The Blue Wave: Will the Democratic Primary Victories Impact Education Policy in NYS?

Cuomo and Nixon slugged it out all summer, the incumbent governor with an enormous war chest filled the airways with TV slots, Nixon, with very limited dollars kept up a steady barrage, and, education policy was on a back burner. Nixon trumpeted more dollars for education, clearing up the teacher evaluation morass and clearly is not a friend of charter schools, Cuomo, silent.

Cuomo, following the polling predictions, won easily with 64% of the vote; however, the story is further down the ballot.

The progressives, the anti-party establishment, the Democratic Socialists, whatever you want to call them, rejected the incumbent Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC), winning in six races, including rejecting the IDC leader Jeff Klein who spent over 2 million dollars, an incredible sum in a state senate primary race.

Juumane Williams, a Brooklyn City Council member with a checkered past and a conservative on social policies came close in the Lieutenant-Governor race and Tish James, the Public Advocate in New York City won the four-way Attorney General race with 40% of the vote; Zephyr Teachout, who ran against Cuomo in the primary four years ago had 25% of the vote.

What this means is that Joe Crowley’s shocking loss in the June congressional primary was not a fluke. Sages clucked away blaming Crowley: he lived DC, only occasionally toured the district,  didn’t take his opponent seriously, and the race was an anomaly. The victories across the board of young, vibrant, virtually unknown candidates may be a sea change in New York State politics.

The turnout was huge.

Will the wave of young, progressive candidates and voters continue two months from now in the general election?

The national Republican Party will not pump dollars into a losing campaign and it is likely that Cuomo will roll to victory; however, will Cuomo have coattails and will other progressives defeat incumbent Republicans in state senatorial races?

The state senate majority teeters, while the Democrats currently hold a 33-32 edge one member, Simcha Felder, votes with the Republicans, giving the Republicans the edge. If the blue wave continues to roll the Democrats will seize the state senate.

Past democratic majorities in the senate led to internal mud wrestling and the last two Democratic leaders ended up in jail. Can the current dem leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, actually lead her contentious troops?  Jeff Klein will be gone, the remaining IDC leader, Diane Savino, is isolated, a new cluster of very young and very progressive dems confronting old guard dems; of course, first the dems have to prevail in November.

At the NYS AFL-CIO Endorsement Conference the unions were all over the place, some unions supporting the former IDC incumbents, others in the insurgents, a few unions supporting Republicans. The Conference endorsed Cuomo-Hochel-deNapoli-James and failed to make any endorsements in the hotly contested races, a 2/3 vote is required for endorsement.

NYSUT, the state teacher union, made no endorsement for governor.

If the dems prevail and take control of the senate charter schools will be a loser – perhaps a big loser.

The governor, at times, has been both a friend of charter schools, at other times ignored charter schools. If the blue wave rolls I believe Cuomo will join the wave. Not only will the charter school cap not be increased it is altogether likely that legislation will require further scrutiny of charter schools: much greater transparency of school finances, tightening up the regulations, namely, charter schools students, including student with disabilities and English language learners at the same level as surrounding public schools. Charter schools commonly force out low performing students before state tests, one idea is to “credit” the test score results to the charter school.

The revised teacher evaluation law that was bottled up in the senate by the Republican leader will pass.

Perhaps the legislature will increase the power of State Education to remove school boards in conflicted districts, i. e., Hempstead and East Ramapo. BTW, a very long time Assembly member in Hempstead was defeated in the primary.

The blue wave in both houses may attempt to grapple with creating alternative assessment pilots, regional Career and Technical Education (CTE) sites, additional Community Schools, expanding Universal Pre-K and 3-for-All programs across the state.

The new ESSA law does call for greater transparency in all schools in regard to the use of dollars and Cuomo has been a fan of fiscal transparency.

Will the blue wave reach into currently Republican controlled districts?  Replacing the six IDC Democrats with six progressive Democrats will be a futile gesture without also taking control of the senate.

Will the losers, Cynthia Nixon, Zephyr Teachout, campaign across the state for Democratic candidates?  Teachout is weeks away from giving birth so we’ll give her a pass.  I would love to see TV ads with Nixon and Teachout pumping up their troops, pumping up that blue wave across the state.

In 2008 and 2012 record numbers of voters raced to the polls to cast a vote for Obama, two years later, in 2010 and 2014 they stayed home and the Congress went Republican. The job is never done, the primaries were a first step; the “real” election is in November.

Why Isn’t NYS Exploring Alternatives to Standardized Testing? And, Why Has It Taken Five Months to Release the Scores?

[Revised: According to reporters State Ed says the release of the scores is slated for “later in September”]

On Monday the members of the New York State Board of Regents will convene for the September meeting in Albany and I expect we we’ll see the rollout of the state grades 3-8 standardized test scores: a weighty slide deck, a presser and a contentious conversation.

It’s been five months since the exams: why has it taken five months to grade the exams?

Susan Edelman in the NY Post speculates,

The state Education Department has delivered the 2018 student test scores to schools — but demanded the results remain top secret until late September.

Critics call the stalling manipulative and political, noting that the delayed release will come after Thursday’s Democratic primary pitting Gov. Andrew Cuomo vs. Cynthia Nixon.

The state could also be tinkering with the “cut scores” — where to set the lines between passing and failing — to shape the overall results.

Both theories might be right, the scores are usually released in early/mid August.

The April tests are both machine-scored and the extended response scored by teachers, in June the state convenes about 100 or so teachers and supervisors to participate in the standards-setting process. Teams go through the questions; there are six tests in English and six tests in Math, one team for each grade in each subject. The questions are “rated,” level one through four, the teams rotate to gain a broad-based consensus and pass along results to the commissioner. The commissioner and the psychometricians at state ed review the standards-setting process and set cut scores, scores that determine whether the standing of individual students; a score of 3.0 determines “proficient.”

What does “proficient” mean?  The term itself has varying definitions; NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) definition is not the same as the definition used in New York State. (See “What does it mean to be proficient” here).

The test used in New York State, developed by Questar, a national testing company has come under attack from two testing experts.

A new study by the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz looks at the curiously high percentages of students who received zeroes on certain types of ELA questions between 2013, when New York introduced tests aligned to the Common Core standards, and 2016.

The title of the study gives away the report’s conclusion: “Tests are Turning Our Kids Into Zeroes: A Focus on Failing.” 

The authors, Fred Smith and Robin Jacobowitz, argue that so many kids got zeros on certain questions, reflecting a complete inability to cope with the material, that the tests must have been flawed. “We conclude that testing instruments that put children in a virtual stupor cannot be defended as sound testing practice, nor as a way to raise standards or serve as a foundation for high-stakes decisions…”

Annual testing is required by federal law and “standardized” means that every student takes the same test.

We give tests to measure “progress,” measuring student, school, school district and state progress from year to year. If you change the tests, for example moving to the Common Core, shortening the number of days of testing, moving to untimed tests, you have to create a new base year; the spring 2019 tests will be using the revised New York State Standards, (aka, Common Core lite); yet another base year.

Whether we like it or not the test results garner headlines: Are New York State students/schools doing better ot not?  The consequences for leadership at every level can b dire.

Two states Colorado and New York have large and active opt out movements, in New York State about 20% of students are “opted out” by parents and the opt out parents are well-organized and have become a political force, endorsing candidates and lobbying in Albany.

There are a number of states that are exploring alternatives to annual standardized testing and the movement is growing across the nation. Read “How to Measure Student Progress Without Standardized Testing” here and “8 Alternatives to Standardized Testing” here.

For a deep dive in how Virginia is moving to alternative assessments read a scholarly article here.

The New York State Education Department has shown no enthusiasm to seek alternatives, they did not apply for the competitive federal program (there were no funds attached) and aside from the forty schools that have waivers from the Regents Examinations, a waiver that has been renewed since the 90’s, there has barely been any discussion. A few Regents members, not surprisingly the members who have served as school district leaders have raised the issue of alternative assessment pilots; ignored by state ed leadership.

I suspect the legislature will begin to pursue the issue, the political activity of opt outs may very well create an enthusiasm among legislators to force the commissioner to explore alternatives to annual testing.

The Governor and/or the Commissioner MUST Takeover the Hempstead School Board, Root Out the Corruption and Assure a “Sound, Basic Education” for the Children of Hempstead

Corruption in the Hempstead School District is endemic.

Hempstead is a primarily Afro-American suburban community on Long Island surrounded by the most affluent school districts in the nation. For decades the Hempstead School Board and their allies have used the school district budget as a piggybank, stealing millions, probably tens of millions from the children of Hempstead.

What is so tragic is the theft is not a secret, the New York State Education Department and a list of commissioners have maintained they do not have the authority to remove the school board.

Carolyn Gusoff, a CBS investigator reporter spent a year taking a deep dive into the cesspool of corruption and has produced a devastating report.

In 2002 the State Education Department (SED) removed the school board in the Roosevelt School District , legislation authorized the removal of the Roosevelt Board, the SED assigned trustees and a superintendent, and, for ten years ran the school district, the academic outcomes continued to be poor. Does the Roosevelt takeover failure influence the reticence to intervene now?

The CBS report is scathing and recounts efforts to remedy decades of plunder. The school district population has been changing with larger numbers of Hispanic residents moving into the district.

The hotly contested school board election in 2017 resulted in a new reform-minded school board. The school hired Simon Waronker, a former New York City principal originally hired by the Bloomberg/Klein administration, an orthodox Jew, born in Peru; Waronker had never served as a superintendent.

He removed the high school principal, high school graduation data had been forged, and significant numbers of students graduated without meeting graduation requirements, State Ed reduced the graduation rate to 37%, one of the lowest in the nation.

An auditing firm was hired to conduct a forensic audit – a preliminary report found over 100 employees with no clear duties and scores of vendors who were not delivering contracted services.

The district records, haphazardly stored in cardboard boxes in a closed school building mysteriously were destroyed in a fire.

The reform-minded school board was viciously attacked, a public relation firm was hired to attack the incumbents, poorly attended school board meetings were disrupted and the school board majority was threatened. The attacks on the school board were orchestrated by a convicted felon.

The newly hired superintendent made ill-advised  policy decisions and the despoilers were reelected in the 2018 school board elections – only 850 voters in a school district of 8,000 students. The despoilers suspended the superintendent, rehired the fired high school principal with full back pay and abandoned the audit.

One of the loudest school board members has been indicted for a number of crimes and remains on the board.

The commissioner hired a distinguished educator, as an advisor, with no power or authority, who felt it would take 5 – 10 years to turn around the district.

Can anyone approve waiting for five to ten years to provide a “sound, basic education?”

In July the Long Island Press speculated on whether the State Education Department will move to take over the district.

 Despite persistent struggles with declining graduation rates, violence, alleged corruption, and overall school board turmoil, the verdict is still out on whether the New York State Education Department (NYSED) will step in and appoint an outside “receiver” or manager to take operational control of the district.

A letter from the NYSED’s Office of Accountability late last month revealed more disturbing details about the district’s problems with accurately reporting data, citing numerous instances of errors and discrepancies. Officially, the department said the situation in the Hempstead District was still under review.

However, sources within the department say the decision about a takeover may be made this fall, after the district submits data from the 2017-2018 school year. Previous data examined was from the 2016- 2017 school year.

A spokesperson for the department also noted that special legislation would have to be passed before any takeover could occur, which means it would have to wait until the next legislative session starts in 2019. The only time New York has taken control of a school district was in the 2002 takeover of the Roosevelt School District.

Why aren’t the findings of the preliminary audit report, the faking of graduation data, the disruptions of school board meetings, the arrest and indictment of a school board member sufficient for State Education to remove the board?

The Commissioner did sustain the removal of a member of the Buffalo School Board on far flimsier allegations.

The Hempstead State legislator, Earlene Hooper has been silent for years, one hopes she is not party to the thefts of dollars and educational opportunity.

To wait for the next legislative session is criminal.

Back in my union representative days I worked for Al Shanker, at one meeting someone said, “The lawyers say we can’t do (whatever it was …)” Shanker replied, rather vehemently, “We’re the elected leaders, we don’t ask lawyers whether we can do something, we tell them what we want to do and tell them to figure out how to do it.”  The naysayer responded, “What if the lawyers can’t figure it out,” Shanker: “We find lawyers who can.”

I suggest:

The Governor, by executive order, suspend the Hempstead School Board and ask the Attorney General, the Comptroller, and State Education Department to conduct a forensic audit based upon the incomplete audit conducted by an external auditor as well as investigate other violations of statutes.

 The Commissioner appoint a designee who shall have full authority to control all educational, budget and personnel matters

The Governor and the Commissioner shall identify funding and construct a plan to remedy physical facility inadequacies.

The Commissioner identify organizations with expertise in New Language Acquisition and Turnaround strategies and contract with the organizations to construct a district plan in consultation with the Commissioner designee

 State Police  assure that school board meetings are orderly, provide a safe environment in the area surrounding Hempstead schools and district-hired School Safety Officers  assure a safe environment within school buildings and work collaboratively with State Police

 The Attorney General and the Comptroller shall have full subpoena authority

  The Governor shall introduce legislation to grant the Commissioner full authority to suspend or permanently remove school boards based on conditions defined in the new law.

The Collective Bargaining Agent (“Unions”) shall particulate fully in the process described supra.

Eight thousand students are being deprived of an adequate education; millions of dollars have been stolen for years while the people in power have found reasons not to intervene.

If Hempstead was a white middle class district would we stand by and allow corruption to exist?

Anxiety, Anticipation and Hope: Opening Day in New York City Schools

That ominous Tuesday after Labor Day, the first day back for teachers in New York City, getting out of the summer mindset and facing the realities, tomorrow the kids arrive.

I taught in a large urban high school; over twenty teachers in my Social Studies Department, over 200 in the school.

Everyone milled in the lobby, a few screeches of joy as a teacher displayed her new engagement ring; another a bare ring finger, “I’m fine, probably for the best.” Stories of summer romances found and lost, others catching their breath after teaching all summer. A few right off a plane after a summer hiking around Europe or South America.

An urn of coffee and piles of bagels diminishing as the supervisors shoo us into the auditorium, welcoming words from the principal, reminders of deadlines for this and that from the assistant principals, the administrators file out and the union building rep mounts the stage and reminds us about the time limits on filing grievances, his office hours and finally the important part: the teacher who runs the football pool distributes the forms and explains the rules: off and running for another year.

On my first day of teaching I arrived early, very early, and, found my way to the teachers’ room. I reviewed my lesson plans for the umpteenth time; another teacher, my parents’ age was napping on a couch. He sat up, pulled out a large handkerchief, blew his noise and noticed me,

“Kid, you new?

I nodded.

“Want some advice?”

I nodded again, always a good idea to listen words of wisdom from an experienced teacher.

“You know the shitbox downstairs, your mailbox?”

I nodded again, a little baffled.

“Anything they throw into it you throw out, if it’s important they’ll send it again.”

Joe Levins, that very senior teacher was curmudgeonly to everyone. Another new teacher had Levins as a teacher, “You better be prepared in his class, if you weren’t he embarrassed you in front of the class – I hated him, and, I learned Spanish, got a 90 on the Regents.”

As the years went by my role changed to a teacher and a union activist, we welcomed the new teachers, set aside a seat on the school union committee for a first year teacher.

We slowly moved to a highly collaborative school culture, instead of faculty meetings we met in committees, we moved from the principal as “sage on the stage” to our iteration of teacher leadership.

Chancellors came and went: they were somewhat irrelevant to the day-to-day life of  teachers. Yes, we moved obstinately from the developmental lesson to Charlotte Danielson frameworks; however, we closed the door and did what we thought was right.

We were fortunate, our principals and administrative staff understood the unwritten rules of the game, they figured out ways to “recruit” students, they worked diligently to brand the school in the community; we were one of only a handful of “desirable” schools.

At the top of the heap, the para-military structure we call the Department of Education, the chancellors have a duty and an obligation to create a school system that allows us to provide the best possible education for all kids; a duty and obligation at which school district leaders have stumbled.

With the election of de Blasio we expected a more sensible approach, we were delighted with a much delayed contract with retroactive pay, a mayor who said the right things, created pre-k and 3-for-all classes for over 70,000 kids, and, we thought his selection of Carmen Farina as chancellor would be for a year or two, a period of healing, before a permanent chancellor was selected.

Four year later our school system still suffers from the ill-advised reforms of the Bloomberg administration.

The best you can say is we moved sideways, as it turned out Farina was a lackluster choice.

During his first term education was “managed,” not led, and, nothing seems to have changed. As the drumbeat over the Specialized High School Admittance Test grew and grew de Blasio raced to Albany with a bill to do away with the test, when the bill was pushed forward to the next session of the legislature the chancellor and the mayor were able to blame the dysfunctional legislature, they “managed” the situation; they found a common enemy: the legislature.

As the criticism over deeply segregated schools grows the chancellor bemoans the proliferation of gifted schools and programs that further segregate the school system. The Chancellors School Diversity Advisory Group , a fifty member blue ribbon committee will issue a report in December, probably followed by public hearings, a comment period and a policy announced in the spring, the following year, the 19-20 year will allow families to choose schools and whatever is decided will be implemented in the 20-21 school year, at the end of the mayor’s second and last term. Yes, I’m cynical.

The unintended consequences of twenty years of Bloomberg policy and de Blasio/Farina inaction is sharply segregated school system.

Michael Mulgrew, the teacher union president explained the impact of the high school choice process.

Current proposals to deal with the appalling lack of black and Hispanic students in the city’s specialized high schools by creating even more such “exam” schools are feeding the political and media obsession with these schools; at the same time this focus distracts the system from the much larger problem — the academic isolation that affects tens of thousands of students in roughly 20 percent of city high schools.

There are now about 40,000 students in one hundred high schools whose average eighth grade reading scores and graduation rates are the lowest in the city – the lowest of these have average eighth grade reading scores at below basic levels and graduation rates of less than 40 percent, vs. a citywide average of 74 percent.

This concentration of struggling students is due in large part to the effects of Bloomberg-era education policies that encouraged this segregation, despite the fact that the Department of Education’s own study predicted this problem.

Since the percentage of struggling students was so closely aligned with a high school’s results, one idea explored in the [Department sponsored report] was the notion of using the high school admissions algorithm to cap the number of struggling students in each school, thus making it more likely that no school would have an overwhelming number of such pupils. Needless to say, under the Bloomberg administration this did not happen.

Six months into his tenure the new chancellor has been introducing himself, and, as the agent of the mayor, has steered clear of offering solutions.

The Bloomberg high school admissions algorithm is not the only concern, the concentration of poverty in specific middle schools impact school outcomes. Eliza Shapiro in the New York Times writes,

About a third of the city’s roughly 600 middle schools serve overwhelmingly poor students, and more than half of the city’s low-income adolescents are clustered in just a quarter of middle schools, according to the study from the New York City Independent Budget Office.

Low levels of academic achievement in schools with highly concentrated poverty have long plagued urban school districts, and decades of interventions have not produced clear solutions. Studies have shown that breaking up those clusters of poverty could help improve schools across the board.

If you’re teaching in Brownsville or East New York or South Jamaica or Soundview or Hunts Point or sections of Harlem children are entering school far, far behind children in more affluent schools. (checkout childhood poverty here). Since the Lyndon Johnson War on Poverty we have tried to reduce poverty, that’s for another blog, what we can do is move children away from pockets of poverty into schools with children with a range of abilities.

What concerns me is that the new Carranza administration seems to be moving toward larger bureaucracies further away from classrooms. Decisions made in the aeries of headquarters rarely resonate in classrooms.

A report, The Rise of Networks: How Decentralized Management is Improving Schools  (May, 2014), supports moving decision-making closer to classrooms,

School districts across the country are shifting away from their traditional management paradigm—a central office that directs its schools through uniform mandates and policies—toward a new vision where district leaders support autonomous schools while holding them accountable for student performance.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has announced substantial grants to organizations who will work with networks of schools; not school districts, external not-for-profits,

Today the foundation is continuing to deliver on the promise of ensuring all students receive a high-quality education through our first cohort of grantees organizing groups of schools to identify and solve common problems that can enable more students to realize the provide of an education in their lives, and the lives of their communities.

I fear that New York City is moving towards ukases issued by distant offices mandating this and that, accountability defined as rigid check lists, instead of guiding and trusting teachers and school leaders.  The job of the mayor and the chancellor is to create a school system that does not continue to cluster the poorest kids in the fewest schools.

Teachers are the writers, actors, producers, directors and critics of a play with a run of one day. Each and every day we write a new play. We have good days and bad days, raves and razzes, it’s a job that can be incredibly discouraging and exhilarating in the same day. We just want an even playing field.

Let’s hope the mayor and the chancellor act expeditiously, the kids only get one chance at success.

And a note to school leaders: make sure the coffee is hot and the bagels soft, with plenty of cream cheese, let’s get off on the right foot.

City/State Education Summit: The NYC Movers and Shakers Meet Richard Carranza

The unofficial beginning of the school year is the City/State online news site’s Education Summit. The website brings leading policymakers/scholars/players from the education world together for a series of panels and interviews before an audience of several hundred of the city education elites.

Richard Carranza, the NYC Chancellor has been finding his way in a mayoral control city; he’s not a traditional superintendent, actually the Deputy Mayor for Education, merging the political policies of the Mayor with his views on how to run an urban school system. “Diversity” has been the keyword:  the ed journalism community has focused on the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) and admission to gifted (screened) schools and programs,

Commission MaryEllen Elia leads the New York State Education Department, 4400 schools, over 700 school districts, ranging from the “Big Five” (NYC, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers), to high tax suburbs, to rural districts struggling to pay fuel costs. Teachers, principals and superintendents work for lay elected local school boards, the commissioner and the Board of Regents sets policy, and awkward centuries old system.

The Summit kicked off with Carranza both re-introducing himself, attempting to allay fears and beginning to craft his education policies and leadership style.

All new leaders feel it’s important to give their “I was born in a log cabin” speech, I know, I know, I’m acting like a cynical New Yorker, just have seen too many school district leaders begin with “I’m one of you” and go on to attempt to impose their will. (Most recently, ex-Commissioner John King).

There has been criticism of who Carranza is hiring for key posts across the school system, I have been one of those critics, and he assured the audience he will be selecting experienced NYC educators or former NYC educators.

Carranza repeated, numerous times, he has no preconceived plan, his plans will evolve, he referenced his “get acquainted” tours of scores of schools across the city, meetings with parents, community leaders, elected, etc., Answering his own question: what have I learned, he quipped, “The difference between the Q and the R trains” and “There are Sunday subway schedules.”

Richard (all the other panelists called him Richard) laid out tidbits:

  • “New York State has adopted standards; however there are at least 65 curricula and 32 different reading programs used in NYC schools. If we intend to align curriculum with the standards we’ll have to narrow the number of curricula.”
  • “Kids live a block from a school and can’t go to the school because of screens keeping the kid out, that’s wrong.”
  • “There are over 150 Specialized High Schools around the country, only NYC uses a single test to admit students.”
  • “We have to create more pathways for teachers who want to be teacher leaders and or wish to pursue a supervisory pathway.”

To be blunt: easier said than done.

A curriculum actually means “programs,” for example, schools purchase a reading program; namely books, work books, teacher guides and perhaps PD provided by the publisher. Carranza’s predecessor was wedded to the Lucy Calkins  (Reading/Writing) and Lucy West   (Math) and superintendents pushed/urged/cajoled principals to fall in line and commit to Farina’s favorites.  Moving from one program to another is expensive and requires substantial PD for the staff. For example, Singapore Math is highly rated; however, requires teachers with a firm grounding in math, unusual in elementary schools.

Louisiana “rated” programs: how closely were they aligned to standards and placed the rating on a public website; with extraordinary pushback from publishers.

I’m not objecting, I actually think aligning curriculum to standards to instruction is essential; actually implementing in 1800 schools with local buy-in is a heavy lift.

Richard has used the word “equity” numerous times, in fact, the Specialized High School Admittance Test, the innumerable screened programs and schools has dominated the airwaves.

A later panel described the pending District 15 (Brownstone Brooklyn) middle school admittance plan: no screens, parental choice with a lottery, seats reserved for Title I eligible students. The NY Post was sharply critical  of the plan, the NY Times positive.

In the eighties my school district created and implemented a plan to bus over 1,000 Afro-American students to all-white underutilized schools, without citywide headlines and with local political support. For discussion in a future blog.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew and State Commissioner Maryellen Elia playfully jibed at each other and smacked De Vos’s arming teachers suggestion. Both agreed that Albany is a key player in crafting a teacher assessment plan and freeing up the dollars frozen during the 2008 fiscal crisis.

It was a full day with plenty of time to catch up with the NYC education community movers and shakers.

I’m waiting for Richard to address the low hanging fruit, for example, the ATR pool. Over 700 teachers excessed from closing schools or schools with reducing student populations. The teachers receive temporary assignments in schools and principals are “encouraged” to hire ATRs permanently. School budgets are driven by the so-called Fair Student Funding formula, teachers are “charged” by their actual salaries, a disincentive to hire senior teachers. Former Chancellor Farina refused to address the issue continuing the Joel Klein argument; principals should hire all of their teachers.

For decades prior to Klein excess teachers were assigned to schools by superintendents; as the district union representative I answered teacher questions at the district-based placement centers. Teachers brought a portfolio, principals seeking staff interviewed; all the excess teachers were assigned the week before schools opened. The funding formula was the average district salary.

End the ATR pool, endure a few days of NY Post angst and move on.

The City, the Department and the Union are in the midst of contract negotiations, I wrote about the process a few weeks ago (Read here). Starting the school year with a contract would be an enormous step forward, a signal to the entire education community that the chancellor and the union are on the same wavelength.

Although it has received very little ink the NYC teacher contract is a flexible document, through a participatory process schools can “bend the rules” to alter department regulations and contract provisions. Additionally there are a number of titles, granting higher salary for teachers to increase their responsibilities and remain as teachers. Unfortunately they have not been widely utilized.

A new contract that encourages teacher leadership would be a major step forward.

I’m a glass half full type of guy. I’m an optimist, Richard is moving forward, slowly, building consensus, avoiding sinkholes, and, yes, principals arrive Monday and teachers a week later.

Can’t give him an APPR score after five months on the job, I’d say a provisional B+ with the jury (the City of New York) closely monitoring Richard’s performance.

Acknowledging “Risk Load Factors:”Schools Are Impacted By External Factors Beyond Their Control – Let’s Get Beyond Test and Punish

The NYC school chancellor, in his Principals’ Weekly, suggested that principals read an August 10th article  (“10 Bold Ideas a Principal Can Embrace”)in Education Week: reasonable suggestions; however, “suggestions” too often become  checklists.

At the end of the day schools are “measured” by graduation rates and test scores: period. Yes, principals receive a Professional Performance Review, a process that rates principal effectiveness and schools receive Quality Reviews, once again, an in depth review of school performance.

No matter how well you follow guidelines, pathways, suggestions, if you are leading a high poverty school you may fall into that lowest five percent category; in one school the percentage of students living in “temporary housing,” also known as shelters, increased dramatically, and the scores fell, not surprising.

Kim Nauer and others, in a superb well-researched paper “A Better Picture of Poverty:What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest-Income Elementary Schools” (2014) identifies “Risk Load Factors” that impact school achievement; a far better metric to use to assess school performance alone.

I taught in a “good” school, meaning a school in a middle class neighborhood, in the early nineties our scores skyrocketed. The principal was besieged with, “what did you do?” He pointed to more effective professional development, upgrading curriculum, ending tracking, and praised the dedication of the staff, all of which were accurate. Of course those of us in the school knew he hired a bilingual Russian guidance counselor who attracted new Russian immigrants, the joke was parents would demand “Want free lunch, want calculus;” nothing like a few hundred highly motivated kids and highly motivated parents to push up overall school achievement.

Some years ago I interviewed a few principals with successful schools.

“I walk around the building at least twice a day, I talk to kids and teachers randomly, and I always stop by the student lunchroom, stop at a table and talk with kids.

I learned to delegate and trust, it was hard, I was spending too much of my time on “administrivia,” I had to learn to lead by example not through directives. With teachers and supervisors we developed a lesson observation rubric. Questions to teachers rather than criticism of teachers: understanding the purpose of the observation is to guide and improve instruction, assessment should not be the primary purpose.

I had to unchain myself from the principal’s desk, to learn to conduct meaningful professional conversations.”

I was enormously impressed, I asked, “Did the graduation rates or attendance improve?” The principal shrugged, “Not really.”

The next principal was at the opposite end of the spectrum,

I asked, “What book or guiding principle impacts your leadership?” He replied, “Machiavelli’s The Prince, my guiding principle is I want to be feared not loved.”

“I’m the Chief Executive Officer, the CEO; I’m not anyone’s pal. In my school you work for me, my rules are clear and unambiguous and if you can’t follow my rules I strongly suggest you work elsewhere.

I expect respect, from my teachers and from students and parents. I expect, no, demand, civility at all times and in situations.  Bad behavior is not tolerated, order precedes learning, and we have a good school which parents fight to get into.

We look like a charter school, kids wear uniforms and teachers dress well; however, we are a public school.

No. I don’t have trouble with the union, I probably know the contract better than the teachers, and I stay within the rules.

I call the teachers using Mr., Mrs. or Miss; I expect the same from students and parents. Our test results are better than surrounding schools; my colleagues don’t particularly like me, not my goal or my problem.

I know, I’m a dying breed, the only people who love me are the generations of families who I impacted, and, that’s all I care about.”

Another principal of a high needs school moved on to another position. She explained,

\” I understood the realities, kids entered my school far behind and we made real progress, it was frustrating, we’d train a teacher and after a few years they’d move along to a higher achieving or safer school. The last few years our entering classes were needier, more kids in shelters, more kids from fractured families; however, I thought we were doing excellent work. At my PPR (Principal Performance Review conducted by the superintendent) s/he told me our results were lagging behind previous years, I had tons of data, we were actually doing better considering the students we were getting, The superintendent demurred, ‘You can’t blame the kids, you have to step up your game.’ It was time to leave.”

Principals come in many colors, sizes, shapes and attitudes, there is no single path to success, and some teachers prosper in collaborative settings, others in more directed settings.

The NYC Department of Education has an impressive tool, data dashboards, comparing similar schools on scatter plot charts in impact and performance; the dashboards contain every bit of data conceivable for every school.

As Herman Kolender, a commenter on my previous blog noted, we don’t determine the out-of-school experiences that impact kids.

… it’s the home’s place to make sure the students come to school prepared for the day’s lessons. Teachers already carry out their responsibilities fully and properly, especially given the tawdry conditions under which they work.

Let’s get back to those “risk load factors,” the Center for NYC Affairs report identifies,

Some of the school factors are: students in temporary housing; student suspensions; the perception of safety; and principal, teachers and student turnover. The neighborhood factors include: male unemployment, presence of public housing or a homeless shelter in a school’s attendance zone, adult levels of education, and involvement with the Administration for Children’s Services.

 I suggest the Department of Education attach a “risk load factor” score to each school, and call it the RLF index, and use in the placement of school on the scatter plot charts. We would present “performance,” and “impact” as influenced by the RLF index.

To tell a principal to “step up your game,” when that is exactly what she has done by only looking at the end product, scores, chases away teachers and principals. It should be no surprise that there are sharp declines in students enrolling in teacher preparation programs, sharp increases in teachers leaving the profession and the constant turnover of school principals.

If prospective, current teachers and principals are fleeing maybe there is a reason and not acknowledging and seeking remedies is criminal.

“It’s the Fault of Those G-Damned Teacher Unions,” Teacher Unions Should Be Allies, Not Enemies, in Building Thriving Local Economies

I was preparing to defend a teacher at a disciplinary hearing when the superintendent motioned to me, “Can I speak with you?”

“How can you defend him, he’s a terrible teacher?”

I blurted, “You hired him, you gave him tenure and the union can’t pick its clients.”

A few days later he called me into his office.

“I’m sorry, you’re right, I have to carefully monitor who principals are hiring and carefully monitor how they’re supervising new teachers.”

He began to collect supervisory observations of new teachers, and set up a training program for his principals, how you improve instruction, how do you create a meaningful dialogue with new teachers.

(Charlotte Danielson, “Talk about Teaching: Leading Professional Conversations,” listen to discussion with Danielson here).

In high performing nations around the world education is the responsibility of the national government. Standards for training teachers, for assessing teachers and students are set by the national government.

In our nation the fifty states set standards for training, licensing and assessing teachers as well as assessing student performance. To further complicate there are 14,000 school districts, school funding is set at the state and local level and the per capita funding varies widely from school district to school district and from state to state.

The vast majority of teachers belong to a union or an association, and work under rules negotiated by their organizations. The collective bargaining agreement embeds salary schedules, benefits and generally sets work rules as well as methods of assessment.

From the Albuquerque Teachers Federation  to the United Federation of Teachers, from New Mexico to New York City, teachers and school boards establish parameters within the profession, let’s call them standards of practice, no different than other professions.

In the highest achieving nations in the world teachers are also unionized, the differences; however, are dramatic. Teaching is a highly sought after job, only the top college graduates are accepted into teacher training programs, teachers are looked upon with respect across these nations.

In the United States the opposite is true, enrollment in teacher preparation programs is declining sharply and teachers are leaving teaching in record numbers after only a few years.

Enrollment Is Down at Teacher Colleges. So They’re Trying to Change

Colleges of education are in a Catch-22: They’re needed more than ever to produce well-trained teachers as school districts struggle to fill certain positions. But fewer and fewer people are enrolling in their programs.

That’s one of the findings in a comprehensive report of the state of teacher preparation by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education … The report examines the steps colleges of education have taken to revamp themselves in light of increasing challenges for the teaching profession.

Between the 2007-08 and 2015-16 academic years, there was a 23 percent decline in the number of people completing teacher-preparation programs …

There are a number of possible explanations …, deans of colleges of education said the No. 1 reason for the enrollment drop was the perception of teaching as an undesirable career.

That perception is likely based on complaints about a lack of professional autonomy and low wages, the deans said …

Almost half of college graduates who become teachers leave the profession within a few years, the report notes.

In addition to sharp decreases in student enrollment in teacher preparation programs teachers are leaving the profession at alarming rates.

Turnover also varies widely across states, with rates above 20% annually in Arizona, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Texas, and rates below 10% in Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, and a set of New England states …  These differentials tend to be associated with salaries and working conditions.

Employers seek well-educated candidates with literacy and mathematics skills. School districts and states that refuse to fund schools chase away the most competent potential employees, the losers are students and potential employers. You can’t shove anyone in front of a class and expect excellent outcomes, first baseman, quarterbacks, musicians, carpenters require guided practice from a skilled coach/teacher; by refusing to invest in training and retaining teachers you are discouraging employers from investing in your community.

The world of work requires higher and higher levels of skills, the jobs of twenty; thirty and forty years ago still exist, except they’re in China and other low wage nations. Unskilled or semi skilled jobs will never return; highly skilled professionals will prosper: software engineers, graphic designers, construction managers, economists, and jobs we never heard of will predominate.

Cutting taxes and refusing to invest in schools and blaming teacher unions for poor outcomes is foolish and counterproductive.

Richard Florida, a leading economist, writes,

America’s “knowledge metros,” large and small, make up perhaps the biggest group of winners, overall, since the [2008] crash.

 Cutting education spending and denigrating the teaching profession is condemning cities and regions to failing economies, unemployment and generational poverty.

Teachers and their unions should be allies in creating and supporting school systems that produce graduates with 21st century skills