustainable changes.

The contract both reduces the number of teacher observations and begins a process to make the observation process more formative (the topic of the next blog).

In spite of over 100,000 students who are homeless for all or part of a school year, in spite of distressing numbers of truly disadvantaged students, New York City did better than the state on the recently released grades 3-8 test scores.

I am hopeful that researchers, perhaps the Research Alliance for NYS Schools , the Center for NYC Affairs, the Metro Center at NYU can develop a metric that will say: taking into account the obstacles, the poverty risk load factors, your school is making progress, or, conversely, is failing to make adequate progress. Under the current metrics you don’t have to look at test scores, you can just look at zip codes.

Now is the time for bold leadership: Anyone willing to seize the reins?

How Will the Blue Wave Tsunami in New York State Impact Education?

The talking heads are parsing the election results, many theories, many paths forward: should the democrats follow a progressive, left-leaning path, push an impeachment agenda, a middle of the road agenda, I’ve read opinion piece after opinion piece, this  opinion essay is quite interesting

New York State wasn’t a blue wave, it was a blue tsunami. The democrats now hold 39 seats in the 63-member Senate, and are hungry to use their power.

A caveat: the last time the democrats held both houses, 2010, successive leaders off the Senate, Malcolm Smith and John Sampson ended up in jail. When it looked like the democrats might eke out a one-vote major Simcha Felder, a democrat chose the Republican side of the aisle and Jeff Klein recruited seven other democrats to give the Republicans a firm hold.

Klein was defeated in the democratic primary and Felder, although re-elected will be lucky to get a men’s room key.

Dems in the Assembly have been frustrated, passing bill after bill only to see them fester and die on the Senate side. Republican Senate leaders held bills hostage to trade for this or that.

Governor Cuomo, always the pragmatist with his finger in the air, testing political winds did mange to build an impressive resume: marriage equality and the strongest gun control laws in the nation.

Assembly speaker Carl Heastie has been tweeting (#CarlE.Heastie) a list of Assembly priorities, including education,

Working to ensure every student in NYS has access to a quality education. Supporting the Higher Education Road to Success initiative, so our kids have the opportunity to go to college without being saddled with crushing debt

Linda Rosenthal, a senior Assembly member from the Upper West Side of Manhattan has her list of priorities,

Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the dem majority leader in waiting in the Senate has a reputation as a conciliator; a skill she will need in the very diverse democratic Senate.

A 17-seat advantage over Republicans holds some tantalizing prospects for Democrats in the state Senate.

But there are also some pitfalls for a conference that will have lawmakers, 15 of them freshman, representing upstate, suburban and New York City Senate districts, all of which have competing needs.

It’s going to fall to the incoming majority leader, Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, to manage the competing interests of the largest Democratic conference in more than a century.

The newly elected legislature will return the first week in January, elect the leadership of both houses, and listen to Governor Cuomo’s State of the State speech. While the dems won , both houses have long lists of priorities and the key list is the Governor’s list.

The January to June session is divided into two sections, the run-up to the April 1 budget  and the post budget days. Remember: the governor can add anything to the budget.

With divided houses the Democratic Assembly bills died as did Republican Senate bills. Even bills that got through both houses had to pass gubernatorial scrutiny; for the first time in eight years democrats will have to avoid self-destructing.

Although it won’t garner headlines the major education issue will be budget. For New York City the budget issue is full funding of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit remedy. As a result of the 2008 recession the governor “froze” education dollars and has been slowly repaying the frozen dollars. The NYC teacher union (UFT) and education advocates, with the Alliance for Educational Justice (AQE) and the Working Families Party in the forefront. Aside from New York City school budget growth is capped at 2%, attempts to loosen the cap have gone nowhere; teacher union contract raises have been around 1% with creative budgeting to keep current health plans. About 2/3 of education dollars come from property taxes, with wide disparities between low and high wealth districts. The state Foundation Aid formula to some extent evens the funding disparity, the Foundation Aid formula is needs-based. The 78-page State Aid Handbook lays out the formulas, I’ve sat through many meetings run by the State Education folk explaining the formula: dense, really dense.

The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires school districts to explain how they are spending education dollars, and, the governor has been increasingly critical: New York State is at the top of the national list for per capita funding why aren’t we getting better results?

In most states governors appoint boards that select commissioners, in New York State, in effect, the democratic majority selects the board members who hire the commissioner, and the governor has no control.  From time to time the governor has hinted about changing the system; while the constitution establishes a Board of Regents the duties are proscribed by laws.

If there is a loser its charter schools, Eliza Shapiro, in the NY Times interviewed a number of newly elected senators who are clearly anti-charter.

The Charter School Political Action Committee (PAC) has pumped millions of dollars into the Republican coffers year after year: retribution time?

Cuomo has been favorable to charters in the past, supporting raising the cap and forcing New York City to either provide free space in public schools or pay rent for private space. It is highly unlikely that the New York City cap, that is about to be filled, will be increased, and, I expect bills to increase transparency and bills to “level the playing” field. Currently there are two charter authorizers, the Board of Regents and the SUNY Charter Institute. Most of the charter schools are SUNY authorized, SUNY is far more obviously pro-charter and the attempt to bypass teacher certification, overturned in court, creates more SUNY enemies. Do we need two competing authorizers?

The Board of Regents have announced at their December meeting they will introduce a proposal to extend the teacher evaluation moratorium for a year, perhaps avoiding any legislative fixes.

UFT President Mulgrew announced that the union and Chancellor Carranza are moving towards a “meaningful” teacher evaluation system that actually improves instruction.

At a panel at Baruch College (read tweets here) a few days ago I asked the panelists, “If Governor Cuomo called you and said: we have highest per capita education spending in the nation, with mediocre NAEP scores: what would you recommend to improve educational outcomes in the state?”

Shael Policoff-Suransky, the former # 2 under Bloomberg-Klein in the Department of Education and now the President of Bank Street answered quickly,

“The crucial years are the earliest childhood years, from birth to entering school, other nations provide free, high quality childcare, we don’t offer any, We can’t accept the poorest children entering pre-k years behind in vocabulary and other skills.”

Stan Litow, a former NYC deputy chancellor in the 90’s and more recently leading education initiatives at IBM pointed to P-TECH, high schools that partner with a community college and a corporation who guarantees a job to graduates.

“We know what works, there are 200 P-TECH schools across the nation, all public schools, and most with the full participation of teacher unions: how do we scale up what works?”

Will be an interesting legislative session.

Can the Polls Be Wrong? Hillary is up 8%, No; Trump is up 1%, What’s Going On? Why Are the Polls Varying So Much? (October 31, 2016)

(Two years ago, a week before the election I was confused, why was the polling data jumping all over the place, I interviewed one of the leading statisticians in the nation, below is the interview – notice the last line – I am posting Tuesday afternoon, November 6, 2018 – Election Day)

With a week to go in the race to the White House the polls seem to be bouncing all over the place. Nate Silver at the fivethirtyeight blog predicting a narrowing but substantial Hillary lead,  The RealClearPolitics blog predicts a closer race with 149 electoral votes up for grabs.

Pollsters haven’t been doing too well this year – pollsters predicted a “yes” vote in the Brixet vote, the no’s won, in the Columbia FARC plebiscite, once again, the pollster predict “yes, the vote came out “no.”

I owe the following discussion to Howard Wainer,  Distinguished Research Scientist, National Board of Medical Examiners:

Pollsters identify a pool, a subset that reflects the larger population to be polled. We used to call the subset a stratified, random sample, a microcosm of the total population to be polled. The issue is the nonresponse rate which is gigantic. In a world of cell phones, potential responders can easily choose whether or not to answer a call. The nonresponse rate erodes the accuracy of the poll.

A group of physicists at The City College have developed an alternative method of predicting elections using Twitter data.

[CCNY physicists} have developed analytic tools combining statistical physics of complex networks, percolation theory, natural language processing and machine learning classification to infer the opinion of Twitter users regarding the Presidential candidates this year.

“Forecasting opinion trends from real-time social media is the long-standing goal of modern-day big-data analytics,” said Makse, a Fellow of the American Physical Society. “Despite its importance, there has been no conclusive scientific evidence so far that social media activity can capture the opinion of the general population at large.”

However, by using a large-scale dataset of 73 million tweets collected from June 1 to September 1, 2016, Makse and his associates are able to investigate the temporal social networks formed by the interactions among Twitter users.

Read the article with links to the research here:

Pollsters are increasingly turning to what statisticians call covariates, Wainer writes,

 A more promising approach (using covariates but a different matching variable) uses Nielson ratings, which are not self-selected and are well documented to accurately depict viewing habits. And then tying viewing habits to voting choices in previous elections 2012, 2008, etc. After building the model from such data they use the current viewing habits to predict 2016. So the idea is that if the viewership is growing monstrous for Duck Dynasty, Hillary ought to watch out, whereas if there are big jumps for McNeil-Lehrer (or whatever it is called now) Trump should worry.

Wainer continues,

You get the idea — the point of polls is to use the outcome of polls to predict the outcome we care about. But if polls are unreliable we must find more reliable (but still efficacious) predictors. Perhaps tweets help, but there are other options. In the future, if people continue to not answer phones, these alternative approaches will become the norm.

Traditional polling is increasingly shaky, you glance at your phone, if you can’t identify the number you ignore it, if it is an 800 or an 888 number you ignore it. Pollsters are dependent on responses, who answers the phone?  Older voters with more time? Who doesn’t answer the phone? Have you programmed your phone to only accept specific numbers?  If non-responses are gigantic traditional telephone-based polling is both inaccurate, and, not the best way to predict outcomes.

Yes, Twitter or Nielson or Facebook may provide better ways of predicting outcomes.

Wainer concludes,

Although it is well known that being a statistician means never having to say you’re certain (nothing in life is ever better than 3 to 1), I feel safe in betting the farm on Hillary (regardless of the release of emails). And also a Democratic Senate.

If Democrats Control Both Houses of the State Legislature How Would It Impact Education Policy?

On Tuesday voters across the nation will cast ballots that will decide the control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, in New York State voters will determine the control of the State Senate.

The 150-member Assembly is firmly in control of Democrats, led by speaker Carl Heastie, who replaced the disgraced Sheldon Silver.

The 63-member Senate is currently controlled by a slim, a very slim Republican majority, a one-vote majority. If there is a blue tsunami, a blue wave or a blue ripple the Democrats will gain control of the Senate.

The history of recent control of the Senate is covered with shame, the last two Democratic leaders of the Senate, both Afro-Americans, were convicted of crimes and incarcerated. The current Democratic leader in the Senate is Andrea Stewart-Cousins, an Afro-American woman representing Westchester.

If the Democrats prevail they will convene after being sworn in and select a majority leader; while Stewart-Cousin will probably prevail there may an opponent: Michael Gianaris, The Democrats in the Senate have always been a contentious group, divided by geography, race and just plain old political ambition. The Independent Democratic Coalition (IDC) peeled away eight democrats and shared leadership with the republicans. If you want a friend in Albany: buy a dog!

I suspect Stewart-Cousins will become the majority leader.

Both houses if the legislature will be led by Afro-Americans.

Who will Stewart-Cousins appoint a Education Chair? from New York City? the suburbs? a person of color?  How will Stewart-Cousins meld her senior members with her new members? How will she avoid identity politics?  Can she build a  collaborative majority or a fractious membership, some of whom may split off into a new IDC-like coalition?

The session kicks off with the governor’s State of the State message, laying out his policy agenda for the session. followed by the governor’s draft budget; in New York State the governor sets the parameters of the budget and from January until the end of March the “three men in a room,” excuse me, the two men and Andrea, hash out the budget. Governors can add non-budgetary items to the budget, the courts sustained this practice.

While the democrats control both houses representatives, regardless of party, will fight for issues important for their district. The loudest voice in the room is the governor.

In the last session about 15,000 bills were introduced in the Assembly, fewer than 500 became law; with both houses in democratic hands legislators will push hard for passage of their bills.

Legislators are both collaborative and competitive. Some legislators introduce twenty bills and others a few hundred, bills are assigned to committees and the committee chair is the gatekeeper. Some bills are similar to others bills, whose bill makes it to the floor?  The speaker and the majority leader are the final gatekeepers. It is rare for a bill to come to the floor that will not pass. Each party has almost daily conferences, closed meetings at which the members argue/debate bills, if there is sufficient opposition the speaker/majority leader will set the bill aside.

Education funding, although not sexy, is at the top of any education agenda. The combination of the limit on state and local tax deductions (SALT) and the 2% property tax cap is stressful. On one hand suburban districts pay extraordinarily high property taxes and the property tax cap is popular, on the other hand school districts are eating into reserves.

I suspect the legislature will take a deep dive into the way schools in New York State are funded. I doubt a bill can be agreed upon before the April 1st budget date; however, the state could select a commission to address a new school funding formula.

To further complicate New York City legislators will advocate for the full funding of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit – billions of dollars; an example of division by geography.

The State Education Department is currently creating a list of budgetary and non-budgetary asks, over the past decade budgets have been stingy when it comes to State Education funding initiatives.

Over the years democrats and republicans, urban and suburban, have worked out budgets within the fiscal constraints set by the governor.

The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) is the union representing teachers in the 4400 schools in New York State; the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) is the union representing teachers in New York City.

A major issue for NYSUT is teacher evaluation, the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). We are in the last year of a moratorium on the use of student testing data to assess teacher performance. In the post-budget legislative session the Assembly passed a bill championed by NYSUT that would have moved teacher assessment decisions to local school districts, at the last moment the Republican leadership in Senate held the bill hostage, and took no action. Will the NYSUT-supported bill pass the legislature early in the session, or, will the governor decide to delay the discussions until after the budget? The State Commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, has made it clear; the Regents and the State Education should be involved in any APPR revisions.

Charter school advocates are nervous, and they should be!  For election cycle after election cycle charter school PACs poured money into Republican Senate campaigns, Republicans with no charter schools in their district.

The charter school cap in New York City is about to be reached, unless the governor decides to fully jump on the charter school bandwagon the cap will not be raised.

In number of areas the charter school law is permissive, charter school critics may advocate for a tightening of the legislation, more transparency, and, perhaps, limiting the contribution tax write-offs for charter school philanthropy,

The SUNY Charter School Institute decided it had the authority to certify prospective charter school teachers, a policy that was sharply criticized, and the courts ruled SUNY had exceeded their authority. Will the legislature limit the authority of the SUNY Charter Institute?  Merryl Tisch, during her tenure as leader of the Board of Regents attempted to move all charter schools solely to the Board of Regents.

Individual legislators will introduce bills that require that school districts to protect (you write in the noun) or provide curriculum for (again, you write in the noun) or prohibit or require (whatever), many of these proposals cost dollars that are not provided in the proposal.

Some proposals will be high profile, reported in the print and online media, be subject to public meetings and others quietly proposed and passed without much public scrutiny.

Virtually every organization employs lobbyists, from organizations representing school boards, superintendents, small cities, mid-sized cities, the Big Five, the Gates Foundation, Scores of organizations bring members to Albany, usually on Monday and Tuesday attempting to meet with legislators. I say attempting because legislators attend committee meetings and the session meetings; a grassroots type of lobbying.

Gideon John Tucker, a Surrogate Judge in New York Country wrote in an 1866 decision, “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

The Elephant in the Room: Will the deBlasio/Carranza School Integration Initiatives Result in White Flight?

Do you have friends of another race? Do you know their spouse and childrens’ names? Have you visited their home and have they visited your home?

Have we entered a post racial world? Is the concept of post-racialism a mirage?

With the election of Barack Obama commentators across the nation announced we were entering a post racial world,

Many commentators, both conservative and liberal, have celebrated the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States, claiming the election signified America has truly become a “post-racial” society … This view is consistent with beliefs the majority of White Americans [and] this view is consistent with opinions found in the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and elsewhere

Ten days before leaving office Obama gave an upbeat speech; however, rejecting the post-racial trope,  .

There’s a … threat to our democracy – one as old as our nation itself. After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were ten, or twenty, or thirty years ago – you can see it not just in statistics, but in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.

 The last two years have shown us that the ugliness of racism has been seething below the surface, and our president has allowed these feeling to percolate and spread across the nation.

We are far, far away from post racialism, if that term has any meaning at all.

As the cold war faded a social scientist predicted, “The End of History.” (1989) and prophesized a new emerging world,

Francis Fukuyama, an acclaimed American political philosopher, entered the global imagination at the end of the Cold War when he prophesied the “end of history” — a belief that, after the fall of communism, free-market liberal democracy had won out and would become the world’s “final form of human government.”

 With the emergence of fascist-leaning governments in Poland and Hungary, with the Russian annexation of Crimea, rising ultra nationalist movements in Sweden and Germany, Fukuyama responded,

 “Twenty five years ago, I didn’t have a sense or a theory about how democracies can go backward … And I think they clearly can.”

 Are the current plans to integrate middle schools viable plans to move school integration forward? Or, are we still rooted in a racially-conflicted world?

A little history:

 In the 1950’s the migration of Afro-American families to Northern cities accelerated, one of the results: what has come to be known as “white flight,” white families left traditional white neighborhoods and moved to the suburbs creating racially segregated inner city communities. As the flight continued city after city became majority minority cities.  One of the outcomes in addition to segregated neighborhoods was segregated schools. White families who remained often opted to move their kids to parochial and private schools.

Over the last twenty years a reverse migration, the movement of white families back to cities, called gentrification has moved lower income families of color into smaller and smaller areas of the city and created hyper-segregated schools. Today only 15% of the 1.1 million students in New York City schools are white.

In 2014, one of the most progressive cities in the nation was shocked as the UCLA Civil Rights Project report was released,

A report released today by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project finds that public school students in New York continue to be severely segregated. Public school students in the state are increasingly isolated by race and class as the proportion of minority and poor students continues to grow, according to the CRP report, “New York State’s Extreme School Segregation: Inequality, Inaction and a Damaged Future.”

The City responded by issuing a School Diversity Policy Statement  that included establishing a 50-member blue ribbon advisory task force on School Integration and Equity whose report is due in December.

Districts on the Lower East Side (1), the Upper West Side (3) and Brownstone Brooklyn (15) spent months meeting and eventually created plans that were approved by the chancellor.

The  100-plus page District 15 Diversity Plan Executive Summary,

  • Remove all screens. (These screens include: lateness, attendance, student behavior, admissions exams/tests, standardized test scores, report card grades, & auditions. Maintain the current system of school choice
  • Create an admissions priority for students who qualify as low-income, are English Language Learners (ELLs) and/or are Students in Temporary Housing for 52% of all seats at all District 15 middle schools.

The District 3 Middle School Integration Plan is similar,

Under the plan approved in District 3, students who are poor, struggle on state tests, and earn low report card grades will be given admissions priority for a quarter of seats at the district’s middle schools. Of those seats, 10 percent would go to students who struggle the most, and 15 percent would go to the next-neediest group.

David Kirkland, the Director of the NYU Metro Center explains why a transformation to integrated schools is essential,

The research suggests, over and again, that people who are exposed to differences are more open-minded and more tolerant. They’re more compassionate. They think more complexly. They’re capable of working out difficult problems.

Forget college and career readiness. Here we have civic readiness, the ability to participate in a multicultural democracy with people who are different than you are, in ways that inspire not tension but community and collaboration.

What this is, is an idea of democracy of access, democracy of opportunity. If my friends’ parents are doctors, the dream of becoming a doctor becomes tangible. It becomes far more legible, as opposed to when I live in communities where nobody gets to be a doctor, or nobody gets to be a lawyer, or judge. The seedling of that imagination becomes within reach.

 The Mayor, the Chancellor, the teachers union, scholars, progressive parents, editorial boards (perhaps with the exception of the NY Post) are hailing the plans and urging the city to move forward at a quicker pace.

The elephant in the room: will white parents accept/welcome the integration plans, or, seek other segregated by race and/or perceived ability options?

The plans have not been universally accepted, white parents have asked: Will the high academic standards (whatever that means) be maintained? Will classes be homogeneous by test scores or heterogeneous? and, we don’t know how the almost all white staffs will respond?

There have been highly successful integration plans in the past, I blogged about a district-created New York City plan last month.

Families are beginning to apply for placements and the districts will inform families of their placements in the spring.

Will the families, white and black, collaborate to make the plans work for all children?

James Madison High School was integrated in the early sixties and considered a successfully integrated high school. In December, 1973 “racial incidents” broke out, and, Fran Schumer, a recent graduate from Madison (and one of my students) wrote an article for the Harvard Crimson, “Prisoners of Class ,”

IN A QUIET, residential area of Brooklyn, N.Y., a crowd of angry white teen-agers surrounded the main doors of James Madison High School chanting “We want the Niggers, we want the Niggers.” Armed with sticks, rocks and fragments of glass, they waited for the black students in the school to leave the building. The police, who were called to the school earlier that morning when fist fights between black and white students erupted in the halls, forced the crowd to move on down the block so that the black students could leave the building safely. After the white crowd moved out of sight, the black students quickly headed for the local trains on which they would make the one-and-one-half hour trip homeward …

 It is possible that people at James Madison High School will never know the pieces add up to their own victimization. As long as the prisoners of class and the prisoners of race must make self-destructive choices, they will continue to fight each other for the breadcrumbs. But after all, they choose to act this way and this kind of free choice is as American as apple pie, Watts, Hough, Bedford-Stuyvesant and in a few years, Flatbush.

Integrating a school is more than moving chips on a chess board; too often the “integrated” school becomes a microcosm of the outside world, segregation within the “integrated” school.

How far have we moved since the “racial incidents” at a “successfully” integrated high school almost fifty years ago?  BTW, it took a decade, Madison reclaimed it’s prestige in the community and today is a thriving fully integrated high achieving high school.

Will school districts participate in #black lives matter in schools?  Will teachers, parent and students of all races work together to create inclusive schools and inclusive communities?

As I write my twitter feed buzzes with reports of a “multiple casualties” shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and the rabid Trump supporter bombing suspect. Trump rallies that appear to be re-creations of Leni Riefenstahl’s, “Triumph of Will” rally in 1934 Germany.  Diane Ravitch expresses her frustration in a blog post (“Hatred Breeds Hatred), I totally agree with Diane and hope that New Yorkers can set a model for the nation.

Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education Conference: A Report and Reflections

I spent the weekend in Indianapolis at the fifth annual Network for Public Education Conference, both uplifting and disturbing.

Hundreds of teachers, parents, activists, elected officials, all dedicated supporters of public education sharing stories, both uplifting stories of how small groups of dedicated, caring sophisticated teams of teacher unions, parents and community activists can make a difference and begin to turn the tide, and, in other locations, how the forces of privatization, charter schools, “portfolio” models are unrelenting in their assault on public education.

The weekend alternated between speakers and workshops.

Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educator described the worldwide attack on public education, Pasi has dubbed the movement GERM – the Global Education Reform Movement.

Finland should be a model for our nation, at least for states within our nation. The education system in Finland: no standardized tests, local autonomy, well-paid teachers and students at the top of the list on international lists. Yes, Finland is small, 5.5 million in a nation the size of Montana, very few immigrants, income equality, teachers selected from the top 10% of college graduates, free public education from pre-K through your PhD. .

The United States suffers from among the highest rates of childhood poverty and sharp income inequality.

I digress,  we have a very long way to go to emulate Finland; however, Pasi was presenting how the worldwide assault on public education, in nation after nation, attempts to privatize education are waning. We still have a long uphill struggle; we are beginning to turn the corner.

Diane, in her keynote speech, described the theme of her new book, due on bookshelves next year, watch Diane’s remarks here. Diane is an optimist, she sees us beginning to win the war on public education. In her inimitable writing style she will skewer the despoilers with facts and logic.

Derrick Johnson, the new president of the NAACP, a dynamic speaker urged the audience to participate, to vote, to organize, and to realize, in the words of Frederick Douglas,

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground … This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

 After forums around the nation the NAACP called for a moratorium on the opening of new charter schools until charter school information is totally transparent. and a wide range of other school initiatives are achieved.  Read NAACP report here.

In addition to the keynote speakers there were dozens of workshops and panels, some truly inspirational and other troubling.

The Indianapolis Public Schools Community Coalition  is struggling against a tsunami of privatization of public schools, Teachers, parents, faith-based leaders and activists are fighting against richly funded privateers, and the future of public schools in Indianapolis is in danger.

In Kansas City (Missouri) the superintendent, Dr. Mark Bedell is leading a coalition to reinvigorate public schools. KC  is one of many cities with declining populations, declining industry, increasing unemployment, and increasing numbers of charter schools; the KC school population has declined precipitously, currently 26,000 students 14,00 in public schools in 12,000 in charter schools. The public schools coalition and a public school dominated school board are advocating at the state level, they were impressive, well-organized and a model for “fighting back.”

In a facilitated discussion of urban school districts we listened to an officer of the Los Angeles teacher union, on the verge of a strike. The LA elected school board hired a businessman with no education experience as superintendent who is pushing for a citywide portfolio model pushing to weaken the union, in a city currently overrun with charter schools.

Chicago continues to fight school closings and attacks on teacher rights. To say the least, it was troubling.

I met leader of  a Nova Scotia (Canada) teacher union; Nova Scotia is poor, and getting poorer and faced with closing schools, inadequate funding and a ripe climate for charter schools, only Alberta currently have charter schools. Among the poorest sectors are Afro-Canadians, whose ancestors were loyalists, slaves freed by the British during the revolutionary war who fled to Canada. The union president feared that his province was ripe for charter schools.

I spoke with brave teachers from Oklahoma, who risked their jobs to strike, the salary, benefits and schools in Oklahoma are abysmal, with decision-making dominated by the wealthiest. In state after state anti-public school forces influence legislative decisions, in too many states dominate state legislatures.

New York City is a bubble, a favorable mayor, a powerful union, a new contract with many teacher empowering sections, proof that all politics is local and elections have consequences.

I left Indianapolis impressed with the brave people, teachers, parents and community folk, who are fighting the good fight.

For me, teacher unions are the core of the battle, listen to Billy Bragg,

And a wonderful updated version from a friend, it’s really good, give it s listen

Collaboration or Conflict: Can the New UFT Teacher Contract Change the Role of School Leaders and Teachers from Adversaries to Collaborators?

As a nation we have been struggling for decades to improve academic outcomes for children, especially for children in poverty and children of color. We acknowledge factors external to schools impact academic outcomes; for example, childhood poverty in the United States is higher than all the countries in Europe, and, issues within our control go unaddressed, another example, school segregation.

We do know that in the teaching/learning process, the interaction among teachers, between supervisors and teachers, including parents, in the school decision-making process, requires collaboration in order to improve academic outcomes, the evidence is overwhelming.

In New York City parents, teacher and students fill out surveys  every year, and, not surprisingly schools with high levels of collaboration as evidenced by the survey have better academic outcomes.

While there are many definitions of collaboration the definition below encompasses many other definitions.

Collaboration – the sharing of effort, knowledge and resources in the pursuit of shared goals – plays a central and partially hidden role in the achievement of student learning outcomes.

 Professional collaboration is deeply embedded in the culture and organization of … schools. It is used to support, sustain, evaluate and refine professional learning about teaching and learning strategies. Using collaboration to access expertise, data and relevant practice is an essential part of … daily practice. Local collaboration with other schools, universities, employers and community organizations also plays an essential role in providing the structure, resources and expertise for student achievement.

 Unfortunately too many schools and school districts are paramilitary organizations, the superintendent or principal at the top of the pyramid gives an order and everyone down the pyramid is expected to salute and comply. Common planning time required in some districts, included in some collective bargaining agreements, is the time spent fruitfully, or, an opportunity to bitch and vent? In my union rep days I used to suggest to principals that their faculty conferences should mirror the type of instruction they want to see in classrooms, interactions between the principal and the staff not the “sage on the stage.”

Labor relations in the United States has a long history of conflict, management guarding their “prerogatives” and viewing unions as opponents, as the enemy.

The German model is far different,

 The German [labor relations] system is more democratic and far more respectful of worker rights. Instead of the relentless union-busting and virulent anti-labor propaganda common in US industry, German labor law requires consultation and collaboration with workers in the Betriebsrat, or works council—people directly elected by the employees, blue-collar and white-collar alike. At a minimum, German workers are guaranteed a voice in corporate decision-making.

 The recent Janus SCOTUS decision is just one example of a nationwide, well-funded attempt to disempower teacher unions rather than working with unions to improve student outcomes.

 Union-management labor negotiations have been, and in many arenas continue to be a struggle over power. The elected Los Angeles school board (LAUSD) hired a former hedge fund manager with no education experience as superintendent and the second largest school district in the nation is edging towards a strike as both sides publicly attack each other.  The just concluded New York City tentative union agreement is moving in the opposite direction, with a number of educational initiatives that will require a new level of collaboration at the school level.

Read summary of tentative contract and full memorandum:

The crucial question is whether labor and management can move from decades of adversarial relationships to collegial relations on the district and school level.

We have had islands of collaboration going back to the 60’s with the creation of alternative high schools, a few, very few, school districts jumped onboard the School-Based Management/School Based Decision-making (SBM-SBD) trend in the 90’s, individual schools, under the radar worked out interesting programs, in one large school teachers selected the department head and teachers could voluntarily opt into a non-evaluative peer observation system in lieu of traditional observations. Currently well over 100 schools in New York City are PROSE schools, schools that have “innovative” approaches outside the constraints of department and union regulations; sort of  charter-like entities within the school system.

The new contract sets up a Bronx Collaborative Schools Plan,

This model is a joint effort to help students achieve their highest potential through a transformation of school culture based on genuine collaboration. Attracting and retaining staff is a priority of this model. Up to 120 schools, mostly in the Bronx, will participate.

  • Eligibility is based on criteria including teacher turnover, staff retention/attrition, academic achievement, persistent vacancies, repeated use of shortage-license-area waivers, student demographics and enrollment, leadership turnover, transportation issues and/or state identification. Both the chapter leader and principal have to agree to be part of the model.
  • A central committee composed of an equal number of representatives appointed by the UFT president and the chancellor will oversee the pilot.
  • Each school will form a school-based committee composed of between six and 12 people; 50 percent of the committee members will be UFT-represented employees selected by the UFT. These committees will receive joint professional development on collaboration, facilitation, shared decision-making, “Speak up Culture,” DOE data dashboard and other topics.

How will the school staffs acquire the skills to address these issues? In the past the “solutions” came from the chancellor or the superintendent, and, rarely were sustainable. The current theory of action: school-based decisions with external supports can achieve goals and become embedded in school cultures,

School cultures are firmly embedded; moving from top-down to school-based is a substantial task.

The worthy programmatic goal, “help students achieve their highest potential through a transformation of school culture based on genuine collaboration,” will require major shifts on the union and management sides.

Many other sections of the memorandum address collaboration between the parties. Words are just words, they are not actions. Labor/management agreements can look fine on paper, how will they work in the schools, and, will the collaborative efforts translate into more effective schools?

The collective bargaining agreement, the contract, requires monthly consultation meeting between the school leaders and the school union representative, and, the union spends a great deal of time training the school reps about their roles at the consultation, the meetings can get argumentative.

A recent school-based consultation meeting:

The union rep raised an issue and the principal asked the union rep how s/he would resolve the issue: the union rep replied, “That’s your job, you just have to resolve the issue to my satisfaction.”

How do you move from conflict to conciliation to collaboration?

A principal confided to me, “I’m responsible for school outcomes, too many teachers just want to do less work, they use the contract to avoid responsibility, use it was a weapon.”

Teachers in another school bemoan that every time they come to the principal with an idea, a proposal, s/he rejects any without reason.

We have s long way to go, the union and the chancellor and his underlings have to be fully committed to changing decades of suspicion, trust is only built through actions.

I was sitting at a School Leadership Team meeting, as a guest, the teachers and the parents were advocating for changes and the principal was arguing “it’ll never work,” after a while he relented, “If you want to do it, I’ll support it, I just want to know how we’re going to assess it, how will we know if it’s works?”   Is there a collaboration gene?

With charter schools and online learning and who knows what else hovering it is essential that “both sides of the desk” put aside traditional conflicts and begin to work together to create and achieve common goals.