How Can the State Education Department Increase High School Graduation Rates? (Hint: Listen to and Support Teachers and School Leaders)

The single metric that gets commissioners/superintendents/governors/mayor hired and fired are high school graduation rates. We used to say the grades 3-8 test scores; however, the opt out movement has cast so much doubt on the test scores that the single metric is graduation rates.

The most recent release of graduation rates show incremental progress.

The overall graduation rate for the 2011 cohort increased to 78.1 percent, up 1.7 percentage points.

A cohort is defined as all students entering a school in the 9th grade – students remain in the cohort unless they transfer to another school – the 2011 cohort graduated in 2015. Unfortunately students drop out of school before they graduate degrading the graduation rate

… nearly seven percent of students in the 2011 cohort—about 14,590 students—dropped out of high school. Of those who dropped out, 62 percent were Black or Hispanic; 64 percent came from economically disadvantaged homes; and 58 percent were male.

No surprise.

The state does not appear to have conducted any exit interviews – why are students failing to graduate?  Are they going to work?  Child care?  Or, moving elsewhere and the school fails to identify whether the student registered in a new school. Do Students with Disabilities (SWD) drop out of school due to frustration over the inability to pass courses and regent examinations? We simply don’t know.

The disparity between high needs and low needs, Edu speak for income inequality is staggering.

… only 68.4 percent of students from high need urban-suburban districts graduated on time in 2015, compared to more than 94 percent of students from low need districts.

The link of graduation rate to poverty-income inequality is overwhelming.

The five and six year cohort graduation rates increase the percentages by four and five percent and for ELLS much higher.

For ELLS, the five and six year graduation rates are significantly higher than the four year rate of 34 percent (cohort 2011). The five year graduation rate for ELLs is 44 percent (2010 cohort) and 50 percent (2009 cohort) respectively.

You can take a deep dive into data by school district or schools here:

The commissioner jumped to recommendations, changes in graduation requirements, in my view, without an adequate examination of the data, and, are troubling.

How many students, disaggregated by school and school district, pass all courses; however, fail to graduate because they cannot pass the five regents exams, and, which exams offer the greatest obstacle?

A crucial question and I don’t think we know.

The commissioner has made a number of suggestions to increase graduations rates.

Appeal/Re-Scoring of Failing Regents Exams

Under the current regulation, students may appeal a failing score on a Regents Exam if their score is within three points of passing (62-64) … [In certain limited circumstances]

The proposal would widen the range of scores by two points to include scores of 60 to 64, permitting students to appeal scores within five points of passing on up to two Regents Exams

Are we saying we want to assure that regents scores are accurate so we will are allowing students to appeal and re-score the exams?  From a statistical perspective among the mis-scored exams half will gain points and half will lose points – should we also re-score papers from 65-70 and reduce exams grades for paper that we mis-score and received too many points?

Maybe we should just drop the passing grade to 60 for all exams? Would raise graduation rates…

Substituting the CDOS Credential for One Regent Examination

 Department is proposing a new graduation pathway in Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS). Currently, only students with disabilities have the option to graduate with a CDOS commencement credential, which indicates that the graduate has the skills and preparation necessary for entry-level employment.

The credential was designed for students with disabilities that prevent them from earning a local diploma; students whose handicap is so severe that regents exams are inappropriate.

The requirements to earn the credential are rigorous: the student must successfully complete 216 hours of additional coursework and take part in work-based learning, demonstrate competency of the CDOS learning standards at the commencement level, and have an employability profile showing readiness for entry-level employment.

216 hours equal four additional courses.

The Department suggests creation of a CDOS pathway to graduation for all students.

These recommendations are not improving teaching and learning, they’re not doing anything inside a classroom. We are simply changing regulations to make it easier to graduate.

Why not simply change the rules and reduce the number of regents required to pass from five to four?  Perhaps require English and mathematics and any two others. Wouldn’t help students; however, would increase graduation rates.

We also know that the community college graduation rates among the poorest students is agonizingly low,

The most recent national data indicate that 13 percent of students in the lowest income quartile who started at a two-year college in 2003–04 completed an associate degree by spring 2009. An additional 9.4 percent earned a certificate, and 8.3 percent earned a bachelor’s degree.

Among students in the second lowest income quartile who started at a two-year college in 2003–04, 15.8 percent completed an associate degree by spring 2009. An additional 10.5 percent earned a certificate, and 10.8 percent earned a bachelor’s degree.

The kids who will benefit from the recommendations of the commissioner will join the staggering numbers of kids who both fail to graduate from community college and build up a ton of college debt.

What should we do?

While I disagree with Eric Nadelstern on most issues I totally agree with him on a core tenet,

Devolve responsibility, resources and authority to schools. Centralizing decision making simply lets principals and teachers off the hook for student performance.

The Internationals Network only accepts high school students with 4 years or less in the nation. The schools are public schools (fifteen in New York City) that are supported by the Internationals Network for Public Schools, a not-for-profit that has created and supported the schools. The data is startling:

4-Year NYC Graduation Rates

Public High Schools – 37%

Internationals – 65%

Six-Year Graduation Rates

Public High Schools – 50%

Internationals – 74%

Why hasn’t the State Ed Department encouraged the Internationals Network to expand into other areas in the state? What are the Internationals doing different? (Check out here:

About twenty-five years ago, Howard Friedman, a teacher at City-As-School High School started Manhattan Comprehensive Day and Night High School, “…a “one-of-a-kind public high school for non-traditional students ages seventeen to twenty-one. Students can attend either night or day classes while working full-time and attending to adult responsibilities.”  MCDNHS works with the Comprehensive Development, Inc, CDI, a not-for-profit that provides a wide range of services to students and two years beyond graduation – call it a community high school plus.

School leaders and teachers, supported by school district leaders, make the best educational decisions. State Education Departments and School Superintendents too often see themselves at the top of a paramilitary organization; while the troops may salute too little actual changes.

Commissioners and superintendents have to create fertile soil and water regularly. The sun and really dedicated and smart, people, those “in the trenches” really do have the “answers.”

Guest Blog: An Alternative to Tests for Measuring Student Growth That Can Also Facilitate Teacher Growth

(Marc Korashan is a frequent commenter on this blog. Marc instructs first and second year NYC Teaching Fellows at a local college,  taught seriously at-risk youth in public schools and worked as a teacher union organizer.)

An Alternative to Tests for Measuring Student Growth That Can Also Facilitate Teacher Growth

Ed asks a number of important questions in his column, “VAM, the Lederman Decision and the Misuse of Statistical Tools.” that have been neglected in the teacher evaluation debate. “If a particular teacher over a number of years consistently receives high scores … what is that particular teacher doing? What instructional practices is the teacher utilizing? Can these practices be isolated and taught to prospective teachers in college teacher preparation programs [or] in school and district-based professional development? Or, are these practices unique to the individual teacher?”

In almost every school there is a teacher whom every parent wants their child to have.  S/he is recognized as getting the best out of their students from year to year; creating a classroom where students thrive and making school a positive experience for her/his students.  Administrators have to fend off parent requests for their child to be assigned or transferred to that class, and that teacher is often given the opportunity to select students for next year’s class (making her/his success a self-fulfilling prophecy as s/he rarely selects the known “problem students” and those students with the least parental support at home have no one to lobby for their placement in her/his class).

The Lederman decision makes it clear that the VAM algorithms don’t work when evaluating these teachers.  The results are “arbitrary and capricious” precisely because of the instability and unreliability of individual scores and the grade level ceilings on the tests that mitigate against growth measures for students who continually excel, If, however we use these teachers as a starting point, we can begin to look for the classroom management and teaching practices that are working in that school in that community.

It is possible to talk about teaching techniques, “what that teacher is doing,” (I do this regularly in my work with first and second year NYC Teaching Fellows), but this conversation must be grounded in both research and tailored to the individual style of each teacher.  I have been privileged to work with teachers who are naturally gifted at doing the two things that any “great” teacher must be able to do; convincing each student that you care about her or him and have their best interests at heart.  If students believe that (even, and maybe especially, the seriously emotionally disturbed students that I worked with), then one can talk about how to use the techniques the research has validated.

Techniques like Functional Behavioral Analysis to understand what needs a student’s inappropriate behaviors are serving can be taught.  Developing Positive Behavioral Interventions for that student so s/he can meet those needs without being disruptive requires a teacher who really likes and wants to understand that student and can get beyond a list in a textbook of things that worked for other students to create something unique.

This is the dilemma at the heart of any discussion of “good” teaching and “measuring teacher performance.”  We teach in a system that creates groups, classes, grades, schools, but we teach individuals.  The original intent for annual student evaluations was to look at how districts and schools were using Title One funds; data was analyzed on a school and district level.  The tests were never designed, and I can argue can never be adequately designed, to reliably and validly measure individual student performance.  Nor do rubrics (that are too often turned into checklists) like Danielson’s really look at the decisions that teachers made to meet the needs of the students in front of them, in that community, in that class, on that day.

If we want to develop a system that measures student performance and growth over time or a system that looks at what teachers are contributing to student progress, then we have to do two things.  We need to invest time and effort into building “growth portfolio” practices linked to standards.  The standards define what students are expected to know and be able to do and we can set up portfolios where students submit work that demonstrates their accomplishments including a brief description of why the student thinks a given piece of work meets the standards and what the student is working on to improve her/his performance.

This kind of portfolio can be started for students in first grade and continue through their graduation from high school.  It could even be used in lieu of Regents to deem students to have achieved meaningful mastery in subjects like English, or Math.  To be both valid and reliable teachers need to have time to meet and discuss what kind of content the portfolio needs to have and to develop analytic rubrics for evaluating the quality of the content.  Rubrics have to be shared with students, preferably in lessons where they apply them to grading exemplars across a range of quality levels.  The system also has to allow for students to add to or redefine the descriptions within the rubric so that they, the students, have some real ownership in the process and their education.

The second thing that needs to happen is to support these practices with meaningful in-service professional development on the standards, at how the standards are written and whether they can be made more meaningful and transparent for students, and on how to write and rewrite rubrics that will effectively measure student growth.  Teachers will need time in their work days to meet and have these discussions and, to the extent that these practices are new, teachers will need time to learn and practice with them and schools will need to have staff developers who can facilitate this work and teach the basic skills.

This kind of process will provide better outcomes than the current reliance on standardized and norm referenced tests.  As it will take place in individual schools, the portfolios, rubrics and the entire process will reflect the needs of the communities that schools are located in.  Different communities may emphasize different skills in earlier grades, but all schools and communities will ultimately be holding students accountable for meeting the agreed upon standards, be they Common Core or Pittsburgh or some new iteration yet to be designed.  Employers will be certain that students with earned degrees will have the skills embodied in those standards.

This kind of model will make it easier to talk about the expected outcomes for students; make it possible to see how teachers are trying to get to those outcomes and allow for more discussion among teachers within a school about what is and isn’t working.

In the end teaching is a craft, a mixture of art and science that cannot be completely captured in a rubric or reduced to set of principles or a recipe.  Teaching comes, first and foremost, from the desire to reach out and connect with students, a desire to share one’s enthusiasm for a subject or love of learning, and only secondarily is it about the more mundane topics of how to manage classrooms and how to plan lessons.  Those are important skills for teachers to learn, but they must be learned by each individual teacher in ways that reflect her/his personality.  The practices are not unique, but they are effective only when students see them as a genuine reflection of the teacher’s personality and her/his concern for the students.

VAM, the Lederman Decision and the Misuse of Statistical Tools. “Gut versus Actual Evidence.”

What if the educators making important decisions about schools and colleges are acting too much on their guts and not enough based on actual evidence? (Review of Howard Wainer, “Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies,” 2011)

Back in my union rep days I occasionally represented members in interest arbitrations, claims of violations of the agreement. The Board fired a paraprofessional claiming he had assisted students; cheating thorough the erasure of incorrect answers and using expert testimony explaining how software was used to analyze the erasures. I scrambled to find my own expert. I worried that the technical evidence would be too dense; however, the arbitrator had a background in math and economics and not only understood the testimony he asked numerous questions of the expert witnesses.

A few months later: I won the case; I was ecstatic, the inappropriate use of the erasure analysis software would be barred.

While the arbitrator found the use of the software was not “persuasive;” he sustained our case writing the Board failed to reach their burden of proof. It was a victory, a narrow victory that did not resolve the question of the misuse of the software.

A couple of years ago Sheri Lederman, a teacher on Long Island received an “ineffective” rating on the Value-Added Measurement (VAM) side of the teacher evaluation metric. The appellants introduced evidence from numerous experts all challenging the use of VAM to assess individual teachers.

In a narrowly worded decision a New York State Supreme Court judge overturned the “ineffective” rating of the teacher ruling that use of Value Added Measurement for the appellant in the instant case was “arbitrary and capricious,” No precedent was set.,

Read the Lederman filing here:

Read an excellent analysis here:

In 2010 the New Teacher Project (TNTP), an advocacy organization firmly embedded in the (de)form side of the aisle issued a report – a survey of school districts across a number of states, the findings,

  • All teachers are rated good or great. Less than 1 percent of teachers receive unsatisfactory ratings, making it impossible to identify truly exceptional teachers.
  • Professional development is inadequate. Almost 3 in 4 teachers did not receive any specific feedback on improving their performance in their last evaluation.
  • Novice teachers are neglected. Low expectations for beginning teachers translate into benign neglect in the classroom and a toothless tenure process.
  • Poor performance goes unaddressed. Half of the districts studied have not dismissed a single tenured teacher for poor performance in the past five years.

Six years later New York State is working on Teacher Evaluation 4.0, and, we are in the first year of a four year moratorium on the use of grade 3-8 standardized test scores to assess teachers.

Value-Added Models also referred to as Growth Scores; attempts to compare teachers from around state teaching similar students. A dense mathematical algorithm incorporates a variety of variables and generates a numerical score for each teacher. For example, a fourth grade teacher is compared to other fourth grade teachers across the state taking into account percentages of students she teaches who are Title 1 eligible, students with IEPs, English Language Learners, by gender and perhaps other variables. The criticism is the use of the formula to assess individual teachers: the experts aver the scores are “unreliable,” large errors of measurement,  i. e., plus or minus five or ten or fifteen percent, and the scores are “unstable,” teacher scores vary widely from year to year.

The use of value-added measurements to assess individual teachers has been pilloried by experts.

The New York State Learning Summit  brought together experts from across the country – they were sharply critical of the use of VAM to assess individual teachers.

Howard Wainer, a statistician with decades of experiences and published articles has been a harsh critic of the misuse of statistical tools,

Ideas whose worth diminishes with data and thought are too frequently offered as the only way to do things. Promulgators of these ideas either did not look for data to test their ideas, or worse, actively avoided considering evidence that might discredit them.

The issue is not the mathematical model; the issue is how the model is used. If a particular teacher over a number of years consistently receives high scores it is worthwhile to ask: what is that particular teacher doing? What instructional practices is the teacher utilizing? Can these practices be isolated and taught to prospective teachers in college teacher preparation programs? In school and district-based professional development? Or, are these practices unique to the individual teacher?  Is there a “teaching gene,” an innate quality that resonates with students?

Sadly, VAM has been misused in spite of the evidence that discredits the use of the tool to assess individual teachers

Six years after the Widget Report, a report that bemoaned that only 1 percent of teachers were rated unsatisfactory, six years into the use of student achievement data using dense mathematical prestidigitation we find that 1 percent of teachers are found “ineffective.”

Millions of dollars and endless conflicts and the percentage of teachers found unsatisfactory remain at 1 percent!

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result

In New York State we are in year one of a four-year moratorium on the use of grade 3-8 student test scores to evaluate teachers.

How should management evaluate teacher competence?

“One size fits all” fits no one.

The state should explore a menu of choices to fit the many differences among the 700 school districts in the state.

Can Education Technology Narrow the Achievement Gap? A Panel at the Hunter College/John Hopkins Policy Forums

“In the early days of television, there was no shortage of predictions that the medium would have a major positive impact on student learning. Today, we find the same optimism among some education reformers with regard to such technologies as digital tablets, data crunching, personalized learning, and adaptive testing. Some research suggests that, carefully used, the application of educational technology brings real gains in student learning. Other research summaries are far more pessimistic…

Our country spends more than $10 billion on K-12 education technology. What can we say with any confidence about the promise and possibilities of such investments? Are there clear conclusions to be drawn about what, where and when the use of technology is beneficial, and for which students? What are the key challenges to be met in maximizing the potential contribution of technology to raise students’ achievement overall and to accelerate the learning of our most underprivileged students?”

From time to time the Hunter/John Hopkins Education Policy folks take deep dives into controversial education issues. The format never varies – a brief presentation by the presenter and the presenters grilled by David Steiner. Steiner is a Charlie Rose-like interviewer, pointed, probing questions who controls the interview and allows sufficient time for questions.

Julia Freeland Fisher is the lead researcher at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. Fisher argues that technology is the innovation that can disrupt the current standard pattern of education through the use of blended learning; the infusion of technology education can be personalized down to the student by student level. Fisher, a lawyer by training, writes a regular blog at the Institute. In New York City the credit recovery scandal has made us highly suspicious of “disruptive” innovations.

Jamie Stewart is the co-Head of School and Lead Educator at AltSchool in Brooklyn Heights. AltSchool is a micro school, a number of very small private schools designed for personalized learning, with tuition of about $30,000 a year.

Kevin Wenzel, Specialist, Blended Learning, District of Columbia Public Schools; the DC public schools, have 49,000 kids and 112 schools, DC leads the nation in increases in NAEP scores in the 4th grade in the TUDA results.

DC Public Schools (DCPS) students grew by eight points in 4th grade reading over the 2013 test, representing the biggest increase of any school district and the largest increase in the history of the 4th-grade reading test. DCPS students also saw a four-point increase in 4th grade math scores, no change in 8th grade reading scores, and a two-point drop in 8th grade math scores.

The growth of blended learning and rotational teams of students has been widely praised, especially by the conservative side of the educational debate.

Steiner began by asking Fisher whether she was aware of any double-blind studies supporting that technology-based instruction has better results than traditional or constructive classrooms. Fisher responded it was the wrong question – Steiner insisted, her answer: no.  Steiner asked Wenzel why the 8th scores were flat in English and declined in Math – Wenzel didn’t know.

The Q & A was fascinating.  Were the panelists aware that the revolution against testing was exploding around the nation, and, the same suspicion of technology replacing traditional instruction was also growing?  Sort of …  a weak yes…

Were the panelists aware that parents and teacher saw the move to technology as a way of replacing teachers and saving money?   Again, sort of….

Were the panelists aware that many educators saw the technology revolution as the private sector ripping off the public sector foe education dollars?  Fisher responded that innovation comes from the private sector and the public sector should be open to new technologies; avoiding the essence of the question.

The use of technology is widespread in schools across the nation; ClassDojo is an easy to use and a popular communications/classroom management tool. The net offers an endless array of lesson plans and classroom materials by grade and subject. Teachers create Facebook pages for classes, kids write blogs, the use of cyber tools are widespread.

Integrating cyber tools into the instructional fabric of a classroom is a challenge and using cyber tools to replace instructional techniques may or may not improve outcomes. The Charlotte Danielson instructional frameworks describe a “highly developed” lesson as a lesson with a deep level of classroom discussion among students, “… research in cognitive psychology has confirmed, namely, that students learn through active intellectual engagement with content.” Is tapping away on a tablet or IPad the equivalent of “active intellectual engagement”?  I think not.

Can Donald Trump Become Our Next President?

Back in October/November all the political gurus, the experts, predicted that Donald Trump would not be the Republican nominee. Nate Silver, the statistical wunderkind and the writer of the fivethirtyeight blog, rather smarmily, mused that Trump has a “less than 20%” chance of becoming the Republican nominee.

“Right now, [Trump] has 25 to 30 percent of the vote in polls among the roughly 25 percent of Americans who identify as Republican. (That’s something like 6 to 8 percent of the electorate overall, or about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked

I hate to gloat, as I talked to the folks in the street I increasingly felt that Trump support was deep, especially among those not involved in politics. Joe Six-Pack was angry – angry at everything and everyone, after all, weren’t all politicians corrupt? Remember, more than half of eligible voters do not participate regularly in elections, the traditional non-voters, to me, appeared to be leaning to the Trump column.

See my November blog:

Over the next three months leading up to the Republican convention Trump will have a clear path to unify the Republican Party. There are Republicans, the evangelicals, the loyal party insiders, Republican women who may deride the Trump candidacy and choose not to participate in November. The anti-Trump Republicans will not move to the Democratic column.  Clearly the Republican insiders have a conundrum: how do they campaign for Republicans in the Congress and State legislatures without jumping on the Trump bandwagon? And, will it matter?  Would a Trump presidential campaign have coattails, or, alienate traditional Republican voters?

On the Democratic side Bernie plans to campaign across the nation leading up to the Democratic convention; ironically as Bernie wins primaries Hillary edges closer to wrapping up the requisite number of delegates. It is possible that Bernie could win all of the remaining primaries and Hillary end up with the number necessary to guarantee nomination. In close primaries Hillary and Bernie split the delegates. The Bernie machine will continue to highlight his differences with Hillary, continue to attack Hillary’s positions and behaviors.

Hillary plus Bernie voters equal a Democratic victory in November and possibly gaining a majority in the Senate and reducing the Republican majority in the House, and, re-taking State capitals and legislatures. If any significant number of Bernie voters remain on the sidelines a Trump path to the White House would be easier.

If anti-Trump Republicans and anti-Hillary Independents and Democrats choose not to participate it would be impossible to predict the outcome.

Campaigns are usually about issues and policies; the Trump campaign has been policy-free.

Trump is the ultimate Teflon candidate.

No matter the outrageousness of his comments his popularity increases.  Trump, musing that Ted Cruz’s father cavorted with the Kennedy assassins had no negative impact, in fact, may have gained him votes. His “build a wall,” his “invade Syria,” and on and on only encourages and motivates his voters.

Virtually every “talking head,” every professional who has spent a lifetime running campaigns has been proven wrong,

As Trump rolls to victory, Cruz and Kasich have dropped out; however, the latest polling gives Clinton her largest lead over Trump since July.

The new CNN/ORC Poll, completed ahead of Trump’s victory last night, found Clinton leads 54% to 41%, a 13-point edge over the New York businessman, her largest lead since last July.

With conventions not scheduled until the end of July, and Trump and Sanders hammering Clinton her polling numbers can erode. On the other side as Clinton slowly turns from Bernie to Trump her campaign will continue to build support among women, Afro-American and Hispanic voters. For me, a key to the election are the younger Bernie voters: will they, enthusiastically or reluctantly, move to the Clinton column?  The more Bernie continues to campaign vigorously and toss barbs at Clinton the harder it will be to move his supporters to the Hillary camp. I am sure in the Democratic establishment/Hillary camp the discussion is over how to appeal to the millennials and the left-wing of the party.

The specter of the 1972 McGovern debacle haunts the Democratic Party.

Just as Trump’s rise to the Republican nomination is so incredible so is Bernie’s challenge to Clinton. Remember Sanders is a seventy-two year old independent from Vermont – not even a registered Democrat. Two years ago he was an anomaly, a quirky outsider; no important legislation bears his name, an avowed Democratic Socialist, an agnostic or atheist in a nation that views socialist with godless communism; who mobilized younger voters and the left wing of the Democratic Party.

Bernie can be remembered as the candidate that refused to acknowledge his loss, gave Clinton a lukewarm endorsement and will be blamed for a Trump victory in November, or, the key to a Clinton victory by bringing his voters to the Clinton column.  Or, neither.

The real campaign begins in August – three months of head to head – can Trump, or should Trump rebuild himself? Can he morph to a kinder, gentler, saner candidate? Or, should he?  Should Trump continue to be Trump, outrageous outbursts, seemingly insane accusations, the “loose,” unpredictable candidate so loved by his supporters?  The Republican Party is panic struck.  Trump could be trashed at the polls taking down other Republicans, or, do they jump on board and hope he has coattails.

In a policy-free election cycle education has totally disappeared. In all the presidential debates was there a single question dealing with education? In the CNN polls  referenced above the largest Clinton-Trump difference was in handling education. Of ten areas voters place education as third most important, behind the economy, terrorism and tied with health care. For voters who describe themselves as Democrats education tops the list. Among registered voters by 64% to 31% voters think Clinton would do a better job of handling education.

As the song goes, sort of, it’s a long way from May to November

Hovering at the edges of the Trump appeal are issues of race, ethnicity and gender.

Listen to Tom Lehrer:

National Brotherhood Week – precious and timely!!!

A Conundrum: How Do You Create a Teacher Evaluation Process That Satisfies Teachers, Principals, Parents, the Legislature and the Governor? (Hint: With Difficulty)

No one’s life, liberty or property is safe while the New York State Legislature is in session.” Anonymous, 19th century.

Diane Ravitch convened her third annual Network for Public Education conference in Raleigh with hundreds of teachers, parents and public school advocates.  The attendees do not represent organizations; they dug into their own pockets to meet with like-minded public education devotees from across the nation. I met a band director from Fort Worth, a second-career math teacher from Jacksonville, a literacy coach from North Carolina; we chatted and shared experiences, we all face incredible challenges and legislatures and privateers intent on eroding the public in public education.

We stood and cheered as Reverend Barber, the leader of the North Carolina NAACP, called a modern day Martin Luther King, preached and taught us – both a history lesson and a sermon.  Bob Herbert challenged us to vote, and emphasized that while coming to the polls in 2008 and 2012 elected Barack Obama, staying away from the polls allowed the Tea Party to seize control of the House, the Senate and state legislatures in 2010 and 2014. A subtle message to the Bernie voters – staying away from the polls in November could lead to a Trump presidency.

Fifty workshops allowed us to meet together in smaller groups. One theme was teacher evaluation: in school districts across the nation student test scores play a significant role in the evaluation of teachers; a Report  by the Network for Public Education is summarized,

72% of respondents also reported that the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluation had a negative impact on sharing instructional strategies.

Over 41% of black and 30% of Latino/a educators reported racial bias in evaluations.

About 84% of respondents report a significant increase in the amount of teacher time spent on evaluations.

84% of respondents said that the new evaluation system in their state had negatively changed the conversations about instruction between their supervisors and themselves.

75% of respondents stated that these new evaluation systems incorrectly label many good teachers as being ineffective.

Nearly 85% of respondents stated that these evaluation systems do not lead to high-quality professional growth for teachers.

Nearly 82% of teachers reported that test scores are a significant component of their evaluation.

Opposition to the use of student test data to rate/measure/assess teachers has united teachers from across the nation.

At the conference one of the sessions pitted Jennifer Berkshire, aka EduShyster against Peter Cunningham, the Executive Director of Education Post. Jennifer and Peter are on opposite ends of the teacher evaluation spectrum – forty-five minutes of thrust, parry and riposte – spellbinding!!

Critics pointed to research that avers teachers only account for 14% of a student’s test score, family and income account for the largest percentage, therefore, rating teachers by test scores is invalid, Cunningham responded that teachers are the crucial factor in student achievement, we cannot change a family or income, we can change teachers and highly effective teachers have significant impacts on children, as other research shows. Meeting with teachers from across the nation was invigorating; listening to the anti-teacher stories from state after state was discouraging.

A week earlier the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) annual convention took place in Rochester, Teachers from hundreds of school districts across the state met to debate and set policy for NYSUT. The state is incredibly diverse, New York City and the Big Four (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers), the high tax, high wealth suburban districts, the hundreds of rural low tax, low wealth districts, facing sharply different problems. The delegates representing the teachers within the state university system, (SUNY) and the teachers in the city university system (CUNY); CUNY teachers have not had a raise in six years.

Speeches from Karen Magee, the leader of NYSUT as well as Randi Weingarten, the AFT president and a rousing in-person speech by candidate Hillary Clinton (Watch and listen to Clinton’s speech here). The most vigorous debate: teacher evaluation. Although the state is in the first year of a four year moratorium on the use of student test scores to assess teacher performance the debate was hot and heavy.

Watch videos of convention speeches:

From the NYSUT website,

“Sending a strong message to Albany that more needs to be done to stop the harmful over-testing of students, some 2,000 delegates approved resolutions calling for a complete overhaul of the state’s grades 3–8 testing program; swift implementation of the Common Core Task Force’s recommendations; and new assessments that are created with true educator input to provide timely and accurate appraisals of student learning.”.

A few days after the NYSUT convention the UFT Delegate Assembly held its monthly meeting; a thousand or so delegates, elected in each school by staffs, meeting to listen to a report by UFT President Mulgrew and debate and set policy.  Mulgrew gives updates on the national scene: retired teachers were ringing doorbells in Pennsylvania supporting Hillary; the California Supreme Court reversed the lower court decision in the Vergara case, supporting tenure and reminded delegates that while the US Supreme Court deadlocked on the anti-union Fredericks decision attacks from the right will not end. Mulgrew criticized the use of test scores to rate teachers; however, he reminded teachers that under the Bloomberg administration principals had the sole voice in teacher assessment. In the last year of Bloomberg 2.7% of teachers received “unsatisfactory” ratings, under the current multiple measures system only 1% of teachers received “ineffective” ratings. Almost all schools in New York City use Measures of Student Learnings (MOSL), dense  algorithms that assess student growth attributed to each teacher – there are hundreds of algorithms  to account for the many different school situations. The system, that includes an appeal process, melds principal observations and MOSLs appears to work well.

At the first meeting of the Board of Regents under the leadership of new Chancellor Betty Rosa a lengthy discussion over teacher evaluation took place. Chancellor Rosa appointed Regent Johnson to chair a Work Group to link research to policy decisions.

The 700 school districts in New York State are currently negotiating teacher evaluation plans under the four year moratorium, the use of grade 3-8 test scores are prohibited.  A few members of the Board suggested asking the legislature to clarify exactly what they wanted the Regents to do in reference to teacher evaluation, others argued that the decision was given to the Regents members and it would be wrong to punt back to the legislature. Clearly, the newly constituted Board has a ways to go to reach consensus.

Even Charlotte Danielson, the doyen of teacher assessment has her doubts about the current policies across the nation,

The idea of tracking teacher accountability started with the best of intentions and a well-accepted understanding about the critical role teachers play in promoting student learning. The focus on teacher accountability has been rooted in the belief that every child deserves no less than good teaching to realize his or her potential.

But as clear, compelling, and noncontroversial as these fundamental ideas were, the assurance of great teaching for every student has proved exceedingly difficult to capture in either policy or practice…

There is also little consensus on how the profession should define “good teaching.” Many state systems require districts to evaluate teachers on the learning gains of their students. These policies have been implemented despite the objections from many in the measurement community regarding the limitations of available tests and the challenge of accurately attributing student learning to individual teachers.

I strongly urge you to read the entire Danielson essay:

There are a few schools that have created teacher assessment processes that are valuable because they both assess teaching and encourage teachers to grow in their profession. There is insightful research; unfortunately we do not know how to “scale up.”  There is no inter-rater reliability, in some districts every teacher received a “highly effective” score, which also means so did the rater. Teachers in high wealth, high achieving districts receive higher scores than teachers in low wealth lower achieving districts. (Check out research studies  from the Chicago Consortium on School Research here  and here).

Getting teacher evaluation/assessment right is exceedingly complex in a highly emotional climate.

The Regents have a challenging task.

From “Good Old Boys” to “Sisterhood,” A New Leadership Begins in Albany

The monthly meeting of the Board of Regents typically have lengthy agendas, some items are pro-forma, other subject to extended discussion. Each month a division of State Ed recommends the extension of charters, depending on the data either a full five year term or fewer years if there are problems to be remedied.. The staffers only recommended a three year extension for a few charter schools in Buffalo. Bob Bennett, at that time a Regents member for over twenty years and the former chancellor objected. He failed to acknowledge that his daughter taught in a charter school. He claimed he “knew the school” and it deserved the full five year extension. The “good old boys” huddled, changed the recommendation to five years, cast aside a few objections, and passed the full extension.

Merryl Tisch had a close relationship with the Shelly Silver, the disgraced former Speaker and the “good old boys” Regents members supported the Tisch/King initiatives. There was nothing evil or corrupt; Board members who had served together for over twenty years were collegial, very collegial.

The world of the Regents has changed, and changed dramatically. Over the past year seven new Regents members have been appointed by the new Speaker of the Assembly – six women, five of them educators, an active public school parent and a nurse.

The Regents moved from the “good old boys” club to the “sisterhood.”

On Monday Betty Rosa will assume the leadership of the Board of Regents.

Chancellor Rosa is not a naïf.

She was the superintendent in District 8, which covers Hunts Point and Soundview, one of the poorest sections in the nation. District 8 is in the Bronx and politics in the Bronx parallels politics in Afghanistan – warring families rule Bronx politics and Betty navigated the politics; excellent training for her current job.

The Chancellor of the Board of Regents cannot eliminate annual grade 3-8 testing. No matter how adamant the opt outs, the law requires annual testing. The Commissioner has already started the process to review sections of the Common Core – it will take a  year or more. Can you tweak the high school graduation requirements to jack up the graduation rate at the same time community college graduations rates are appalling?

The Chancellor has to choose a path, has to stake out her ground. She has to narrowly focus, a laser-like focus on a few areas, perhaps English language learners. The current regulations, passed only a year ago after many years of hassling behind the scenes are bureaucratic and unworkable.

Can the new Chancellor and the full Board work to further refine and implement the recommendations of the Working Group for Improving Outcomes for Young Men and Boys of Color?

The attacks will come from all sides.

The opt outs want aggressive actions to prohibit high stakes testing.

Well-funded anti-union super-PACs will continue to attack unions and tenure.

The district to district funding inequities are the “elephant in the room,” can you equalize school funding with a Robin Hood impact? Taking from the richer and giving to the poorer districts?

Hovering in the wings is the Speaker of the Assembly who selected the new Board members and the Governor, How much rope do the Regents have?  Can the new Chancellor and the Board, older and newer members, take actions that will be praised by the New York Times, parents and the unions?

The days are getting longer, daffodils bloomed, the tulips are up, warmer days; in a few weeks I’ll plant my herb garden, all of good with the world (if I avoid cable news); now our leaders in Albany have to hack through the weeds and thorns and create a path to a better world for our kids.