Can NYS Reach Consensus in a Contentious Climate? Should High School Graduation Requirements Be Reduced or Increased? Should Regents Exams Be Eliminated, Reduced, Replaced or Increased?

The New York State Board of Regents is the policy board that governs K – 16 education and the professions in the state; the Board meets monthly reviews and establishes policies impacting public, charter and parochial schools, equivalency diploma programs, colleges, proprietary schools and the wide range of professions. The commissioner, who leads the State Education Department and implements the policies resigned effective August 31 and the selection process to choose a new commissioner is moving forward.

In July, prior to the commissioner’s resignation the Board embarked upon a review of high school graduation requirements and exit exams.

Goal: To undertake a thoughtful and inclusive process to reaffirm what a New York State high school diploma means and what it ought to signify to ensure educational excellence and equity for all New York State children.

 A few odd words, “reaffirm,” “ought to signify;” although, worthy goals.

In my last blog I reviewed the current graduation requirements. The Regents eliminated the dual diplomas in the 1990’s and phased in a single Regents diploma. In spite of the increased rigor graduation rates continued to increase.

In the 2010-11 school year the Regents reviewed graduation requirements,  forums were convened around the state exploring changes in graduation requirements, and, in March 2011 the commissioner laid out a long list of proposed changes, a few of the suggested changes;

  • Require additional credits in mathematics and science

 Require four years of mathematics and science or the equivalent to ensure college and career readiness based on demonstrated student needs.

  • Increase the passing score on key Regents exams
    • Replace the 0-100 scoring system with a 1-4 cut score system, where a score of 3 indicates “College Readiness.”
  • Require passing additional exams
    • Require students to pass a second Regents exam in mathematics
  • Require a College and Career Ready experience
    • Require all students to take and pass at least one AP, IB or college-level course to prepare them for college levels of rigor

The Regents paased on most of the recommendations and did implement a few of the proposed changes, the CDOS credential and Multiple Pathways through the 4 + 1 path.

The increase in graduation requirements were a response to NAEP (National Assessment of Student Progress), called the “gold standard” in testing.

New York State ranked 34th on 2017 NAEP scores, out of the fifty states in the nation

PISA is a series of international exams that measures achievement in the 35 OECD nations

Key Findings from PISA: The United States remains in the middle of the rankings in the major domains of this assessment cycle. One in five (20%) of 15-year-old students in the United States are low performers.

The United States, and, especially New York State are not doing well.

Should the goal of the review of graduation requirements be to increase graduation rates as well as increase achievements level of students in New York State? Are the goals contradictory?

The lengthy process is attempting to build consensus. The first phase is regional meetings across the state, in each of the thirteen Judicial Districts,

                         Regional Meetings in Each Regent Judicial District:

 At least one meeting in each Judicial District

  • Outreach to a vast array of regional stakeholders and organizations to ensure every region is part of the conversation
  • Format of meetings will provide for discussions to bring ideas forward in a concise, consistent and thoughtful way
  • Ideas and information will be captured in each regional area

The regional meetings are asked to answer “guiding questions,”

Guiding Questions:

  1. What do we want our children to know and to be able to do before they graduate? (A   very general question that the 2010-11 forums suggested were by increasing courses required for graduation, especially in math and science)

    2. How do we want them to demonstrate such knowledge and skills? (Clearly hinting        that  there are alternatives to regents exams)

    3. To what degree does requiring passage of Regents exams improve student achievement, graduation rates and college readiness? (A poor question, “to what degree?”)

    4.What other measures of achievement (e.g., capstone projects, alternative assessments or engagement in civic and community activities) could serve as indicators of high school completion? (Can you scale up from 38 small high schools using portfolios to thousands of schools? Are capstone projects “measures of achievement”? Is there a “valid and reliable” measure of capstone projects across the state?”

  1. How can measures of achievement accurately reflect the skills and knowledge of our special populations, such as students with disabilities and English language learners? (Should different categories of students with disabilities and English language learners meet different measures of achievement? Is this possible under ESSA requirements?)

Based on feedback from Regents on the Guiding Questions, the Internal SED Team will develop the toolkit to host the meetings. The toolkit will be completed by the November Board of Regents meeting.

The next step is the appointment of a “Blue Ribbon Commission,” BTW, how do you define “Blue Ribbon?” Academic achievement? Expert classroom practice?

Purpose: The purpose of the Commission is to review research, practice and policy and to gather input from across the state, to help inform recommendations.

Eventually the commissioner will present the results of the process to the Board with recommendations and sometime in 20-21 school year the Board take actions.

We’re been discussing Regents Examinations out of context. The exams are constructed by classroom teachers and are content tests. Take a look at the August 2019 Regents Examinations in English and American History.

English Language Arts  https://www.nysedregents.org/hsela/819/reela82019-exam.pdf

American History and Government https://www.nysedregents.org/USHistoryGov/819/ushg82019-examw.pdf

How did you do?

There are Students with Disabilities who, in spite of the safety net (passing score of 55) and the superintendent waiver process (superintendents can waive the regents exam based upon the student academic record) cannot pass the regents exam. Should all other students continue to take regents exams? Should we seek a “fix” for students unable to meet the safety nets?

English language learners, especially students who entered school at the middle or high school level do not have the language skills to pass Regents exams. Can we devise a safety net for this cohort of students?

Only eleven states have exit exams, should we replace the Regents, as many states have done, with the SAT or ACT? Many states have taken this pathway. See Achieve lisitng of all states graduation requirements and exit pathways here.

Achieve  makes a crucial point,

For high school graduates to be prepared for success in a wide range of post secondary settings, they need to take at least three years of challenging mathematics – covering the contnet generally found in Algebra II or an integrated third year math course – and four years of rigorous English aligned with college and career ready stndards.

Graduation rates are an accurate indicator of students graduating high school on time but should not be confused with students graduating with the skills and knowledge needed for entering college or career pathways without remediation. Rigorous course-taking in high school is one of the strongest indicators of postsecondary success, yet many states do not expect all graduates to take the classes or learn the essential content and skills that open doors to their next steps.

 In our rush to raise graduation rates we must not “lower the bar,” as Achieve reminds us, Rigorous course-taking in high school is one of the strongest indicators of postsecondary success,

Is It Time to Revise New York State High School Graduation Requirements? Are Exit Exams (Regents) the Best Assessment of Student Achievement?

About twenty-five years ago the New York State Board of Regents began a lengthy discussion around graduation requirements. The state had a dual diploma system, the Regents diploma, requiring five Regents examinations and the Regent Competency Test (RCT), requiring passing RCT tests, about ninth grade level tests. Roughly ¾ of students graduated with the RCT (local), diplomas.

The business community led the movement to a single Regents diploma arguing that the local (RCT) diploma was not preparing student for work or college. After a few years of discussion the Regents began the phase-out of the RCT diploma, it took about ten years. In spite of concerns over graduation rates the rates have continued to edge upwards, albeit with a number of changes.

  • the English Regents was reduced from two days to one day
  • Global Studies was reduced for covering 9th and 10th year curricula to only 10th year
  • A Safety Net for Students with Disabilities – a 55% passing grade
  • Superintendent Determination Option for Students with Disabilities
  • A Multiple Pathways alternative track

At the July Regents meeting an open-ended discussion focused on the exit examinations, the Regents Examinations and the growing number of states no longer requiring exit examinations, there are only eleven. Not surprisingly the headline after the meeting was “Regents Considering Abandoning Regents Tests.”

The graduation rate in New York State has been steadily increasing, the 2014 Cohort (June 2018 graduates) graduation rates retained gains of previous years and generally remained level at 80.4% and continues the upward trend and is 9.5 percentage points higher than it was for the 2004 cohort (70.9%)

If we use a six year gradation rate it is at 84%, with Black, Hispanic and Students with Disabilities far behind; however, the achievement gap is decreasing.

The unexplored questions:

  • Who are the dropouts (students leaving school before their cohort graduates)?
  • And, why did they leave school?

The same questions for the students who remained in school and failed to graduate

  • Who are the students?
  • Why did they fail to graduate?

“L’s” who came as teenagers, stayed in school for a few years and went to work? Students with Disabilities who cannot pass the Regents in spite of the Safety Nets? Chronically absent students who fail subjects? Until we know who the students  are and why they’re failing to graduate it’s not possible to craft policies to address the reasons.

Hopefully the state will take a deep dive into these questions.

Can New York State return to a dual diploma system: Regents and local (RCT) diplomas? Probably not, ESSA requires, “Diplomas that signify less-than-rigorous academic preparation … were the express target of the new requirement in ESSA. No such language was in the previous version of the law, the No Child Left Behind Act. ‘We were trying to address concerns about those weaker diplomas, to put a signal in there to drive states to make sure that diplomas were really preparing students for success,’ said a Senate aide who helped draft the Every Student Succeeds Act.”

Some Regents appear to be leaning towards an “easy fix,” eliminate the Regents examinations, maybe I’m wrong.

A very small group of schools in the state (38), mostly in New York City, called “Consortium”Schools,” have been receiving waivers from State Ed (students only have to pass the English Regents) since the 90’s. Ann Cook, the New York Performance Standards Consortium leader has been the gatekeeper. The Consortium is a not-for-profit who closely supports and chooses the schools.  In lieu of exams the students present and defend research projects, work that takes months to prepare. Is scaling up the Consortium Schools possible? Or, is the very nature of the success of the Consortium: small, closely linked schools supported by a fiercely dedicated leadership the key to success?

There is a much larger question: Are we preparing students adequately for the post-secondary school world of college, work and citizenry? The “right” courses,? The “right” curriculum? The “right” school structures and organizations?

Where are we headed?

Chancellor Rosa set the path:

 “The rigid system is not working for everyone, and too many students – particularly our most vulnerable students – are leaving high school without a diploma. New York and other states are grappling with graduation rates that are improving too slowly, if at all, as well as achievement gaps that reflect pernicious and pervasive opportunity gaps.”

The Regents plan to establish a Blue-Ribbon Commission, while academics are important I hope the business community, parents and teachers play a core role

The Blue- Ribbon Commission will consider whether State exit exams, as a sole measure, improve student achievement, graduation rates, and college readiness; and whether adding other measures of achievement could better serve New York’s diverse student population as indicators of what they know and if they are career and college ready. Could those additional measures of achievement include things like capstone projects, alternative assessments, or engagement in civic and community activities?  

 The goal of the Blue Ribbon Commission appears skewed towards replacing the Regents examinations with other forms of assessments

Goal: Reaffirm what a New York State high school diploma means and what it ought to signify

 Sounds like a visions/mission statement

Revisiting the Issues:

  • Access to multiple graduation measures for all students
  • Real-world skills necessary for post-secondary success
  • New York State exit exam criteria
  • De-facto tracking
  • Consistency of rigor for student learning
  • Preparing all students to successfully pursue college, careers, and opportunities for community engagement and citizenship
  • Barriers to equity

 Is scattershot the correct word?  I would narrow the “issues” to:

  • Are the current course/credit requirements appropriate to prepare student for the current world of work, carrier and citizenry?
  • What specific skills/courses should be taught: coding, statistics, etc.”
  • Should the definition of course/credit requirements begin in the 6th grade?
  • Should State Education work with other state agencies to require on-site internships for students in Career Technical Education (CTE) tracks?

Maybe the Commission will be pursuing my questions,

The purpose of the Commission is to review research, practice and policy and to gather input from across the state, to help inform recommendations to:

  • reconsider current diploma requirements;
  • ensure all students have access to multiple graduation measures; and
  • ensure a transition plan timeline allows time to prepare for and implement any changes.

 The Commission will include representatives from the Big 5, NYSCOSS, NYSSBA, NYSUT, PTA, SAANYS, UFT, District Superintendents, and others.

 The process will attempt to be inclusive, the ESSA inclusion efforts were not particularly satisfactory, and the current proposal is aggressive.

Regents-BOCES District Superintendents-SED Regional Workgroups in Each Judicial District:

  • The purpose of the Regional Workgroups is to gather and provide input into the Commission’s review of research, practices and policies from constituents across the state to help inform the Commission’s work to create recommendations.
  • In each judicial district, a Regional Workgroup will be established (there are thirteen judicial districts, five of which, the five boroughs, are in New York City) to include the Regent, BOCES District Superintendents, the Big 5 City School Districts and a representative from SED to gather feedback from constituents and stakeholders, which can be inclusive of: student voices; advocacy groups; research agencies; workforce representatives; and others to be identified; in that region.

 I would add the regional meetings should be live-streamed and archived. The K-12 Regents Committee meetings, frequently the core of the meetings are not live-streamed.

 Achieve  makes a crucial point,

Graduation rates are an accurate indicator of students graduating high school on time but should not be confused with students graduating with the skills and knowledge needed for entering college or career pathways without remediation. Rigorous course-taking in high school is one of the strongest indicators of postsecondary success, yet many states do not expect all graduates to take the classes or learn the essential content and skills that open doors to their next steps.

 In our rush to raise graduation rates we must not “lower the bar,” as Achieve reminds us, Rigorous course-taking in high school is one of the strongest indicators of postsecondary success,

 Let’s not disadvantage our children in the name of better data.

Is New York City Headed Toward a Collaborative School System Eschewing Testing for Project-Based Learning or Using Tests to Batter and Punish Schools? Schizophrenia Abounds

As the opening of school approaches CityandState, an online website hosts an Education Summit. The guest speaker was Richard Carranza, the chancellor, I blogged about his presentation here.  and included an audio of his presentation.

The chancellor announced a new initiative, Edustats, and gave a brief discussion.

Yesterday the City Council conducted a hearing on excessive testing and I signed up to testify. The chair of the committee, Mark Treyger, is a New York City high school teacher on leave.

The council has oversight responsibility; in a mayoral control city the council has no authority over schools; except, to hold public hearings.

The purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was to give exposure to the 38 high schools that have a waiver from the New York State Education Department (NYSED) Regents Examination requirements. The waiver schools only require the English Regents; students present in-depth research papers in Social Studies, Mathematics and Science. The state has been renewing the waivers since the 90’s; the current waiver is for five years. The schools are part of the Performance-Based Standards Consortium , a not-for-profit run by the estimable Ann Cook, The Consortium functions as sort of a somewhat independent cluster within the larger school system. Numerous chancellors and commissioners have approved the waivers, some reluctantly and not without external political pressures.

Laura Chin, the # 2 at the Department of Education testified at the hearing and mentioned Edustats, the new Department initiative; Treyger pressed her on the program. The Department will require periodic assessments, the Executive Superintendents will review the results with Superintendents, and Chin described the process as similar to the New York Police Department (NYPD) Comstat system. Borough commanders meet with precinct commanders and review data, detailed crime statistics, and grill the precinct commanders: what have they done to respond to statistical increases in the crime data? Why isn’t it working? The precinct commanders despise the process: public shaming with the threat of job removal. While the precinct commander can move patrol cops from one area to another schools can’t prevent evictions or provide food for families or more racially integrated schools.

According to Chin every school would create an Instructional Leadership Team to address the Edustats results. (Don’t we already have School Leadership Teams?)

Chin responded to questioning describing the system as a benign “in-house” self-assessment.

In my testimony I described Edustats as educational “Hunger Games.”

For decades school districts have been implementing similar approaches. They are all based on a fallacy: given proper “motivation” and “information” all teachers can raise all test scores. A flawed belief system: there is a “magic” bullet that will raise test scores.

Teachers assess data every day.

Who is absent, late, crying, sad, wearing dirty clothes, hungry, addressing these “data” is a key part of the teaching/learning process.

Every lesson we teach contains “tests for understanding,” we ask questions, we call on volunteers and non-volunteers, check student work, we give quizzes, written work, we re-teach in another format, we are constantly searching for the proper “tool” that will help the student learn and be able to apply the concept.

Schools are complex entities, they attempt to build cultures of inquiry, cultures of collaboration, cultures of caring. The hierarchy can support inquiry-based school cultures. Charlotte Danielson’s other book, “Talk about Teaching: Leading Professional Conversation” explores the power dynamic in schools and how school leaders can engage in meaningful dialogues with teachers.

School leaders can observe lessons with the goal to evaluate by finding flaws or engage in a two-way dialogue with the teacher.

The chancellor has been emphasizing removing bias and culturally relevant-sustaining education they may remove obstacles to effective teaching and learning, and may not.

The most effective predictor of test results is parent education and income.

The New School Center for NYC Affairs study, “A Better Picture of Poverty” identifies in-school and out of school “poverty risk load factors.” Our current school management structure fails to deal with the social/emotional side of the equation, fails to address factors beyond the classroom that impact the student within the classroom.

Sean Reardon and his colleagues at Stanford have released a massive study, asking “how intertwined are racial segregation and economic inequality?” The study may enable us to more finely attune our approaches to improving academic outcomes in schools.

The de Blasio administration has been working with the teacher union to create collaborative, school-based strategies.

The Bronx Plan negotiated between the teacher union and the Department is designed reduce teacher attrition in the most at-risk schools as well as built stronger school cultures. (See description here)

Over 100 schools are part of the PROSE initiative, an opportunity to create school-based innovative programs that requires change to Department regulations or contract provisions. (See PROSE application here).

The council hearing was ironic, on one hand the # 2 at the Department described a process that can easily deteriorate into “test and punish” and at the same hearing students, teachers and school leaders in Consortium schools described in detail schools in which deep investigation leading to the production of a project reflecting the research instead of a single test. The process takes months of teacher-directed work and requires the student to defend their project before teachers and critical friends.

Should we push to expand the number of Consortium schools? Can the Consortium strategies be applied to elementary and middle schools? And, the elephant in the room, can you scale-up these concepts?

The Department seems to be in a schizophrenic cauldron. One part of the Department working with the union in creating bottom-up approaches to teaching and learning, another part reverting to the “test and punish,” testing-on-steroids approach to teaching and learning.

It will be interesting to see whether the Reardon data is applicable to New York City and what it tells us about our schools.

Data should drive policy: the question: whose data and whose interpretation of the data.

Stumbling Towards a Post-Racial World: We Have a Long, Long Path Ahead

The stain of slavery and Jim Crow appeared to be erased with election of Barack Obama in 2008.

Many commentators, both conservative and liberal, have celebrated the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States, claiming the election signified America has truly become a “post-racial” society. It is not just Lou Dobbs who argues the United States in the “21st century …is a post-racial society.” This view is consistent with beliefs the majority of White Americans have held for well over a decade: that African Americans have achieved, or will soon achieve, racial equality in the United States despite substantial evidence to the contrary.

 America was looking forward to a new emergence of Camelot. Younger voters flocked to the poles in unheard of numbers; a wave of progressive voters revived and seemed to presage the end of the Republican Party and a new era of progressive legislation waiting to become law.

A black president would influence generations of young children to embrace a new vision of American citizenship. The “Obama Coalition” of African American, white, Latino, Asian American and Native American voters had helped usher in an era in which institutional racism and pervasive inequality would fade as Americans embraced the nation’s multicultural promise.

While the two terms of Obama may not have lived up to expectations, and while the Republican Party didn’t fade away we seemed to have moved past endless decades of racism and repression.

We brushed away the increasing number of vile racist comments and threats and failed to comprehend that the election was only the first step of a long, long road

Claude Steele … argued that the crippling academic achievement gap between Black and White Americans can be closed if the nation has the sufficient will to end the decades-old practice of imposing negative stereotypes on Black children.

Eight years later Obama’s farewell address was a list of achievements; an upbeat view of the future and a realization that we were far from a post-racial society.

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

 Three years into the Trump presidency much of the Obama achievements have been ripped away or hanging on frayed strings. The future of our democracy is threatened from within and we fear we are edging towards wars abroad.

Beneath suits and dresses of too many Americans we see the cloaks of the Klan.  Attempts to address inequities that were once collective actions across the political spectrum are now bitterly attacked.

In New York City attempts to address the inequities of the Specialized High School Admittance Test (SHSAT); the results of the SHSAT test in the spring of 2018: only nine offers of admittance to Black students out of over 900 offers. The Hecht-Callandra Law (1971) contains an alternative admittance pathway,

The special schools shall be permitted to maintain a Discovery Program to give disadvantaged students of demonstrated high potential an opportunity to try the special high school program without in any manner interfering with the academic level of those schools.

The Bloomberg-Klein (2002-2014) mayoral administration abandoned the implementation of the Discovery Program; attempts to replace the law failed.

A report from the Center for NYC Affairs examines the impact of the new admissions standards proposed in the de Blasio bill, a bill that has not moved forward in the legislature.

The School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG), a blue ribbon mayoral panel, issued two reports, one supporting the integration of schools and a just-released report to end the Gifted and Talented programs created, once again, by the Bloomberg-Klein administration. G & T programs begin testing for admissions  at age four and the overwhelming number of classes placed in middle class schools.

David Kirkland, the Director of the NYU Metro Center, is a member of SDAG, and, a highly respected, award winning scholar, wrote an op ed in the New York Daily News defending his recommendation to end the G & T programs,

Though cloaked in language that attempts to make the focus on race less obvious, it boils down to a defense of systems that have unfairly and disproportionately benefited whites for generations.

 In the world of Twitter Kirkland was subjected to personal attacks,

David E. Kirkland

@davidekirkland

Sep 20

When you challenge the system and those who benefit from it, both the system and the privileged resist. Perhaps, I’ll analyze the discourse of those who are resisting me. This analysis will makes a point; however, I’m more interested in conversation and a commitment to our kids.

David E. Kirkland

@davidekirkland

Sep 20

I wrote a piece about how racism motivates resistance to change in education. All of today, I’ve been inundated with people calling me names and distorting my argument, attempting to pit me against Asians. This is how I know that the perspective is right–it’s challenging people.

The debate around school integration and the elimination of G & T programs has dominated the news cycle; and, unfortunately the “debate,” fueled by the NY Post, is nasty and nibbles at the edge of racism.

In our democracy challenging the status quo is at the core of our political system. Change is inevitable, incremental and is constantly seeking pathways.

Integration plans were designed by the local school boards, the Community Education Councils; the best decisions are made by those closest to children and classrooms.

I believe the recommendation to wipe away all G & T programs is the wrong pathway. The aeries of power rarely bring about embedded change. The decision by the John King, the former commissioner of education rammed through the adoption of Common Core State Standards and Common Core state testing and, an unintended consequence, created the opt-out movement. Virtually no one is a fan of the tests; they are required by federal law and have not raised student achievement.

I believe that G & T programs should be a decision made at the local level. School districts should have the authority to keep or abandon the programs as well as the ability to set admissions standards. Yes, awkward, the programs would vary across the city, and, most importantly, districts would have ownership.

Only through dialogue, through continuing dialogue, through challenging and uncomfortable debate can we identify pathways to eradicating the burdens of centuries of oppresson.

Kirkland keeps stirring the pot, encouraging us to think about questions of race and inequity.

When students do not come packaged the “right” way, too often our systems decide we cannot teach them. Instead of adapting to them, our systems label them, suggesting that something is wrong with vulnerable students. They label them as lazy, unfocused, misguided. In a sense, they blame their families, their genders, their socioeconomic circumstances, or anything else about vulnerable youth that deviates from the ideal. Our systems fail to see them, and thus our systems fail them.

There is clear evidence that this inability to see some students drives educational outcome disparities. The problem is not necessarily the unseen but our assumptions about what we see. Seeing is not neutral.

“If I Want to Go to a Good School Why Do I Have to Go to a White School?”

The 2014 UCLA Civil Rights Project produced a startling report,

New York has the most segregated schools in the country: in 2009, black and Latino students in the state had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools (less than 10% white enrollment), the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools. Heavily impacting these state rankings is New York City, home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation.

 With the sound of bugles the mayor issued a tepid plan to begin school integration, encouraging school communities, with financial supports, to create integration plans.

 Since the release of the report school integration (or, the other side of the coin, school segregation), has dominated the news cycles. From the mayor to the chancellor to electeds the issue resonates across the city. New York City Alliance for School Integration and Desegregation (nycASID) is one of many organizations leading the battle to integrate schools across the city. nycASID holds month meeting (see next meeting agenda here).

 Norm Fruchter and Christina Mokhtar, NYC School Segregation Then and Now: plus ca change, is by far the most thoughtful and detailed examination of school segregation in New York City, the well-researched report provides a historical context as well as a wealth of data and I recommend to all. The report concludes,

The De Blasio administration’s initial system-wide reforms, universal full-day pre-kindergarten and a community schools effort focused on more than one hundred of the system’s most poorly performing schools, begin to suggest the scale and scope of what is necessary to improve education in the hyper-segregated districts. Clearly much more is required to reverse the past half-century of pervasive school segregation and its damaging effects on both the students in the hyper-segregated districts and on all the students in the city’s schools.

 I have caveats.

School integration is not just moving pieces on a checkerboard. Race is not destiny. Canarsie (zip code 11236) is an 85% Afro-American neighborhood, the Area Median Income (AMI) is average within the city; it is a working class/middle class neighborhood: home owners, populated by teachers, accountants, hospital workers, the typical mix of a middle class that is also Afro-American. Parents want a safe, neighborhood school, and, have no interest in putting their children on a bus simply to go to school with white students. There are other “hyper-segregated” districts (Fruchter identified 17 of the 32 school districts) that are predominantly Afro-American and a few are at the city AMI average; however, most of the hyper-segregated districts are poor and require a wealth of targeted services.

New York City has grappled with school integration since Brown v Board of Education (1954). In 1964 Parents and Taxpayers (PAT) vigorously opposed school busing to promote school integration and Reverend Milton Galamison organized a school boycott to support school integration.  Eliza Shapiro, in the NY Times, recounts the history of school integration efforts. Two excellent examinations: Clarence Taylor, Knocking At Our Own Door: Milton A. Galamison and the Struggle to Integrate New York City Schools  (1997) and David Rogers, 110 Livingston Street (1969), Rogers examines the PAT movement in detail.

The Board of Education efforts to integrate schools was not a total failure.

James Madison High School was carefully selected as the first high school in south Brooklyn to be integrated in the early sixties, a swath of Brownsville was zoned to Madison – ten years later the school was 65% white/35% black, and was hailed as a successfully integrated school, until December, 1973, when, as described by the media, a “race riot” erupted. The NYC Human Right Commission investigated the incident and issued a detailed report (unfortunately no longer online).

Read a detailed NY Times article here (“It was a good school to integrate”), recollections by a former Madison student here (“Prisoners of Class”) and a discussion in a previous blog post here.

 In the late 70’s District 22 in Brooklyn (Flatbush, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay, Mill Basin) created and implemented an under-reported integration initiative. While school boards, as Fruchter reports, were widely viewed as corrupt and incompetent, a few were glowing examples of bottom-up education policy-making. Concerned over federal intervention District 22 created a plan that bused Afro-American students from the overwhelmingly Black northern end of the district to under-populated all white schools in the southern end of the district. The school board, the superintendent and the team skillfully built support and the plan was implanted and stayed in effect for decades. Eventually as the neighborhood changed schools integrated naturally.

 Two school districts (Upper West Side and Brownstone Brooklyn) have implemented “controlled choice” integration programs, ironically after decades of supporting segregated schools under decentralization; whether the Afro-American students are welcomed, provided with “supports” within the schools, hopefully, will be closely monitored. The chancellor reported that other districts are exploring locally created integration plans.

A few years ago I was at a forum discussing the Obama My Brothers’ Keeper program; New York State has adopted and funded the program.

A high school senior asked the core question, “Why do I have to go to a ‘white’ school to get a good education?”

New York City has come a long, long way: there were 2100 murders in 1990, in 2018 there were 275 murders. (Maybe the creation of small, personalized high schools has played a role in reducing the murder rates) The de Blasio administration ended “stop and frisk,” and, crime rates continued to plummet. High school graduation rates have continued to move upwards, although incrementally. Universal Pre-K for three and four years olds are a hopeful step in the right direction.

School integration is a step, how big a step open to question.

William Julius Wilson, in The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass and Public Policy (1989, 2012), wrote,

 … a racial division of labor has been created due to decades, even centuries, of discrimination and prejudice; and that because those in the low-wage sector of the economy are more adversely affected by impersonal shifts in advanced industrial society, the racial division of labor is reinforced. One does not have to ‘trot out’ the concept of racism to demonstrate …that blacks have been severely hurt by deindustrialization because of their heavy concentration in the …smokestack industries.

 Racism and a changing economy has created an underclass, the truly disadvantaged.

Kim Nauer and others, A Better Picture of Poverty, The Center for NYC Affairs (2014),

 The report, … identifies 130 schools in which more than one-third of the children were chronically absent for five years in a row. Perhaps not surprisingly, these schools have very low levels of academic achievement as measured by standardized tests.

Chronic absenteeism correlates with deep poverty–high rates of homelessness, child abuse reports, male unemployment, and low levels of parental education. In fact, the report states, chronic absenteeism is a much better index of poverty than the traditional measure of the number of children eligible for free lunch. Moreover, it’s very hard for schools to escape the pull of poverty: only a handful of schools with above-average rates of chronic absenteeism had above-average pass rates on their standardized tests for math and reading–and most scored far below, the report states.

The report identifies 18 “risk factors” that are associated with chronic absenteeism, both in the school building and in the surrounding neighborhood. Schools with a very high “risk load” are likely to suffer from poor attendance. Some of the school factors are: students in temporary housing; student suspensions; the perception of safety; and principal, teachers and student turnover. The neighborhood factors include: male unemployment, presence of public housing or a homeless shelter in a school’s attendance zone, adult levels of education, and involvement with the Administration for Children’s Services.

School integration is a worthy goal; however, racism, a changing economy and the pernicious impact of poverty must be addressed: A Tale of Two Cities is an accurate description of New York City (as well as other urban centers) and remains the most intractable issue confronting the city and the its schools.

The Board of Regents Convenes: An Agenda Filled With Contentious Issues (without a Commissioner)

As I arrived at the majestic, columned New York State Education Building at a little past 8 am I was surprised. There was a long line waiting to enter, many holding young children. As I was presenting my photo ID (required these days to enter government buildings) the crowd, with kids, pushed past security, unfurling signs and started chanting slogans. The crowd was anti-vaccination parents: the demonstration, unruly, constantly shouting went on for over an hour. When the regents meeting finally began three visitors in the audience interrupted and started demanding, I’m not sure what.  They eventually agreed not to interrupt and stood, arms entwined for the remainder of the meeting. BTW, the State Education Department and the Board has nothing to do with vaccination requirements for students, its state law.

Another year at the Board of Regents meetings, each month I trek to Albany to attend the meetings, its been almost ten years. I tweet at the meetings (@edintheapple), blog about the meetings and send my thoughts to individual board members.

Every state has an education policy board, in most states selected by the governor, in California the commissioner is elected in a statewide election. In New York State the 17-member board is elected for five-year terms by a joint meeting of both houses of the state legislature (150 Assembly and 63 Senate members), in reality by the Democratic members of the Assembly. Anyone can apply; all applicants are interviewed by legislators at public interviews. Thirteen of the seventeen members represent geographic sections of the state (Judicial Districts) and four are at-large. You would expect the appointments, to an unsalaried position, would be “political,” actually the members are always widely respected members of their communities. Currently six are former superintendents, two former teachers, a nurse, a healthcare executive, a doctor, a local magistrate, two lawyers, etc.  The board members serve on committees, all serve on P-12, other committees are Higher Education, Cultural Education, Budget, Professions and a few others.

The Regents set policy for all public, charter and parochial schools, as well as all colleges and non-college career training programs plus the fifty or so professions, including, medicine, dentistry, nursing, psychology, etc.

The Board selects a chancellor from among their members and also hires a state commissioner. MaryEllen Elia, resigned as commissioner at the July meeting, the Board appointed Beth Berlin, the long serving deputy commissioner as interim commissioner; a role she served when John King resigned. The search for a new commissioner could take months. How will the Board function without a permanent commissioner?

The agenda for the meeting is posted online a few days before the meeting. The first session of the meeting, the full board session is online for live viewing and archived; the committee meetings are not.

In the fall the Board, after long and intense discussions sets legislative priorities; the legislature convenes in January and approves a budget by April 1; a complex, and, at times, a contentious process. A few years ago the Regents appointed a work group to explore joining the Obama national initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper, Improving Outcomes for Young Men of Color.” The legislature included funding in the budget and the program has expanded across the state.. The first session was a review of the successes  of the program (see below)

“What Success Looks Like: Key Practices of Unscreened High Schools That Have Dramatically Improved and/or Consistently Surpass the New York State Graduation Rate for Young Men of Color”  (Click here for the Report),

My Brother’s Keeper program focuses on six milestones:

Getting a Healthy Start and Entering School Ready to Learn

  • All children should have a healthy start and enter school ready – cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally. Reading at Grade Level by Third Grade
  • All children should be reading at grade level by age 8 – the age at which reading to learn becomes essential.

Graduating from High School Ready for College and Career

  • Every American child should have the option to attend postsecondary education and receive the education and training needed for quality jobs of today and tomorrow.

Completing postsecondary education or training

  • Tuition dollars spent on postsecondary education must result in successful program completion and the creation of life-long opportunity. Successfully Entering the Workforce
  • Anyone who wants a job should be able to get a job that allows them to support themselves and their families. Keeping Kids on Track and Giving Them Second Chances
  • All children should be safe from violent crime; and individuals who are confined should receive the education, training and treatment they need for a second chance.

The Regents member engaged in a vigorous discussion: Can the MBK successes be scaled up in other schools around the state?

The agenda linked to a detailed review of MBK programs across the county

At the July meeting the members began a discussion of graduation requirements, including the exit exams, the Regents Examinations, which have been around since the 1880’s.

In the new, wonderful world of twitter the tidbit of news was the Regents were considering doing away with Regents Examinations. This month the discussion greatly expanded and clarified the efforts.

Excerpts from Chancellor Rosa’s column: “The rigid system is not working for everyone, and too many students – particularly our most vulnerable students – are leaving high school without a diploma. New York and other states are grappling with graduation rates that are improving too slowly, if at all, as well as achievement gaps that reflect pernicious and pervasive opportunity gaps.”

The Regents will appoint a Blue- Ribbon Commission “that will consider whether State exit exams, as a sole measure, improve student achievement, graduation rates, and college readiness; and whether adding other measures of achievement could better serve New York’s diverse student population as indicators of what they know and if they are career and college ready. Could those additional measures of achievement include things like capstone projects, alternative assessments, or engagement in civic and community activities?”

 Over the next two years the Regents will explore:

  • Access to multiple graduation measures for all students • Real-world skills necessary for post-secondary success • New York State exit exam criteria • De-facto tracking • Consistency of rigor for student learning • Preparing all students to successfully pursue college, careers, and opportunities for community engagement and citizenship • Barriers to equity

The entire initiative will be as inclusive as possible.

The purpose of the Regional Workgroups is to gather and provide input into the Commission’s review of research, practices and policies from constituents across the state to help inform the Commission’s work to create recommendations. • In each judicial district, a Regional Workgroup will be established to include the Regent, BOCES District Superintendents, the Big 5 City School Districts and a representative from SED to gather feedback from constituents and stakeholders, which can be inclusive of: student voices; advocacy groups; research agencies; workforce representatives; and others to be identified; in that region.

 Check out the entire link, entitled “Graduation Measures in New York State” here. 

Another presentation was a deep dive into the Grades 3-8 testing results.

The members expressed frustration, the scores are virtually meaningless, although required by the feds. Regent Cashin, a former Brooklyn Superintendent, explained how an error matrix could be useful: the downside, the loss in instructional time, the late release of the scores, the inordinate cost in dollars and student stress, was frustrating. See the very detailed Power Point below:

Measuring Student Proficiency in Grades 3-8 English Language Arts and Mathematics

Another section of the meeting dealt with establishing work priorities for the year. The Regents conducted a survey of their 17 members and identified eight areas and placed the areas in a priority order. Click here for survey results and priorities.

Other committee meetings discussed the process for establishing budget priorities to present to the legislature, including revising the Foundation Aid funding formula; the Cultural Committee discussed the role of libraries in the 2020 census, and the Professions approved a number of items.

At the end of the long, long day, as the members were exiting the building they were “greeted” by over 100 Orthodox Hassidic Rabbi’s protesting the requirement that parochial schools, in this case Yeshivas that receive $100 million in state aid, provide an education comparative to public schools. In June, the Regents passed “Proposed Regulations for Substantially Equivalent Instruction for Nonpublic School Students.  As one of staffers was leaving she saw the crowd of bearded, black cloaked men and uttered, “Jesus,” I responded, “Probably not,” although, at the Last Supper …..

Pass along any comments or questions.

Is the Opposition to Phasing Out Gifted Classes Based on Research or Implied Bias?

You wake up in the middle of the night, sweating, a nightmare and you realize; only a few weeks before school opens. No matter how long you’ve been teaching as the first day approaches you get nervous;  everything has to be perfect, you increasingly think about new lessons, you worry: How will I involve the parents? How can I address the needs of all the kids? Will the principal let me do what I know is “right” for my kids?

The Tuesday after Labor Day in my school the staff filed into the lobby, a few right off the plane from trekking across Europe, or, after teaching summer school and a few weeks off, still exhausted. A pile of still warm bagels and an urn of steaming coffee, the principal knew how to buy us off.

In the auditorium, the principal began that Day One speech: introduces the new teachers, who appear to get younger every year. The principal lays out the latest ukases from the overlords; and, if the principal is experienced, after his/her words of wisdom, turns the meeting over the union leadership, and leaves.

Schools have their own cultures and the “new thing” from whomever is leading the school system rarely resonates in schools and classrooms,

This is Year Two of the tenure of Richard Carranza, a tenure dominated by announcements about equity issues. Maybe you’ve spent a few hours in an anti-baas training workshop, or discussion about choosing literature by more diverse writers, the impact of the chancellor on what happens in classrooms has been, to be polite, minimal.

It looked like a benign opening of schools.

The School Diversity Advisory Group   (SDAG) released the second of their reports and the education landscape exploded.

What does the Report actually recommend?

A summary of the Report:

Elementary Schools

▶ … the Department resource community school districts to pilot creative, equitable enrichment alternatives to G&T, resource community engagement and implementation appropriately and measure, track and publicize impacts.

▶ Discontinue the use of the Gifted & Talented admissions test. Institute a moratorium on new Gifted & Talented programs, while phasing out existing programs.

▶ Allow existing Gifted & Talented programs to continue. Programs will be phased out as students age and will not receive new incoming classes.

▶ Eliminate rigid academic tracking in elementary school that results in economic and racial segregation of students. (heterogeneous class grouping)

Middle Schools

▶ Expand and support the use of inclusionary admissions practices that promote integrated schools and ensure that all students are challenged.

▶ Eliminate the use of exclusionary admissions practices that create segregation by race, class, disability, home language, and academic ability. This includes the exclusionary use of school screens such as grades, test scores, auditions, performance in interviews, behavior, lateness, and attendance.

High Schools

▶ Institute a moratorium on the creation of new screened high schools.

▶ Implement new inclusionary admissions practices which ensure all high schools are reflective of their boroughs’ racial and socio-economic demographics.

▶ Eliminate lateness, attendance, and geographic zones as a criteria for high school admissions and enrollment.

▶ Ensure that all high school admissions criteria are transparent and designed to reduce the racial and socioeconomic isolation currently prevalent in most high schools.

Systemwide

▶ … the Department should redraft district lines to support the long-term goal of having all schools reflect the city population.

The reactions were immediate and intense, the NY Post, in an editorial entitled, “Killing Gifted and Talented Programs is deBlasio’s Next Step in the War on Excellence in Education.” continued their scathing attacks on the mayor and the chancellor.

Elected officials put a finger in the air and made comments to satisfy their constituents. Corey Johnson, the leader of the City Council and a candidate for mayor in 2021 immediately opposed ending Gifted and Talented classes, Mark Treyger, a former high school teacher, who has not announced a run for any position;  the chair of the Council Education Committee, has a more nuanced position.

“Let’s be clear: the School Diversity Advisory Group’s second set of recommendations do not seek to end enrichment programs. Instead, they call for the end of the Bloomberg-era ‘gifted and talented’ admissions model, which has been rejected by national gifted education experts and advocates. This model has failed to live up to its promise of equitable opportunities, resulted in the closure of half of all Gifted and Talented programs which disproportionately impacted communities of color, and increased segregation of all kinds in our schools,” said Council Member Mark Treyger (D-Coney Island, Bensonhurst, Gravesend)

Voices in Urban Education (VUE), in their Spring/Summer 2019 entitled  “With All Deliberate Speed”: Reimagining Integration from a Racial Equity Frame,” published a number of scholarly articles supporting integration in schools.

Think, an NBCNews online source wonders whether ending Gifted and Talented programs will lead to “white flight” from the public schools.

.Watch Errol Louis discuss the proposal with two panelists who made the recommendation, Amy Hsin of Queens College and Richard Gray of NYU Metro Center.

School opens on Tuesday, over 70,000 teachers will begin another school year.. The SDAG Report will change nothing; it’ll take months before the mayor and chancellor address the report. The mayor is still busy running for president and the chancellor’s new initiatives, announced at the Education Summit have not received any ink, or, any more advocacy by the chancellor.

I was the union representative in a district in which “gifted” classes were a constant source of contention. The district mandated a gifted class on every grade in every K-5 school and required testing for admission. I was recently reminded that at a school board meeting I suggested as an alternative to testing, perhaps a letter from a grandparent attesting to the giftedness of the child should be sufficient. Is testing kindergarten kids a valid and reliable measure of giftedness? And, how do you define giftedness?

Today there are 103 Gifted and Talent classes in grades K to 5 across the city, only one class in District 23, perhaps the poorest district in the city.

Parental class and level of education correlates closely with scores on G & T  tests. are we saying that poor kids aren’t gifted?   Or, are tests biased?

Ronald Ferguson, a highly respected scholar at Harvard reviews the research on giftedness and race and the research supports integrated classrooms and supported the correlation between class, education and supposed “giftedness.”

While research clearly supports integrated classrooms and challenges Gifted and Talented testing and programs, the public, the voting public is strongly supportive of the status quo.

Bottom line: its all about race and class.

We are far from a post-racial world; most of us live in a racially divided world, our neighborhood, our friends, our workmates mostly consisting of our race and class.

Are Gifted and Talent classes surrogates for segregation by class and race?

While parents and teachers of gifted classes, and maybe the general public, would rigorously deny any racist overtones, the reality: race permeates all policy decisions.

I suggest reading Ibram Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist,” a thoughtful and challenging exploration of race and questions we should ask ourselves, from a recent review,

“It’s a mark of the transformative and unsettling power of Ibram X Kendi’s writing that I relaxed into How to Be an Antiracist with the comforting and self-righteous knowledge that the title was not addressing me. After all I am black; I couldn’t possibly be racist, could I? By the book’s end, I wasn’t so sure.”