Research Alliance for NYC Schools: Are Department Policies Improving High Schools? The Blurred Line Between Research and Policy

The recently restored Roosevelt House on East 65th Street now houses the CUNY Center for Educational Policy. Facing each other on opposite walls of the reception area are a portrait of a young doe-eyed Eleanor facing a dour-faced Sara, the mother-in-law, two women who despised each other fated to stare at each for an eternity. Does Sara look a little like Mayor Bloomberg? And, Eleanor, dedicated caring young teachers? Hummm.

While scholars debate whether or not the Common Core will erode the achievement gap and push the US up the PISA list of nations Michael Bloomberg hammers away at teachers and their union – and the union jibes back.

On the evening of March 27th at the Roosevelt House Jim Kemple, the Director of the Research Alliance for NYC Schools presented the first of a number of brief papers: the first is a look at high schools in NYC over the last dozen years. The three-year old Research Alliance is based on the 20-year old highly regarded Chicago Consortium on School Research (CCSR).

The Research Alliance, housed at NYU is independent,

We are committed to regular briefings on the progress of our research with colleagues, advisory groups, and the NYC DOE. We want to ensure that these stakeholder groups have an opportunity to preview our findings before they become public, and have a “no surprises” policy with regard to the NYC DOE. At this same time, we carefully guard our independence and prerogative to publish the results of our work without restrictions from stakeholder groups, as long as our publications meet high technical standards and adhere to the requirement of data confidentiality. We produce reports, papers, policy briefs, and presentations that target a wide range of audiences.

In an era of advocacy research, research which attempts to support pre-conceived notions, are commonplace, research organizations must establish their independence to gain credibility.

The Kemple Report generally paints a positive picture of high schools: rising graduation rates, increasing college and career readiness, increases in subgroups; and also acknowledges wide gaps among subgroups.

Read Report here http://media.ranycs.org/2013/004

The conclusions/recommendations are straightforward and not controversial.

First, …develop more reliable early warning indicators that signal long term problems.

Second, …aligning performance standards, curricula and instruction with the skills students will need …

Third, NYC policy-makers should continue to forge multiple, high-quality pathways towards success for students who bring varying needs, ambitions, and strengths including those do not opt for a four year college … pathways combining solid academic preparation with work-related learning experiences.

The commenters and the audience questions cast some doubt on the context of the Report.

Davis Steiner, former State Commissioner of Education mused over the impact of credit recovery and teachers marking papers of their own students, items not addressed in the Report, although he was enthused by the results of the Report.

Shael Suransky, the Department Chief Academic Officer, not surprisingly praised the Report, and told us that in the last two years only 1.2 and 1.7 percent of credits were earned through credit recovery. The Department, faced with punitive actions by the State, restricted the number of credits earned two years ago, prior to the restrictions the percent of credits earned through credit recovery was probably in the 5-10% range.

Responding once again to threats from the State, the most predominant grade on regents exams was 65, clearly teachers marking their own papers impacted regents grades, last year the Department ruled schools could not longer mark their own papers. (Exams are exchanged with other schools).

The commenters failed to ask about the impact of the State reducing the English Regents from a two day six hour exam to a one-day three hour exam (scores soared) and the State setting extremely low cut scores to inflate the Algebra regents passing rate.

Perhaps the dependence on Department data alone and the failure to interview those not under the thrall of the Department skewed the Report.

Jeffrey Henig, a political scientist from Columbia University, laid out the political realities, the mayoral candidates will use reports of this nature to support or oppose policies that support their candidacies.

While the Kemple Report deals with a narrower issue the larger underlying unasked question: Is the Department-supported portfolio-management model (PMM) (school closings/new school creations/school choice/charter schools/data-driven student and teacher assessment), a successful tool to manage large inner city school systems?

The primary PMM strategy evolves from the work of Paul T. Hill of the Center on Reinventing Public Education and Research at the University of Washington, Hill, in “The Paradox of Public Education” proffers,

Public education struggles with two conflicting facts. First, public schools are small craft organizations that require close teamwork and constant adaptation to the unpredictable development of students. Second, they are government agencies always subject to constraints imposed through politics and legal processes.

Public schools have been subject to court orders about how particular students must be educated; federal and state regulations that dictate how money is used, students are grouped, and teachers work; and labor contracts that force schools to employ teachers who are poorly matched to the needs of students and the strengths of other teachers.

School leadership, personal responsibility, and accountability have been driven out of schools, especially in big cities where local politics adds to the burden of regulation.

Suransky suggests “look at the data – we are succeeding,” and hopes that whoever ends up in Gracie Mansion will be persuaded by the data, by the “evidence” that the PMM system is improving a once dysfunctional school system.

His problem is a Mayor whose obstinacy has motivated, has invigorated, has unified an opposition, what Hill calls “local politics.” In other words that pesky problem of democracy may derail a dozen years of forcing a PMM strategy down the throats of an increasingly resistant community, i.e., parents and teachers.

While Jim Kemple churns out research papers the candidates vie for teacher union and parent support. A year from now a new mayor will be grappling with what to keep and what to discard in the current system and the Alliance research will be part of the discussions.

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3 responses to “Research Alliance for NYC Schools: Are Department Policies Improving High Schools? The Blurred Line Between Research and Policy

  1. Let’s hope the new mayor will realize and choose someone who has been a successful and effective public school educator to lead the “system” to integrate both the essentials of caring and competence for students, staff, and parents.

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    • If you think that the current Mayor (or his successor) and their fat cat buddies are through screwing Public Education so that they can make profit for themselves, I know of a bridge for sale. Seriously, this attach is NATIONWIDE, from Louisiana to Chicago, and from NYC to LA. It appears to me that investing in intellectual property in the good ol’ USA is safer than doing business abroad and that’s where the dough is going. Between test making, and text writing, and computer this and that, the effort is there to differentiate school systems from each other. “Keep those property values high” by forcing the schools in affluent areas to buy more “stuff” and keep those pesky city public schools drowning in difficult to educate kids. SELL, SELL, SELL, will be the motto. Get the money by killing the staff salary and benefits, and “gimme the dough” will be the password. Charters ( another word for private behaving, discrimination [ of some type] based education institutions) will be the rallying cry (OOPS, it already is).

      The only salvation for lower and middle class kids is to expose this racket, repeal Citizens United corporate domination of elected officials, and get wavering, lip serving politicians to either be voted out or really support free, competent Public Education for ALL.

      Seeing how much Bloomberg contributed to the LA school board election is scary. The control over the media that the wealthy have is REALLY scary. The blizzard of bought and paid for eduspeak “gurus” phonies like Rhee, the TFA crowd, and the Bush baby have to be resisted by informing people who vote, and those who are likely to vote.
      Walcott, Suransky, the Ed Commissioners of NJ and Louisiana and Wisconsin and other states have been placed there to do damage, and to steamroller any opposition from educators and parents.

      OBama, and his good buddy Rahm E (now ruining Chicago schools) have to be ashamed at what they are doing to Public Education and the future of this country. Every educator has to help expose this racket, because the average John Q Public hasn’t seen it yet.

      Pitch in—talk it up–inform your wheel meaning but ignorant (on this issue) friends and neighbors.

      And have a nice Easter/Passover Holiday!

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  2. This guy has it right. A year later, companies rule budgets. The truth is small class size, SMART teachers NOT NECESSARILY FROM TEACHER’S COLLEGE (unimaginative corporate funded enterprises no longer independent of Billionaires’ funding) are the rule. Put in a 23 year old teacher with no life experience and you have a convert to common core. Common core strategies that work were ALWAYS used in the classroom by any person with half a brain. Common core is a micro managing agent used to control teachers and carry out political agendas. I am a teacher of 25 years. Never saw such a LOW level of competence from DOE and principals who never TALK to the students. Student, parent and teacher input mean nothing to Arne Duncan, Bush, Obama and the corporate ponzi network that paid them big bucks.

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