“Room for Debate,” What are the New York City Education Challenges?

The New York Times invites debaters to comment on a timely issue in the “Room for Debate” blog. This week the topic is “New York City’s Public Education Challenges,” the debaters, Diane Ravitch, Geoffrey Canada, Pedro Noguera and Sol Stern.

The Times frames the debate,

The next mayor of New York City faces some tough challenges particularly when it comes to setting public education priorities. Should he or she abandon Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s fixation on testing and data-driven accountability, or expand school choice and close failing classrooms to give more options to families, especially English-language learners and those in low-income communities?

Diane Ravitch is an amazing woman – she has single handedly grasped the power of social media, she blogs ten times a day and tweets fifty times a day as well as speaking publicly around the nation, and, she had the time to write, “The Reign of Error,” publication date is September 17th. (She said she woke up at 4:30 every morning to write). She is the leader of the intellectual community opposing the (de)former vision of education. Arne Duncan must shiver at the mention of her name!

The subtitle of her book, “The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” is not angry scrry, it an evidence-based examination of the (de)reform agenda using US Department of Education data to skewer faulty claims (I will write a review at the publication date).

Diane’s response is straightforward,

The new mayor needs to abandon the cramped vision of the past decade. Testing, choice and accountability are a strategy to close schools and privatize them. Testing has become the be-all and end-all of schooling. Too much testing crushes creativity and imagination and obliterates the joy of learning. Tests should be used diagnostically, to help students and teachers, not to punish or reward teachers and close schools.

The new mayor should ask, “How can I make sure that there is a good public school in every neighborhood? What can I do to make sure that all children have access to the kind of education I would want for my own child?”

Geoffrey Canada is the CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), the much-touted charter school network. Canada also serves on the Cuomo Commission on Education Reform. The richly funded HCZ is praised all over the nation; the cradle-to-college pipeline has become a model for charter management organizations, the problem: HCZ replicable, it has extremely deep pocketed supporters, with questionable results. Helen Zelon, in City Limits, wrote an in-depth analysis of HCZ and points to a range of mediocre achievement (see Report here).

Canada has been a vigorous supporter of the Bloomberg policies, and argues,

Mayoral control means the next mayor has to continue to take full and unambiguous responsibility for how the city’s schools are working, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg has done. We need to strengthen our evaluation tools and isolate what’s moving the needle for our kids.

In advocating actions to improve our schools, the next mayor must not be afraid of the reaction from the public or vested interests, in particular in regard to controversial measures such as closing failing schools, continuing to support charter schools and the meaningful evaluation of teachers.

Pedro Noguera, is the Peter L. Agnew professor of education at New York University and the executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education.

Pedro begins his essay with praise for the Bloomberg administration,

Mayor Michael Bloomberg deserves credit for providing leadership that has led to significant improvement in New York’s public schools. Graduation rates have risen, there are more good schools available for New York parents to choose from, and there is a greater sense of accountability present in schools throughout the city.

And goes on to point to the “elephant in the room,” poverty.

First, as poverty rates have risen during the Bloomberg years, schools in New York’s poorest communities have been overwhelmed by a variety of social and economic issues that affect child development and limit school performance. Mayoral control never led to greater coordination among city departments so that social services could be provided to children and families in our most disadvantaged neighborhoods. The next mayor will need to coordinate city services — health, recreation, safety, child welfare — and work more closely with nonprofits, hospitals, universities and other institutions to develop systems of support for schools.

Noguera goes on to question the role of the department,

The Department of Education will need to do more than merely judge schools. It must also help schools to improve. Closing schools should be treated as a last resort — not the primary strategy used to deal with struggling schools.

A core question that has been acknowledged and not addressed are English language learners, 41% of children in the NYC schools live in households in which English is not the primary language.

Finally, in a city where over half the children come from homes where English is not spoken, shockingly little has been done to provide support to schools to meet the needs of English-language learners

Sol Stern, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and a frequent writer at the Institute’s City Journal, has written on education for decades. Sol has just written an “Advise to the Next Mayor“as well as questioning whether the department truly understands the Common Core.

Sol points to the issue that could very well sidetrack the implementation of the Common Core, the convoluted, impenetrable teacher evaluation plan,

The biggest education challenge our next mayor faces is the flawed teacher evaluation system that has been imposed on the schools by the Bloomberg administration. This so-called accountability reform is demoralizing for teachers and bad for children.

Bloomberg’s “accountability reform” is demoralizing for teachers and bad for children.
The current metric for evaluating teacher quality is based on a complicated algorithm that ranks each teacher based on growth (or “added value”) in his or her students’ test scores, adjusted for students’ socioeconomic status. The problem is that leading testing experts have raised serious questions about the reliability of the value-added methodology. Education researchers who still support the evaluations concede they are unstable and there is a substantial margin of error.

Moreover, test-based rankings for teachers will surely undermine the promising Common Core curriculum changes now being implemented in the schools. Under the Common Core, schools must broaden the curriculum to include “history/social studies science, and other disciplines.” … Under the current accountability system teachers tend to narrow the curriculum.

Therefore the next mayor should suspend the test-based teacher rankings in order to focus the education department’s full attention on successful implementation of the Common Core and new classroom curricula.

Three of the four debaters are sharply critical of the current administration and the fourth, an acolyte of the mayor, praises him and calls for more of the same.

Whomever ends up in Gracie Mansion could do worse than sitting down with Diane, Pedro and Sol, they probably are among the deepest thinkers delving into the direction of the school system, and, have no axe to grind. None are seeking jobs; none owe anything to anyone.

While including the so-called stakeholders, parents and teachers and principal, is crucial, listening to wisdom is vital.

The issues at the mayoral debates: pre-K, co-location of charter schools, network versus geographic districts, etc., while important, the debaters point the system in the right direction: Bill or Bill or Christine, take a deep breathe, and sit down with Diane, Pedro and Sol.

5 responses to ““Room for Debate,” What are the New York City Education Challenges?

  1. Stop hiring 28 year old as principals @$130,000and save 1 billion dollars
    Thanks to the generosity of Bloomberg, our Dept of ed has skyrocketed in costs to the taxpayers of NYC and results are dismal.


  2. Sol Stern: The current metric for evaluating teacher quality . . .

    Wrong. The teacher accountability system does not always measure growth or achievement for a teacher’s students. Sometimes it is for subects outside the teacher’s area, sometimes for students the teacher does not teach, sometimes for mixtures of studens the teacher teaches and doesn’t teach. It can certainly be gamed, depending on what the committees choose, but more often than not it will be a total crapshoot, literally and figuratively.


  3. Any time a school is closed, it is a blow to that community in which its located. For every school that is closed, a school down the block remains open and functioning at an acceptable level. To me that says that given the same socio economic status of both schools,pupil failure is not the and should not be seen as the prime reason for school failure. In my experience over 40 years as a teacher serving the Harlem and BEd Stuy communities and of late as an Adj Prof fro The NYC Teaching Fellows program, having visited schools all over the city, school failure is a direct result of failing school supervision. I have seen too many schools either headed up by demogogues, dictators,or disconnected Principals who can be readily measured by the following survey..Are Teachers “dying to leave” or on line trying to get in? The same survey can be put to parents of children slotted fro seats in that school. Are they dying for their kids to go there, or can they hardly wait to get them out. Once the WHY is understood in terms of whatever the answer to the survey is, the way to proceed is clear. Keep the building, remove The Principal, and buddy the new one with the guy down the block…


  4. from Ernesto Clemens:

    Although I have a great deal of respect for your four choices, I don’t think they are to “go-to’rs” for the next direction in education. First of all, they each have a position that is in the cement – and that is how they make the big bucks. For example, Pedro’s answer to how to help the “boy” revolves around a kitchen sink approach ranging from Caukins to Danielson, to psychotherapy. Ravitch is more talented in knocking down rather than building. Canada is a fraud. Sol makes the most sense, but he is an outsider vs. an insider that knows naught, so he may be acceptable.

    I think the new mayor should go to me. I’d advise him to start with intensive teacher training in the elements of a good lesson (80% hit some of danielson’s benchmarks). Examples could include developing a powerful aim and strong motivations, devising powerful questions that are text-based. Creating individual and group activities that uncover critical information to get at the aim of the lesson. I would also train the teachers to use student responses to assess learning and to redirect as needed. A great deal of emphasis in the engagement in the classroom needs to center around questions, oral and written responses, so these too would be priority areas of training and development. I would urge the mayor to invest in books that support the curriculum – it is inexcusable that our most needy kids get shortchanged in supplies materials and bookds. Our teachers and supervisors need retraining in instruction – check-off boxes will not do. Consequently, I would throw danileson’s framework in the round file and go with Kim Marshall. Next, find the best and brightest and write a curriculum for grades K-12. Of course, it would be aligned to CCLS, and teachers would have flexibility in providing even greater emphasis on the standards during their curriculum journey. I would not exclude black and Hispanic boys and girls from the work; rather they would need some adaptation, including vocabulary development, perhaps more background information and an emphasis at the beginning on oral communication. Same goes for special ed students. After two years of getting our house in order, I would refocus on evaluation – much more emphasis on student and teacher portfolios to demonstrate academic and professional competencies in action. Without saying I would throw out NYC’s ridiculous SLO’s and base-line strategies and focus on curriculum outcomes. I know I did not address co-location…..well what the heck, bring in someone else to talk to the mayor about this. There must be at least another person who is worthy.


  5. All studies have shown that when there are uniform values accepted and shared with the all the stakeholders students learn. Unless and until the D.O.E. models that they and the resources they control are at least as committed to showing what works as opposed to the political expediency of who doesn’t the megamessage of the D.O.E. and the next mayor will be identifying individuals or groups. That exonerates them from providing support to improve. Could it just be that the elephant has no clothes and they just don’t know?


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