The New York State School Budget: Why Are the Wealthiest Districts Getting Richer and the Poorest District Getting Poorer?

In 1866,  Gideon John Tucker  a Surrogate Judge of New York,  wrote in a decision: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

My GPS was guiding me to a high school on Long Island, when the gadget crowed, “You have arrived,” I thought there must be a mistake – looked more like a college campus. Multiple building, a natatorium, a gymnasium building, a massive one-story classroom building, sports fields, a large parking lot; I found the room for the meeting and chatted with a parent, I wondered at the grandeur of the school and mentioned the poor state of school facilities in New York City. I got an earful,

“Do you know what we pay in school taxes, over $20,000 a year; you want us to pay for your schools?  Let the city tax the billionaires in the city and leave us alone.”

That, my readers is the essence of the school funding conundrum.

The New York State fiscal year is April 1 to March 31, and, due to the beginning of Passover, the budget must be in place by March 29th. The governor, in his executive budget sets the budget cap, the Assembly and the Senate passed one-house budgets a few weeks ago, the “three-men-in-a-room,” the governor, Carl Heastie, the leader of the Assembly and John Flanagan, the leader of the Senate, with Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), the eight democrats who caucus with the republicans, on the edge of the conversation, negotiate a state budget.

A major part of the budget talks is the state aid to education.

Dollars for schools come from three sources: the federal contribution, mostly Title 1, the total amount is set through federal legislation; the actual dollars are divvied up by formula depending on poverty metrics – around 8% of state education dollars.

In New York State the largest segment of school aid comes from local contributions based on property taxes, the state has a 2% cap on local poverty tax increases:  with the exception of the Big Five (Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, Yonkers and New York City) the other school budgets are voted on in May in the 700 school districts across the state.

The state contribution is set by the final budget, governor-legislature negotiations and the total amount is widely publicized.  The press release: are the state education dollars more or less than last year?

The state teacher union, New York State United Teachers, (NYSUT), the school boards association, and advocacy groups loudly campaign for more education dollars and target the governor, remember, the legislature may not increase the size of the proposed executive budget.

The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE-NY) is the most vociferous advocate for education dollars. See examples of AQE advocacy here and here.

The Foundation Aid formula, at least theoretically, is supposed to equalize the disparity in local property tax-based funding. The wealth-base from district to district is varies widely: from school districts with multi-million dollar homes and school taxes north of $20,000 to school districts with industrial bases to both urban and rural districts with low tax bases. Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester have seen industries leave or disappear. For example Eastman-Kodak once employed thousands, now defunct. The hundreds of rural school districts struggle to pay heating costs with low and decreasing tax bases.

New York State is at the top the nation in per capita school funding as well as at the top of the nation in the most inequitable distributions to school districts within the state.

 … in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s first term, inequality in funding between poor school districts and wealthy school districts grew over $700 per pupil – from $8,024 to $8,733 – the largest gap in New York history.

 Education Trust takes a deep dive into school funding; New York State is the third worst state in funding equity among districts (Read full report here).

 The difference in a classroom of 25 students between a school in high tax and low tax districts is $218,325. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Read a detailed explaination here.

Rural districts are particularly at risk.

Citizens in low wealth rural counties cannot pay the needed taxes to achieve equity. The only alternatives their school districts have are to make additional cutbacks in staffing and services and/or dip into reserves. For several years school districts have already taken these steps. They cannot continue on this path and produce students educationally ready as employees and as citizens.

Commenting on twitter the total in state aid and the Foundation Aid formula Ian Rosenblum from the Education Trust avers,

Let’s do BOTH: increase state funding to high-need school districts, AND ensure equitable distribution of state/local funds within school districts. Together, these strategies get the most resources to the students with the greatest needs.

The Citizen’s Budget Commission  parses the Foundation Aid Formula and is sharply critical, and emphasizes serious flaws,

 When Foundation Aid was developed, lawmakers intended most school aid to flow through this program and for increases to be targeted to low-wealth districts with needy students. However, they also agreed that no district would receive less under the Foundation Aid formula than it had previously received; as a result, the formula was modified with features to hold districts harmless from any decreases. Likewise, provisions were included to ensure virtually all districts, regardless of need, would share in any increases in aggregate Foundation Aid.

 Legislators in high wealth districts, primarily in the suburban areas, have effectively supported the “save harmless” provisions as well as other provisions that drive dollars to their districts, and away from the low wealth districts. The result: the high-wealth to low-wealth district dollars disparity widens each year.

Tip O’Neill, a former speaker of the House of Representatives is famous for a simple political aphorism, “All politics is local.”

On March 29th, or maybe the morning of March 30th, the state legislature will begin passing the budget, and I doubt, really doubt, that the Foundation Aid formula will undergo any significant changes, the headline will be the total size of state aid.

And, let’s not forget, the highest court in the state approved the ability of the governor to add non-budgetary items to the budget. For example, in the 2014, a gubernatorial election cycle, some NYSUT locals endorsed the governor’s opponent, Zephyr Teachout, in the next budget cycle, 2015, the governor included in the budget an increase in teacher probation from three to four years as well as some pro-charter school items. NYSUT and the governor jousted for months and eventually the angst abated. The Cuomo Commission recommended Board of Regents approved moratorium on the use of student test scores in evaluating teachers. Politics, politics invading the budget process!!

The budget will contain an increase in state aid, maybe, changes in the Foundation Aid formula and who knows what the governor and the legislature, if anything, will be added to the budget.

Brings to mind one of my favorite songs, I play from time to time, give a listen,



Why are the Specialized High School Segregated and Why Are the Chancellor and the Mayor Afraid to Craft an Alternative Plan?

A very long time ago I crawled out of bed when it was still dark and stumbled to the train for my daily trip to Stuyvesant High School.  The crumbling building was bulging at the seams, end to end sessions. I remember male teachers, very strict, sitting in the classroom scribbling notes as they wrote on the chalkboards; four years of math, chemistry, physics and qualitative analysis chemistry plus two years of drafting. There was one black student in my homeroom class, maybe the only the black kid in the school.

Stuyvesant opened in 1904, an all-boys high school; an entrance examination was mandated for all applicants starting in 1934, and the school started accepting female students in 1969.

Stuyvesant, the Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Tech were the crown jewels of the school system with long lists of graduates with sparkling achievements. Each November 30,000 students take the Specialized High School Admittance Test (SHSAT) and in March the acceptances – about 10% of the applicants pass the exam.

In the 60’s, during the height of the civil rights movement, the Board of Examiners exams were challenged, prospective supervisors took an exam, a rank order list was promulgated and supervisors were appointed off the list. The exams were challenged in the courts under the “disparate impact” sections of civil rights law, the Griggs v Duke Power Co Supreme Court decision  affirmed the “disparate impact” test. Black and hispanics were passing at a much lower rate than white test takers.

The alumni of the specialized high schools raced to Albany and the Hecht-Calandra law embedded the SHSAT in statute in 1972.

… Admissions to The Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn Technical High School and such similar further special high schools which may be established shall be solely and exclusively by taking a competitive, objective and scholastic achievement examination, which shall be open to each and every child in the City of New York …. No candidate may be admitted to a special high school unless he has successfully achieved a score above the cut-off score for the openings in the school for which he has taken the examination. The cut-off score shall be determined by arranging the scores of all candidates who took the examination and who then commit themselves to attend the school in descending order from the highest score and counting down to the score of the first candidate beyond the number of openings available.

…. The special schools shall be permitted to maintain a Discovery Program to give disadvantaged students of demonstrated high potential an opportunity to try the special high school program without in any manner interfering with the academic level of those schools. A student may be considered for the Discovery Program provided the student: (1) be one of those who takes the regular entrance examination but scores below the cut-of score (2) is certified by his local school as disadvantaged (3) is recommended by his local school as having high potential for the special high school program and (4) attends and then passes a summer preparatory program administered by the special high school. All students recommended for such a Discovery Program are to be arranged on a list according to their entrance examination scores, in descending order, from the highest to the lowest. Each special high school will then consider candidates in turn, starting at the top of the list for that school. A candidate reached for consideration on the basis of this examination score will be accepted for admission to the Discovery Program only if his previous school record is satisfactory. Any discovery program admissions to a special high school shall not exceed fourteen (14) per cent of the number of students scoring above the cut-off score and admitted under the regular examination procedure of (b) and (c) above.

 In the late 1990’s under the Harold Levy chancellorship, five additional schools, pursuant to the wording (“…similar further specialized high schools may be established…) were added requiring the SHSAT for admittance. The three original schools accept about 3500 students a year and the five small schools a total of about 500 students.

Additionally Bloomberg/Klein created over 100 screened schools and programs, schools that have acceptance requirements, usually high scores on state exams, perhaps an interview and an examination of the students overall record.

The result: the specialized high schools, the SHSAT schools, and the screened schools accept very few black students.

In 2017 Stuyvesant accepted 13 black students out of slightly over 900 acceptances, in 2018 only 10 black students were accepted.

Stuyvesant: 73% Asian, 0.69% Black, (23 students out of a total enrollment of 3300), no English language learners and 14 students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

Bronx High School of Science: 65% Asian, 2.51% Black (75 students out of an enrollment of a little under 3,000), no English language learners and 35 students with IEPs.

Brooklyn Tech: 60% Asian, 6.3% Black, (371 students out of an enrollment of 5800), no English language learners and 69 students with IEPs.

Among the additional five schools,

Brooklyn Latin High School: 51% Asian, 13% Black, (85 students out of an enrollment of 672 students, no English language learners and 15 students with IEPs.

Another of the five added schools, located in Central Harlem, the High School of Mathematics, Science and Engineering at CCNY: 36% Asian, 9% Black, (46 students out of 598), 1 English language learner and 23 students with IEPs.

Although not an SHSAT school, the screened schools also have extremely low number of black students, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, on the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan:

64% White, 3.3% Black (18 students out of an enrollment of 540 students), no English language learners and 78 students with IEPs (14%).

What can be done?

Some argue it is within the authority of the Department to no longer require that the five schools added fall under the SHSAT for admission. I disagree, the language in the law is clear, and, the five schools in total only admit 500 students,

Changing the law is unlikely, the specialized high schools have well-funded and politically astute alumni associations. If you take a look at the alumni association IRS 990 reports for the original three specialized school you will be surprised at the dollars. The associations are free to use the dollars in any way they choose to benefit the school, including using lobbyists.

Suggested changes, for example, the “Texas” plan, as suggested by City Council member Keith Powers (half students admitted via the test and half the top of their class in middle school (see plan here), makes sense; however, is in conflict with the statute (see text above).

What baffles me is the failure of the Department to fully implement the “Discovery Program” that is part of the law. While the program language, “shall be permitted,” does not require the program why would the Department not vigorously pursue the program? For years the Discovery Program was school-based and schools did not have to offer the program: Stuyvesant and Bronx Science abandoned the program. At the time the program was discontinued at Stuyvesant the decision of the principal was hard to understand. (Read his explanation here).

Over the last few years the Department has created a Specialized High School Institute and seems to be making an effort to provide intensive test prep for the SHSAT.

The Department web page describing supports for “disadvantaged” students is extensive, at least on paper.

My reading of the law permits students who did not reach the cutoff score to be admitted if they successfully complete the Discovery Program,

All students recommended for such a Discovery Program are to be arranged on a list according to their entrance examination scores, in descending order, from the highest to the lowest. Each special high school will then consider candidates in turn, starting at the top of the list for that school. A candidate reached for consideration on the basis of this examination score will be accepted for admission to the Discovery Program only if his previous school record is satisfactory. Any discovery program admissions to a special high school shall not exceed fourteen (14) per cent of the number of students scoring above the cut-off score and admitted under the regular examination procedure of (b) and (c) above.

 Are acceptance decisions up to the school, or, are the decisions made higher up the ladder? Were any students accepted under the Discovery Program, and, if so, how many?  Does the Discovery Program even exist, or, is the Specialized High School Institute a substitute?

The creation of 100 plus screened programs was an attempt to retain the middle class in the public schools, nothing new, just citywide and not specific to particular communities. District 3 (Upper West Side of Manhattan), under decentralization created what were called “boutique” schools, small school for middle class parents, that also happened to be overwhelmingly white. Bloomberg/Klein simply moved the “boutique” school concept to other neighborhoods.

The primary correlation with a high achievement is parent income and parent education, at least higher achievement as measured by standardized testing. Bloomberg et. al., did retain middle class parents and further segregated a school system already segregating via gentrification.

The segregated specialized and screened schools are an embarrassment.

The mayor, bemoaning the situation and pointing to Albany is not satisfactory. A reinvigoration of the Discovery Program, a hard look at the test itself, and, rethinking if the city requires over 100 screened programs. For many decades high schools were called “comprehensive” high schools, kids in high level classes, commercial and vocational classes, and a wide range of kids by ability in the same schools, what a revolutionary idea!

A few months ago I was at a forum discussing high school admissions, one parent averred, “We need more goods schools,” I asked, “How do you define a good school?” Her somewhat hesitant response, “Schools with kids who look like my kid.”

That four-letter word again: race.

Are Schools a Pipeline to Prison? Will Reducing Suspensions Improve Student Outcomes? Or, Have an Adverse Impact on Student Discipline/Student Achievement? What is the Purpose of Student Suspensions?

Elementary school teachers and parents commonly have a “time out” corner, if a child misbehaves, commits a misdeed, the teacher or parent will send the student to a table or chair in a corner of the room to “cool off,” sort of a mini-suspension; after  few minutes, a little counseling, the student rejoins classroom activities.

Even these typical teaching or parenting behavior is controversial.

“Time outs” are criticized; there are “positive” and “negative” time outs.

Most adults do not realize that children are constantly making decisions about themselves, about their world, and based on those decisions, about what to do to survive or to thrive.

Negative time out is based on the silly thought that in order to get children to do better, first we have to make them feel worse. Positive time out is based on the understanding that children “do” better when they “feel” better …

It is fun to ask, “How would you respond if you spouse said to you, ‘Go to your room and think about what you just did!'”? Most people laugh and say something such as, “I don’t think so.” Why do we think negative time out would be effective for children when it wouldn’t be effective for us?

Negative time out is certainly not effective if it perpetuates a child’s discouraging beliefs about herself and her environment. Nor is it effective if those beliefs increase her need for revenge or rebellion in whatever form it takes.

 Tina Payne, a psychotherapist and author agrees and suggests,

Instead of timeouts for a young child, what’s much more effective is to do three things. The first thing is, to address the feelings behind the behavior. Maybe the child is hitting because they are frustrated or angry. So address the feelings. “You are so mad, aren’t you?” Validate the experience, the feelings. The second thing is to address the behavior. “Hitting hurts. That’s not okay. I want you to be gentle and use your words.” Say what you do want them to do. The third thing is, move on to something else

  Suspensions are a type of “negative time out,” the suspensionincreases his/her need for revenge or rebellion in whatever form it takes.  In New York City the suspension, the “time out,” is either for a few days in the home school away from the classroom or a lengthier time in a suspension center. Ideally the student would receive intensive counseling and small group instruction. The Department of Education discipline practices are guided by Citywide Behavioral Expectations to Support Student Learning   (April, 2017), an extremely detailed discipline code. Unfortunately we have no idea whether any counseling occurs, whether the suspension is a positive or a negative timeout.

Fifty states and 14,000 schools districts, an endless array of regulations governing student discipline and suspension rules. Some districts employ zero tolerance rules, a suspension, commonly an out-of-school suspension for minor infractions, cutting classes, truancy, using profanity, etc. Zero tolerance is both ineffective and counterproductive, and, clearly targets students of color. For example, suspending a student for skipping school is idiocy.

Civil rights organizations, advocacy groups and researchers view the same data; black males are suspended far more frequently than others. The more frequently a student is suspended the less likely the student will graduate from high school and the more likely the student end up in the criminal justice system: the school to prison pipeline. The suspension is the result of an anti-social action, under the New York City Behavioral Expectations a suspension of more than five days, a superintendent’s suspension, is the reaction to a serious occurrence: “Aggressive or Injurious Behavior” and, the code lists specific infractions warranting suspensions,

*Taking or attempting to take property belonging to others

* Creating a substantial risk of serious injury by either recklessly engaging in behavior and/or using an object that appears capable of causing physical injury

* Inciting or causing a riot

* Possessing or selling any weapon (defined in specificity elsewhere in the code)

* Using a controlled substance without authorization or an illegal drug

And a long list of other infractions coupled with a wide range of interventions.

Is the suspension the “pipeline to prison,” or, is the anti-social act and the failure of the suspension to dissuade the student from re-committing the anti-social act the reason for the pipeline?

Schools are part of communities and the “rules of the streets” are commonly at odds with the rules of school; kids have to learn to “balance” the rules, the cultures of the streets and the school.

The Obama/Duncan administration, echoing the “school as a pipeline to prison” attempted to curtail suspensions and began with a “Dear Colleague” letter in January, 2014,

The Departments initiate investigations of student discipline policies and practices at particular schools based on complaints the Departments receive from students, parents, community members, and others about possible racial discrimination in student discipline. The Departments also may initiate investigations based on public reports of racial disparities in student discipline combined with other information, or as part of their regular compliance monitoring activities.

Although the “reserve clause” of the Tenth Amendment places education in the realm of states, (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”) the Obama administration continued increasing the power of the federal government, a classic struggle that is at the heart of our democracy.

Obama, through the use of the “Dear Colleague” letter, followed by reams of backup reports and documents used “disparate impact theory,”

 The plaintiff must prove, generally through statistical comparisons, that the challenged practice… has a substantial adverse impact on a protected group,

The burden is on the school district to show they’re are not discriminating, an extremely high burden.

Check out the US Department of Education site here and read a sample of the items on the site below.

Supporting and Responding to Behavior: Evidence Base Classroom Strategies for

Teachers (2015)

Suspension impacts everyone

  • In 2011-2012, 3.45 million students were suspended out-of-school.
    (Civil Rights Data Collection, 2011-2012)
  • Of the school districts with children participating in preschool programs, 6% reported suspending out of school at least one preschool child.
    (Civil Rights Data Collection, 2011-2012)
  • Students with disabilities and students of color are generally suspended and expelled at higher rates than their peers.
    (Civil Rights Data Collection,2011-2012)

Suspensions don’t work—for schools, teachers, or students

  • Evidence does not show that discipline practices that remove students from instruction—such as suspensions and expulsions—help to improve either student behavior or school climate.
    (Skiba, Shure, Middelberg & Baker, 2011)

Suspensions have negative consequences

  • Suspensions are associated with negative student outcomes such as lower academic performance, higher rates of dropout, failures to graduate on time, decreased academic engagement, and future disciplinary exclusion.
    (Achilles, McLaughlin, Croninger,2007; Arcia, 2006; Christle, Jolivette, & Nelson, 2005; Costenbader & Markson, 1998; Lee, Cornell, Gregory, & Fan, 2011; Raffaele-Mendez, 2003; Rodney et al., 1999; Skiba & Peterson, 1999)

There are effective alternatives to suspension

  • Evidence-based, multi-tiered behavioral frameworks, such as positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS), can help improve overall school climate and safety.
    (Bradshaw, C., Koth, C.W., Thornton, A., & Leaf, P.J., 2009)
  • Interventions, school-wide and individual, that use proactive, preventative approaches, address the underlying cause or purpose of the behavior, and reinforce positive behaviors, have been associated with increases in academic engagement, academic achievement, and reductions in suspensions and school dropouts.
    (American Psychological Association, 2008; Christle, Jolivette, & Nelson, 2005; Crone & Hawken, 2010; Liaupsin, Umbreit, Ferro, Urso, & Upreti, 2006; Luiselli, Putnam, Handler, & Feinberg, 2005; Putnam, Horner, & Algozzine, 2006; Skiba & Sprague, 2008; Theriot, Craun, & Dupper, 2010)


Faced with the threat of federal intervention school districts across the nation, especially in large urban districts, reduced suspensions; in New York City suspensions were reduced by 53%, the new chancellor reduced suspensions in a prior position in San Francisco.

Have the reductions in suspensions made schools less safe?

Max Eden, a researcher at the conservative Manhattan Institute argues in New York City, under the de Blasio administration, using student and teacher surveys, schools are viewed as less safe.  (Review the Eden report here)

The Trump/De Voss administration is beginning to back away from the Obama/Duncan regulations on suspensions.

Education Next hosted a forum: Debating Obama Era Guidance – Should the Trump Administration Retain/Reverse/Rescind School Discipline Regulations? Mike Petrill (“A Supposed Discipline Fix Threatens School Cultures”) and Dan Losen (“Don’t Walk Back Needed School Discipline Reforms“) in excellent essays debate their positions.

I ask a basic question: do suspensions work?  Does a suspension reverse anti-social behavior? Are there other interventions that are more successful? Are suspension “good” or “bad” time outs?

Suspension advocates argue that removing a disruptive student makes the class safer and more “teachable,” and improves outcomes for the remainder of the class: is there any evidence?

Two schools a few blocks apart, the students live in the same housing project, the schools are located in the same high crime police precinct, the neighborhoods are dominated by gangs, one of schools has high suspension rates and is disorderly, the other school, low suspension rates and is orderly: what’s the difference?  The difference is school leadership. The disorderly school is heavily invested in restorative justice practices, the orderly school a highly respected school leader, a role model for the school. Programs cannot replace school leadership.

Programs only work if they are well-implemented, you cannot parachute a program into a school. Threats of legal action will reduce suspensions, and will not make schools safer or cut the “pipeline” to prison.

Positive Behavior Instructional Strategies (PBIS) and restorative justice practices coupled with a collaborative school leadership can substitute for suspensions as a primary tool; they cannot replace suspensions in all instances.

Passing classes in the ninth grade is the prime indicator of on time graduation. Which kids are passing classes in the ninth grade?  In one school: the kids on the junior varsity football and basketball teams. For the kids it was simple: you don’t pass subjects you don’t play – you get “in trouble,” you don’t play. Kids on the teams tutored each other, the coach emphasized teamwork which edged into academics.

Programs are only tools, not “answers,” suspensions for serious offenses are necessary, positive time outs, rewarding positive behaviors, collaborative faculties building strong school student cultures, are essential.

Simply tightening the faucet to reduce suspensions does not make for safer schools; it’s the day-to-day hard work that builds safe and academically successful schools.

Dear Chancellor Carranza, A Welcome and Suggestions for our Latest New York City School Leader

Dear Chancellor Carranza

Welcome to the Apple.

Many of us have been introduced to you by watching your mariachi performance on U-Tube: I don’t know of any schools with mariachi bands, although a number of schools do have salsa bands …. .one of our strengths is diversity within our diverse communities. Some of our high schools have cricket teams and the Brooklyn cricket players and the Queens cricket players razz each other on Pakistani Facebook.

We are in the midst of our high school basketball championships. I suggest you check out the schedule and show up at one of the games, (See

In the days, weeks and months ahead we will get to know each other; luckily, since the days are getting warmer and longer the usual New York snarkiness will abate. We ordered up some snow, just to give you an opportunity for your first big decision: whether or not to close schools. (Guess the mayor made that decision)

Just as we will be getting to know you, you will get to know us. I hope you have or will be speaking with our union president, Michael Mulgrew, and, you ask to say a few words at March 21 UFT Delegates meeting, and, answer a few questions from the teacher delegates.

We will get to know each other in person, on twitter, in the print and electronic media and in schools. (Let’s increase those 9100 twitter followers ten fold!)

Your predecessor looked upon the media with suspicion, only carefully scripted appearances and media access to schools carefully controlled. The result is a hostile media; the conclusion: surely the department of education must have something to hide. Transparency and sunlight are the paths to enlightenment, engaging the media, inviting them in, listening, responding and learning from each other is far better than suspecting evil motives.

While we like Carmen, (BTW, can we call you Richard or do you prefer Chancellor) we feel the system is adrift and in reactive mode. In the left column, a “problem,” in the center column a “program,” in the right column an amount of money, move on to the next item on the list.

Over the months ahead:

  • The state will pass an April 1 budget with education dollars; the Trump tax cuts and education cuts will make the budget process difficult. A trip to Albany to meet the “players” is essential.
  • The teacher union contract expires on November 30th, in New York State expired contracts stay in effect until the successor contract is negotiated; however, an on time contract is desirable. The dollars in the contract are in the hands of the mayor, I’m sure the union will have other demands – many educational in content. Hope you haven’t made vacation plans for the summer.
  • A major unresolved item: the Absent Teacher Reserve, the 800 or so excess teachers who were bumped from their schools primarily due to school closings. While they teach every day, as substitutes or covering short or long term absences they are not permanently assigned to a school. Your predecessor refused to “impose” a teacher on a principal. For decades excessed teachers were permanently assigned to vacancies, we should return to that practice. Yes, the New York Post will bash you; part of being a real New Yorker is growing a thicker skin.
  • School closings and Renewal Schools: you are well aware the feds require states to identify the lowest 5% of schools and intervene. Your predecessor failed to educate the media, there is always a lowest 5% – we are not the PBS town of Lake Woebegone where all students are above average. The task is identifying schools before they reach the 5% category and intervene, and, for the lowest performing schools work with the union to create a coherent strategy. The current plan: pumping in massive dollars without a well understood and well monitored plan doesn’t seem to be working.
  •  The elephant in the room: segregation, a word never mentioned by deB or Carmen, they prefer diversity; appointing a blue ribbon task force and giving them a year to issue a report is getting off to a slow start. I understand the task force will hold open hearings around the city – I hope livestreamed.
  • The middle and high school admissions procedures are obtuse, a book larger than an old-fashioned telephone book. The current system ostensibly attempts to satisfy student choices, sadly with hundreds upon hundreds of magnet schools with acceptance preferences based on academic criteria the system further segregates schools. Do you give kids in low performing elementary or middle schools preferential treatment in assignment to magnets, what we call “screened” schools? Once again, let’s begin the conversation, a public conversation.
  • How about investigating alternative assessments in K-8 schools? In our incredibly diverse school system I’m sure a cohort of schools would be anxious to participate in alternative assessment pilots?
  • In the longer run: is the current system of school districts with superintendents with slim staffs the best approach to school management? Farina ended a network structure, affinity networks with wide discretion and moved back to a geographic superintendent structure.
  • How about linking our colleges closer to our schools, most of our graduates will go to CUNY colleges, the links between schools and colleges are currently weak.
  • NYC schools have an incredible amount of school-specific information only a few mouse clicks away; how many schools use the data to inform instruction and planning? A perfect example of how technology has outdistanced the ability of schools to utilize the information.
  • And, those school visits: its not about the optics, it’s about exchanging ideas, opinions and including the folks in schools in the discussion. How many visits include a closed door meeting with the school leadership team? Parent leadership? Teacher leadership? Too many visits are the brisk walk-throughs with the photo ops with cute kids.

If you work at Tweed, our school headquarters, you’re worried about your job, if you work in a classroom, you hope the volumes of paperwork work, test prep and other useless tasks are diminished.

I’m sure you understand that these days leadership is suspect. We begin to trust leadership through their honesty, engagement and actions, not press releases.

We wish you luck and success; you are the fifth chancellor since 2002, we hope you stick around so we can get to know each other better.

In Unity,

Jilted!! Why did Alberto Leave DeBlasio at the Alter? And, Who Is Next in Line?

Many years ago I received a phone call from Al Shanker’s office at the American Federation of Teachers: would I be willing to represent the union on a panel discussing teaching about the nuclear freeze? Sure, I was glowing! Al had chosen me to represent teachers across the nation. A few days later the packet arrived: talking points, articles from newspapers and journals, and, the “Dear Mr. Shanker” letter inviting Al to participate in the event. In the upper right hand corner of the letter, in Al’s almost indecipherable scrawl, “Not available,” and down the letter names, question marks, brief comments, and way down the page, my name, I was the eighth choice.

How far down the list will de Blasio have to go to select the next chancellor?

The choice of Farina made sense at the time, he knew her, and she was the superintendent in the district in which he lives; she was a healer, a non-controversial successor to the Bloomberg aggressive reform agenda. By end of his tenure the public had no confidence in Bloomberg education policies. Sol Stern in City Journal wrote,

 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.

 Farina had no problem working closely with the union and had no problem with de Blasio’s former chief of staff assuming the same role for Farina.

On the other hand in spite of impressive educational achievements, Universal Pre-K, 3 for All (Pre-K for 3-year olds in the poorest districts), a collaborative relationship with the teacher union, de Blasio’s education policies continue to be trashed; especially his approach to the lowest performing schools, the Renewal schools.

Farina is not a “big personality” communicator; she is the grandmotherly “lifer” who calmed a roiling school system.

De Blasio is currently looking for a national figure, a widely acclaimed educator, a communicator who could lead, not respond to the aggressive New York media.

Caravalho had to be at the top of any list, leading the 4th largest school district in the nation, an aggressive communicator (15.7K tweets, 52.4K followers, 26.8K likes), probably “on the list” for Secretary of Education under a Hillary administration,  and universally praised, from the charter and the union side.

Why did Caravalho jilt de Blasio?

Charles Sahm at City Journal  speculates on why Alberto jumped ship and who might be in the wings.

Chalkbeat chronicles the circus, as it rolled out in front us.

Christina Veiga, a former education reporter in Miami muses, the rooster in the hen house would been served for dinner in the Apple, and, in the final moments common sense ruled over a gigantic ego.

Miami-Dade politics watchers tell me that it might be time for Alberto to move on, perhaps to Los Angeles, or, the world of politics; or, if you believe in fairies, maybe he did succumb to the pleading of the citizens of the City of Miami.

Maybe Alberto has a Norman Braman in his life, the billionaire car dealer who has fueled Marco Rubio’s political career, who whispered in Robert’s ear at the last moment.

Was what we were watching, the live-streamed love fest, “please Alberto, please, don’t abandon us …” a spontaneous outpouring of love, or, a carefully crafted exercise?

What matters are next steps?

Those lists:

From the New York Times to the Manhattan Institute to Eva Moskowitz everyone has a list, almost all of which are pure guesses. I said almost: deBlasio, and all other electeds and newsmakers leak info to get an article out into the public arena.  The Caravalho selection was “leaked” to Politico, an online newspaper who quickly put the news out to the public. If timeliness is not the issue the “leak” might be to the New York Times.

My list is based on my views only, Bill has not “leaked” to me.

New Yorkers:

The advantage of a New Yorker is they know the landscape and they can navigate the local politics.

Two members of the Board of Regents: Betty Rosa and Kathleen Cashin are highly successful “lifers” who navigated the political landscape. Rosa is leader of the Board of Regents, the chancellor, former superintendent in one of the poorest districts in the city, and open critic of testing, vigorous supporter of the Dreamers, and widely respected by parents, teachers and the electeds. Cashin was both a district and regional superintendent in Brownsville, East New York and South Jamaica, with impressive results; a white school leader in an all-minority district who was beloved by the local power structures, teachers and parents.

Rosa and Cashin were the only Board of Regents members who were frequently critical of the reform agenda of John King.

Shael Polikoff-Suransky was the #2 at Tweed, a teacher and principal in the highly regarded Internationals Network, mentored by Eric Nadelstern, and, currently the President of Bank Street College.

Dorita Gibson is currently the #2 at Tweed, if no decision is made within the next month Gibson could be the interim chancellor, and, if the process extends, who knows.

Let’s not ignore former chancellor Rudy Crew, now across the East River as President of Medgar Evers College, déjà vu, again?

The out-of-towners:

Lillian Lowery, a long history of educational leadership in a number of positions, praised by everyone who has worked with her is currently the vice president of K-12 at Education Trust. (The Ed Trust CEO is John King)

Josh Starr has roots in New York, a mid-management position under Joel Klein in New York City, superintendent in Stamford Connecticut and Montgomery County Maryland, currently the leader at Education Rising and a frequent commenter on the education scene.

Richard Buery is not a candidate for chancellor, he is not an educator; however, he has a stunning resume, deputy mayor for special projects under de Blasio, leader of the Children’s Aid Society and an outspoken critic of Trump and the Trump agenda supporters. Buery left the de Blasio administration after the election.

Others, currently serving as superintendents elsewhere are in a quandary, if they express any interest they risk being pushed out of their current job, or, on the other hand offered more dollars and love a la Caravalho.

The clock is ticking, de Blasio knows that as long as no decision is made the critics will be jabbing, and, his new administration will be off to a stumbling start. The budget situation will continue to erode; this year will be tough; next year can be disastrous. The combination of the new tax law and sweeping reductions in the federal budget, aimed at the “blue” states combined with an aggressive City Council, most of whom are positioning themselves for their next political run auger poorly for the mayor, who has his own national agenda.

Do you know a good marriage broker?

Janus v AFSCME: How Conservatives Are Using the Supreme Court to Impose Their Political/Philosophical Beliefs on the Nation

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard oral arguments in the most significant labor case in decades, Janus v AFSCME, a case that can strike at the heart of public employee unions – the concept of fair share: while unions are required to negotiate and service all employees, can employees exercise their First Amendment rights and opt not to join the union and not to pay dues and continue to receive the same benefits as union members?

Janus is a well-planned and executed assault on public employee labor unions.

Policy is established, basically, in three ways, through the legislative process, the passing of laws, through presidential proclamations and through the courts.

The legislative process is lengthy and complex, although the Republicans control both Houses of Congress and the White House to bring a bill to the floor, in most cases, requires 60 members of the Senate – the Cloture Rule. Currently the Senate is divided: 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats. Presidential proclamations are limited; President Obama issued DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals  and President Trump has withdrawn the proclamation, the withdrawal is currently being litigated in the courts. The third method of establishing policy is through the courts. Plessy v Ferguson  (1896) ruled that “separate but equal” public facilities, in Plessy segregated railway cars, were constitutional. Brown v Board of Education (1954) overturned Plessy and ruled that “separate but equal” was “inherently unequal;” without any legislation the Court, unanimously set nationwide policy.

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 Civil Rights movement used the equal protection clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to eliminate segregationist legislation, to erode unequal school funding and a host of other laws, regulations and court decisions that were, to use the language of Brown, “inherently unequal.”

Today, conservatives are using the First Amendment to attack a wide range of laws,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

 In the most famous, for some, infamous, SCOTUS ruled that the First Amendment prohibited legislation that limited political contributions. The SCOTUS blog summarizes,

Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads …

In December SCOTUS heard oral arguments in the “Wedding Cake Case;” could a baker refuse customers who were gay due to his protected freedom of religion First Amendment protections?

,Just as the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection clause was at the forefront of civil rights cases the First Amendment is now being used to erode existing laws and regulations.

What is also being eroded is the concept of stare decisis (Latin, let the decision stand. The policy of courts to abide by or adhere to principles established by decisions in earlier cases), commonly referred to as precedent.

Janus is a prime example.

In 1976 in the Abood decision, a case identical to Janus, SCOTUS ruled,

The Court in [a previous case] described a “practical decree” that could properly be entered, providing for (1) the refund of a portion of the exacted funds in the proportion that union political expenditures bear to total union expenditures, and (2) the reduction of future exactions by the same proportion. Recognizing the difficulties posed by judicial administration of such a remedy, the Court also suggested that it would be highly desirable for unions to adopt a “voluntary plan by which dissenters would be afforded an internal union remedy.”. This last suggestion is particularly relevant to the case at bar, for the Union has adopted such a plan since the commencement of this litigation. [This concept is called “fair share”]

 In the decades since Abood public employees unions have adopted the agency fee concept, employees who choose not to join the union pay a fee that excludes “political expenditures.”

In spite of numerous decisions supporting agency fees anti-union forces, noting the new interpretation of the First Amendment by the conservatives on the Court have vigorously pushed ahead with challenges. Surprisingly op eds in the NY Daily News (“Cruel War on Teacher Unions“) and in the NY Times (“Striking a Blow for the Big Guys“) and (“The Consequences of Judicial Activism on the Supreme Court” support unions.

Court watchers predict the five conservative justices will support the petitioners and sustain the appeal. The Supreme Court does not allow a video record of oral arguments; however, a transcript of the oral arguments is available here,

The Janus decision will be rendered before the end of june.

The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) Should Not Be Publicly Battling the United Federation of Teachers (UFT): The Future of Public Education is at Serious Risk

On Tuesday, February 27th the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Janus, one of the most impactful cases concerning unions. (Read a detailed explanation of the arguments)

At issue in Janus is whether public-sector fair-share fees are permitted under the First Amendment. Under longstanding labor law, any worker who is represented by a union may choose not to join the union or pay membership fees. The union, however, must represent all employees in the bargaining unit equally. Therefore, in twenty-two states, unions and public employers may negotiate as part of a collective bargaining agreement a provision that permits the collection of fair-share fees. These fees are calculated to cover the costs germane to collective bargaining, while allowing workers who benefit from the union’s representation to opt out of paying any fees toward the union’s social or political activities

If the SCOTUS affirms Janus, unions fear that they will lose membership; union members can leave the union and still receive union negotiated benefits. Unions are involved in membership education campaigns.  The teacher unions in Wisconsin were not heavily involved early in the gubernatorial campaign; Scott Walker won and his coattails turned both houses of the state legislature Republican. Walker removed collective bargaining rights for teachers, ended tenure, teachers now work under one-year contracts,  teachers pay for a chunk of their health care, about $6,000 a year, teachers pay the salary of the sub if they are absent, etc., Wisconsin unions are beginning to fight back, a long uphill struggle ahead.

At every union meeting, the Delegate Assembly and school meetings the importance of sticking together, of “sticking with the union” is emphasized over and over again. (Listen to Pete Seeger here and Leonard Cohen here)

At the January UFT Delegate Assembly a motion asking the union to support #blacklivematter in education, a month long initiative led by the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), a longtime ally of the United Federation of Teachers, the New York City teachers union. The union leadership asked the delegates not to support the resolution, while the union generally supports the movement there are elements that are controversial, divisive within the union, and in the era of Janus, this is not the time for divisions in the membership. The delegates overwhelming rejected the resolution.

AQE followed up with an op ed in the NY Daily News chiding the UFT for not supporting the motion.

 The union’s rejection of this resolution – which called for more black teachers in schools, an end to discriminatory discipline policies and more diversity in the curriculum — only impedes the school system’s progress towards racial justice. It was publicly reported that the union leadership’s justification for their inaction was to avoid controversy noting that they also declined to take a stance on the Vietnam War — a war that history has proven to be racist and unjust.

In any event, supporting Black Lives Matter was not too controversial for teachers unions in Philadelphia, Seattle, Boston, Chicago and many other cities. Across the country, cities are embracing policies that have been shown to increase engagement and achievement for students of color such as eliminating punitive discipline policies, expanding restorative practices, and adding ethnic studies courses.

New York City still hasn’t fully embraced these policies. And when our state government consistently fails to provide the funding our schools need, the UFT offers words of praise to the governor despite the consequences for black and brown students.

The #blacklivesmatter literature called for ending “zero tolerance,” which does not exist in New York City, all student suspensions are in school, under de Blasio/Farina suspensions have dipped over 50% and the union is leading the way supporting Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies (PBIS) and restorative justice practices; however, suspensions must still be an option. The removal from the classroom setting allows for intense counseling and meetings with parents. The “schools to prison pipeline,” trope annoys teachers, schools offer a hope that the anti-social act that resulted in a suspension can be remedied. The suspension is a response to an act, in New York City a serious act, the 35-page Discipline Code lists in precise detail the acts that can result in suspensions.

A recent Manhattan Institute study argues that using Department of Education Teacher Surveys teachers feel less safe in schools. How do disruptive students impact the education of the other students in the class? Not an easy issue.

I would argue that Community Schools, schools with embedded medical, social and psychological services are a path to success.

As far as “more black teachers” I suggest “more black and Hispanic teachers,” as well as adding hire and retaining these teachers. Education Trust has a recent excellent report  plus, a searchable database by school district. The first step is attracting candidates into teacher preparation programs.

As far as “mandating black studies” or “adding ethnic study courses” teachers flinch whenever they see the word “mandate.” Curriculum, under ideal circumstances, should be written by teachers in schools or clusters of schools; today there is a vast array of curricula online. Black Studies or Women Studies should not be limited to February or March.  The writings of Frederick Douglass and EB DuBois should be part of readings assigned to all students. Douglass’ involvement with the 19th century women’s right movement is a perfect topic, both the moments of antagonism and the moments of collaboration.

Criticizing the union for praising the governor when he deserves praise is, to be polite, foolish. Praise Cuomo when he deserves praise and criticize him when he deserves criticism. Last year he supported the largest ever increase in education state aid. This year, the most difficult budget year since the 2008 Great Recession, he also appears to be protecting state aid. Next year the state budget looks like it will be the worst in memory barring a millionaire’s tax or some other local tax.

I respect the AQE folks, I agree with them on many, not all issues.

Deciding to attack a longtime ally in the public space a week before a crucial Supreme Court case is argued is shortsighted.

A new superintendent was coming into my district in union rep days. Some teachers argued we should confront him from day one, at the school board meeting, file grievances, and be “tough.” I realized I didn’t represent only the militant and angry members, I represented all the members. I needed access to the staff in the district office, to resolve a salary problem, a certification issue, a health plan, and the myriad issues that are part of the day-to-day work of union reps. As it turned out I developed a good relationship with the superintendent. We “agreed to disagree” on some issues, I always gave him “heads up” if I was going to disagree with him publicly. Eventually, instead of monthly union consultation meetings with a small committee all the chapter leaders met with the superintendent monthly – they became his favorite meetings.

A new chancellor is about to walk in the door, the Janus decision in May or June will have significant consequences, and, the Scott Walkers are waiting to pounce, to weaken unions, the last powerful bastion supporting public schools.

Come, all you good workers
Good news to you I’ll tell
Of how the good old union
Has come in here to dwell

Which side are you on, boys?
Which side are you on?

My daddy was a miner
He’s now in the air and sun
He’ll be with you fellow workers
Until the battle’s won

Which side are you on, boys?
Which side are you on?

They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there
You’ll either be a union man
Or a thug for J. H. Claire

Which side are you on, boys?
Which side are you on?

Oh, workers can you stand it?
Oh, tell me how you can
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?

Which side are you on, boys?
Which side are you on?

Don’t scab for the bosses
Don’t listen to their lies
Poor folks ain’t got a chance
Unless they organize

Which side are you on, boys?
Which side are you on?