Why Do We Suspend Students from School? Do Suspensions Result in Improved Outcomes? Are Restorative Justice Practices an Effective Alternative to Suspensions

A month after de Blasio’s election I went to a session at the transition tent, a community outreach, an actual tent, every day a series of “events,” panels of activists commenting/recommending policies for the new administration. The education panel I attended, a minister from a large church, the local NAACP leader, local electeds, community leader types, all railing against the school to prison pipeline. With all the possible education issues confronting the city the top issue for these Harlem activists was the “pipeline.”

Harlem activists are not alone, in fact the “pipeline” is widely accepted as a “truth:” from the ACLU to Tavis Smiley to media source after source.

“The ACLU is committed to challenging the ‘school-to-prison pipeline,’ a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems“. (School to Prison Pipeline)

The school-to-prison pipeline: an epidemic that is plaguing schools across the nation. Far too often, students are suspended, expelled or even arrested for minor offenses that leave visits to the principal’s office a thing of the past.” (Tavis Smiley Reports)

“Policies and practices that favor incarcerations over education do us all a grave injustice.” (Tolerance.org)

The final draft of the New York State ESSA plan includes a section “discouraging” student suspensions,

“…additional measures of school quality and student success in the accountability and support system over time, beginning with the percentage of students who annually are subject to out-of-school suspensions.”

In New York State all students who are suspended must report to an educational facility. There are two categories of suspensions: in-school, in New York City from one to five days and in another facility if more than five days; either in a special alternative facility, outside the city usually in a BOCES facility.

Suspensions are governed by discipline codes, each school district must have a discipline code that is aligned with state education regulations as well as state and federal laws.

Read NYC Discipline Code (revised, April 2017), Grades K-5 http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/2942494E-7CD8-4CBD-86FC-E34A14FE1852/0/DisciplineCodeK5FINALforPostingaddtledits4517.pdf,

Read NYC Discipline Code (revised, April 2017) http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/92F313F8-C164-4B64-B236-BFF55A812254/0/DisciplineCode612FINALforposting5417.pdf

A lengthy essay in the New York Times reviews suspension policies in New York City and favors restorative justice practices as alternatives,

… in New York, where Rudolph W. Giuliani’s “broken windows” theory had taken hold, signaled to educators that crackdowns on unruliness of all kinds were in order. Between 1999 and 2009, the number of student suspensions in New York nearly doubled, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, reaching about 450,000 suspensions over the course of the decade. In that era, infractions that once might have merited a call home, like shoving another student or cursing, were increasingly common grounds for suspension.

By 2015, in New York City, repeat low-level infractions — cursing, for example — no longer qualified for suspensions. In order to suspend a student for “defying or disobeying the lawful authority” of school staff, the kind of catchall violation that was disproportionately applied to students of color, a principal had to obtain approval from the Education Department. Between July 2015 and that December, the number of suspensions in New York dropped by 32 percent, compared with the same period a year earlier

The Department of Education urged principals to adopt restorative justice practices in lieu of suspensions.

Restorative justice is built on values like community, empathy and responsibility; in its specifics, it asks students and teachers to strengthen connections and heal rifts by sitting on chairs in circles and allowing each participant to speak about how a given incident affected him or her.

The central question: Do suspensions work”? Do restorative justices practices “work?”

By “work” I mean has the suspended student “learned a lesson,” Is future conduct better? Do the “suspendeds” learn self-control? Has the number of recidivist suspensions declined? Does the behavior and academic outcomes of students improve after return from suspension? If a student is suspended and removed from class does the class “benefit?” Does “learning” in the rest of the class improve?

An out-of-school- suspension is the result of a serious violation of the discipline code, for example, fighting, and, we have to be careful not to confuse the act that resulted in the suspension to the suspension itself. While the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations encouraged a “broken windows” strategy, “stop and frisk” by the police and school suspensions, the current de Blasio administration has sharply reduced stop and frisk and suspensions.

Crime rates continue to decline across the city, we don’t know the impact of fewer suspensions?

Max Eden at the Manhattan Institute, in a review of teacher and students surveys claims discipline has eroded,

Advocates of discipline reform claim that a suspension may have negative effects on the student being disciplined. Critics are concerned that lax discipline may lead to more disruptive behavior, disrupting classrooms and harming students who want to learn.

While school climate is impossible to measure in most districts, it can be measured in New York City, America’s largest school district, thanks to surveys that question students and teachers about learning conditions in their school.

This report analyzes student and teacher surveys covering the five-year period of 2011–12 to 2015–16. The key findings: school climate remained relatively steady under Bloomberg’s discipline reform, but deteriorated rapidly under de Blasio’s. Specifically, teachers report less order and discipline, and students report less mutual respect among their peers, as well as more violence, drug and alcohol use, and gang activity. .

At  March 14th Manhattan Institute forum Lois Herrrra, Executive Director of the Department of Education Office of Safety and Youth Development challenged the findings of the Eden report.

The Department Online Occurrence Report System (OORS) requires detailed reporting of every incident in a school whether or not it results in a suspension. OORS is a rich trove of data, due to privacy concerns the Department limits access to the system – research designs must protect all privacy data. An artfully designed research project would be helpful in driving policy, unfortunately, I believe, the current beliefs that abhor suspensions might not support research with uncertain outcomes.

What has gone unexplored is what happens during a period of suspension. New York City maintains suspensions sites (“Alternative Learning Centers”) and, students receive small group instruction and intensive counseling at the sites. Yes, attendance is well below citywide attendance, for the students that regularly attend: are the outcomes better; do the suspension recidivist rate decrease, do student academic outcomes improve? An article in the New York Teacher describes the sites,

[The Department supports] five centers and 36 sites across the city where high school students are sent for instruction after they have committed an infraction that results in an out-of-school suspension.

These centers together form a carefully conceived safety net to ensure at-risk students get the support they need while not missing a day of instruction.

Mitchell Greggs, the assistant principal at Park Place Academy, a long-term suspension site, says the Department of Education’s alternate learning centers, with their small class sizes, specially trained staff and extra support, give students who have made a mistake at their home school the opportunity to change course.

“It’s the best-kept secret” of the school system, said Greggs. “I tell some students this might be the best worst mistake you ever made.”

… teachers hold daily advisory classes to work on community building, punctuality and attendance and how to handle stressful situations without resorting to fights.

In addition, there are restorative circles held weekly and as needed to talk about issues as they arise and what students will do differently when they return to their home schools.

The intimate school size and class sizes, which can range from one to 13 students, provide the opportunity for staff to get to know the students and address their unique needs.

“We work very individually with students,” said Park Place guidance counselor Camela Singh. “There’s a lot of one-on-one attention to help them plan their academic career behaviorally and make improvements when they go back to their regular school or graduate.

For younger students restorative justice practices as part of a curriculum appear to be an excellent idea, especially if integrated into a school curriculum. At the middle or high school level I favor student advisories, time each week for the teacher to engage in social, emotional learning activities, perhaps restorative justice activities, perhaps single sex “discussions” with same sex teachers; however, to virtually eliminate suspensions is a disservice. Students can learn life-saving, vital lessons during periods of suspension. Violent and dangerous acts have consequences, and a period of removal from a classroom and period of intensive counseling and intensive instruction can make an enormous difference in the life of a student.

We need research: which approaches are working, we should not allow preconceived, political agendas to drive policy

ESSA-ing Down the Road: Will the New State Plan Change the Face of Teaching and Learning or Stumble and Anger Parents and Teachers?

The July Regents Meeting is usually billed as a retreat; a day and half at some conference center discussing the agenda for the next school year. This group of Regents is engaged, enormously engaged. Regent Cashin hosted a dozen meetings around the state with college deans, college staffs and students to discuss the required pre-service tests. and after a year eliminated the ALST test. Regent Young chaired the Work Group on Improving Outcomes for Young Men of Color and which led to $20 million dollars in the budget for a range targeted programs. Regent Johnson and Reyes co-chair the School Integration Work Group, beginning the process of exploring/recommending/creating policies to promote school integration across the state. Regent Cottrell is a physician leading the efforts dealing with the social/emotional side of learning. Regent Mead served as a parent on a Community Education Council (CEC) in New York City. Regent Collins is a nurse, etc.

It was not surprising when the “retreat” was another meeting packed with the “big issues” facing education in the state.

The Commissioner rolled out the updated ESSA plan after over a year of discussions. The community engagement was impressive, every constituency across the state: school districts, school boards, teachers, unions, principals, parents, everyone who touches children had the chance to pay a role in the process.

After the release of a May draft the Commissioner released an updated July plan. The plan will now go on to the Governor for review, required by the law, and back to the Commissioner/Board of Regents for approval at the September meeting. The plan will go to the feds in Washington to review, perhaps require changes, and eventual approval.

You can check out a 12-slide power point presentation of the plan: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/accountability/essa/documents/regents-july-2017-commissioner-to-bor-presentation.pdf

You can review a superbly done 75-page summary of the plan: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/accountability/essa/documents/ny-essa-plan-summary-draft-july-2017.pdf

If you’re following the construction of the plan you can review a 12-page comparison of the May to July revisions to the plan: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/accountability/essa/documents/changes-made-to-ny-essa-plan-july-2017.pdf

If you’re a glutton for punishment or are really into following the plan read the 201-page ESSA Plan in template format: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/accountability/essa/documents/ny-essa-technical-plan-draft-july-2017.pdf

The presentations were led by Linda Darling-Hammond of the Learning Policy Institute and Scott Marion of the Center for Assessment. As an aside, Linda was frequently mentioned as Secretary of Education before President Obama nominated Arne Duncan, what is mistake!!  Sadly, water under the bridge. Scott Marion, a self-described “recovering psychometrician” has the ability to engage with an audience, parse the most complex topics, and not shy away from misinformation. Scott began his presentation with, “Complex problems commonly have simple solutions, and, they’re usually wrong.”

Linda and Scott were a tag team laying out the plan and the discussion over designing a “dashboard.” How will the state create a visual representation of the plan for the public: ordinary citizens, voters, parents, the folks out there who pay the taxes that support schools.

The next step is to creating the interactive dashboard with clickable links if you want to dip deeper; a task for next year. A number of states have created and currently use dashboards. Linda and Scott, in a 37-slide power point described what other dashboards look like and facilitated a discussion among the members of the Regents – you can review – which of the models do you prefer?  http://www.p12.nysed.gov/accountability/essa/documents/regents-july-2017-constructing-state-dashboard-presentation.pdf

The final section of the presentation was the most fascinating. The law provides a section in which states can create innovative assessment pilots. The regulations have not been released at this time, and, we have no idea when the feds will move forward. In a 41-slide power point called the Next Generation of Assessments Scott and Linda explained the contradictions in the concept of assessment – the differences in what teachers need for assessment (to drive daily instruction) and a school district’s need – to measure progress; however you define progress. The slides touch on performance assessments aka authentic assessments, portfolios and other types of parsing student learning.

If you are an opponent of the current state tests and regents exams click here: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/accountability/essa/documents/regents-july-2017-next-generation-assessments-presentation.pdf, This may be the assessment world a few years down the road

A teacher asked: “Should I care? Will the plan impact what I do with my kids in my classroom?”

For the 17-18 school year, no, for the years down the road, hopefully the answer will be yes; however, “the road is long, with many a winding turn, that leads us to who knows where, who knows where.”

A principal asked the same question, with a somewhat different answer.

The plan does change the definition and the acronyms for low performing schools, and, I believe, is fairer. Instead of simply test scores the plan balances test scores with growth, year to year progress.

I disagree with parts of the plan:  chronic absenteeism is beyond the ability of the school to impact –  I refer readers to “A Better Picture of Poverty” produced by the Center for NYC Affairs, there is a 1:1 correlation between poverty and chronic absenteeism. By adding suspensions you are simply instructing principals/superintendents not to suspend kids; clearly a bone for the “suspension is the pipeline to prison” audience. The plan uses  “culturally relevant education or practices” many times – and the definition presented is vague – again, I understand the political requirements; however, clarity is also essential.

The plan encourages school districts to offer math and science regents examinations in the 7th and 8th grades, and, the pressure on schools and therefore students and families will accelerate. Kids should progress at developmentally appropriate rates, not rates set to aggrandize the reputation of a superintendent or a commissioner.

On one hand I believe the plan is generally well-sculptured and offers a far better path than No Child Left Behind, on the other hand, plans can go astray between the aeries of Albany and the classrooms around the state. Remember when you play telephone, one kid whispered a phase to a second kid who whispered to a third kid and down the line. By the time you got to the last kid the phrase was garbled and incomprehensible.

How to you convert policy into action in 700 school districts?

At the second day of the meeting/retreat the Commissioner raised the question of graduation requirements. Graduation rates in New York State have been creeping upwards: has instruction, teaching and learning, improved, or, patches to the regulations and schools “gaming the system?”

Maybe both.

A safety net for students with disabilities (passing is moved to a grade of 55), a re-scoring system at the discretion of the superintendent and credit recovery schemes, all moving up the graduation rate. Add to this the alternative 4 + 1 in lieu of five regents and the CDOS pathway, alternative pathways have moved the graduations up. Are students who use the alternate pathways “college and career ready” or, are we shoving ill-prepared kids into a bleak future? Check out a 25-slide power point presentation with an emphasis on alternative pathways: http://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/718PathwaystoGraduation.pdf

The Regents also began a conversation over how to respond to the UCLA Report that found New York State one of the most racially segregated states – Regent Johnson will lead a yearlong investigation culminating in action plans. Check out the 32-slide power point, “Integration: Framing the Conversation,” http://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/717PromotingDiversitySlidedeck.pdf.

Yes, an intense day and a half with a lot to digest and a lengthy agenda for next year.

What do you think?  Comments welcome.

Ridding Schools of the Bloomberg/Klein Toxicity: Ending the Absent Teacher Reserve Pool in New York City is Long Overdue

The 74 is a national online education website co-founded by Campbell Brown, a former news anchor and virulent enemy of teacher unions, supporter of charter schools and Betsy; it is an advocacy website masquerading as a an informational site.

I was not surprised when a post by Dan Weisberg, former Joel Klein soldier popped up on the 74 site.  Weisberg currently leads TNTP, a not-for-profit that has consistently attacked teacher tenure and teacher assessment. The post, “Paying Teachers Not to Teach is Absurd – but Reviving NYC’s Dance of the Lemons Hurts Kids,” sounds like one of the endless press releases from the Bloomberg-Klein machine. Klein, an attorney, surrounded himself with attorneys, and we know what Shakespeare said about lawyers . Klein and Weisberg and company portrayed themselves as “disrupters,” changing the system by breaking down and rebuilding  from scratch, by creating chaos and building a new system from the ground up. After a dozen years of disruptive change the administration succeeded in disruption and failed to ensure positive change. The whirlwind of policy change after policy change alienated principals and teachers and confused the public.

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: 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.

A little background: for decades a few hundred teachers were excessed at the end of a school year, some schools had reduced registers, other schools had increasing registers. The excess teachers were placed in schools with vacancies, The contract Excessing Rules provided an orderly transition since the first contracts in the early sixties.

Another section of the contract provided for Seniority Transfers, half of all vacancies, vacancies were defined as open positions due to retirement or resignation, not leaves of absence, and posted in the Spring, In the early nineties a school approached the union with a plan, exempt the school from seniority transfers and a school committee made up of a majority of teachers would select new hires. The union agreed and after a few years the process was embedded in the contract. By the Bloomberg ascension 60% of schools had opted for what became known as the School-Based Option Staffing and Transfer Plan.

In the article referenced above Weisberg, with obvious pride, reports that he led the part of the negotiations that eliminated seniority transfers and established the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool.

The union was pushing for the SBO Staffing/Transfer Plan to replace the seniority transfer plan – it was easy to agree to the Open Market employment system – any teacher could move to any school with the approval of the receiving school; basically all teachers became “free agents” at the end of every school year. Thousands upon thousands of teachers change school every year, and, the movement is commonly from high poverty, lower achieving schools to higher achieving schools.

The evidence is clear, teacher mobility damages high poverty, low-achieving schools, In “Teacher Quality and Teacher Mobility, Li Feng and Tim Sass (February, 2011) conclude,

The most effective teachers who transfer tend to go to schools whose faculties are in the top quartile of teacher quality. Teacher mobility exacerbates differences in teacher quality across schools.

Numerous studies come to the same conclusion,

Hamilton Langford and others, “Explaining the Short Career of High-Achieving Teachers in Schools with Low-Performing Students,” (January, 2004),

Low achieving students often are taught by the least qualified teachers, these disparities begin when teachers take their first jobs and in urban areas they are worsened by teacher subsequent decisions to transfer and quit. Such quits and transfers increase disparities …  more qualified teachers are substantially more likely to leave schools having the lowest achieving students 

The long established seniority transfer plan required five years of service before a transfer – now annual “free agency,” the “disrupters” harmed the most vulnerable schools.

Weisberg, et. al., also are proud of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool, actually an attempt to rid the system is “bad teachers,” or maybe senior teachers, or maybe union activists or maybe simply to show the union and teachers who really was in charge.

The number of U-ratings under Klein/Weisberg escalated dramatically, close to 3% of teacher received unsatisfactory ratings. The appeals were a sham, the Department was judge and jury. Accusations of misconduct, defined as any conduct the principal thought was inappropriate, conduct that in prior years might result in a letter of reprimand now resulted in a trip to the infamous “rubber room.”. Eventually the teacher was dumped into the ATR pool; of the small number of teachers who were brought up on charges the vast percentage were exonerated or paid a fine and were returned to the ATR pool. The aim was to convince the legislature to change the law and require the teachers in the ATR pool for more than six months would be laid off. The union successfully defended seniority layoff rules.

Under the new teacher assessment law, based on principal observation and student growth scores, the number of ineffective ratings shrunk to pre-Bloomberg numbers.

The deBlasio-Farina Department has announced that ATRs would fill vacancies occurring after October 15th, and, if they received effective or highly effective ratings under the matrix teacher evaluation law, would be fully absorbed into schools, ending a toxic policy and saving the school system perhaps $100 million a year.

The “March of the Lemons” referenced by Weisberg should not refer to the teachers, it should refer to the “disrupters.” would soured the school system.

Additionally, the Department should consider:

* Creating an inspectorate, a group of principals who can observe ATRs who principals think are moving towards an ineffective rating. In the pre-Bloomberg days it was commonplace for the superintendent to observe teachers in their last year of probation.

* Open Market transfers require five years of service in a school to be eligible for transfer, not the current annual “free agency.”

* Renewal and Focus/Priority schools should be given a window prior to all other schools to hire staff – perhaps six or eight weeks before all other schools could commence hiring.

Each and every year the New York City school system has to hire 3-4,000 new teachers due to teacher attrition – about 40% of teachers leave within five years, and, in the neediest schools the percentage is far higher.

Susan Moore Johnson, at the Next Generation of Teachers project at Harvard published research findings, “Finders and Keepers: Helping New Teachers Survive and Thrive in Our Schools, (March , 2004), as well as continuing their research into the issue.

Unfortunately little of the research has translated into policies within school districts and schools.

Good riddance to the ATR pool, and, lets help teachers who need assistance and support our new teachers.

Healing and supporting makes a lot more sense than disrupting and angering.

Letter to SUNY Charter Institute: Don’t Denigrate the Teaching Profession

Charter Schools Institute
State University of New York
41 State Street, Suite 700
Albany, NY 12207

TO: Committee Chair: Joseph W. Belluck

RE: Memorandum in Opposition to Regulations Governing the Certification of Teachers in SUNY Authorized Charter Schools (Namely, Subchapter E – Regulations of the Board of Trustees Charter School Committee – Section 700. 1-7)

I urge the members of the Charter School Committee to withdraw the ill-conceived regulations governing the certification of SUNY charter school teachers.

New York State has been among the leaders across the nation in the licensing of the professions. The Office of the Professions  licenses almost a million professionals in the state. From acupuncturists, dentists, doctors, nurses to pharmacists, psychologists and veterinarians – over 60 professions fall under the Office of the Professions (See total list here), an arm of the New York State Department of Education. The Office works with national associations to assure that all licensed professionals meet the highest standards of their profession (See list of national associations here).

Currently prospective teachers in New York State must complete an approved course of study, approved by the State Education Department, pass three examinations, and serve a four year probationary period. In “shortage areas” the state provides a number of alternative pathways. Additionally, college programs must pass scrutiny by CAEP (Council on the Accreditation of Education Programs); the state also “tracks” graduates and reports on teacher effectiveness by college program. If grades on certification examinations are below standard or student performance of program graduates is inadequate the programs are in jeopardy.

The State Education Department licensure/certification requirements make every attempt to assure that new teachers are well prepared before they step foot into a classroom as teachers.

The supporters of the proposal argue that it is difficult to find certified teachers and  exempting teachers from the long established teacher certification rules is required.

A weak argument.

There are a host of professions in which licensed professionals are in short supply, for example, nurses, doctors and dentists in rural areas, should we reduce requirements for these professions?

Of course not.

Should we allow prospective attorneys to skip law school and the bar exams and simply serve as an intern into a law office for 100 hours?   Are teachers less important than attorneys?

Charter schools face a serious staffing problem – the problem is caused by extremely high rates of teacher attrition. The turnover rate is troubling, it takes three to five years for a teacher to fully learn their job – if teachers are leaving after one or two years students are constantly faced with new and inexperienced teachers.

Why are teachers leaving charter schools?

I suggest the Charter School Institute withdraw the resolution referenced supra  and instead require charter schools to develop teacher retention plans with retention targets, and, reaching or surpassing the targets become part of the charter reauthorization process.

Teacher certification is not limited to colleges, the state has approved other institutions to certify teachers – the Museum of Natural History provides a teacher certification program in Earth Science, a shortage area subject. Teacher residency programs (See I-Start here) allows not-for-profits to partner with school districts and colleges to provide intensive teacher preparation programs approved by the State Education Department.

All of the alternative pathways to teaching appropriately fall under the State Education Department.

The proposed regulation which removes the state from the process denigrates teaching as a profession and only encourages the canard that anyone can teach.

Mr. Belluck I am sure that you want(ed) the best possible teachers for your children and/or grandchild. The current teacher certification procedures sets both high standards for teacher training institutions and for prospective teachers. Your proposed regulations simply undermine decades of efforts to raise standards for teachers and outcomes for students.

I am certain that Chancellor Rosa and Commissioner Elia are more than willing to work with the Institute to explore and develop plans to reduce teacher attrition and explore alternative certification pathways in shortage certification areas.


Peter Goodman

Ed in the Apple
Blogging on the Intersection of Education and Politics

Betsy, Eva, Andrew: The Beginning of the Demise of Teacher Certification or A Cuomo Political Strategy?

Within days of the end of the special session of the state legislature the SUNY Board of Trustees approved a new regulation – teachers in SUNY authorized charter schools are no longer required to be certified by the State Department of Education – charter school networks can now self-certify teachers: no college courses, no student teaching, no pre-service tests.  Politico writes,

New York City’s charter school sector appears to have secured a significant victory in the 11th hour of the Legislative session Wednesday night, with a set of regulations that will make it much easier for large charter networks to hire more uncertified teachers.

All other teachers must complete a program approved by the state education department as well as meet CAEP Standards (Council on the Accreditation Of Education Programs) and pass three separate tests: the edTPA (a self-assessment developed by Stanford), Educating All Students (multiple choice and essay test emphasizing teaching children with disabilities and English language learners) and a Content Specialty Test, also multiple choice and essay testing knowledge and literacy within their area of expertise. SUNY teachers would not have to meet ANY of these requirements.

Read new SUNY charter school teacher requirements here.

Read requirements for all other charter school teachers here.

Read requirements for public school teachers here.in

The current charter school law does allow charter schools leeway in the employment of non-certified teachers,

 [uncertified teachers]shall not in total comprise more than  the sum of: (A) thirty per centum of the teaching  staff  of  a  charter  school,  or  five teachers, whichever is less; plus (B) five teachers of  mathematics,  science,  computer  science,  technology,  or  career  and  technical  education;  plus  (C)  five  additional  teachers

The new SUNY regulations appear to be in conflict with the charter school law.

There is general agreement the teacher is the key to student achievement. A massive Chetty et. al., project reports,

students assigned to high-Value Added teachers are more likely to attend college, earn higher salaries, and are less likely to have children as teenagers. Replacing a teacher whose Value Added is in the bottom 5% with an average teacher would increase the present value of students’ lifetime income by approximately $250,000 per classroom.

Teachers are at the heart of improving student outcomes.

In comparison with high achieving nations, teachers in the United States commonly come from the lower half of colleges academically as measured by standing in class or scores on the SAT exam. Teachers in Finland, for example, come from the top of their class. The reasons are complex; in many states teachers are poorly paid, low social status, seemingly constant external attacks on the teaching profession; test prep-based instruction are all part of the package that discourages students from choosing teaching as a profession.

Pasi Sahlberg, a frequent writer on Finnish education relates,

Finnish primary school teacher education programmes that lead to an advanced, research-based degree are so popular among young Finns that only one in 10 applicants is accepted each year. Those lucky students then have to study for five to six years before they are allowed to teach a class of their own.

We know that teachers matter, in fact, teachers are the at the core of any educational program, we know that high achieving nations have highly selective teacher preparation programs and we know that the teaching force in the United States tends to be “average.”

Ronald Ferguson, from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in an excellent study examines the relationship between scores on preservice teacher exams and student scores on state reading and math tests and concludes,

my judgment is that a positive causal relationship between students’ and teachers’ scores should be the working assumption among policy makers.

Read the entire paper, “Certification Test Scores, Teacher Quality and Student Achievement” here.

The New York Post, in an editorial jumps on board, praising the actions of the SUNY trustees,

This would let schools hire scientists, engineers and other qualified professionals without forcing them to waste time earning education degrees or mastering the arcana essential to passing the state test.

The editorial board ignores, or is unaware, that the current charter school law (see above) allows charter schools to employ uncertified staff.

If the research is overwhelming and charter schools already operate under relaxed certification requirements why is the new regulation necessary?

Let’s begin with Betsy DeVos, a billionaire with a Swiftian view of mankind (“A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick”)  is deeply religious and believes her family is among the “chosen,” a perverted Calvinist world view who probably has a copy of The Fountainhead  at her bedside. For DeVos the battle for souls is the battle of “collectivism,” versus “individual responsibility.”  Public education, “collectivist” versus an unregulated educational marketplace, aka,”individual responsibility;” success or failure of schools decided by the whims of the marketplace. The idea of teacher certification would be abhorrent to DeVos.

For Eva Moskowitz, the architect of the plan, the regulations are an exercise in power. Eva was idolized by former NYC Chancellor Joel Klein – see the Joel-Eva e-correspondence here.

Under the de Blasio mayoralty Eva has had to seek a new patron, and, she has successfully bewitched our governor, Andrew Cuomo.  In exchange for a two year extension in mayoral control in New York City, a year beyond the 2018 gubernatorial election the governor and the mayor agreed to increase the number of New York City charter school slots by adding in the numbers from closed charter schools, to process charter school space requests more quickly and the drastic change to allowing SUNY charter schools to circumvent teacher certification regulations. Cuomo continues to walk the thin line between Republican and Democrat and independent. Up to now he has successfully navigated the dangerous waters, the modern day Scylla and Charybdis.  On one hand the recent state education budget contained the largest increase in state funding that we ever seen, as well as burying the repulsive student test score-based teacher evaluation plan. On the other hand currying favor with charter crowd, at arm’s length. The SUNY charter school regulations are not part of the law; however, the SUNY Board of Trustees are Cuomo appointees. A one-time gift to buy off the charter school dollars in the 2018 gubernatorial election, or, will he seek to expand the regulations to all teacher candidates in the state?  Is “going to war” with the largest union in the state his strategy or is he carefully setting the stage by drying up charter dollars for his opponent?  And, don’t forget, in the cavalry charge for the 2020 run Andrew will be in the pack.

Interestingly, in the waning days of the legislative sessions Senator Brad Holyman (D-NYC) introduced the Charter School Accountability and Transparency Act, and, while the bill never moved will it be revived next year and will it gain traction, especially with the governor? The SUNY charters, and Eva, got their “we can hire anyone” regulations passed by the governor’s appointees, will the governor extract a price from Eva?

 Senate Bill S.6578, sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman will provide enhanced transparency and accountability for New York taxpayers by implementing regulations for charter schools on enrollment targets, discipline policies, compensation plans for executive and financial backers, as well as other operations. Some of highlights of this legislation include proposals to:

  • Require charter schools connected with non-profits to specify the extent of the company’s participation in the management and operation of the school;
  • Require charter schools to disclose executive compensations as well as all loans or gifts received over one thousand dollars;
  • Limit the charter executives’ salaries to $199,000 annually, with limited exceptions;
  • Require charter schools to disclose regular financial statements outlining the assets of the school and, if applicable, any of its affiliated corporate/business entities, valued over one million dollars;
  • Require charter schools that request co-location to demonstrate that the school does not have the financial capacity to procure adequate facilities. Charters with assets that are valued at over one million dollars would be ineligible to be offered co-located or private space;
  • Limit the time a charter school may be offered private space at no cost to three years and limit rental aid payments to six years; and
  • Require charter schools to admit and retain an equal or greater enrollment of ELLs, students with disabilities, and free lunch recipients compared to the district’s public school enrollment.

Politics is the art of compromise: a political maxim: never say never (almost never), and, there is always the next election, burning bridges is not a strategy. Our governor is an enigmatic complicated politician, easy to dislike, and, the most powerful politician in the state. In my view the endgame is the path that leads to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. For those of you who say “never” think back a year.

UPDATE: You can submit comments to the SUNY Charter Institute for the next 45 days at charters@suny.edu

Polyamory in New York City Public Schools (And Proud of It!!!)

It’s an angry world: Trump tweets, comedians ridicule, the Congress snarls, the nation appears incredibly divided by gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, geography, and the one acceptable reason, sports team preferences. The motto of the press, “if it bleeds it leads,” and even the noble New York Times, “All the news that fits, we print.”

The arena of education is no different: for-profit, online charter schools, vouchers, the seemingly never-ending attacks on public schools and teachers, and, of course, teacher unions. The billionaires get richer and use their wealth to influence school board elections and elect anti-public school legislators.

That is: except in New York City!

A mayor who has actually placed education at the top of his agenda – not only in words but in deeds. He has pumped far more dollars into the school system than any predecessor: pre-kindergarten for every four year old in the city, and, in September, pre-school for three year olds in the two poorest districts. Instead of closing struggling schools, the ninety or so Renewal Schools, the mayor has injected significant funding, and merged instead of closed a number of the lowest performing schools. Yes, there are no immediate signs of improvement; however, it takes years to measure outputs in schools.

Attack after attack, led by the New York Post and charter school supporters has been trashed by a recent study. In spite of a dozen years of unceasing criticism by Bloomberg/Klein and so-called reformers, our public schools have done a superb job,

The most comprehensive study of college graduates yet conducted, based on millions of anonymous tax filings and financial-aid records … the study tracked students from nearly every college in the country (including those who failed to graduate), measuring their earnings years after they left campus …

To take just one encouraging statistic: At City College, in Manhattan, 76 percent of students who enrolled in the late 1990s and came from families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution have ended up in the top three-fifths of the distribution. These students entered college poor. They left on their way to the middle class and often the upper middle class.

Read entire study here.

Students, almost all graduates from public high schools before  the massive school closings by the Bloomberg/Klein administration were at the top of the nation in upward mobility. Public schools and public colleges changes lives. Yes, we can gloat!

For twenty years mayors, Giuliani and Bloomberg, were at war with fellow New Yorkers. Hundreds of thousands of stop-and frisk interventions, almost all New Yorkers of color,  arresting people for smoking joints in public, incarcerating people who couldn’t make bail for minor offenses; de Blasio was reviled when he sharply reduced stop and frisk as well as summons instead of arrests for minor offenses, and, surprise – surprise,  crime continued to spiral downwards. Prison and jail populations declined; the naysayers who predicted the worst, seemed disappointed.

School suspensions are also sharply down without an discernable increase in school conduct (See an opposing opinion here).

We may not agree with de Blasio all the time; however, he has only token opposition in the September primary and his Republican November opponent appears to be a virtually unknown Assembly member who is an avid Trump supporter.

We love Bill.

Carmen Farina, the Chancellor, the leader of the school system has been a teacher, principal and superintendent in New York City. We feel comfortable with Carmen. She returned the city to a local superintendent system with geographic support centers and she interacts with teachers on an almost daily basis. Again, we may not agree on this policy or that policy; however, when we compare her to Joel Klein, a self-described “disrupter” or Dennis Walcott, sadly, a Klein clone and place-keeper, she shines.

Over a hundred PROSE schools, schools encouraged to “bend the rules,” either Department rules or contract clauses, to try another approach. Principal/teacher collaboration are a crucial component of the Farina view of schooling.

We love Carmen.

And loving each other is perhaps the only love we’ll get ….

Dismal clouds hover on the horizon: drastic budget cuts, a Secretary of Education committed to charter schools and vouchers in lieu of public schools, a “coup” that placed another arch conservative on the Supreme Court, a governor leaning towards charter schools, our undocumented students faced with being yanked from their homes, health plans in jeopardy and the possibility of a state constitutional convention that could decimate public employees pensions. We can hear the thunder rumbling.

I know folks will say, “Don’t be silly. both de Blasio and Farina are far, far  from loveable.” Sadly, I am reminded of how progressives self-destructed in November. Too many Bernie supporters stayed on the sidelines or decided to cast a protest vote for Jill Stein. Maybe Comey colluded with the Republicans to bring down Hillary and maybe Hillary could have run a better campaign.

We forgot: If we don’t hang together we will definitely hang separately.

I’ve been on the front lines of politics all my adult life, I argued, advocated and organized for my candidate, and, if the “other guy or gal” won the primary or received the nomination I supported them.

As the clouds swirl and the thunder rumbles we should all hug Bill and Carmen

Review: Cutting School – Privatization, Segregation and the End of Public Education by Noliwe Rooks

An important book …
                             CUTTING SCHOOL by Noliwe M. Rooks


Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education


An exploration of how minority and poor children continue to be the victims of pernicious educational reforms.

Weighing in on the charged topic of public education, Rooks (American Studies/Cornell Univ.;White Money/Black Power: The Surprising History of African American Studies and the Crisis of Race in Higher Education, 2006, etc.) mounts a blistering and persuasive argument against school reforms that she sees as detrimental to disadvantaged students.

Charter schools and their management organizations, vouchers, virtual schools, and “an alternatively certified, non-unionized teaching force” are basically capitalist ventures that enforce segregation. She calls the reform efforts “segrenomics”: business strategies that prey on powerless communities and do not account for the necessary voices of parents, teachers, or students.

Rooks is equally critical of the past four presidents, whose proposals, despite their optimistic titles, failed to alleviate dysfunction. She traces the movement for privatization to the 1990s, when the Edison Project, an independent for-profit chain of schools, persuaded state and city governments that its schools could “break the mold of traditional education and outperform public schools.” Reaping tax dollars and corporate investment, the Edison Project never achieved “the promised profits or test score gains.” Yet despite its failure, it spawned a growing charter school industry, most recently touted by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Rooks opposes vouchers, an idea promoted by economist Milton Friedman, “who wanted to dismantle public education.” Indeed, in communities that instituted vouchers, white families often used them to keep their children in predominantly white schools, and black schools deteriorated. The quest to educate disadvantaged students as cheaply as possible has led to an increased focus on virtual schools, which minimize the costs of buildings, teachers, and staff. In Philadelphia, students in more than a dozen cyberschools failed state achievement tests. Offering a strong counterargument to charter school advocates such as David Osborne, Rooks proposes no easy answers: “our system,” she writes, “will need to be almost completely overhauled and rethought.”

A convincing argument that the only viable, proven school reform strategy is integration, a solution distressingly difficult to achieve.