How Effective is Mayor Control in New York City? Has Mayoral Control Effectively Addressed Inequities and Overall Effectiveness?

New York City is a mayoral control city; the mayor appoints eight members of the fourteen members Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), each borough president appoints a member. The members may be removed at any time by the appointing auhtority, the  mayor or the borough presidents. The PEP technically hires a chancellor; actually the mayor hires the chancellor and sets education policy for the city. The current mayoral control law sunsets June 30, 2022; however, the NYS Assembly Education Committee has scheduled a series of hearings to assess the law. The announcement below:

 In 2019, the legislature extended the provisions of mayoral control for three years, until June 30, 2022, and included provisions to increase parental involvement on the Panel for Education Policy and Community District Education Council. This hearing will be the first in a series of hearings and other informational forums throughout the City of New York to assess the effectiveness of mayoral control of the New York City School District and hear from stakeholders on the ways to address the inequities in our schools and improve student performance. 

The purpose of this hearing is to comprehensively examine the overall effectiveness of mayoral control of the New York City School District and to identify issues pertaining to school governance in New York City. This will allow the Committee to focus subsequent hearings on specific topics in order to examine possible reforms to mayoral control.

The following is my testimony:

Hearing: Governance of the New York City School District

December 16, 2019

TO: Assembly Education Committee Chair Benedetto and Members

FROM: Peter Goodman

Ed in the Apple blog

The 14,000 school districts across the nation are governed by elected, lay school boards. In 1970 New York City moved to a decentralized school system – 32 quasi-independent elected school boards and a central board, one member selected by each borough president and two by the mayor.

In a few of the decentralized districts the system thrived, in too many the system was fraught with petty politics if not outright corruption.

In 2002 the newly elected mayor, Michael Bloomberg, with wide support, including the teacher union, asked the legislature to move to a mayoral control system. A 13-member central board (Panel for Education Policy); the PEP members serve at the whim of the mayor and borough presidents and can be discharged at any time.

The elected school boards were replaced by Community Education Councils made up of parent activists with little authority, aside from zoning.

Mayors have fired and replaced PEP members whose vote discomforted the mayor.

Some large cities have moved to mayoral control: Boston, Yonkers, Cleveland, Chicago, and others, for example Los Angeles has elected school boards. In the past year teacher strikes occurred in Chicago and Los Angeles, an elected school board city and a mayoral control city. Many millions of dollars were expended, most by deep-pocketed supporters in the Los Angeles school board election.

I am a supporter of mayoral control, with changes.

The arrow of accountability should point to the mayor.

In Federalist Paper # 51 James Madison wrote,

… the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

 The current mayoral control system in New York City gives the mayor unbridled power; if you don’t like a decision: vote against the mayor at the next election.

In February the Assembly will post vacant and expired term positions for the Board of Regents. Anyone can apply, all applicants are interviewed at public, live-streamed sessions and the legislature will select Board of Regents members to serve five year terms.

They can’t be removed at the whim of the legislature.

The legislature has done an outstanding job; the Regents members selected are passionate and dedicated advocates for the children and parents of the state of New York.

The New York City PEP members are totally unknown and simply rubberstamp the decisions of the mayor and chancellor.

I suggest that the law be amended so that the members of the PEP serve fixed terms, and can only be removed for cause. If the members can be removed at anytime; why is a board necessary?  Might as well abolish the PEP and make the Department of Education a mayoral department as are the other departments in the city.

Appoint the “best and the brightest” and give them the authority speak in a forthright manner, not mirror the whims of the appointing authority.

Constructive criticism in a transparent environment results in better decisions.

I suggest another change: the mayor and borough presidents appoint members, the other governmental authority, the City Council, has no role. The Council approves the budget and the City Charter gives the Council oversight, meaning holding public hearings.

I suggest that the City Council be granted the authority to appoint one member to the PEP.

 The mayor will still appoint a majority of the PEP members.

 The Council, through a member on the PEP will have a role in policy formation.

The current PEP meetings are poorly attended; more staff members than average citizens in the audience. The meetings are desultory with the outcomes pre-determined. Occasionally a borough president appointee will raise a question. There is no reason to ever attend a meeting.

The Regents meetings are vibrant, commonly over 100 attendees; the board members discuss and debate policies impacting students across the state.

Decisions are sent out for public comment, on major issues the board appoints Work Groups made up of stakeholders across the state.

Even the crucial role of selecting principals minimizes the role of parents. Under the previous regulations parent committees reviewed all resumes, selected candidates to be interviewed, in conjunction with the superintendent interviewed candidates and made recommendations to the superintendent who made the final selection. The current process gives the superintendent the authority to choose who is interviewed. The role of parents is minimized.

Parents are not to be feared, increasing participation of parents in the process will not diminish the authority of the mayor, and while the process may be at times contentious the ultimate decisions will be far better and more widely accepted.

Sunlight warms the heart.

Comments welcome ….

Governor Cuomo versus the Children, Parents and Teachers of the State of New York: Will the Funding Formula Inequities Be Addressed?

A couple of months ago I signed up to testify before the hearings on Foundation Aid, the New York State share of education funding; on Tuesday I trekked to 250 Broadway to listen and testify before the committee.

My testimony:

The Senate Education Committee, under the leadership of Shelly Mayer, has held roundtables and hearings around the state; Tuesday’s hearing was the last of the series.

The legislature convenes in January and the governor gives his State of the State speech on January 8th and will probably lay out his budget priorities.

The state is facing a 5 billion dollar budget gap, the largest in a decade,  due to sharply increasing Medicaid costs, only California spends more on Medicaid.

Now we get into the weeds; the governor has wide discretion in setting the budget; if you’re interested, and I hope you, are check out Silver v Pataki, a NYS Court of Appeals decision that sustained the governor’s right to set state budgets. Over the last few years the governor has set a 2% limit on increases in the state budget in addition to capping local school district budgets to 2% increases; school budgets are set by elected school boards and voted on in May (except in the Big Five – NYC, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers).

If the governor has the final word on the total amount of the state budget why is the State Senate holding hearings?

There are three sources of state education funding: property taxes, federal Title 1 and Foundation Aid; the range in property taxes varies widely, extremely widely. New York State leads the nation in disparity of funding. Foundation Aid, the state share, is supposed to equalize the disparity in property taxes. It fails to do so, not even close, the disparity in funding is disgraceful.

In the 90’s, the Campaign for Fiscal (CFE) sued the state over the Foundation Aid formula, after years of litigation the Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state sustained the decision of the lower court, the funding formula was inequitable.

The funding formula, Foundation Aid, was to be amended to meet the educational needs of children in the appellant’s districts.

Then came the Great Recession ….

The state struggled to meet expenditures as the nation struggled, slowly, the nation and the state recovered.  As advocates argued that the state “owed” the litigants dollars under the CFE court decision the “governor called a years-old lawsuit and the state’s school funding formula ‘ghosts of the past and distractions from the present’”

Michael Rubell, the lead attorney in the original CFE lawsuit has filed another challenge to the state, the case will be heard before the trial court during the upcoming sessions (Read a summary of the arguments here).

Something has changed!

The 2018 election resulted Democrats seizing the Senate, not by a few votes, they now control almost 2/3 of the Senate. The new members won in Democrat primaries as well as defeating Republicans in the November elections. A combination of outspoken “old-timers,” (John Liu, Robert Jackson), young dynamic leaders (Alesandra Biaggi, Julia Salazar Brian Benjamin, Zellnor Myrie) as well as a committee chair who understands the “politics” of the legislature: a new coaliton.

I suspect the newer members will be aggressive within their caucus and aggressive in their dealings with the governor; a governor who at times sounds like the president.

The governor can simply ignore the pleas to reform education funding across the state, continue to claim the CFE decision is a dead issue, is a “ghost of the past.”

Or, he can accept the detailed plan submitted to the Education Committee by Michael Rubell to establish a process to revise school funding, or, follow the path of Maryland, called the Kirwan Commission which created an entirely new method of funding Maryland schools, or, follow the Indiana pathway; a new path to fund states that required a constitutional amendment.

I suspect there will be many new candidates running in June primaries against incumbent senior Democrats as well as in November running against established Republican candidates.

This will be an interesting legislative session.

Should the American Federation of Teachers Endorse a Candidate in the Democratic Primaries? If so, Who Should They Endorse?

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has done an excellent job in engaging democratic candidates in discussions with teachers. At the 2018 AFT Convention Warren, Klobuchar, Sanders and Biden spoke, all gave passionate pro-public education, pro-teacher, pro-union speeches. Most of the candidates have attended AFT-sponsored town halls, live-streamed, a back and forth conversation with classroom, union-activist teachers; on December 10th, in Pittsburgh, the AFT will host a forum among the leading candidates.

Chalkbeat has collected the education policies for each of the candidates here.

The AFT is in no hurry to endorse a candidate and clearly wants as much membership involvement as possible. A few local AFT unions have already made endorsements, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) and Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) endorsed Bernie Sanders, the largest local, the United Federation of Teachers, in New York City is moving much more slowly.

The current national polls are swinging widely.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s support among Democratic primary voters nationwide plunged 50 percent over the past month, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll, signaling that the shake-ups in the primary field are far from over.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has retaken the lead in the poll after an autumn that saw him surrender his solid frontrunner status, climbing 3 points to earn 24 percent in the poll. Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., surged into second, rising 6 points to 16 percent, with Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders not far behind at 14 and 13 percent, respectively.

Buttigieg, aka, Mayor Pete, while surging in the polls has no Afro-American support and a searing article in The, a widely read online website on Afro-American entertainment and politics  (“pete-buttigieg-is-a-lying-mf”) is sharply critical. Can a candidate win without widespread Afro-American support?

The key date, three months away, is March 3rd, Super Tuesday, fourteen states will elected 40% of delegates, that’s right, 40% of the delegates who will select the candidate at the Democratic National Convention (July 13-16). The two states with the largest number of delegates, California and Texas, will elect delegates on Super Tuesday.

Rules on who can vote are set at the state level, New York State is a “closed” primary state, you must be a registered Democrat to vote in the April 28th primary (you can change registration until February 14th), some other states are “open” primary states, any registered voter, Republican, Democrat or not registered in any party can vote in the Democratic or Republican primaries; these are referred to as “cross-over” states.

The addition of Bloomberg and his thirty-five million dollars may, or may not impact the race. Will Texans be attracted to the 78-year old anti-gun, environmentalist former New York City mayor?  My Texan friends tell me the real motto of Texas should be “God, Guns and Sports,” not exactly topics on which Bloomberg has any interest.

Politico  speculates on Bloomberg’s plan to win in the delegate-rich states by attracting “Never Trump” Republicans who will “cross-over” to vote for Bloomberg along with right-center-Democrats and/or Biden supporters.  Bloomberg is currently polling at 3% and will not be in the December debates or campagning in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina, the primaires before Super Tuesday.

Tom Steyer, the other billionaire in the race has plastered his commercials across the screen. Steyer argues, as do the right wing “populists” across Europe, that democracy is broken and what the county needs is an outsider, ignoring the other two branches of government; although Steyer argues he’s a progressive, he has the same disrespect for democratic institutions as Trump and “populists” in Hungary, Poland, Italy and Germany.

Bloomberg is in the Steyer mold, moving from Democrat to Republican to Democrat using his enormous fortune to win elections.

Teachers are divided between Biden, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg factions; the only agreement is a distinct dislike of Bloomberg, perhaps dislike is too mild a term!

Teachers are working on the ground in all the campaigns, in my view, why alienate members who are committed to candidates who have pro-education, pro-teacher and pro-union platforms by selecting one at this point?

In New York City the union is forming political action teams across the city, with training sessions. Five elections coming up over the next year and a half: presidential primary (April 28), state primary elections for the Senate and the Assembly (late June), the November presidential, City Council and City-Wide primaries in June, 2021 and City Council and City-Wide offices in November 2021.

With well over 100,000 members in New York City the teacher union is a significant force in any election. Endorsement decisions must be bottom-up, representing the views of members who are anxious to go door to door. In the special election to fill the office of public advocate all the candidates were invited to meet with union members. I asked the “charter school” questions to the candidates, I think eight candidates. We ended up by endorsing no one; all the candidates were supportive of our issues. A few months later the union interviewed for an open seat on the City Council and choose an outsider who simply was the most knowledgeable about education issues: she won!!

Who am I supporting? Is it too late for Michelle Obama to get involved in the race?

Can Bloomberg Win the Democratic Nomination for President? Can Bloomberg Defeat Trump?

The three-term former mayor of, Michael Bloomberg, has announced his candidacy for the Democratic candidate for the presidency.

My “Never-Trumper” Republican friends love Bloomberg and despise Trump; they are also registered Republicans and would have to register as Democrats to vote in the April 28th NYS presidential primary. (February, 14th deadline).

The Iowa caucus on February 4th, New Hampshire a week later and South Carolina a week later and the March 3rd Super Tuesday (primaries in 14 states): can $30 million of his own money thrust Bloomberg into contention?

Bloomberg was elected mayor in New York City in the shadow of the 9/11 attacks?  Where will his voters come from?  Will Biden or Warren or Bernie voters move to Bloomberg? In cross-over states  states in which primary voters do not have to belong to party he may attract “Never-Trump” Republican voters.

Will disaffected Republicans vote for the economically conservative, socially liberal Bloomberg in November?  Would he be the strongest Democratic candidate against Trump?

His oringinal win in New York was both driven by his own dollars and the highly unusual conditions of the election.

As Democrats outnumbered Republicans by a five-to-one margin in the city, it was widely believed that a Democrat would succeed him in City Hall. Businessman Michael Bloomberg, a lifelong Democrat, changed his party affiliation and ran as a Republican. Mark J. Green narrowly defeated Fernando Ferrer in the Democratic primary, surviving a negative contest that divided the party and consumed the vast majority of the Green campaign’s financial resources. After a campaign that was largely overshadowed by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Bloomberg won the general election with 50.3% of the vote to Green’s 47.9%.

 Bloomberg’s three terms as mayor (12 years) are highly controversial.

Bloomberg was an aggressive defender of “stop and frisk,” over 700,000 victims, almost all men of color. Many of my friends, simply walking down a street were targeted, pushed up against a wall and frisked, aka, patted down for weapons. Murder rates were declining, felony arrests were declining and Bloomberg defended his policies, it was a safer city and safer for the millions of tourists flocking into the city. His successor, Bill de Blasio, abandoned stop and frisk; murder and felony arrests not only continued to decline, they declined at a faster rate.

Not surprisingly Bloomberg preceded his candidacy announcement by a “mea culpa,” an apology. The hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who were targeted are not forgiving.

One of his first actions after his election was to race to Albany and ask the legislature to end decentralization, the community control education initiative; elected school boards in the 32 districts across the city. Bloomberg the teacher union and education advocates supported ending decentralization and moving to a mayoral control system. School boards under decentralization hired the superintendent, principals and assistant principals, controlled budgets and curriculum. The system proved, beyond a doubt, that venality and corruption know no racial, ethnic and religious bounds, the system was deeply corrupt. School board elections were controlled by electeds and patronage was the rule.

School Colors, a popular podcast, romanticizes the role of the community and the school board in one of the districts; in reality, school board members were removed by the central board, superintendents came and went, jobs were handed out to supporters and the level of education suffered; a glaring example of child abuse. Decentralization lasted for over thirty years because the lawmakers benefited.

The mayor made education a priority, he promised substantial gains.

Bloomberg selected Joel Klein, an attorney, a litigator who had no connection with education as the leader of the school system. In his first two terms Bloomberg negotiated teacher contracts that increased salary over 40%, the union agreed to a longer school day and abandoned the seniority teacher transfer plan replaced by an open market system, teachers could move from school to school each year if a principal wished to hire a teacher away from another school.

Klein, in the meantime moved from one major organizational change to anther; it was confusing and disruptive. Bloomberg’s relationship with the union became increasingly frayed, over 100 schools closed and excess teachers placed in a “pool,” under the law they could not be discharged.  Bloomberg was a strong supporter of charter schools and Klein, his superintendent, who perhaps had his own political ambitions confronted the union on issue after issue.

Bloomberg’s popularity declined,

In City Journal  , the publication of the conservative Manhattan Institute, Sol Stern wrote “Education advice for the next mayor,” (2013),

New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

At the end of Bloomberg’s third term the education system was in chaos, Bloomberg had replaced Klein with a wealthy friend who lasted a few months and finally with a well-meaning advocate with no educational leadership experience.

Other New Yorkers are favorable, upgraded parks, bike lanes, a thriving economy, a professionalized bureaucracy, with exception of schools, he was an efficient manager.

In the last six years, the years since he left office he has been a strong supporter of gun control and other progressive causes. The announcement is his candidacy is not a surprise.

Do we need another old, rich white guy?

Tom Steyer is worth $37 billion, according to his constant TV commercials, I never heard of him and he is polling in the low, very low single digits.

Bloomberg is another bored billionaire who intends to pump $30 million into his campaign.

He is aiming at March 3rd, Super Tuesday, primaries in fourteen states.

The NYS primary is April 28th, the nomination will probably still be far from resolved; is there a path for Bloomberg?

And, who knows, with impeachment sucking up the air, a House vote and on to the Republican controlled Senate the candidates may be pushed off the front pages and off the cable networks.

If Rudi is indicted, who knows?

Maybe Bloomberg will shine?

While New York City teachers abhor Bloomberg, are voters looking for a middle of the road candidate with credentials? Are the major democratic contenders moving too far to the left for most democratic voters?  If Biden continues to stumble will Biden democrats move to Bloomberg?

John Lindsay was a progressive, liberal Republican who was elected New York City mayor in 1965, the country was burning, riots in Detroit, Los Angeles and Newark; was New York City next?

Lindsay decided to use the 1968 teacher strike to weaken or destroy the rapidly empowering union. Who knew the strike would last two months and who knew the strike would strengthen not weaken the union. In 1972 Lindsay began his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination; I still have my “Lindsay Must Go” pin. Lindsay was soundly defeated in the Florida primary and never forgave the union. A few decades later a labor archive interviewed union leaders and city officials; the only person who refused to be interviewed was John Lindsay.

Can Bloomberg overcome teacher opposition, or, will the Lindsay-effect sink Bloomberg?

Can teachers overcome their own antipathy and support, let’s say, a Mike Bloomberg/Stacy Abrams presidential ticket?

Politics make for odd bedfellows, and visa versa.

School Integration is More Than Counting Kids by Race …

The 14th Amendment, on its face, appears to remove all barriers to equality under the law for all Americans, emphasize all.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

 For almost a hundred years the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Afro-Americans were abrogated at the highest levels. Supreme Court decision after decision shredded the guarantees of the 14th Amendment (See Lawrence Goldstone, Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 2011). In Plessy v Ferguson (1896) the court held,

“The object of the [14th] Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.”

 For decades as established by the stare decsis, (precedent), “separate but equal” was the law of the land.

Finally, in 1954 the Court reversed Plessy in a unanimous decision,

We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

 The first wave of school integration in New York City began in the early sixties, in a roiling decade; a growing civil rights movement, opposition to the war in Vietnam, a nascent teacher union movement and a Board of Education that began school integration initiatives, a school busing program primarily in the borough of Queens.

Parents and Taxpayers (PAT), a community organization, 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 Afro-American neighborhoods were 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 previous blog posts  here and here.

Over the ensuing half century the population of New York City became increasingly residents of color: Latinx, Afro-American and Asian.  Today the school system is fifteen percent white. Some neighborhoods became integrated, others became hyper-segregated.

Norm Fruchter and Chistina Mokhtar, “NYC School Segregation Then and Now: plus ca change …”  produced a well-researched deep drive into race in New York City schools, and, pulls no punches

… the central administration’s worst failure, in our view, was its refusal to intervene to improve school performance in hyper-segregated community school districts that consistently produced dismal student outcomes. From 1970 to 2002, the operative years of decentralization, only two of the eight chancellors who served for more than two years intervened to try to improve disastrous district-level academic outcomes, particularly in the hyper-segregated districts in which performance outcomes were often dismal. Although the central administrations were fully aware of the extent of incompetence, political corruption and inept instructional practices in those districts, only two chancellors mounted efforts to improve their consistent educational failure.

 I urge you to read the Fruchter-Mokhtar research.

District 15 (Brownstone Brooklyn), after many months of discussion, occasionally sharply differing opinions, approved a middle school blind choice integration plan that was implemented in September, with kudos and back-slapping.; as I’ve written, it is far too early to claim success.

What has not been written is how the cultures of the schools are adjusting to the new integrated student body.

In December, 1973, a “successfully integrated school,” James Madison High School erupted; a “good school to integrate” was a ticking time bomb. The NYC Commission on Human Rights conducted an analysis of school conditions and made a host of recommendations and the New York Times wrote a lengthy article that should be required  reading by the Department of Education and integration activists (“A Good School to Integrate.”)

Classes were segregated by perceived academic abilities, the student cafeteria, black tables and white tables, the cheerleaders all white, the boosters all black: two schools walking side by side, ignoring each other, one privileged and other disrespected. The NYC Human Right Commission Report hit hard, the Board, the principal and the senior staff rejected the recommendations within the Report. In the ten years since Madison was integrated White parents sought out other schools, Madison lost about a third of their enrollment.

Slowly, very slowly, with a changing of the guard in the school Madison recovered and once again is a desirable neighborhood school.

I fear that electieds and advocates will applaud and move on and the Madison experience will be replicated.

School integration is a process, it is far more than counting races by race.


Do NYS Graduation Measures Adequately Prepare Students for Career and/or College?

We all know that the primary purpose of high school is to keep teenagers and parents apart to reduce patricide, matricide and infanticide, that being said …

Over the past month I have blogged a number of times over the current year-long process to review graduate measures, commonly known as high school graduation requirements.

The elephant in the room, the topic that will not be discussed is equity.

Educational funding in New York State is dramatically inequitable,

Despite New York’s equalizing State aid system, there remain tremendous disparities between New York State school districts in fiscal resources available to support education. In 2015-16, approved operating expenditure per pupil ranged from $11,072 for the district at the 10th percentile to $21,135 for the district at the 90th percentile, a 91 percent difference.

 In a class of thirty students the difference between the 10th percentile and the 90th percentile of $300,000 per class!

This deeply corrupt system is embedded in state law. Most funding comes from property taxes (local budgets in the Big Five cities), the differences across the state, as described above, are enormous. The Foundation Aid formula is supposed, to the extent possible, move towards equalizing funding. The completely indecipherable formula contains a “save harmless” guarantee; no district can receive less funding, regardless of changes in enrollment. There are other “formulas” that make sure that the most political powerful sections of the state retain funding. Whatever the result of the graduation measures and final determination by the Board of Regents the dollars will continue to flow through the deeply flawed legislation.

State Senator Shelly Mayer, the chair of the Education Committee, is holding hearings on the Foundation Aid formula across the state. I will be testifying at the December 3rd hearing (I’ll post my testimony)

We frequently see the term, “college and career ready,” the word “career” is simply an add-on.

In an introduction to a new book Marc Tucker writes, “The issue of whether we have a vocational education system worth having is an existential issue. If we don’t solve it, we will have a very large proportion our young adult population either without jobs or with jobs that pay next to nothing or all of the above.”

The book, “Vocational Education and Training for a Global Economy: Lessons from Four Countries In-Depth Case Studies Show Different Approaches to Preparing Young People for an Increasingly Complex Economy.”  explores vocational education in four nations We divide academic, and what we call “career and technical education,” aka vocational education in two discrete types of education, one for the elite and the other for the non-academic. The report abjures,

A first-rate primary and secondary education system that provides a strong academic foundation for all students, whether they want to pursue a primarily academic education or a more applied form of technical education;

A forward-looking, constantly adapting, skills standards system that assures employers that prospective employees have the knowledge and skills they are looking for, focuses the curriculum offered by education and training organizations on that knowledge and gives students of all ages confidence that, if they invest in the knowledge and skills on offer, they will be rewarded in the labor market by the employers;

 Work-based learning that provides opportunities for students to acquire strong, transferrable technical and social skills of the kind spelled out in the skills standards in places that are like those in which they are seeking employment

 While vocational education (CTE) in New York State and the rest of the nation is a lesser alternative to college tracks; in e rest of the world it is an equal pathway. In many of the European Union (EU) nations 50% of students are in what the European call Vocational Education Training (VET), (See detailed report).  A crucial part of the EU VET programs are apprenticeships,  in place by EU regulation and agreements with major employers. Schools in our states and nation scramble to find apprenticeships.

At the community college level completion rates are appalling,

… the National Center for Education Statistics shows that only 13 percent of community college students graduate in two years. Within three years, approximately 22 percent of students graduate, and within four years, the rate stands at 28 percent.

 Are secondary schools adequately preparing students?  Why is it necessary for students entering community colleges to take non-credit class in English, Mathematics and Writing?  Or, are life circumstances for students in poverty so crushing that continuing in school is not an option.

… life circumstances for these demographics, including financial constraints, transportation and child care needs, can hinder goals to finish the educational process and obtain a degree in a traditional timeframe. Therefore, many of the students who show up in reports as “dropouts” did not leave school because they wanted to; rather, they were compelled to by some uncontrollable life event

On the brighter side the CUNY ASAP program is innovative and targeted to the needs of students,

CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) helps students earn associate degrees within three years by providing a range of financial, academic, and personal supports including comprehensive and personalized advisement, career counseling, tutoring, waivers for tuition and mandatory fees, MTA MetroCards, and additional financial assistance to defray the cost of textbooks.

ASAP also offers special class scheduling options to ensure that ASAP students get the classes they need, are in classes with other ASAP students, and attend classes in convenient blocks of time to accommodate their work schedules. As students approach graduation, they receive special supports to help them transfer to 4-year colleges or transition into the workforce, depending on their goals.

 The ASAP program has been closely followed with external evaluations.

  • There are large and significant differences between ASAP and comparison group students in terms of retention, movement through developmental course work, credit accumulation, and graduation rates. ASAP’s current cross-cohort three-year graduation rate is 53% vs. 23% for comparison group students.
  • Students who start ASAP with developmental needs also graduate at high rates: After three years, 48% of ASAP students with developmental needs graduated vs. 21% of comparison group students with developmental needs.
  • Students from underrepresented groups appear to see even greater benefits from ASAP than other students.
  • Most importantly, ASAP students graduate at more than double the rates of non-ASAP students.

 Are the core questions graduation rates and continuing Regents Exams, or should it include the structure of secondary schools and the supports available to students?

The New York State six-year graduation rate is 84.4% and has continued to edge upward; however the increasing graduation rates should not be the goal of the graduation measures year-long process. Are we pushing kids out of high schools, with diplomas, who are not prepared for college or work?

The graduation measure exploration is an opportunity to take a dive, let’s hope there’s water in the pool.

Do Students in the Big Five, Rural Schools and Low-Wealth Districts Receive the Same Rigorous, Robust, Well-Balanced, Coherent Curriculum as Students in High-Wealth Districts?

Every month I sit in the audience at the NYS Board of Regents meetings, listen to the discussion/debate over a wide range of issues and tweet  – you can follow me @edintheapple.

The major topic on every agenda will be Graduation Measures, a wide ranging discussion of graduation requirements including the exit exams: the Regents examinations.

See the Graduation Measures website here.

Some of my twitter repliers were cynical, “…there already is a plan,” “Gates is manipulating the process,” and like. I tweeted back that reaching consensus among the members of the Regents (BOR) is akin to herding cats; no disrespect to cats or the members. The BOR members, thirteen representing geographic sections of the state (judicial districts) and four at-large are an fiercely independent group. They are unpaid and unstaffed, and, are expected to attend meetings and visit schools across their region.

Although they are selected in a political process, they are “elected” for five year terms by a joint meeting of both house of the state legislature, in reality by the Democratic majority. While there is no statutory or regulatory process at the end of a five year term or if a member leaves the positions are posted and anyone can apply. All applicants are interviewed in Albany at open meetings by the chairs of the education committees and other members who choose to attend. In the Westchester/Rockland district the legislators have held public interviews in their region, in others consultations with stakeholders. While Speaker Silver selected BOR members without any scrutiny Speaker Heastie has followed the opinions of local legislators.

Five of the BOR members have served as superintendents (Cashin, Chin, Rosa Young, Ouderkirk), Susan Mittler was a teacher union president, Dr. Collins a nurse, Dr. Cottrell a medical doctor, Nan Mead a parent activist, Andrew Brown an attorney, they all are vigorous representatives of their geographic regions.

Whether the massive investment of time and resources is worth the effort only time will tell. A decade ago the BOR spent months hosting forums around the state addressing the same topic. Commissioner John King proposed a range of changes in graduation requirements, the BOR was divided and only a few of the recommendations became policy.

I have written about this topic in detail, here and  here.

To assist in the effort the SED/BOR will partner with Achieve, a not-for-profit that recently published a report   compiling the graduation requirements in all fifty states, additionally SED/BOR received a 100K grant from the Gates foundation to hire part time research associates – there will be thousands of comments and hundreds of research tomes to comb.

Achieve has strong, research-based opinions,

 For students to truly graduate ready for college and careers, however, they need to complete a rigorous, robust and well-rounded curriculum that exposes them to a wide range of academic and technical knowledge and skills to ensure all doors are left open for them when they leave high school.

 The words they use are replicated in study after study, “… a rigorous, robust and well-rounded curriculum,” does New York State offer such a curriculum?

The question of whether or not the state continues to utilize regents as an exit exam should not be at the core of this investigation.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) every state must conduct high school tests in English and Mathematics. states use the SAT, ACT, Smarter Balance or PARRC. If New York State totally abandoned the regents they would have to move to one of the exams supra.  For example, we could be substituting the SAT for the regents.

Eleven states utilize exit exams; however, 26 states use End-of-Course tests (EoC).

New York State could retain regents and us them as End-of-Course tests, not exit exams.

A recent Fordham Institute study explored the use of End-of-Course tests, and reported,

*  EOCs have been most widely used in math and science courses, but their use in English courses has risen fastest in the past decade.

 *  Most states use EOCs for a mix of school and student accountability.

 *  Unlike exit exams, EOCs are generally positively correlated with high school graduation rates.

The study goes on to recommend,

  1. Embrace EOCs to leverage the potential benefits associated with external assessments without encountering the concerns raised about exit exams.
  2. Consider building high school accountability systems around EOCs, given the suggestive evidence that they can help improve student outcomes.
  3. Use EOCs to encourage students to put more effort into their own studies, perhaps by linking them to graduation or including them in course grades or on report cards.

Whether or not we require exit exams or move to end-of-courses or the SAT is not the issue, the issue is whether we are providing  “… a rigorous, robust and well-rounded curriculum,” that is aligned throughout the system, that is currently not the case.  EdReports  tells us that,

… unless all students are able to engage with quality materials, we will continue to perpetuate opportunity gaps and create barriers for kids to experience life-changing learning that could help them thrive in school and beyond.”

 In a searingly honest appraisal David Steiner paints a picture of an incoherent array of efforts from schools of education to school districts to states, he asks,

In what school of education are teachers prepared to teach powerful and demanding works of literature to students who are two or three grade levels below the level required to make real sense of those texts? (I know of none, but would like to be mistaken.) Is there a high-quality ELA curriculum that includes materials for teachers whose students are below grade level? In how many districts are principal evaluation tools supplemented by curriculum-specific rubrics? Beyond the quizzes and curriculum-embedded assessments, how many standalone interim assessments actually measure students’ knowledge of what their curriculum asks them to read? How many summative assessments do the same? Where can we find RTI models that are integrated with specific curriculum?

At the BOR November meeting one session, entitled, “What Success Looks Like,” the superintendent from a district that surpassed the overall NYS graduation rate with a rate of over 80 percent for young men of color reported on why the district acheivement was far above other districts with similar demographics,

Extensive opportunities/early access – AP courses, college credit, Career Pathways: engineering, bio-med, business and communications, the arts… • Students report “classes are hard” and “teachers are tough” within a context of a “high care” environment. Teachers go above and beyond what is required and make personal investments in students.

 Until we can assure that students in all schools, the highest poverty schools in the Big Five,  rural schools and high wealth schools. offer the same high quality rigorous, robust and well-rounded curriculum the Graduation Measures efforts will be fruitless.