Should NYS Retain or Abandon Regents Exams? Decouple Regents from Graduation? Adopt Another Required “Test”? (maybe SAT or Performance Tasks)?

In the fall of 2019 I attended a regional session of the NYSED Graduation Measures initiative. I sat at a table with a superintendent, a few parents, a teacher and a student and “discussed” a number of questions along with a few hundred other participants. Three years later the process is moving forward, a “blue ribbon commission” is about to begin meeting with a “recommendation” due sometime in the future. The debate, for want of another term, centers on the Regents Examinations, there has been no discussion of “credits” or “seat time” or “course offerings” up to now.

Has the State raised the “right” questions? Will this lengthy process improve education in the state and benefit students in a rapidly changing world?

More in my next blog

The current Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the subsequent federal regulations require computing graduation rates as well as requiring tests and interventions emanating from the results of the tests. Every state is trying to pump up graduation rates, very little talk re the quality of the diploma

The fifty states have different graduation requirements and ESSA require tests in grade 10-12, only a few require “passing” exit exams. NYS is one of the few states that allows opt outs by parents, prior to COVID about 20% of parents opted out their children, ESSA requires 95% school/school district participation rates for all students and all subgroups, NYS has the lowest participation rates in the nation, the feds have required “action plans” from below 95% participation rate states and, thus far have taken no punitive actions. See report here.

States must compute an annual Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (“ACGR”) based upon federal guidelines, .see the federal register here and a dense explanation of measuring graduation rates

ESSA Requirements Simplified,

* States are required to test students in reading or language arts and math annually in grades 3-8 and once in grades 10-12, and in science once in each of the following grade spans: 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12.

* ESSA allows for the development and dissemination of “high-quality performance-based assessments” through a seven-state pilot program. Under this program, states can develop and implement innovative assessments. NYS choose not to participate in the pilot program.

 • While assessments for elementary schools must be the same for all public school students statewide, states may also choose to offer a “nationally recognized local assessment at the high school level” (SAT, ACT or Smarter Balance, for example) as long as assessments are “reliable, valid and comparable.” New York State uses the Regents Exams and Massachusetts the MCAS

Five states have approved federal waivers: North Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Read a state-by-state description of the “innovative assessments” here and a detailed description of the New Hampshire pilot here.

New York is in the early stages of developing a “high quality performance-based assessment” project using the acronym PLAN. http://www.nysed.gov/plan-pilot

The Performance-Based Learning and Assessment Networks (PLAN) Pilot is exploring the potential for New York educational assessment strategy to be reimagined in a way that purposefully fosters high-quality instructional opportunities, provides authentic measures of deeper learning and better prepares students for college and the workplace.

The PLAN website explains the goals and lays out the “phases of work” here.

What we have are two parallel initiatives with the goal of merging sometime down the road. The Graduation Measures initiative will present recommendations to the public next spring, summer or fall, all depending on the progress of the Blue Ribbon Commission and the crafting of recommendations by the Board of Regent.

… the 64 member Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Measures will undertake a thoughtful and inclusive process to explore what a New York State high school diploma means and what it should signify to ensure educational excellence and equity for all New York State children …

The Blue Ribbon Commission will develop recommendations to the Board of Regents on what measures of learning and achievement could better serve New York’s diverse student population as indicators of what they know and their readiness for college, career, and civic life.

The PLAN pilot is in early stages, schools/districts will apply, training, putting the elements of the plan together, an application to the US Department of Education, probably a few years away.

Where is the State headed?

The Board of Regents (BoR) can abandon the current Regents Exams and switch to another “nationally recognized” assessment, there is no “passing grade,” the student receives a scale score..

The BoR can continue offering the Regents Exams and decouple from graduation requirements, graduation would be determined by accumulating the requisite number of credits. Would the 95% participation rate apply? Probably?  Can kids opt out of decoupled Regents Exams? Can the feds sanction the state if the “participation rate” is not achieved?

The BoR could be granted an “innovative assessment” waiver, the state has a couple of years to go, and, the “innovative assessment” waiver may be more onerous than the current tests.

Unfortunately I fear we may be heading down a dark corridor and the light might be an on-coming stumbling school system

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: What America Must Do to Attract and Retain the Educators and School Staff Our Students Need

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: What America Must Do to Attract and Retain the Educators and School Staff Our Students Need

Where have all the (prospective) teachers gone? Why are teachers quiting?

Mike Pompeo is a graduate of West Point and Harvard Law School, served during the Trump administration as head of the CIA and Secretary of State, he is well-educated, and  apparently is running for president if Trump falls by the wayside or needs a vice presidential candidate.

Pompeo, in a recent interview, believes Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers is “the most dangerous person in the world.” Not Putin, not the leader of China or North Korea, the leader of a teacher union.  

Randi Weingarten responded on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC: here

It is not surprising that fewer and fewer students are choosing education as a career.  In July, the AFT released the result of a task force chaired by UFT President Michael Mulgrew, the report “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow:  What America Must Do to Attract and Retain the Educators and School Staff Our Students Need

The New York Times editorial board interviewed teachers across the nation about carrying weapons in schools..

Did you ever think carrying a weapon would be a decision of a classroom teacher?

The increasing attacks on teachers and teacher unions are creating dramatic teacher shortages across the nation.

States are responding to teacher shortages by reducing qualifications, See Education Week here.

The Education Affiliate of the CCNY Alumni Association and the CCNY School of Education are co-hosting a Zoom event. President Mulgrew will discuss his report, School of Education Dean Lamboy, Kathleen Cashin, CoChair of the Board of Regents Higher Education Committee and others will discuss how CCNY can attract and the school system can retain teachers.

Join us on

Join us on Thursday, December 1 at 1 PM at:

https://ccny.zoom.us/j/85967157981?pwd=Ymc3MDZOR2dqUXozYTE3ejRPbUZBZz09

How can we, as educators and former educators, reinvigorate the pipeline to the classroom? 

Equity, Assessment and Accountability, Part 3

An old Neapolitan saying might encapsulate the issue of accountability,  il pesce puzza dalla testa.

As classroom teachers we are accountable for the progress of the students we teach. As a union rep and consultant I’ve visited, hundreds, thousands, let’s say many classrooms. In my union rep capacity; I met with teachers who are being held accountable for the lack of progress of the students in their class.

“I’m a good teacher, check my lesson plans, the kids just don’t pay attention, don’t do their homework and misbehave, it’s not my fault.”

Maybe it’s not your fault, we need systems to define and assess accountability.

In New York City teachers are held accountable, in other words assessed/rated by a combination of supervisory observations and student results as measured by tests. (See a detailed description here)

Up the ladder assistant principals and principals are held accountable by assessing a range of metrics, from standardized test score growth, student attendance, teacher absenteeism and parent, teacher and in secondary schools student surveys. See survey info here and a wealth of school performance data at the infohub here.

We grade students, we are graded, our graders are graded, and we are all accountable, well, almost all, are those at the top of the pyramid accountable? and, if so, to whom?

I’ve written about teacher accountability many times, in 2010, in 2013 in 2021,

Charlotte Danielson, the doyen of the Frameworks, has also written a guide for school leaders, “Talk About Teaching! Leading Professional Conversations ,” a thoughtful guide about the role of the “rater” combined with the role of the colleague and mentor, a complex combination of roles.

Lo those many years ago, in a school with a strong, collegial union chapter, we availed ourselves of a section of the union contract, in lieu of supervisory observations: three teachers teaching the same subject observed each other teaching the same topic (A observed B who observed C who observed A), followed by a facilitated “conversation,” the notes, agreed upon by the teachers in lieu of an observation, It was voluntary, teachers found it useful, A small step towards peer evaluation, a very small step. UFT President Mulgrew asked how many teachers, at a Delegate Assembly, were interested, very few hands.

In a few schools teachers take ownership, the school collaborates and celebrates their accountability. In most schools teachers close their doors, do their “thing” and supervisors follow suit.

At the top of ladder the school district leader, hopefully, sets the tone, too frequently more by circulars and press releases than actual actions. I worked with one superintendent who actually ran a staff meeting in each school engaging the faculty, to use modern imagery, he was a unicorn.  Bloomberg hired three chancellors none of whom were educators, de Blasio two, a retiree and another from across the county and Adams a New Yorker with limited management experience. The mayor is at the apex of the pyramid, mayoral control, and the chancellor must fend for himself and deflect the poisoned arrows.  

Mayors can always dismiss a chancellor and “schools” can become an issue at the next election. Ironically de Blasio, who left office with low public ratings poured tons of money into valuable school programs, pre-K and 3 for all, respected teachers and negotiated two fair contracts. The current administration is just beginning the next round of contract negotiations for in-service teachers and health plans for retirees.

Interest in teaching as a profession is waning (See NYT article here), college teacher preparation programs are shrinking, interest in vouchers increasing (give a parent a voucher redeemable in public, private or parochial schools), lower or abolish teacher certification requirements, arguing “we’re not accountable” only encourages assaults on the profession. The education community, parents, school boards, teachers, teacher unions and students must take ownership; finger pointing is a fatal plague.  

“Give us the tools and hold us accountable, we’re skilled craftsman and know how to run highly effective schools.”

Samuel Adams, the intellectual sword who lit the flames of revolution across the colonies was a steadfast supporter of public education; just as we depended on an educated populace in 1775 we require public schools to produce inquiring minds today

. Our Ancestors in the most early Times laid an excellent Foundation for the security of Liberty by setting up in a few years after their Arrival a publick Seminary of Learning; and by their Laws they obligd every Town consisting of a certain Number of Families to keep and maintain a Grammar School. I shall be very sorry, if it be true as I have been informd, that some of our Towns have dismissd their Schoolmasters, alledging that the extraordinary Expence of defending the Country renders them unable to support them. I hope this Inattention to the Principles of our Forefathers does not prevail. If there should be any Danger of it, would not the leading Gentlemen do eminent Service to the Publick, by impressing upon the Minds of the People, the Necessity & Importance of encouraging that System of Education, which in my opinion is so well calculated to diffuse among the Individuals of the Community the Principles of Morality, so essentially necessary to the Preservation of publick Liberty.

Equity, Assessment and Accountability: Part 2

October 22nd was NAEP Day, the release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, called “The Nations Report Card.”  Reports of 4th and 8th grade scores in Reading and Mathematics in all states and major urban centers. States are ranked and scores can be compared to previous years  

The results are both “troubling” and not surprising, remote schooling in not a substitute for a teacher and students interactions in classrooms.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, administered by the National Center for Education Statistics in the U.S. Department of Education, offers trend data that is comparable across states. NAEP is required by law to be administered every two years; however, it was postponed in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The results from the previous assessment in 2019 had already begun to reveal some troubling trends, with scores for fourth and eighth grade reading and eighth grade math significantly declining from 2017.

Beyond national trends, gaps between student scores in the lowest and the highest achievement percentiles also increased significantly.

Due to disrupted learning brought on by the pandemic, these national trends accelerated in 2022. Both reading and math scores for fourth and eighth graders showed marked declines. Sharper declines were shown in some categories among students of color, female students, students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and students who scored in the lowest achievement quartile.

EdTrust warns “this is not the time for hand ringing” and urges the education community to put in place evidence-based practices for students and schools most in need.

Coupled with data from statewide assessments, NAEP data is an important tool for understanding how our nation’s schools are educating students and how the pandemic has impacted learning, especially for the most underserved students. But we must pivot quickly from asking “What does the data say?” to “What will we do because of the data we see?” If every parent, teacher, education leader, and elected official in the country asks that second question — about the evidence-based practices we will put in place for the students and schools that the data shows are most in need — real change is possible.

If we want change output we must change input, and by input we mean “evidence-based practices,” not a pre-packaged reading or math program, I mean teachers, collaboratively, adjusting their day-today classroom performance. Teachers are writers, producers, directors, actors and reviewers of a play with a run of one day.

I was invited to sit in on a math teacher meeting in a high school. The teachers had completed grading an Algebra 1 Regents exam and constructed an error matrix, the most common incorrect answers. They were reviewing their lesson plans for the “most common incorrect answer” lessons.and adjusting their plans, changing the input to hopefully change he output.

We should be assessing student work and our work each and every day. As we gain experience we gain the ability to alter our practice from period to period, from day to day to meet student needs.

In NYC as we are assessing student performance we are being assessed by student performance (Measurement of Student Learning (MOSL)) and supervisory lesson observations – see a detailed explanation of the process here

In addition the Every Student Succeeds Act requires annual grades 3-8 reading and math assessments and an English, Math and Science assessment between grades 10-12; in NYS the Regents Exam in English, Algebra, Science, Global Studies and American History with a number of multiple alternative pathways.  (See here).

NYS is in the midst of a top to bottom review of graduation measures with most of the discussion centering around whether Regents  Examinations should be abandoned or delinked from graduation requirements; EdTrust and the Equity Coalition opposes what they see as lowering standards. (See here ). The NYS Education Department is exploring whether performance-based assessments can replace the current Regents Examinations (see here)

Scott Marion, at the Center for Assessment takes a nuanced examination of the meaning of the NAEP scores and agrees with Ed Trust,

And understanding must lead to action! The federal ESSER funds provided much-needed – but short-term – emergency relief. Remember: These funds must be spent by September 2024, but the need will continue well beyond this time. State political and policy leaders must continue the funding necessary to enable students to make up lost ground. State departments of education and other partners must provide clear guidance and leadership on evidence-based practices to support accelerated learning.

In the short run states/school districts are awash in federal dollars until September 2024: how are they spending the dollars?  Are these dollars being used to “catch up” or being frittered away?

The larger, much larger question is whether twenty years of No Child Left Behind and the Every Student Succeeds Act moved the nation’s education forward for all children?   Scott and his homeboys are beginning to explore “personalized and competency-based learning systems,

For personalized and competency-based learning systems to work well, educators and others need to support students in tailoring their own learning to meet ambitious goals such as those identified in a portrait of a graduate. Further, if states and school districts aim to support schools in moving toward personalized learning for students, isn’t it a contradiction then to require all students and then all schools to meet the same targets using the same indicators at the same time? Besides the contradictory messages, we have to question the theory of change that requires all entities to shoot for the same targets measured in exactly the same ways. When do people or organizations truly improve performance in some way simply because some external entity directed them to do so? It must be internal, or at least substantially internal, to support sustained change.

In other words, it always starts with teachers in classrooms.

We have to decide what we are going to assess before we design assessment tools and the goal must greatly exceed rasing graduation requirements: what are the skills necessary to survive and prosper in a rapidly changing world and how are schools responding to these changes?

We have to agree upon what we’re going to assess before we decide how to assess it.

Accountability, Assessment and Equity: Part 1

Education conversations toss around terms, without any agreement on the definition of the terms. This is the first of three blogs investigating the terms.

What do we mean by equity? 

The most common discussion re equity centers on the funding of schools and the use of the funding to address the needs of poorest the students.

The federal government has authorized over $100B, dollars that must be spent within a narrow time frame. How are states using this windfall of dollars and how do we think the dollars should be expended? Ed Trust finds the information about the use of the dollars “murky” and in a recent Report makes a number of recommendations,

Ed Trust evaluated American Rescue Plan (ARP) spending plans across the nation in search of districts that are using ARP funds on “promising practices” — those that research suggests will advance equity. We evaluated district spending plans based on the five things we believe are most important:

 • Accelerating student learning, including targeted intensive tutoring and expanded learning time

 • Student, family, and community engagement

 • Safe and equitable learning environments

 • Teacher recruitment and retention

 • Data equity and reporting transparency

ARP dollars sunset after a few years and we have to face state funding priorities.

In New York State schools are primarily funded through local property taxes, school funding is tied to the value of your house, and the wealthier the school districts the more the dollars for schools. Some districts are building new facilities others have trouble paying their fuel bills. Advocates have attacked state fundng through the courts since the early nineties, The Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) filed a law suit in 1993, the suit inched its way through the courts and in a landmark decision Judge Leland DeGrasse sustained the appellants,

… the New York State constitution requires that the state offer all children the opportunity for a “sound basic education,” defined as a meaningful high school education that prepares students for competitive employment and civic participation.

Governors Pataki and Cuomo opposed the decision, appealed through the appellate courts and when they lost used the 2008 recession and refused to comply with Justice de Grasse’s decision; in 2021 Governor Hochul settled the issue by agreeing to fully comply. (See here)

While the settlement of the almost thirty-year old lawsuit is laudatory education dollars in New York State are still far from equitable.

Michael Rubell, who led the Campaign for Fiscal Equity fight, now, continues the battle at the Center of Education Equity at Columbia University,

In New York City education dollars are part of the city budget and the city is a “strong mayor” system, the 51-member City Council has limited powers, all the commissioners, including the schools chancellor, are selected by the mayor. The Council must approve the budget. This past June the Council approved a budget that included a substantial decrease in education dollars and when a group of advocates filed a lawsuit most Council members supported the lawsuit and also did not restore the dollars. The budget included substantial dollars for each council member for local capital projects selected by the member. Ah, the wonders of politics ….

Once the budget is approved the Department of Education uses a formula, called Fair Student Funding (FSF) to distribute the dollars to schools, the formula, devised during the Bloomberg days is highly controversial, Mayor de Blasio appointed a task force to explore, no suggestions have yet been issued, and a new working group has been exploring the formula See a detailed discussion of the working group discussions here.

The formula “weights” the funding based upon a range of student categories and needs – see the link above.

About a decade ago the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School University released a report, “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest-Income Elementary Schools,” (revised 2014) aside from a deep dive into chronic absenteeism and student achievement the report identified 18 factors that influence poverty and suggested creating a Poverty Risk Load Index

Inspired by recent research on truly disadvantaged public schools in Chicago and Philadelphia, we devised a risk load instrument of 18 salient indicators from census data and other sources. We wanted to go beyond the yardsticks commonly used to measure poverty in the schools. When, for example, some 80 percent of public school students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, such familiar statistical brushes paint with strokes far too broad to be very useful. Instead, we concentrated on indicators of what can be called “deep poverty,” such as the percentage of the student body living in temporary or public housing, the number of students’ families that have at some time faced allegations of child abuse or neglect, and adult educational attainments in the community served by the school. Our risk load assessment also took account of each school’s own stability and viability, including data on school safety, turnover among administrators and classroom teachers, and student suspensions …

Effective school leadership can indeed make a big difference in even the most deeply impoverished communities. At the same time, the evidence is undeniable that the most appalling levels of persistent chronic absenteeism are found where deep poverty’s burdens are heaviest; lightening those burdens is a duty New York City can’t shirk

New York City appears to be edging towards an equitable distribution of the budgeted dollars.  The budget, of course, is a political document.

An example of a complex issue is teacher salaries that vary from district to district:  school receive budgets in dollars, do you use actual teacher salaries or average teacher salaries?  Citywide average or District average? In other words should a principal have to decide on which teacher to hire based on the salary (experience) of the teacher?  One of a number of difficult decisions.

While the current FSF task force is involved in important work we can’t limit “equitable” to funding?  For example,

Should we be satisfied until every school becomes a Community School?

Does the City have policies to address the issues external to schools, namely in the Poverty Risk Load factors metric?

Next blog: assessment

Witch Doctors, Rituals and Tribes: The Power of School Culture

I was sitting in a professional development session in my school and the presenter, a superintendent kept saying, “My teachers,” I stood up, “Excuse me, Lincoln freed the slaves, we don’t belong to you,” appreciative applause from the audience, I sat down and the presenter stumbled with, “You misunderstood me …..”  No. I didn’t.

Last week the Harvard School of Education ran an all day webinar: superintendents, Harvard faculty, researchers, US Secretary of Education Cardona, what was missing was a teacher union leader and a classroom teacher. We’re the tip of the sword; we’re the ones who actually man classrooms,  A new buzzword is Social Emotional Learning, referred to as SEL, symposiums, courses, new titles, the implication is that teachers have ignored the social and emotional needs of children, nonsense.

The Atlantic ran an Education Summit webinar; hurrah! The president of a local union talked about the loss in inflation adjusted salary, increasing workload and the school board’s refusal to allow the negotiations to be live-streamed, kudos to the Atlantic.

US Secretary Cardona was at both sessions and rightfully praised the American Rescue Act, hundreds of billions of dollars poured into education. See the details of the Plan here and the New York State dollars here. .The funds flow from Washington, to the State to the School District to the School:  how have the dollars impacted your school? I’m sure you have no idea, or whether any of the dollars reached your school.  Have teachers at the school level played any role in determining the use of the funding in their school?

For decades we’re been attending, to the best of our abilities, to the social and emotional (SEL) needs of children under our care.

Some schools have washing machines so kids wouldn’t be shamed by wearing soiled clothing, we brought clothing to school for kids, we know more about the child’s family life than we’d ever want to know.

I worked in a large high school, 3,000 kids and over 200 staff, and, although it wasn’t mentioned in the High School Directory, my school was sensitive to the needs of LGBTQ kids.  If a kid was being bullied in another school the director of student placement called the assistant principal in my school and Madeline, our exemplary social worker met the kid and eased their transition.

Three kids asked where they can say their midday prayers, was that a religious act?  The principal said, “Call the lawyers,”  we found a secure book room, asked the teacher next door to open the room so the kids could say their midday prayers and stored their prayers rugs, Teachers found answers lawyers would only have complicated.

Every morning we stopped by Sheila’s office, she was the Assistant Principal for Guidance, always a pot steaming pot of coffee and comestibles. The school union leader, a few old timers, the unelected “brain trust,” Sheila would mention, “The principal’s thinking about …,” we’d comment, make suggestions, we were a well-functioning school because there was a high level of trust, teacher leaders not on the organization chart at the heart of the school decision-making process.

School systems have been slow to recognize the crucial importance of school cultures, a topic that is reemerging.

Charlotte Danielson’s latest, Teacher Leadership That Strengthens Professional Practice (2020),

 

Every school relies on teachers who informally and voluntarily lead various efforts in the school. These teachers may not be appointed leaders or paid leaders, but they are committed leaders: they see a need and they respond to it. What do these teacher leaders do that is different from the work of excellent teachers who are not teacher leaders? If we can articulate those skills, says Charlotte Danielson, then we can take steps to enable more teachers to develop those skills and be better equipped to tackle special projects.

In a professional development role I’ve asked teachers to draw a sociogram of the power structure in their school, a fascinating exercise: who are the “appointed” teacher leaders and who are the witch doctors who teachers turn to for thumbs up or down.

Danielson avers, Principal must learn to promote, honor, and empower teacher leaders—and how to work with them to successfully present innovations to the school community …genuine teacher leadership is a powerful force for constructive change.

In Shaping School Culture: The Heart of Leadership (2017) Terrance Deal and Kent Peterson write

… far too much emphasis has been given to reforming schools from the outside, through policies and mandates. Too little attention has been paid to how schools can be shaped from within …. School cultures become like tribes and clans with deep ties among people with values and traditions that give value to everyday life.

I was facilitating common planning time in a small school, I’d meet with the English and Social Studies teachers weekly, slowly they agreed to share lesson plans and graded student work and class projects, and as the trust grew they asked me to attend their Friday ritual, retreating to local watering hole after school. The conversation would turn to this or that perceived school issue.  Someone would call, the principal would appear and over drinks, in a casual atmosphere school policies were determined.

Some school cultures are toxic, adversarial, and aloof while others thrive.

Chancellors, superintendents, principals and teachers may come and go, school cultures survive.  We had a “code,” if the superintendent was in the building, over the loud speaker, “Will the teacher with the silver Rolls-Royce please move their car,” we knew how to run our school we resented outsiders from the aeries of the Board of Education. We had a thriving school culture, how do we build positive school cultures in more schools?

Do We Need 700 Local School Boards in NYS?  Should Teachers Serve on School Boards? 

Back in 2008 as President-elect Obama was musing over selecting a Secretary of Education Louis Gertsner, the former CEO of IBM penned an op ed for the Wail Street Journal (Read here), “Lessons from 40 Years of Education Reform: let’s abolish school districts and finally adopt national standards.”

Gertsner rejected 16,000 school districts with lay elected school boards and recommended,  “… 50 to 70 school districts with a national set of standards for math, reading, science and social studies, as well as a national testing regime and national certification for teachers. Within that system, he said schools should be encouraged to find creative, innovative ways to achieve set goals. ‘Do what we would do as CEOs,’ he said. ‘Set very clear goals … free up our people to go and deliver, and then if they don’t deliver,’ boot those educators.”

He also proposed merit pay for teachers, renewable tenure and a number of other ideas all of which not sit well with teachers, school boards and the education bureaucracy.

While his ideas never gained traction the Common Core did, adopted by the National Governors Association and by many states, pushback from the left and the right accelerated and the Common Core faded into state standards varying by state. New York has recently adopted what they are calling Next Generation Learning Standards. (See here

While Gertsner’s ideas did not gain traction, the criticism of thousands upon thousands of school districts and the absence of any national standards is alive and continues to pop up.

Vladimir Kogan in Education Next revives the local school board debate.

The events of the past two years underscore a question that has long been a subject of debate among education-policy researchers and reformers: Is our school-governance model—featuring decentralized control and locally elected school boards—the most effective and efficient approach to educating America’s youth?

The author sees local school boards as a “historic artifact” and his research finds who gets elected to school boards is not determined by the educational outcomes in the district determined by test scores.

Even in the rare cases where student achievement does matter for school-board elections, the effects have been surprisingly modest, typically increasing or reducing the share of votes won by individual candidates by fewer than 5 percentage points. This differential is far lower than the margin of advantage enjoyed by incumbents in local races, and it appears to be a fraction of the electoral boost conferred by securing the teachers union endorsement. If school boards are asked to choose between a policy that improves student achievement and one that benefits teachers, the pressures of seeking reelection perversely encourage school-board members to prioritize adult employees over the education of students. These dynamics are likely amplified in large, urban districts, where teachers unions tend to enjoy stronger organization and access to greater political resources.

So, teacher unions are the “bad guys” impacting school board elections by favoring teachers over students and even if scores on standardized tests don’t increase vote out the current boards are not evicted.

In several recent papers examining school-board elections in various large states, my coauthors and I found that voters who turn out in these elections typically do not have kids of their own and are generally much whiter as a group than the students that local schools educate….. elderly white voters without children appear to be the pivotal voting bloc, and there is little reason to believe that these voters are any more motivated to improve student outcomes than school-employee interest groups are.

Low turnout is the bane of all elections, from presidential down to villages.

The author’s suggestions are meager with the hope that “right” parents will prevail; we are seeing the opposite with Critical Race Theory, taught in no K-12 schools, sex education, book banning, etc., dominating elections. The “culture wars” have moved to schools.

When the policy window opens, reformers should remain laser focused on improving school governance—to ensure that the reform process prioritizes the interests of kids rather than the demands and political agendas of adults. Such reforms should include holding school-board elections on cycle, when participation among parents is highest; reworking accountability systems to ensure that district-performance ratings emphasize each school’s contribution to student learning rather than the demographic mix of students it serves; and timing the release of school ratings to coincide with school-board election campaigns. Every crisis brings an opportunity, and we cannot afford to let this one go to waste.

The author seems to support undefined teacher accountability systems. abjures the role of teachers and their unions and basically supports school boards hostile to teachers.

First of all while Gertsner’s call for abolishing local school boards and a number of other suggestions hostile to teachers are not creditable; however. 700 school districts in New York State is an “historic artifact.”  

There are hundreds of school districts with one school, wouldn’t it make more sense to merge into county school districts, or in large counties a number of districts?   An example is the absence of locally available Career and Technical Education (formerly known as vocational education) and integration with community colleges is unacceptable and calls for regional high schools has never gained traction.

To see teacher unions (btw, whose members are teachers) as an enemy of change or good educational practice is at the core of chasing away potential teachers and in-service teachers. Teachers need a larger role in setting education policy: teachers need a seat at the table.

In Germany there are “work councils,” workers have a seat on boards of major corporations.

New York State requires school and district leadership teams, parents and teachers serving with school and district administrations to set policies, unfortunately I doubt the councils play a role in most schools and districts.

Teacher unions members should serve on school boards, maybe elected by union members, to quote a descriptive term: “better inside the tent peeing out than outside the tent peeing in.”

I served on the district leadership team in a district that went “all in.”  Every school had bylaws, a definition of “consensus” created at the school level, the district leadership team had a dispute resolution procedure, and school-based budgeting. Teachers felt part of the team, collaboration on all levels.

Collaboration, teacher leadership, is at the heart of effective schools and school districts

Collaboration and Conflict: Contract Negotiations and Working Together

On Tuesday the forty-five superintendents and UFT district representatives met with Chancellor Banks, UFT President Mulgrew and CSA President Cannizaro at the UFT headquarters. Banks reinforced his leadership style: give superintendents wide discretion, (within the contract) run districts along side the UFT and CSA reps in sharp contrast to the top-down leadership of his predecessor.  On Thursday, across the school system you may have noticed UFT members wearing blue, a sign of unity on the first day of formal contract negotiations At the Wednesday Delegate Assembly Mulgrew: warned: a tough road ahead and promised the 400 member negotiations committee would play a crucial role in the process. (Every division within the union has a committee involved in negotiations)

The Department, on one hand, let’s work together for a better school system, on the other hand, we can’t afford an equitable salary increase, do we notice a little schizophrenia?

Contract negotiations will be contentious, and hopefully, not toxic, see my blog of a few weeks ago for an in-depth discussion of how negotiations work under PERB and a little history here.

Each side has constituencies and shares constituencies: for the union the membership who are expecting a raise to offset inflationary price increases, for the mayor his reputation as a manager facing a stumbling return from the pandemic and increasingly looking like we’re facing a recession with declining revenues. Both sides appeal to the city at-large; the NY Post will attack the union, simply Murdoch’s anti-union bias. The NY Times sitting in the middle and parents and advocates across the city suspicious of the mayor and leaning towards the union: the class size law and budget fights put the union on the right side, missteps can tilt the table.

The City has $9 billion in reserves primarily from the federal dollars, funds that will sunset in two years and argues the city can’t afford a raise to match inflation.

In April the Citizen’s Budget Commission, a business-oriented think tank painted a bleak fiscal picture.

Consider this future – the existing $3 billion budget gap, $4 billion or more in employee raises and $2 billion fiscal cliff together are a $9 billion recipe for fiscal disaster by 2026 if nothing is done. Of course, this doesn’t account for another recession, which could produce a three-year revenue shortfall of $17 billion, based on the past.

This isn’t some “sky is falling” worst case scenario. It’s a reasonable portrait of inaction.

The only way to balance the important needs of New Yorkers today and in the future, when the city will face the inevitable next recession or emergency, is to prioritize programs, increase the efficiency and quality of services, and save for a rainy day. Absent these actions, the city will face future massive service cuts or harmful tax increases, and city workers will only get raises at the expense of services and reductions in force.

In spite of the warnings the 22-23 adopted budget was surprisingly generous, except for the Department of Education, the mayor claimed cuts were due to decreases in enrollment and a lawsuit is pending.

Adam’s budget planning for the next cycle began with calls for agency cuts in the current cycle and larger reductions in the upcoming cycles.

NEW YORK — City agencies will be forced to slash their budgets as Mayor Eric Adams grapples with increased demands on his administration in the face of a weakening economy.

In a letter sent to every city agency the Budget Director … instructed commissioners to cut their spending plans by 3 percent this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and 4.75 percent each of the following three years …?

“As we move towards the November Financial Plan and beyond, we face challenges that threaten our ability to keep the current year budget balanced and maintain manageable outyear gaps … We must act quickly and responsibly, otherwise funding for programs and services — many that serve the most vulnerable New Yorkers — will be at risk.”

The cuts are expected to save the city a total of $2.6 billion by June 30, 2024,

The move comes three months after Adams, a moderate Democrat, adopted a $101 billion budget that increased city spending, despite his campaign pledge of municipal belt-tightening.

And it immediately triggered an outcry from leaders of the city’s largest public-sector unions.

“This is outrageous. I can’t say it enough,” Henry Garrido, president of District Council 37, which represents some 150,000 city workers …

Garrido — who endorsed Adams in the mayor’s race last year — noted his members are working under an expired contract and have not received a raise for 16 months.

“You are not paying workers what they deserve. The city’s having such a hard time with recruitment and retention that you are going to increase the workload even more,” Garrido added. “I think that’s something that the public should not only know about but should be as outraged as we are.”

The teachers union president expressed similar opposition.

As both sides sit down at the bargaining table the city belt tightening foreshadows a lengthy process.

Under Bloomberg the UFT simply waited until Bloomberg was out of office and negotiated with his successor, de Blasio, not an option today, once the unions thwarted Bloomberg’s attempt to lay off excessed staff and erode tenure there was no pathway to a contract, Adams is faced with an uncertain fiscal future that he will use to low ball salary offers.

The City is also faced with an eroding pool of prospective teachers, enrollment in teacher education programs continues to spiral downwards and in-service teachers are leaving in ever increasing numbers. How do you build a high performing staff in the face of teachers leaving and the candidate pool diminishing? A substantial salary increase will retain and attract teacher candidates.

Chad Aldeman at Georgetown University takes a deep dive, “Why are fewer people becoming teachers?” here and an American Federation of Teachers task force report (“Here Today, Gone Tomorrow”) delves into policies to revitalize the teaching profession here.

Are we facing a recession?  Declining city revenue? Are raises in jeopardy?  Are current jobs and benefits in jeopardy?  Lawrence Summers, former Secty of the Treasury, Nobel Prize economist Paul Krugman, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jaime Dimon and Billionaire Investor Ray Dalio predictions may play a role in determining “ability to pay,” a primary factor if the negotiations head into fact-finding and arbitration.

On the non-budgetary side management also has “demands,” and the negotiating process attempts to merge labor and management “wants” into contract language: challenging.

Most city employees are working with expired contracts, aside from contract negotiations the Municipal Labor Coalition (MLC), representing all city employees is beginning the discussions over the next health plan for all employees.

Can the non-budgetary negotiations make teaching more amenable to current and future staff? Maybe learning from the PROSE schools, and the schools in the Affinity District, perhaps we should explore the role of Worker Councils in Germany, should teacher union members serve on school boards?

German industrial relations are characterized by a high degree of employee participation up to co-determination in companies’ boards (“Aufsichtsrat”), where trade unionists and works councils elected by employees have full voting rights. Local trade union representatives are democratically elected by union members and formally largely autonomous. Central boards of directors (“Vorstand”) are elected by delegates.

Mayor Adams, UFT Prez Mulgrew, CSA Prez Cannizaro and Chancellor Banks, in spite of occasional yawning differences in viewpoints, must stay connected.

After Governor Hochul included a 4 year extension of mayoral control in the preliminary budget, the legislature only approved a two year extension and expanded the PEP (the school board) weakening the role of the mayor, in the closing days of the session the legislature passed class size reductions in the face of vigorous opposition from Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul signed the bill into law.

Extended negotiations can become combative with attacks on teacher unions and rallies supporting the union, the days of collaboration can enter a toxic stage with the national anti teacher, anti public education crowd supporting Adams.

There is a chance, like Bloomberg, that the mayor will decide to battle, listen/watch Rhiannon Giddens, at Occupy Wall Street eleven years ago …

Does the New York State Education Department/Board of Regents Need to be Reimagined/Revised/Rethought/Reempowered?

The Board of Regents has its origins in the 18th century, and for many decades led the nation, especially the statewide high school exit examinations called Regents Examinations.

On July 27, 1864 the New York State Board of Regents passed an ordinance that stated in part that:

“At the close of each academic term, a public examination shall be held of all scholars presumed to have completed preliminary studies. . . .To each scholar who sustains such examination, a certificate shall entitle the person holding it to admission into the academic class in any academy subject to the visitation of the Regents, without further examination.”

The Board of Regents has made many changes to the Regents Examinations and high school graduation standards. Read an excellent summary here .

Over the Cuomo regency the State Education Department was starved of funding, and funding is totally within the discretion of the governor and the legislature. New York State has a deeply flawed system; schools are funded jointly by local property taxes and the state budget. For example in one district the assessed valuation of homes is $2 million and another $500,000, education dollars are dramatically different, rich districts spend substantially more then poor districts, a reverse Robin Hood; the state budget to an extent ameliorates the disparity.   Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and many rural districts struggle to pay heating bills while other districts have state of the art sports and computer facilities.  Cuomo budgets also reduced funding to State Education Department, a way of expressing his displeasure over an independent Board of Regents and State Education Department.

Leadership of the Board of Regent, chancellors, and the State Education Department changed every few years, from David Steiner to John King to MaryEllen Elia to Betty Rosa.

In New York State curriculum has been in the domain of school districts, while State Ed sets standards the curriculum is district-driven; the disconnect is reflected in NAEP (“the Nation’s Report Card”) scores. For example the 2019 4th grade math scores, (See NAEP by state here)

In 2019, the average score of fourth-grade students in New York was 237. This was lower than the average score of 240 for public school students in the nation.

New York State is in the lower half of the states while Massachusetts is consistently among the top five states (See Massachusetts NAEP scores here): why?

In my view the reason is continuity.

The Massachusetts Education Reform Law of 1993, state law requires all students who are seeking to earn a high school diploma, including students educated at public expense in educational collaboratives and approved and unapproved private special education schools within and outside the state, must meet the Competency Determination (CD) standard, in addition to meeting all local graduation requirements.

Students must earn a passing score on the grade 10 MCAS tests in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics, and one of the high school Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) tests (Biology, Chemistry, Introductory Physics, and Technology/Engineering) to meet their CD requirement.

Students who do not pass the MCAS tests in grade 10 may take retests according to these participation guidelines in grades 11 and 12 and beyond.

Students may fulfill the CD requirements through the standard MCAS tests or by submitting an MCAS cohort appeal or MCAS competency portfolio, which is an alternative method of student assessment that uses a collection of a student’s work samples to measure the educational performance of a small number of students who possess skills at or near grade level, but who cannot demonstrate those skills on the standard MCAS tests, even with accommodations, due to a significant disability.

The Atlantic reported,

The Massachusetts experiment with transforming public education traces back to 1993, when state leaders decided to set high standards, establish a stringent accountability system aimed at ensuring that students from all backgrounds were making progress, and open its doors to charter schools. And despite some hiccups, it was able to do so largely without all the partisan wrangling and interagency tensions that have notoriously confounded such efforts on a national scale.

Massachusetts is increasing the required score on the MCAS, the series of tests required for high school graduation.

A key section of the Massachusetts Education Department is the Center for Instruction Support, lacking in New York State.

The leadership in New York State handicapped by years of leadership changes, skimpy funding, a host of external organizations opposing all testing while others cry for maintaining rigorous standards.  The current Graduation Measures initiative is two years old, yes, COVID sidetracked, and at least a year to go with expectations Regents exams/graduation requirements may be modified.

New York State is a leviathan, 4400 schools, 700 school districts ranging from New York City, who basically declared their independence under Bloomberg, to Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, criminally underfunded.

Vocational Education, now called Career and Technical Education (CTE) should be a pathway to careers for many of our students; however, the current funding system actually is a disincentive to the creation of CTE programs, Regional BOCES Centers provide CTE classes and local school districts are charged a tuition, payable by the sending district. At the October 1st Regents Meeting staff acknowledged the issue, and bemoaned changes are required in law as well as in regulation.

We can point to glowing successes; My Brothers Keeper is a national model, the Internationals Network a bright star leading the way for Multiple Language Learners.

States can revise state education, the Kirwan Commission in Maryland will profoundly change education, if the governor follows the recommendations.

Governor Hochul, if re-elected, might be open to making the dramatic changes which are long overdue.

BTW, Alexander Hamilton was a Regent; Lin Manuel missed the opportunity for a great song.

The members of the Board of Regents, the Chancellor and Commissioner, are burdened with an antiquated system as well as a (former) governor and legislature embroiled self aggrandizing politics.

The Hamilton cast on the election of 2022  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BK4X2LtiHs

Teacher Contract Negotiations in Contentious Times

The UFT (United Federation of Teachers) collective bargaining agreement, aka, “the contract,” expires on September 30th with no threats of strikes, no demonstrations. Last Spring, as the union was gearing up for negotiation I blogged about the negotiation process, and my role lo those many years ago (“Adams versus Mulgrew,” read here), one of my better efforts, worth a read.

A quick guide: In New York State public employee labor is governed by the Public Employees Relations Board, referred to by the acronym, PERB. Established fifty years ago, also called the Taylor Law, Taylor was a University of Pennsylvania college professor who chaired the committee whose report resulted in the law. The law sets forth the procedures for all public employees to he represented by a union of their choosing, there are a few thousand public employee unions in the state, as well as the negotiations/dispute resolution process and defines and prohibits strikes.

As a result of a court decision, now embedded in PERB regulations (“Triborough Doctrine”) expired labor agreements remain in “full force and effect” until the successor agreement is ratified.

The UFT’s relationship with Bloomberg became toxic; Bloomberg tried to change the law and weaken tenure rules and lay off excessed teachers if they weren’t rehired within a specified number of months. The UFT successfully thwarted Bloomberg and decided not to attempt to negotiate with Mike and wait for the next mayor. Under PERB rules the existing contract remained in “full force and effect.” The union subsequently negotiated two contracts with Mayor de Blasio which included retroactive salary and a number of “increasing collaboration” sections, also, in a period of a thriving economy for the City. I believe Bloomberg blames the UFT for the failure of his ill-advised brief run for the presidency.

The City is not recovering as quickly as was hoped from the pandemic.

In April the non-partisan Citizens Budget Commission warned,

Spending a lot more now is seductive, but shortsighted. The city’s leaders should not pretend that the city can have and do it all. Undisciplined management and a spending spree will set the city back, not propel it forward.

Consider this future – the existing $3 billion budget gap, $4 billion or more in employee raises and $2 billion fiscal cliff together are a $9 billion recipe for fiscal disaster by 2026 if nothing is done. Of course, this doesn’t account for another recession, which could produce a three-year revenue shortfall of $17 billion, based on the past.

This isn’t some “sky is falling” worst case scenario. It’s a reasonable portrait of inaction.

The only way to balance the important needs of New Yorkers today and in the future, when the city will face the inevitable next recession or emergency, is to prioritize programs, increase the efficiency and quality of services, and save for a rainy day. Absent these actions, the city will face future massive service cuts or harmful tax increases, and city workers will only get raises at the expense of services and reductions in force.

Unfortunately in the months since the CBC report unemployment remains high, tax revenues lag, return to full in-office work is slow to return, school enrollment is down and the potential economic woes are forcing the City to begin to look for savings as well as shrink the budget.

In September the Budget Commissioner directed city agencies to plan to reduce their budgets (often referred to as “PEG,” Program to Eliminate the Gap),

. Budget Director Jacques Jiha’s PEG letter correctly points to the myriad forces increasing the City’s future budget gaps by billions of dollars, including higher pension contributions, future collective bargaining agreements, and looming fiscal cliffs as federal COVID aid is exhausted. 

This is a timely call that rightly focuses on increasing productivity to reduce recurring costs while preserving services that New Yorkers rely on. The directive to identify savings of 3 percent this year, growing to 4.75 percent in future years, is reasonable and provides agencies runway to restructure programs and operations to achieve the PEG targets. With the City’s current 28,000 vacancies, it should be able to hire critical service-providing positions and still meet this PEG target.  

Importantly, the City is currently negotiating its next round of labor contracts. Changing work rules and other contractual components to increase efficiency and provide PEG savings is the best way for the City to raise employee salaries without creating an unsustainable fiscal burden.”

The NY Times, (“New York City Faces Potential Fiscal Crisis as $10 Billion Deficit Looms,”) paints a somber picture,

New York City, battered by economic headwinds and mired in a stubborn pandemic-driven downturn afflicting employment, tourism and tax revenue, is teetering on the brink of a severe budget crisis.

For the first time in six years, city officials expect that business tax revenue will decline. Personal income and related tax revenue is expected to fall by 7.7 percent, the largest drop in a dozen years.

And Wall Street’s struggles may require the city to fork over billions of dollars to its workers’ pension funds, to meet its obligation to provide guaranteed minimum returns.

As the mayor moves to trim the budget opposition from within city government and the unions grows,

Opposition to the mayor’s cuts is growing.

Adrienne Adams, the speaker of the Council, recently described the administration’s decision to freeze hiring as part of its cost-cutting efforts as “counterproductive.”

Brad Lander, the New York City comptroller, agreed, and on Friday sent a letter to the budget director warning that “imposing a hiring freeze at this time could put at risk critical programs that New Yorkers rely on.”

When Mr. Adams, a former police officer, was running for election last year, he won support from several of the city’s most influential labor unions, which represent many Black and Latino New Yorkers. Mr. Adams is expected to seek their support again in his re-election campaign, for which he is already raising money.

While union leaders could theoretically hold off on contract negotiations until the economy improves and the city is in a better position to award raises, union members may be too restive to wait.

In an email to members on Tuesday, Michael Mulgrew, head of the United Federation of Teachers, indicated as much.

“We plan to move as aggressively as possible to reach a deal given how inflation has raised the cost of living over the past year,” he said.

What happens if the parties cannot come to an agreement?

If the parties are not making progress, called impasse, either party can ask PERB to intervene, from mediation to fact-finding to non-binding arbitration. The union and the Department of Education moved to arbitration in 2002 and 2012, I wrote about the process in 2012 in detail, worth a read here.

PERB assigns an arbitrator, or a panel of three arbitrators, and the process following the rules of the American Arbitration Association. Witnesses testify, are cross-examined, evidence is introduced, and the arbitration panel releases a non-binding opinion.

The panel explores “comparability,” also called “pattern bargaining (what salaries in other locations should the arbitrators use as a guide and the percent in other union settlements in the city) as well as “ability to pay,” (what can the city afford based on tax revenues and anticipated expenses), and “interest and welfare of the public” (a catchall which incorporates everything else).

The process can take months, dozens of witnesses, hundreds of documents and thousands of pages of transcripts.

 Read a fact-finding decision from Rochester here.

PERB decisions are non-binding, although they usually form the basis of the settlement.

Is a teacher strike a possibility?

Never say never; however, the sanctions for a strike are severe; loss of an additional days pay for each day on strike, substantial fines for the union, suspension of dues check off, possible suspension of tenure for strikers.

Can teachers conduct a “sick out”?

“No public employee or employee organization shall engage in a strike, and no public employee or employee organization shall cause, instigate, encourage, or condone a strike.” https://perb.ny.gov/taylor-law/ Courts have ruled sick outs are strikes.

The union has spent years working with community organizations across the city and building credibility and Adams’ public perception is increasingly negative. Will the outcome of the labor negotiations be the first step in the 2025 mayoral election? 

I suspect a lengthy period of negotiations.

Watch Pete Seeger sing:  Union Maid