Is Education Reform Dying or Thriving in New York City?

A week ago Eliza Shapiro posted a lengthy, well-researched article in
Politico, “,How New York Stopped Being the Nation’s Education Reform Capital.”  My question: who are the reformers and who defines reform?

Shapiro tells us,

[Reformers] sought to make New York City — the nation’s largest school district — into the central urban laboratory for education reform. They hoped to overhaul how schools evaluate teachers, and to weaken the grip of the powerful teachers’ union by loosening tenure laws. If they could accomplish those foundational reforms — in a deep blue state, no less — then perhaps New York could serve as a beacon for similar efforts across the country.

In the last three years, education reformers have made little progress in transforming the city’s public schools. Efforts to change teacher evaluations and tenure here have sputtered and stalled. Dreams of political domination have receded as policy disappointments have multiplied.

The Bloomberg/Klein and policy think tank reforms have waned; however, perhaps less controversial and more impactful reforms are in progress.

“The rollback of education reform in New York has been the most dramatic in the country,” said Michael Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Interviews with three dozen current and former New York state and city education officials, charter school leaders, teachers’ union brass and education researchers revealed how inconsistent policies, poor implementation and shifting national politics compromised reform efforts here.

While the Duncan/Bloomberg/Klein reform efforts have fallen by the wayside reform has continued, a slower more consensus -driven reform.

Larry Cuban and David Tyack in “Tinkering Towards Utopia,” a must-read for anyone involved in education policy tracks education reform efforts over time and concludes that if reform is to become “sticky,” to actually change teaching and learning, the reforms must include teachers and parents.  The road to reform is littered with policies that have been rejected in the classrooms across the nation. The vast literature on personal and organizational change tells us, “participation reduces resistance” and “change is perceived as punishment.” The reforms of the last decade, imposed from above, were doomed, regardless of their value.

The first problem: was the system broken? The reformers worked under the assumption that the system was dysfunctional and all that came before them must be cast aside, or, to be more cynical, trashed the system to defend the sweeping changes they proposed.

I’m not going to defend all aspects of the New York City school system, dozens of high schools were dropout mills, too many teachers were provisionally certified because they couldn’t pass the required pre-service tests, the elected school boards in the poorest districts were rife with cronyism; however, the system was far from broken. A fascinating massive study of college graduates , released in January, 2017, is informative,

The most comprehensive study of college graduates yet conducted, based on millions of anonymous tax filings and financial-aid records. Published Wednesday, the study tracked students from nearly every college in the country (including those who failed to graduate), measuring their earnings years after they left campus.

At City College, in Manhattan, 76 percent of students who enrolled in the late 1990s and came from families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution have ended up in the top three-fifths of the distribution. These students entered college poor. They left on their way to the middle class and often the upper middle class.

Not only CCNY,

Three CUNY colleges are among the top 10 in the country in enrolling low-income students and graduating them into solid careers. Six more CUNY baccalaureate colleges are in the top 10 percent of the 918 U.S. colleges included in the study.

The CUNY students are almost all graduates of New York City public high schools. As a member of the board of the CCNY Alumni Association I am on the CCNY campus frequently, the student body is extremely diverse, and, impressive.

The so-called reformers, for the most part, did not come from within the system and were not traditional educators. They were lawyers, economists, Teach for America grads, who honestly believed they held the holy grail.

Sadly, they didn’t, and, the system continued swing from reform to reform.

In the late sixties David Rogers, a sociologist, wrote, “110 Livingston Street,”

This is a rigorous sociological examination of “”bureaucratic pathology within the school system.”” Rogers, who chooses New York City as a “”strategic case”” of a national sickness in public education, conducted this study for the Center for Urban Education. Here he presents a full history: unofficial blocking of desegregation, inefficiency, fragmentation of functions, failure.

The next reform, decentralization, created a fragmented school system, the middle class districts thrived, dedicated school board members, innovative programs, deep community involvement while the poorest districts were saw rapacious local leaders who fought for power and jobs, and, the local electeds who benefited from the system allowed the poorest kids in the poorest districts to suffer.

In my view the reforms of the Bloomberg years, with exceptions, were ill-conceived and harmful. For example, the creation of the Absent Teacher Reserve, at a cost of 150 million a year, was just senseless. Reformers were fixated on ridding the system of “bad teachers,” without any definition of “bad,” and succeeded in going to war with all teachers and many parents.

I an not going to recount and assess the reform policies, I am going to argue that reform is not dead, reform is now a process that has not garnered headlines but has moved the school system in a far better direction.

The Universal Pre kindergarten and the new “3K for All” are dramatic reforms that over the years will have an immense impact on improving outcomes.

Under the radar, the fifty or so transfer high schools, schools for “overage/under credited” students, about 2500 students citywide, serve students who would have been dropouts, the transfer schools graduate about half their students, while a 50% graduation rate is below the ESSA requirements the state, acknowledging the value of these schools has a separate metric for assessing the schools.

Under Bloomberg almost 3% of teachers received unsatisfactory ratings based solely on supervisory observations and about 40% of probationary teachers had their probation extended. Did this policy improve the quality of teaching? We have no idea. Under the current administration, working with Albany, teachers are now assessed by a complex combination of supervisory observations and measures of student learning, the system, referred to as the matrix, is supported by the union, in spite of some member discomfit.

Even further under the radar about 10% of all schools have chosen to participate in a UFT-Department of Education collaboration, using the acronym PROSE, (See detailed description here)

PROSE stands for Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence, and the opportunities for redesign at the heart of this program are predicated on the UFT’s core belief that the solutions for schools are to be found within school communities, in the expertise of those who practice our profession.

Schools range from staggered teacher/student schedules to teacher peer assessment, all collaboratively agreed to by the school leadership and the school staff. For me, taking ownership of your practice is the most essential reform.

Bloomberg administration, with the support of the union reinvigorated Career and Technical high schools, formerly known as vocational high schools. A Manhattan Institute report, “New CTE: A New York City Laboratory in America,”

The March, 2016, points to substantial reforms, beginning with Bloomberg and continuing under the de Blasio mayoralty,

  • The number of New York City high schools dedicated exclusively to CTE has tripled since 2004 to almost 50; some 75 other schools maintain CTE programs; 40 percent of high school students take at least one CTE course, and nearly 10 percent attend a dedicated CTE school.

 City Journal, a Manhattan Institute publication, in June, 2017 continues to track the CTE movement in New York City,

Encouragingly, policymakers have begun to offer programs to train students for such good jobs—and the early results are promising. In 2008, a task force commissioned by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg recommended overhauling and expanding the city’s career and technical training. Among the suggestions that the city adopted was a push to instill in high school technical programs “a strong academic foundation in literacy and numeracy” to prepare for today’s job market. The city also reformed vocational schooling to include apprenticeships, intern programs, and other work-related learning, seeking to ensure that students who don’t go on to college have some kind of certification or path to further training. Based on the task-force recommendations, the city has opened 25 new career and technical schools since 2010 and added vocational training to many others. New York now runs 50 schools entirely dedicated to career education and another 75 career academies within larger general-education schools, serving some 26,000 students in New York City.

Reform is far from dead in New York City, the “new” reform has continued meritorious initiatives and curtailed the foolish and harmful initiatives. The striking difference is that the union, parents and electeds are not only on board they are an integral party of the reform process.

I know there are cynics, all progress is manipulated, the school system is “bad,” the only answers are returning to the “good old days,” or, trashing everything and enlarging “choice;” the parachuting experts from the ivory towers of think tanks and universities who have “all the answers.”  A friend of mine begins each professional development session with “the answers are in the room.”

New York City is bubbling over with thoughtful, effective schools and programs, most of which bubbled up from staffs, the International High Schools Network, fifteen schools that serve English Language Learners who are new arrivals, Manhattan Comprehensive Day and Night High School, with highly flexible hours and total wraparound services, and on and on, the issue, how do we scale up success?  The International High School Network grew from one school to fifteen in the city and another fifteen or more across the nation.

With a mayor, a chancellor, a union president and a Board of Regents pretty much on the same page I am hopeful that progress will continue. Splashy reforms runoff into sewers, reforms that grow from classroom seeds embed and flower. City As School was one of the first alternative high schools;  I congratulated the founding principal; I thought the school  was a brilliant idea, he replied, “Speak to me two or three principals down the road, if you feel the same way I did my job.” Half a century later the school is still thriving. Good people, good ideas, hard work will create a better and better school system.

Eva, Andrew and NYS Politics: Why is Eva Moskowitz, the Success Academy Network CEO so politically influential?

A quick review: The charter school law in New York State passed in December, 1998 at a lame duck session of the legislature called by Governor Pakati – two items on the agenda, the charter school bill and a raise, BTW, the last raise legislators received!  The law  established a quota on the number of charter schools, currently New York City  is about 25 schools below the quota, the quota for the remainder of the state is about 150 schools below the quota. Supporters of charter schools range from Milton Freedman acolytes, the anti-teacher union cabal, and, recently, Republicans feasting on charter school political action dollars. The Republicans have very few charter schools in their districts.

Under the law the Charter School Institute, part of the State University (SUNY) and the Board of Regents are charter school authorizers. The Charter School Institute maintains a detailed website – Check out here. Check out the Charter School Office of the New York State Education Department here. While the organizations, SUNY and the NYSED must comply with the law they have differing standards re approving charter school applications and renewals.

Charter Schools receive authorizations for five years, and, in the fifth year the authorizer reviews the performance of the school, The SUNY Charter School Institute extends the charter for an additional five years, or, rarely, closes the charter school. The NYSED Charter School Office can recommend to the Regents reauthorizing charters from two to a full five years, or, fail to renew and close the charter. See the just released “NYSED Protocols for Charter School Site Visits: 2017-18.

In the Spring, 2017 the SUNY Charter School Institute submitted ten requests for the extension of charters that were years away from renewal to the Board of Regents, the schools were all in the Eva Moskowitz run Success Academy Network, The Regents returned the requests to SUNY with the following comments,

Renewals to Charters Authorized by the Trustees of the State University of New York 
Your Committee recommends that the Board of Regents return the proposed charters [ten Success Academy Charter Schools with two, three and four years remaining before expiration of the charter] to the Trustees of the State University of New York for reconsideration with the following comment and recommendation:

Approving the renewal of any charter school years before the expiration of the charter does not allow timely review of the school’s educational and fiscal soundness, community support, legal compliance, or means by which the school will meet or exceed enrollment and retention targets for students with disabilities, English language learners and students who are eligible applicants for the free and reduced price lunch program. The charters should be abandoned, and the schools should be directed to resubmit the application no earlier than one year prior to the expiration of the charter term.

Under the law the extensions will go into effect after 90 days if SUNY chooses not to withdraw the renewal requests.

Why would the Charter School Institute even consider extending charters years ahead of time?  Remember the song: “Whatever Eva wants …?

Additionally, the Charter School Committee of SUNY released draft regulations: SUNY will approve plans submitted by charter networks for teacher certification in SUNY-authorized charter schools without the formal teacher certification required for all other teachers in the state.  Public comment forms open from 7/26 for 45 days here. The SUNY Charter School Institute indicated the change was necessary due to the difficulty in recruiting certified teachers; no evidence was presented to support the claim. The regulation appears to grant charter school networks wide discretion in approving prospective charter school teacher candidates.

Commissioner Elia and the Chancellor Rosa expressed  “concerns” over the plan,

“The Board of Regents and State Education Department are focused on ensuring that strong and effective teachers with the proper training, experience and credentials are educating New York’s children in every public school – including charter schools,” …. “Our review of SUNY’s teacher certification proposal is cause for concern in maintaining this expectation.”

On July 17th Ed in the Apple submitted comments to the Charter School Institute urging the Institute to withdraw the proposal and seek other avenues to recruit teachers. (Read here).

The SUNY Board of Trustees is comprised of 18 members, 15 of whom are appointed by the Governor, with consent of the NYS Senate.

The Board of Trustees is the governing body of the State University of New York.  The Charter Schools Committee is a subcommittee of the Board of Trustees that oversees SUNY authorized charter schools. Consisting of four members [three lawyers and a businessman], the Committee “approves or denies charter applications, revisions and renewals, administers a statewide charter school grant program, and sets SUNY charter school policies and standards.”

The SUNY Board belongs to the governor.

The Regents are responsible for “the general supervision of all educational activities within the State. The Regents are organized into standing committees, subcommittees and work groups whose members and chairs are appointed by the Chancellor.”

The Board comprises 17 members elected by a joint meeting of both houses of the State Legislature for 5 year terms [actually by the Democratic majority]: 1 from each of the State’s 13 judicial districts and 4 members who serve at large. Regents are unsalaried and are reimbursed only for travel and related expenses in connection with their official duties.

The governor has no statutory authority over the Regents.

Why does Eva Moskowitz have so much clout?  Why is the governor supporting policies clearing benefiting Moskowitz?

The 2018 Gubernatorial Election:

Three years ago Cuomo had to fight off attacks from the left in his own party to win the primary and fight off a popular, if underfunded Republican candidate. Cuomo received 54% of the vote; however, if you look at a map the pink/red (Republican) districts far outnumber the blue (Democratic) districts – the deciding factor was 80% plus majorities for Cuomo in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx (See map here). A better funded Republican could have even narrowed the gap, and, the charter school political action dollars are a key: who controls the charter school PAC dollars and how can Cuomo prevents the dollars from flowing to a Republican candidate?  Think Eva.

The 2020 Presidential Election (Not Bernie, Not Hillary)

Friends say I’m crazy,  Cuomo isn’t “presidential material,” I demur. Cuomo is hard to place on the political spectrum. He led the “fight for 15.” actively fighting Trump on immigrant issues, pro-environment, not pro decriminalization of marihuana,  did not push the “Dreamer” bill, he does not easily fall into a place on the spectrum. After a solid win in 2018 he can burnish credentials for a 2020 run for the White House. Andrew will not “leave the plane on the runway” – See Mario anecdote here.

Attacks from the Left

Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor and a political neophyte received 34% of the vote in the 2014 September Democratic gubernatorial primary; the left wing of the Democratic Party was clearly unhappy with Cuomo in 2014 and there are rumblings of challenges next year. Cynthia Nixon, a popular actor and activist, and, a very strong public school parent/activist is considering running. Will the Sanders voters support a political neophyte? Will the Working Families Party deny Cuomo an endorsement?

Will the teachers union remain on the sidelines?

In 2014 NYSUT, the NYS teachers union did not make an endorsement, and, a few Long Island locals endorsed Teachout in the primary. Yes, Cuomo leans toward charter schools; however, he provided the largest increase in state education dollars, shows no interest in reviving the reviled APPR test-scored based teacher evaluation plan and appears to be in sync with the Regents in implementing the 2015 Cuomo Commission recommendations.(Read here). NYSUT has a new leadership that has had a brief and fractious relationship with the governor, members don’t love him, on the other hand staying on the sidelines is like kissing your sister, satisfying for neither party.

Can any Democrat afford to “stay on the sidelines” or vote for a third party?

Yes, Cuomo tilts, or leans, or outright supports charter schools, can any democrat afford to not vote, perhaps to facilitate the election of a Republican?  Then again, Pataki, a Republican preceded Cuomo and served for three terms (twelve years). A current-day Republican governor would not only be pro charter, s/he would also be pro voucher, anti-tenure and also support sharp restrictions on increases in property taxes. Rationally, Democrats would appear to have no place to go but support Cuomo, voters are not rational. How many democrats voted for Jill Stein instead of Hillary?  Did the Stein voters tip the scales for Trump?

I know too many teachers who are lifelong democrats who simply say they cannot “pull the lever,” excuse me, “bubble in the box” for Cuomo.

Cuomo’s flirtation with Eva may end badly; yes. he may prevent charter dollars from flowing to an Republican opponent, on the other hand, he may have alienated many “irrational” democratic voters.

Brief affairs frequently don’t end well.

Read a lengthy article in Politico musing over the end of education reform in New York and the role of Cuomo here

Is “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy” an Evidence-Based Intervention Within the ESSA Law?

Information lead to knowledge, knowledge lead to wisdom/Wisdom lead to understanding, once you have all that/You start demanding justice/Justice is what love look like in public/I ain’t just writing for it, I’m out here fighting for it – Talib Kweli

The dog days of summer are upon us; hot and humid with daily depressing news from the nation’s capital. If you’re teaching summer school, or, you’re a principal, you’re about to flee for a few weeks of vacation before Labor Day. The only bit of upcoming education news will be the state test scores; last year we saw a sharp jump, attributed by most to the movement to untimed tests; sages are predicting flat scores.(“Experts predict less of an increase in state test scores this year, credit elimination of time limits for spike last year)”

I spent the last week trudging through the ESSA draft plan that has been passed on to the governor for review (required by the law) and will be voted at the September Regents meeting and submitted to the US Department of Education.

A very quick review: within the regulations set by the law the state must determine how to identify low performing schools and lay out interventions to remedy the school inadequacies. Under NCLB the only metric was ELA and Math scores on the state tests; the draft plan weighs test scores, usually referred to proficiency as well as growth, referred to as progress. From my point of view fairer; however the state must still identify the lowest performing schools. The intervention side is far more difficult; after all, the state has been identifying low performing schools for decades, remember SURR – Schools Under Registration Review. I served as the teacher union member on many teams – we spent four days in a school, reviewed reams of data, observed every classroom, interviewed everyone we could find and wrote a “findings and recommendations” report based on a 21-topic template. The number one finding was always, “lack of support at the district and school level.”  Very little changed after our visit and report.

The feds currently require “evidence-based” interventions and describes what they mean in detail (See the regulations here)

New York State as a matter of long-standing policy does not require specific curricula, those decisions are made at the local level; however, Engage NY (Check out the site here) , the state website provides extremely detailed curriculum modules that have become the script in most schools across the state.

The 75-page summary of the draft ESSA plan (Read here) is artfully presented, tedious, repetitive and seems to want to satisfy everyone – more a political document than an actionable plan. I’m not being overly critical, to satisfy diverse constituencies you frequently come up with plans that all sides support and are also internally unworkable. A camel: an animal designed by a committee.

As I read and reread the plan one phrase popped up again and again: culturally responsive pedagogy or teaching or practices. The plan does have a glossary that defines the term:

“Cultural Responsiveness: Acknowledges the presence of culturally diverse students and the need for students to find relevant connections among themselves and the subject matter and the tasks teachers ask them to perform”

I’m still unclear: in designing a lesson we all try to tap into the student’s world, we try to develop a connection, we try to motivate and engage the student. On the other hand Algebra or Chemistry or Physics are academic disciplines, perhaps in an English classroom we can choose literature that makes connections with students, or, make sure we include a diverse array of personages in history lessons; for example, Frederick Douglas or WEB Du Bois, or James Baldwin. On the other hand hopefully we’re not throwing Shakespeare off the train.

The term originated with Gloria Ladson-Billings,

Culturally relevant teaching is a term created by Gloria Ladson-Billings (1994) to describe “a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes.”1 Participating in culturally relevant teaching essentially means that teachers create a bridge between students’ home and school lives, while still meeting the expectations of the district and state curricular requirements. Culturally relevant teaching utilizes the backgrounds, knowledge, and experiences of the students to inform the teacher’s lessons and methodology.

Ladson-Billings contends that culturally relevant pedagogy has three criteria:

  • Students must experience academic success.
  • Students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence.
  • Students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order

I’m not sure if I know what “cultural competence” means and I’m less sure that the role of a teacher is to teach students to “challenge the status quo of the current social order.”

I do think that Socratic Dialogues are a challenging pedagogical methodology, I favor encouraging students to develop a thesis, back up the thesis with research and defend the thesis to the class.

Lisa Delpit, Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom (1995). is a book commonly assigned in education preparation courses, An Education Week article relates an interview with Delpit,

”   it’s also more complicated than just teaching more and covering more basic skills, Delpit goes on to say in her writings. You also have to recognize, acknowledge, and value the cultural strengths a child brings to school. Teachers who say, “I don’t see color in my classroom,” are doing the opposite, according to Delpit. “What does it say to our children if we cannot discuss a visible aspect of them? It says there’s something wrong with them,” she says.

If you really want to know how best to teach urban children, Delpit maintains, then you must ask them and their parents. You also must ask the teachers who know them best because they come from the same cultural groups.

Delpit maintains that teachers who come from the same “cultural groups” (code for race and ethnicity?) have special knowledge, and, by implication, might be more effective teachers.

Before we get too far down the road let’s examine that question of “evidence.”  The best place to look is the US Department of Education “What Works Clearinghouse.”

Morgan Polikoff, an education professor and University of Southern California and a frequent writer and blogger opines,

… the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) is chock full of programs that don’t seem to “work,” at least according to its own evidence standards, and I don’t think anyone believes the WWC has had its desired impact. (The former director of IES himself has joked that it might more properly be called the What Doesn’t Work Clearinghouse).

[I] … half-joke on Twitter that maybe states or the feds should change their approach toward evidence. Rather than (or in addition to) encouraging schools and districts to do good things, they should start discouraging them from doing things we know or believe to be harmful.

Does culturally responsive pedagogy lead to better outcomes for kids? I don’t know. Would I use socially conscious rappers  to motivate lessons and encourage dialogues – absolutely.

Check out a “socially conscious” rapper:

Back in the early nineties the New York City Board of Education introduced the Children of the Rainbow curriculum, out of the 443 pages three pages dealt with teaching about “gays and lesbians” – the firestorm that erupted led to the firing of Chancellor Joseph Fernandez.  – Has the world changed in twenty-five years?  Could the term “culturally responsive pedagogy” create a firestorm?

Some aver the term is meaningless and detrimental to the education of the neediest students and argue for highly specific approaches, for example, ED Hirsch’s Core Knowledge and point to solid research result  See The NYC Core Knowledge Early Literacy Pilot here.

What do you think?

Suspensions: A Rational Response to Inappropriate Student Behaviors or a Continuation of the Dehumanization of Children of Color: A Research Literature Review.

Thanks for all the comments, online and offline, about my last blog (Why Do We Suspend Students from School? Do Suspensions Result in Improved Outcomes? Read here), it clearly sparked interest.

The term “suspension,” envisions a removal from school, perhaps to a alternative site, or, simply stay home for a specified length of time. The vast majority of suspensions are in-school suspensions; in New York State all suspensions are removal from class to an alternative site, either in the school or another education facility.

Each school district must have a readily accessible discipline code, a set of regulations that describe in detail behavior expectations and consequences.

Teachers commonly have a “time out” area for a student whose behavior is “disruptive of the education process,” if the disruptive behavior continues the Code describes progressive discipline steps,

The first step is  removal from  classroom by a teacher,

“A student who engages in behavior that is substantially disruptive of the education process, or, substantially interferes with a teacher’s authority over the classroom may be removed from the classroom consistent with the disciplinary options set forth in the Code. All removed students must be permitted to attend classes that are taught by teachers other than the teacher requesting the removal (e. g., music, art or science)”

The next step up the ladder is a Principal Suspension.

“In addition to the above a principal has the authority to suspend a student for 1 to 5 days for behavior that presents a clear and present danger of physical injury to the student or other students or school personnel, or, prevents the orderly operation of classes or other school activities consistent with the disciplinary options set forth in the Code. Reasonable  effort must be made to address inappropriate student behavior through supports and interventions prior to imposing a Principal’s suspension.”

“Suspended students must be provided with instruction, including homework and class work at tan alternative educational site within the school”

The next step, the most controversial step are Superintendent Suspensions,

“A superintendent’s suspension may result in a period of suspension that exceeds five school days and may be sought for behavior for which a superintendent’s suspension is authorized by the Discipline Code.

A student who receives a superintendent’s suspension must be provided with the opportunity for a hearing at which the student has the opportunity to present evidence and witnesses on his/her behalf and to question the school’s witnesses [note: the student may be represented by counsel]”

The Code specifically urges school to couple supports with disciplinary actions..

“When a student engages in inappropriate behavior the school is expected to couple supports and interventions with disciplinary actions with the express purpose of holding student’s accountable and simultaneously helping students learn from their mistakes. The disciplinary responses which follow provide a range of options to be used to best meet each student’s individual needs. While student misbehavior must be handled on a case-by-case basis schools are expected first to implement primary (non-removal) disciplinary consequences to address student misconduct whenever possible and appropriate before imposing a more stringent disciplinary response.”

The Code lists page after page, in minute detail, inappropriate student behaviors: Level 4, “Aggressive or Injurious/harmful behavior,” and Level 5, “Seriously Dangerous  or Violent Behavior.”  The Code lists “Student Supports and Accountability Responses to be Used in Tandem,” and two columns: “Supports and Interventions” and “Range of Possible Disciplinary Actions.”

Increasingly schools are using restorative justice practices to address discipline issues

Read the entire 41-page Revised (April. 2017) Discipline Code here

In New York City the number of suspensions has dropped sharply.

The Discipline Code and the suspension procedures on the surface appear to be rational responses to inappropriate student behaviors.

Are we deluding ourselves?

Critics of suspension paint a different picture, an abusive system that is an extension of slavery. Khalil Gibran Mohammad, the author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern Urban America (2011) recounts how the abolition of slavery, the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were nullified in the South as a system of peonage and incarceration replaced slavery.

 Legislators turned to the newly constitutionally protected power of the state to criminalize nearly every aspect of black freedom, from employment and land ownership to voting and everyday forms of self-defense and self-pride.

What abolition took away, the modern criminal-justice system restored: a racialized system built in the South to economically exploit, socially contain, and politically control the black population in the name of law and order.

The Supreme Court, in decision after decision confirmed the passage of Jim Crow laws; Lawrence Goldstone, “Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court – 1865 – 1903” (2011), writes,

by the dawn of the twentieth century the United States had become the nation of Jim Crow law, quasi slavery, and precisely the same two-tiered of justice that existed in the slave era.”

Thanks to Professor Fergus, at NYU, for pointing me in the direction of a wealth of school suspension research.  The Equity Project at Indiana University explores core issues in a paper, “Are Kids Worse? Myths and Facts About Racial Differences in Behavior: A Summary of the Literature” (2014).

There has been a substantial amount of research exploring connections between race, poverty, student behavior and suspension/expulsion. The purpose of this paper is to summarize this research. Does poverty explain the Black-White discipline gap? To what extent are racial differences in suspension and expulsion due to different rates of misbehavior or disruption among students of different races?

After an in depth exploration of reams of research studies the authors conclude,

the data are consistent: there is simply no good evidence that racial differences in discipline are due to differences in rates or types of misbehavior by students of different races.

I urge you to click and review the findings here.

If you want delve more deeply into the research check out the links below:

Can “De-Biasing” Strategies Help to Reduce Racial Disparities in School Discipline?

Discipline Disparities: Myths and Facts

New and Developing Research on Disparities in Discipline: The Discipline-Disparity Research to Practice Collaborative.

How Educators can Eradicate Disparities in School Discipline: A Briefing Paper on School-Based Interventions

Gregory and Fergus in the journal, “The Future of Children,” Fall, 2017 examine the question if how social and emotional learning, for both students and teachers, impact student discipline and muse over the impact of “power, privilege and cultural differences”

 Anne Gregory and Edward Fergus review federal and state mandates to cut down on
punishments that remove students from school, and they show how some districts are
embracing Social Emotional Learnong in their efforts to do so. Yet even in these districts, large disparities in discipline persist. The authors suggest two reasons current discipline reforms that embrace SEL practices may hold limited promise for reducing discipline disparities.

The first is that prevailing “colorblind” notions of SEL don’t consider power, privilege, and
cultural difference—thus ignoring how individual beliefs and structural biases can lead
educators to react harshly to behaviors that fall outside a white cultural frame of reference. The second is that most SEL models are centered on students, but not on the adults who interact with them. Yet research shows that educators’ own social and emotional competencies strongly influence students’ motivation to learn and the school climate in general.

The first day of class and the prospective trickled into my graduate education class; I asked them an inane ice breaker question: sometime like “In one brief sentence, what’s your education philosophy?” Muhammad was the only black student in the class, he was a scientist who was an adult convert to Islam; he answered first: “All whites are racists, the question is how they deal with their racism.”

A moment of silence, I changed the assignment, I asked the next student, “Agree with Mohammad?”

“Absolutely, I struggle with my racism every day, I’m a middle class white from the suburbs, how can I relate to my inner city students.”

The next student almost jumped out of her skin, “You’re the racist, how can you point fingers at us if you’ve never met us, you’re disgraceful … I treat everyone equally whether white, black or green, to treat individuals differently is racist.”

The discussions for the remainder of the term were spirited and rich – were minds changed?  Should minds have been changed?  I don’t know – I know we explored an emotionally charged issues – we thought deeply.

In New City City there many campuses, building with three, four or more high schools. Schools in the same building with kids from the same neighborhoods with the same academic abilities, one school has high levels of suspensions the school on an adjacent floor has few suspensions. The only differences are the school leaders and staffs.

Student suspension and discipline procedures and policies is a complex, emotional topic.

Why Do We Suspend Students from School? Do Suspensions Result in Improved Outcomes? Are Restorative Justice Practices an Effective Alternative to Suspensions

A month after de Blasio’s election I went to a session at the transition tent, a community outreach, an actual tent, every day a series of “events,” panels of activists commenting/recommending policies for the new administration. The education panel I attended, a minister from a large church, the local NAACP leader, local electeds, community leader types, all railing against the school to prison pipeline. With all the possible education issues confronting the city the top issue for these Harlem activists was the “pipeline.”

Harlem activists are not alone, in fact the “pipeline” is widely accepted as a “truth:” from the ACLU to Tavis Smiley to media source after source.

“The ACLU is committed to challenging the ‘school-to-prison pipeline,’ a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems“. (School to Prison Pipeline)

The school-to-prison pipeline: an epidemic that is plaguing schools across the nation. Far too often, students are suspended, expelled or even arrested for minor offenses that leave visits to the principal’s office a thing of the past.” (Tavis Smiley Reports)

“Policies and practices that favor incarcerations over education do us all a grave injustice.” (

The final draft of the New York State ESSA plan includes a section “discouraging” student suspensions,

“…additional measures of school quality and student success in the accountability and support system over time, beginning with the percentage of students who annually are subject to out-of-school suspensions.”

In New York State all students who are suspended must report to an educational facility. There are two categories of suspensions: in-school, in New York City from one to five days and in another facility if more than five days; either in a special alternative facility, outside the city usually in a BOCES facility.

Suspensions are governed by discipline codes, each school district must have a discipline code that is aligned with state education regulations as well as state and federal laws.

Read NYC Discipline Code (revised, April 2017), Grades K-5,

Read NYC Discipline Code (revised, April 2017)

A lengthy essay in the New York Times reviews suspension policies in New York City and favors restorative justice practices as alternatives,

… in New York, where Rudolph W. Giuliani’s “broken windows” theory had taken hold, signaled to educators that crackdowns on unruliness of all kinds were in order. Between 1999 and 2009, the number of student suspensions in New York nearly doubled, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, reaching about 450,000 suspensions over the course of the decade. In that era, infractions that once might have merited a call home, like shoving another student or cursing, were increasingly common grounds for suspension.

By 2015, in New York City, repeat low-level infractions — cursing, for example — no longer qualified for suspensions. In order to suspend a student for “defying or disobeying the lawful authority” of school staff, the kind of catchall violation that was disproportionately applied to students of color, a principal had to obtain approval from the Education Department. Between July 2015 and that December, the number of suspensions in New York dropped by 32 percent, compared with the same period a year earlier

The Department of Education urged principals to adopt restorative justice practices in lieu of suspensions.

Restorative justice is built on values like community, empathy and responsibility; in its specifics, it asks students and teachers to strengthen connections and heal rifts by sitting on chairs in circles and allowing each participant to speak about how a given incident affected him or her.

The central question: Do suspensions work”? Do restorative justices practices “work?”

By “work” I mean has the suspended student “learned a lesson,” Is future conduct better? Do the “suspendeds” learn self-control? Has the number of recidivist suspensions declined? Does the behavior and academic outcomes of students improve after return from suspension? If a student is suspended and removed from class does the class “benefit?” Does “learning” in the rest of the class improve?

An out-of-school- suspension is the result of a serious violation of the discipline code, for example, fighting, and, we have to be careful not to confuse the act that resulted in the suspension to the suspension itself. While the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations encouraged a “broken windows” strategy, “stop and frisk” by the police and school suspensions, the current de Blasio administration has sharply reduced stop and frisk and suspensions.

Crime rates continue to decline across the city, we don’t know the impact of fewer suspensions?

Max Eden at the Manhattan Institute, in a review of teacher and students surveys claims discipline has eroded,

Advocates of discipline reform claim that a suspension may have negative effects on the student being disciplined. Critics are concerned that lax discipline may lead to more disruptive behavior, disrupting classrooms and harming students who want to learn.

While school climate is impossible to measure in most districts, it can be measured in New York City, America’s largest school district, thanks to surveys that question students and teachers about learning conditions in their school.

This report analyzes student and teacher surveys covering the five-year period of 2011–12 to 2015–16. The key findings: school climate remained relatively steady under Bloomberg’s discipline reform, but deteriorated rapidly under de Blasio’s. Specifically, teachers report less order and discipline, and students report less mutual respect among their peers, as well as more violence, drug and alcohol use, and gang activity. .

At  March 14th Manhattan Institute forum Lois Herrrra, Executive Director of the Department of Education Office of Safety and Youth Development challenged the findings of the Eden report.

The Department Online Occurrence Report System (OORS) requires detailed reporting of every incident in a school whether or not it results in a suspension. OORS is a rich trove of data, due to privacy concerns the Department limits access to the system – research designs must protect all privacy data. An artfully designed research project would be helpful in driving policy, unfortunately, I believe, the current beliefs that abhor suspensions might not support research with uncertain outcomes.

What has gone unexplored is what happens during a period of suspension. New York City maintains suspensions sites (“Alternative Learning Centers”) and, students receive small group instruction and intensive counseling at the sites. Yes, attendance is well below citywide attendance, for the students that regularly attend: are the outcomes better; do the suspension recidivist rate decrease, do student academic outcomes improve? An article in the New York Teacher describes the sites,

[The Department supports] five centers and 36 sites across the city where high school students are sent for instruction after they have committed an infraction that results in an out-of-school suspension.

These centers together form a carefully conceived safety net to ensure at-risk students get the support they need while not missing a day of instruction.

Mitchell Greggs, the assistant principal at Park Place Academy, a long-term suspension site, says the Department of Education’s alternate learning centers, with their small class sizes, specially trained staff and extra support, give students who have made a mistake at their home school the opportunity to change course.

“It’s the best-kept secret” of the school system, said Greggs. “I tell some students this might be the best worst mistake you ever made.”

… teachers hold daily advisory classes to work on community building, punctuality and attendance and how to handle stressful situations without resorting to fights.

In addition, there are restorative circles held weekly and as needed to talk about issues as they arise and what students will do differently when they return to their home schools.

The intimate school size and class sizes, which can range from one to 13 students, provide the opportunity for staff to get to know the students and address their unique needs.

“We work very individually with students,” said Park Place guidance counselor Camela Singh. “There’s a lot of one-on-one attention to help them plan their academic career behaviorally and make improvements when they go back to their regular school or graduate.

For younger students restorative justice practices as part of a curriculum appear to be an excellent idea, especially if integrated into a school curriculum. At the middle or high school level I favor student advisories, time each week for the teacher to engage in social, emotional learning activities, perhaps restorative justice activities, perhaps single sex “discussions” with same sex teachers; however, to virtually eliminate suspensions is a disservice. Students can learn life-saving, vital lessons during periods of suspension. Violent and dangerous acts have consequences, and a period of removal from a classroom and period of intensive counseling and intensive instruction can make an enormous difference in the life of a student.

We need research: which approaches are working, we should not allow preconceived, political agendas to drive policy

ESSA-ing Down the Road: Will the New State Plan Change the Face of Teaching and Learning or Stumble and Anger Parents and Teachers?

The July Regents Meeting is usually billed as a retreat; a day and half at some conference center discussing the agenda for the next school year. This group of Regents is engaged, enormously engaged. Regent Cashin hosted a dozen meetings around the state with college deans, college staffs and students to discuss the required pre-service tests. and after a year eliminated the ALST test. Regent Young chaired the Work Group on Improving Outcomes for Young Men of Color and which led to $20 million dollars in the budget for a range targeted programs. Regent Johnson and Reyes co-chair the School Integration Work Group, beginning the process of exploring/recommending/creating policies to promote school integration across the state. Regent Cottrell is a physician leading the efforts dealing with the social/emotional side of learning. Regent Mead served as a parent on a Community Education Council (CEC) in New York City. Regent Collins is a nurse, etc.

It was not surprising when the “retreat” was another meeting packed with the “big issues” facing education in the state.

The Commissioner rolled out the updated ESSA plan after over a year of discussions. The community engagement was impressive, every constituency across the state: school districts, school boards, teachers, unions, principals, parents, everyone who touches children had the chance to pay a role in the process.

After the release of a May draft the Commissioner released an updated July plan. The plan will now go on to the Governor for review, required by the law, and back to the Commissioner/Board of Regents for approval at the September meeting. The plan will go to the feds in Washington to review, perhaps require changes, and eventual approval.

You can check out a 12-slide power point presentation of the plan:

You can review a superbly done 75-page summary of the plan:

If you’re following the construction of the plan you can review a 12-page comparison of the May to July revisions to the plan:

If you’re a glutton for punishment or are really into following the plan read the 201-page ESSA Plan in template format:

The presentations were led by Linda Darling-Hammond of the Learning Policy Institute and Scott Marion of the Center for Assessment. As an aside, Linda was frequently mentioned as Secretary of Education before President Obama nominated Arne Duncan, what is mistake!!  Sadly, water under the bridge. Scott Marion, a self-described “recovering psychometrician” has the ability to engage with an audience, parse the most complex topics, and not shy away from misinformation. Scott began his presentation with, “Complex problems commonly have simple solutions, and, they’re usually wrong.”

Linda and Scott were a tag team laying out the plan and the discussion over designing a “dashboard.” How will the state create a visual representation of the plan for the public: ordinary citizens, voters, parents, the folks out there who pay the taxes that support schools.

The next step is to creating the interactive dashboard with clickable links if you want to dip deeper; a task for next year. A number of states have created and currently use dashboards. Linda and Scott, in a 37-slide power point described what other dashboards look like and facilitated a discussion among the members of the Regents – you can review – which of the models do you prefer?

The final section of the presentation was the most fascinating. The law provides a section in which states can create innovative assessment pilots. The regulations have not been released at this time, and, we have no idea when the feds will move forward. In a 41-slide power point called the Next Generation of Assessments Scott and Linda explained the contradictions in the concept of assessment – the differences in what teachers need for assessment (to drive daily instruction) and a school district’s need – to measure progress; however you define progress. The slides touch on performance assessments aka authentic assessments, portfolios and other types of parsing student learning.

If you are an opponent of the current state tests and regents exams click here:, This may be the assessment world a few years down the road

A teacher asked: “Should I care? Will the plan impact what I do with my kids in my classroom?”

For the 17-18 school year, no, for the years down the road, hopefully the answer will be yes; however, “the road is long, with many a winding turn, that leads us to who knows where, who knows where.”

A principal asked the same question, with a somewhat different answer.

The plan does change the definition and the acronyms for low performing schools, and, I believe, is fairer. Instead of simply test scores the plan balances test scores with growth, year to year progress.

I disagree with parts of the plan:  chronic absenteeism is beyond the ability of the school to impact –  I refer readers to “A Better Picture of Poverty” produced by the Center for NYC Affairs, there is a 1:1 correlation between poverty and chronic absenteeism. By adding suspensions you are simply instructing principals/superintendents not to suspend kids; clearly a bone for the “suspension is the pipeline to prison” audience. The plan uses  “culturally relevant education or practices” many times – and the definition presented is vague – again, I understand the political requirements; however, clarity is also essential.

The plan encourages school districts to offer math and science regents examinations in the 7th and 8th grades, and, the pressure on schools and therefore students and families will accelerate. Kids should progress at developmentally appropriate rates, not rates set to aggrandize the reputation of a superintendent or a commissioner.

On one hand I believe the plan is generally well-sculptured and offers a far better path than No Child Left Behind, on the other hand, plans can go astray between the aeries of Albany and the classrooms around the state. Remember when you play telephone, one kid whispered a phase to a second kid who whispered to a third kid and down the line. By the time you got to the last kid the phrase was garbled and incomprehensible.

How to you convert policy into action in 700 school districts?

At the second day of the meeting/retreat the Commissioner raised the question of graduation requirements. Graduation rates in New York State have been creeping upwards: has instruction, teaching and learning, improved, or, patches to the regulations and schools “gaming the system?”

Maybe both.

A safety net for students with disabilities (passing is moved to a grade of 55), a re-scoring system at the discretion of the superintendent and credit recovery schemes, all moving up the graduation rate. Add to this the alternative 4 + 1 in lieu of five regents and the CDOS pathway, alternative pathways have moved the graduations up. Are students who use the alternate pathways “college and career ready” or, are we shoving ill-prepared kids into a bleak future? Check out a 25-slide power point presentation with an emphasis on alternative pathways:

The Regents also began a conversation over how to respond to the UCLA Report that found New York State one of the most racially segregated states – Regent Johnson will lead a yearlong investigation culminating in action plans. Check out the 32-slide power point, “Integration: Framing the Conversation,”

Yes, an intense day and a half with a lot to digest and a lengthy agenda for next year.

What do you think?  Comments welcome.

Ridding Schools of the Bloomberg/Klein Toxicity: Ending the Absent Teacher Reserve Pool in New York City is Long Overdue

The 74 is a national online education website co-founded by Campbell Brown, a former news anchor and virulent enemy of teacher unions, supporter of charter schools and Betsy; it is an advocacy website masquerading as a an informational site.

I was not surprised when a post by Dan Weisberg, former Joel Klein soldier popped up on the 74 site.  Weisberg currently leads TNTP, a not-for-profit that has consistently attacked teacher tenure and teacher assessment. The post, “Paying Teachers Not to Teach is Absurd – but Reviving NYC’s Dance of the Lemons Hurts Kids,” sounds like one of the endless press releases from the Bloomberg-Klein machine. Klein, an attorney, surrounded himself with attorneys, and we know what Shakespeare said about lawyers . Klein and Weisberg and company portrayed themselves as “disrupters,” changing the system by breaking down and rebuilding  from scratch, by creating chaos and building a new system from the ground up. After a dozen years of disruptive change the administration succeeded in disruption and failed to ensure positive change. The whirlwind of policy change after policy change alienated principals and teachers and confused the public.

On the eve of the 2013 mayoral election Sol Stern, in a City Journal essay offering advice to the new mayor wrote,

The public, for its part, remains dissatisfied with Gotham’s schools, according to a poll of city voters commissioned by the Manhattan Institute and conducted earlier this year by Zogby Analytics ….  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.

A little background: for decades a few hundred teachers were excessed at the end of a school year, some schools had reduced registers, other schools had increasing registers. The excess teachers were placed in schools with vacancies, The contract Excessing Rules provided an orderly transition since the first contracts in the early sixties.

Another section of the contract provided for Seniority Transfers, half of all vacancies, vacancies were defined as open positions due to retirement or resignation, not leaves of absence, and posted in the Spring, In the early nineties a school approached the union with a plan, exempt the school from seniority transfers and a school committee made up of a majority of teachers would select new hires. The union agreed and after a few years the process was embedded in the contract. By the Bloomberg ascension 60% of schools had opted for what became known as the School-Based Option Staffing and Transfer Plan.

In the article referenced above Weisberg, with obvious pride, reports that he led the part of the negotiations that eliminated seniority transfers and established the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool.

The union was pushing for the SBO Staffing/Transfer Plan to replace the seniority transfer plan – it was easy to agree to the Open Market employment system – any teacher could move to any school with the approval of the receiving school; basically all teachers became “free agents” at the end of every school year. Thousands upon thousands of teachers change school every year, and, the movement is commonly from high poverty, lower achieving schools to higher achieving schools.

The evidence is clear, teacher mobility damages high poverty, low-achieving schools, In “Teacher Quality and Teacher Mobility, Li Feng and Tim Sass (February, 2011) conclude,

The most effective teachers who transfer tend to go to schools whose faculties are in the top quartile of teacher quality. Teacher mobility exacerbates differences in teacher quality across schools.

Numerous studies come to the same conclusion,

Hamilton Langford and others, “Explaining the Short Career of High-Achieving Teachers in Schools with Low-Performing Students,” (January, 2004),

Low achieving students often are taught by the least qualified teachers, these disparities begin when teachers take their first jobs and in urban areas they are worsened by teacher subsequent decisions to transfer and quit. Such quits and transfers increase disparities …  more qualified teachers are substantially more likely to leave schools having the lowest achieving students 

The long established seniority transfer plan required five years of service before a transfer – now annual “free agency,” the “disrupters” harmed the most vulnerable schools.

Weisberg, et. al., also are proud of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool, actually an attempt to rid the system is “bad teachers,” or maybe senior teachers, or maybe union activists or maybe simply to show the union and teachers who really was in charge.

The number of U-ratings under Klein/Weisberg escalated dramatically, close to 3% of teacher received unsatisfactory ratings. The appeals were a sham, the Department was judge and jury. Accusations of misconduct, defined as any conduct the principal thought was inappropriate, conduct that in prior years might result in a letter of reprimand now resulted in a trip to the infamous “rubber room.”. Eventually the teacher was dumped into the ATR pool; of the small number of teachers who were brought up on charges the vast percentage were exonerated or paid a fine and were returned to the ATR pool. The aim was to convince the legislature to change the law and require the teachers in the ATR pool for more than six months would be laid off. The union successfully defended seniority layoff rules.

Under the new teacher assessment law, based on principal observation and student growth scores, the number of ineffective ratings shrunk to pre-Bloomberg numbers.

The deBlasio-Farina Department has announced that ATRs would fill vacancies occurring after October 15th, and, if they received effective or highly effective ratings under the matrix teacher evaluation law, would be fully absorbed into schools, ending a toxic policy and saving the school system perhaps $100 million a year.

The “March of the Lemons” referenced by Weisberg should not refer to the teachers, it should refer to the “disrupters.” would soured the school system.

Additionally, the Department should consider:

* Creating an inspectorate, a group of principals who can observe ATRs who principals think are moving towards an ineffective rating. In the pre-Bloomberg days it was commonplace for the superintendent to observe teachers in their last year of probation.

* Open Market transfers require five years of service in a school to be eligible for transfer, not the current annual “free agency.”

* Renewal and Focus/Priority schools should be given a window prior to all other schools to hire staff – perhaps six or eight weeks before all other schools could commence hiring.

Each and every year the New York City school system has to hire 3-4,000 new teachers due to teacher attrition – about 40% of teachers leave within five years, and, in the neediest schools the percentage is far higher.

Susan Moore Johnson, at the Next Generation of Teachers project at Harvard published research findings, “Finders and Keepers: Helping New Teachers Survive and Thrive in Our Schools, (March , 2004), as well as continuing their research into the issue.

Unfortunately little of the research has translated into policies within school districts and schools.

Good riddance to the ATR pool, and, lets help teachers who need assistance and support our new teachers.

Healing and supporting makes a lot more sense than disrupting and angering.