The Cuomo Commission: Round Two (Yawn) – The “Answers” Are Not in Albany or Tweed, The “Answers” Are in the Schools and Classrooms Across the State.

The Germans have a wonderful word: schadenfreude – which means taking pleasure in the misfortune of others.

In 1983 a commission appointed by Secretary of Education Terrel Bell issued a report, “A Nation at Risk,”

“What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur – others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments”. Some findings of this report show that the risks are that “Some 23 million American adults are functionally illiterate by the simplest test of everyday reading, writing, and comprehension. About 13 percent of all 17-year-olds in the United States can be considered functionally illiterate”. The problem was cited as often being in the way that the educational process itself was being conducted. “Compared to other nations, American students spend much less time on school work”.

The Report echoed across the nation, it was featured in the media, in the halls of legislatures, it was a devastating criticism of schools of education, and nothing happened.

Today reports seem to fly out of cyberspace each and every week, reports that claim to be research, what I call advocacy research, an organization that conducts “research” that supports the philosophical position of the organization.

The roll-out of the press release, the quality of the website, the accompanying media blitz is far more important than the quality of the research; peer review, a common practice in the scientific community is conveniently avoided.

The creation of the 25-member Cuomo Commission on Education was announced with fanfare in April, 2012, and through the spring, summer and fall the commission held eleven hearings – presentations from superintendents and teachers and parents and charter school operators and advocates for this and that – and eventually issued a lackluster interim report.

This year the commission are holding three symposia – experts discussing “important” issues – unfortunately at the July 9th meeting the speakers were two vendors who sold education packages, an explanation of the Cincinnati Community Schools Project, David Steiner and Marvin Atkins discussing their vision of teacher education programs.

The first “expert” was Joel Rose, the creator of most of the Joel Klein educational ideas – a typical background, three years as a fifth grade teacher in Houston and off to the world of education policy. Rose currently is the “Co-Founder and CEO of New Classrooms Innovation Partners,” formerly known as the School of One, a school in which “technological advances allow educators to cater to students’ unique academic needs and learning styles.”

Rose’s glittering PowerPoint reminded me of David Coleman’s Common Core presentation – arrogant – we know the future and you had better listen to us. Basically, kids take an assessment, aka, a test, at the end of each day and a databank of lessons allows the teacher to choose strategies geared to the results of the daily assessment. Each kid moves at his/her own pace, classes can be totally heterogeneous. Rose denigrated our current education system – schools are failing, kids are failing, classrooms are anachronisms – watch a video of a School of One classroom in action – tap a few computer keys, nothing, some more keys, nothing, the techie trots across the stage and taps keys, nothing.

Maybe I shouldn’t have chuckled – as Rose’s presentation flamed out he moved to questions – how much does your program cost? The School of One approach requires structural adjustments at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars per school.

Perhaps the tech glitch said more about the substance of his program than the highly polished slides.

At the May and June Regents Meetings current, highly successful public school programs made presentations, principals and staff from an International High School and the Newcomers High School, both serve newly arrived immigrants and the schools have excellent data. Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School serves a wide range of older kids with a highly flexible schedule and wraparound services, a report from the first Community Schools in New York City, including one of the school’s major funders.

Successful schools created by school leaders and teachers, not by vendors selling a product or foisted by Tweed.

Rose is wrong, I should say wrong again. Just as his Tweed “reforms” created a chaotic superstructure aloof from the day-to-day functioning of school buildings, a school system dominated by test prep, Rose’s new venture, “technology is the answer,” is equally flawed.

David Tyack and Larry Cuban, in Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (1995), were prescient.

We do not believe in educational Phoenixes and do not think the system is in ashes … we suggest that reformers take a broader view of the aims that should guide public education and focus on ways to improve instruction from inside out rather than top down.

To bring about improvement at the heart of education – classroom instruction, shaped by that grammar – has proven to be the most difficult kind of reform, and it will result in the future more from internal changes created by the knowledge and expertise of teachers than from the decisions of external policymakers.

Teachers do not have a monopoly on educational wisdom, but their first hand perspectives on schools and their responsibility for carrying out official policies argues for their centrality in school reform efforts.

…to the degree that discourse about purpose in public education concerned itself with the public good, it can be understood as a kind of trusteeship, an effort to preserve the best of the past, to make wise choices in the present, and to plan for the future.

Technology is a tool, and the folk in school buildings, teachers and school leaders are best suited to design the most effective way to use the rapidly changes vista of technology (“wearable” computers).

The “reforms” of the Joels – Klein and Rose – are classic examples of the types of “reforms” that were imposed on teachers, rejected by teachers, and, hopefully, will be replaced by a new mayor and chancellor who understand that “the answers are in the room,” superintendents and principals and teachers and parents, management and unions, working in collaborative settings can combine the best of the past and the present to create a better future.

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3 responses to “The Cuomo Commission: Round Two (Yawn) – The “Answers” Are Not in Albany or Tweed, The “Answers” Are in the Schools and Classrooms Across the State.

  1. Marc Korashan

    “kids take an assessment, aka, a test, at the end of each day and a databank of lessons allows the teacher to choose strategies geared to the results of the daily assessment. ”

    This should remind veteran educators of the Chicago Mastery Learning Project which was intended to reshape education in that city. It flamed out because the basic concept of Mastery is undefined and the reasons that students perform poorly on the so called “mastery” tests are varied and need to be understood individually.

    This requires teachers who are involved with their students, know them well, and also know the pedagogical underpinnings for their subjects. How can we teach reading most effectively. No computer with a branching logic tree can replace that individual.

    In my career I was able to raise reading levels for emotionally disturbed students by large amounts, 2 to 4 years as measured by tests, by using their interests (not the assigned curriculum). One student in particular went from a second grade to an a sixth grade reading performance by helping him master reading Marvel comics (written at about an eighth grade level) based on his interest in collecting them for their future cash value. I sincerely doubt that option is in Mr. rose’s data bank.

    Mastery is not the same for all subjects. To use a classic special education example, one parent object strongly to the IEP goal that her son would learn to cross the street independently with the green light 80% (the standard applied by the uninformed or unthinking to almost all IEP goals) of the time. I trust that most parents would object to a one in five chance that their child would be hit by a car as an appropriate measure of mastery.

    Similarly if a student knows basic multiplication facts with 80% accuracy, then s/he has less than a 40% chance of getting any multiplication example with two two-digit numbers correct, and that goes down further if they don’t know their addition facts with 100% accuracy.

    What Klein wanted and Rose is only too happy to provide, is a teacher free school system. This is the ultimate extension of “teacher proof” curricula, another idea that has never produced good results in large scale implementation. They need to reduce the cost of teaching staff in order to maximize the potential for profit from running schools.

    Most of the cost of running a school (estimates range up to 85 – 90%) are in staffing and teachers are the most expensive part of that cost. Not only that, they are a recurring cost (a computer is purchased once and then becomes a tax savings as the cost is amortized over time) and one that can become more expensive if they organize and demand reasonable pay for their expertise and effort.

    Their policies are not only educationally unsound, the are, at root, economically unsound (and immoral) as they are intended to increase the economic inequality in the country as a whole.

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  2. Anyone who calls Joel Klein and Joel Rose reformers are completely misinformed. There is a difference between a changemaker and a havoc wreaker..For 10 years we have seen our schools and our profession brought to heal under re-organization schemes and corrective action schemes to right the misdirection of the re-organization schemes. Taking a “big business” approach toward improving instruction has never been a formula for success in public education. Yes, it made for better accountability in terms of knowing where the money went, but that same approach eliminated and discouraged teacher creativity, individuality, iniative and resourcefulness. An additional bi-product of the Klein era, was the re-focus that many of Klein’s Academy Principals took as their “prime directive”. How do we get rid of teachers, as opposed to what does it take to attract teachers to our school? Cuomos 25 man commission, like Clintons health care commission headed up by Hillary, after its initial meeting was a complete waste. They both had no agenda, gave little consideration to the vested and varied cross sections of the profession, and offered solutions that were impractical. In terms of the next Mayor being a friend to our Profession,do not assume that because the name wont be Bloomberg, that the damages will stop. Ms. Quinn never voiced an opinion either pro or con to Klein or Bloombergs handling of our school system. I won’t waste time talking about Weiner as he is not worthy of comment at this time. Thompson however is the right man at the right time. No , I dont advocate a return to the School Board days of corruption, cronyism and all that stuff which was so easy to navigate, but I do believe that this honorable man understands how our noble profession has been denigrated, and that real reform should center around teachers and principals who care about children, and who have valid ideas as to true reform. Lets not forget that Ms. Danielson was a teacher!

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  3. For students to grow there must be 3 “V’S”> Students need and want to be valued, valuable and validated! Faculties want to be valued, valuable and validated. No computer can accomplish that. To miss the centrality of Education as an art form requiring constant human interaction is to demonstrate the arrogance that ignorance breeds!

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