Separating the Wheat from the Chaff: Which Bloomberg Policies Should Stay and Which Go?

Mayor de Blasio selected a well-respected educator with decades of experience in the NYC school system, who, in turn promoted another long time NYC educator as her deputy and one of the senior high school principals to a key role. The mayor and the chancellor introduced the new hires at a principal’s meeting of the CSA, the supervisors’ union, and, announced principal candidates must have at least seven years of New York City experience to be eligible.

The mayor is currently examining the rushed decision of the prior administration to co-locate charter schools scheduled to open in September, 2014, in public school buildings.

Other major structural decisions will be on the table:

Should schools continue to be organized in the current system, non-contiguous, affinity clusters, called networks, geographic, contiguous districts, or some other configuration?

Principals are sharply divided with the principals who are satisfied with the network structure arguing to retain the structure. The teacher union supports a return to geographic districts led by a superintendent.

The current system, almost sixty networks is made of about 25 schools per network. The network vision statement, number and location of schools can be found here. Network leaders are evaluated annually by Progress Reports and Quality Review data, principal satisfaction surveys and the evaluations are public – see 2011-12 network evaluations here. The Department defends the network structure here as well as defining the roles and integration of networks/superintendents.

The Department also employees 32 Community Superintendents and 9 high school superintendents, the superintendents are required by state law and are the rating officer for principals; however, day-to-day school support is the responsibility of the networks.

A major flaw in the system, according to the critics of the network structure, is that principals are basically freed from day-to-day supervision. From the union perspective this leads to endless abuses, large numbers of grievances that should have been resolved by a phone call from a superintendent. The abuses at PS 106Q, the NY Post calls , “the School of No,” is a prime example, the absence of a superintendent with the authority to influence day-to-day operations resulted in too many instances of both abusive and ineffective principals. The only actual “supervision” are the data – the student test core-based Progress Report and the one-day Quality Review walk-through.

On the other hand principals cringe at the thought of the micro-managing superintendents of yore. “His office would storm through my building directing me to do this and that – it was stultifying – decisions must be made by teachers and principals at the school – not from some distant office. We know what’s best for our students.”

Passions are high.

Continuing the practice of principals’ “evaluating” the level of support from networks could be expanded to the role of superintendents, as well as involving teachers in the process – if collaboration is a goal, perhaps frame assessment questions around the level of collaboration at both the school and the district level.

Other principals, in transfer high schools, in schools with total English language learner populations, are currently in the same networks – schools with similar challenges, it would sense to continue to cluster these schools.

This is not as headline-grabbing as co-location of charter schools; however, the decision will impact every school in the city

How will the new administration deal with School Closings, School Choice and Progress Reports?

School closings is not a Bloomberg invention, the Department has been closing schools since the late eighties, almost all low performing high schools, Andrew Jackson, Erasmus, Eastern District, George Washington, Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and others were all closed and replaced by small high schools before Bloomberg. Why no screams from the union and the public? Teachers who were displaced from closing schools either ended up in the replacement small schools or in another school. The current system of forcing teachers to find their own job or idling away their time moving from school to school in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool only began in 2005. The Bloomberg/Klein regency ratcheted up the school closings to include elementary and middle schools.

In the 80’s and 90’s the schools chosen for closing were among the lowest performing in the state. The Bloomberg/Klein policy closed schools as rapidly as possible – closing some schools that clearly were on the way to turnaround, Park West had already adopted the John Hopkins Talent Development Model and the state wrote a glowing report – too bad – the Manhattan location was too valuable and too much in demand by the small high school advocacy organizations.

Federal law and dense state regulations require that schools are identified for intervention – focus schools (bottom 15%), priority schools (bottom 10%) and persistently lowest achieving (bottom 5%). The state uses an algorithm – a Diagnostic Tool for School and District Effectiveness – site visits to the 700 schools in the focus, priority and PLA groupings. If a school fails to show progress the state must intervene – with school closing as the last step. This year the legally required time frame has passed – no schools will be closed in 9/14.

The Progress Report, the A – F grading system does not provide any surprises – most of the school grade is based on test scores and/or credit accumulation – the “C” “D” and “F” schools cluster in high poverty neighborhoods and the “A” and “B” schools in the more middle class neighborhoods. The Reports contain considerable disaggregated test score data – not helpful to a parent – and usually tells the school what it already knows; “smarter” principals target particular cohorts of kids to increase their grade (the extra credit categories), management of data over increasing instructional skills.

If you abandon the A – F grades, what is the replacement? What metrics do you use? Do you decrease the achievement emphasis and increase the growth emphasis? Under that system a low achieving, high growth school in Brownsville might get an “A” and a high achieving, low growth fully screened school a “C.” imagine the screams … Interestingly the state has not released data on teacher evaluation scores by district wealth, i. e., do high wealth districts have a higher percent of “highly effective” teachers and do low wealth districts a higher percent of “ineffective” or “developing” teachers?

Complex decisions that are better discussed openly – the best decisions are made in a transparent environment.

There is a tendency – more than a tendency – an obsession to rid the system of everything “Bloomberg,” without an assessment of the value of the idea/plan/initiative. Let’s not fool ourselves: in 2001, the year of Bloomberg’s election there were many, many high schools with graduation rates in the 30 – 40% range using the low skilled Regents Competency Diploma. As an example Taft had five, not 5%, five kids who graduated with a Regents diploma. The closing and the conversion of large high schools to “small schools of choice” has resulted in higher graduation rates and larger percentages of kids moving on to college.

The MDRC Study supports that “small schools of choice” (SSC) are showing better results that the large high schools. (non SSC high schools).

Jim Kemple, the leader of the NYC Research Alliance, in the The Condition of New York City High Schools: Examining Trends and Looking Toward the Future, 2013 (http://media.ranycs.org/2013/004)

...reports steady improvement across many indicators of high school performance and engagement, including attendance, credit accumulation, graduation, and college readiness rates. The paper highlights stubborn gaps in performance as well—between groups of students, and between current achievement levels and the aspirations that the public and school leaders have for New York City high schools.

Multiple schools in a building present management issues, commonly four, five or six schools in a building may also have three or four support organizations, leading to endless conflicts. Other schools have well organized campus councils with a wide range of campus-wide activities. SSC allow for personalization, teachers and administrations get to know every kid – kids don’t get lost as they commonly do in a 2-3,000 student school.

The “choice” element of Small Schools of Choice means that if you live a block away from a school you have no better chance of attending the school than any other kid in the city. The SSC program is the antithesis of a community school; schools should be part of a community – not an alien island in a neighborhood. Every school should have a geographic zone; neighborhood schools should give neighborhood kids a priority, as well as reserving seats for other kids.

The Bloomberg gamebook has created over two hundred screened programs – principals select kids – skimming the more able kids – the “3” and “4” kids further disadvantaging the remainder of schools. Scholar’s Academy, a 1200-seat fully screened 6-12 schools, located in Rockaway, is 39% white, 23% Asian and 15% Hispanic with less than 1% Special Education, other schools in Rockaway are all Black and Hispanic with between 15 % and 25% Special Education – you can find similar configurations around many screened programs.

de Blasio will have a major decision – does he continue supporting schools/program that segregate students by race, ethnic and ability, or, risk alienating whiter and more active parents by curtailing screened schools?

Hopefully his decisions will be better than his decision today to keep schools open.

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8 responses to “Separating the Wheat from the Chaff: Which Bloomberg Policies Should Stay and Which Go?

  1. To quote Paul Simon: “Make a new plan, Stan,
    You don’t need to be coy, Roy.”

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  2. The only Principals who can be satisfied with anything educational from The Bloomburg years would be those who came out of The Bloomburg Principal Academies. THese are the ones who overstocked The Rubber Room, these are the ones who were taught to fire and discontinue rather then train, and these are the ones who have turned their schools into total Chapter 1 reading centers. I find that they are not capable of thinking out of the box, and show little iniative and resourcefulness, and for the most part have atotal disconnect with the communities in which they serve. They do excel in the notion of plausible deniability. How about The Principal who “didnt know” about the trip to a closed beach w/o life guards? Or the one in Far Rockaway that cant spell, and has caused so much angst in Far Rockaway? There are so many others, and so little space. I applaud Mayor DiBlassios inclination to go back some to days of yore, and re-establish community dialogue in its educational setting. I’ve chose my words carefully, because I think that while such an entreaty is necssary, that it does not go hand and hand with the previous supended school board model. I think communities can have oversight in terms of administrative staffiing, but there would have to be a Chancellors Liason Officer assigned to evaluate such hirings. In all cases the criteria for hiring should be merit and not race based.

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  3. There’s so much to say but many of the Bloomberg policies need to change by next school year. Top of the agenda is the “fair student funding” and eliminating teacher salaries as part of a school budget. Second, a total hiring freeze until all ATRs in the district are placed. Finally, the elimination of the useless Children First Networks and a housecleaning of the non-educators at the DOE.

    Ken I agree with everything you say.

    .

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  4. The principals need supervision. This idea that they are the CEOs of their schools is ridiculous. Mr. Nadelstern and his coterie set up a situation where principals were not accountable to anyone – not parents, not teachers, not the students they’re supposed to serve. They do as they please and if you don’t agree with them, you are shown the door. This is not how effective schools work. They work through collaboration. Furthermore there is so much dead wood at the Network you could build a Texas A&M-sized bonfire. Many of those people should be thrown back into classrooms. Let them teach for a while – something they’re only capable of critiquing, not actually doing. Tempers are running high, parents are fed up with the public schools, teachers are fed up. If I were Mr. DeBlasio and I wanted a second term, I’d start making some changes sooner rather than later. And Eric, you can keep convincing yourself that what you did was successful, but it wasn’t. You were an excellent principal, and the system you set up might have worked if there were more principals like you. But unfortunately, that is not your average NYC principal.

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  5. from Ernesto Clements

    It must have hurt Eric to use that quote from Paul Simon, but on the other hand, there is a cool factor at work here as well.
    The second comment pretty much says it all – everything is tied together – there is no wheat from chaff –
    – The networks are tools of divide and conquer – no community – and most things are out of reach of the community members

    – The networks are evaluated based on the data; but the data can be mined to batter or flatter

    – The assessments are a joke and not aligned to the curriculum because curriculum is non-existent; therefore the school grading is a sham as well.

    – Teacher training is on a weak limb because there is no curriculum and no philosophy about good instruction unless you feel it time to bring back Lucy Goosey, and let’s face it – in most places, she never left!

    And so Eric is sarcastically correct for once – make a new plan and may I add, throw out the strategical initiatives that he implemented to disempower.

    Finally do you really think the new evaluations should frame questions around collaboration – that just makes me sick and want to puke. Get real my friend.

    If you want teachers to have input, then they also have to have incentives and consequences, like their supervisors, and unlike the mayor or the Tweedian Armed Forces.

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  6. Let’s look at this from a different perspective. Klein was very good at seeing th eproblems in the system he inherited, he simplty didn’t have the knowledge, tools, or leadership capabilities to make positive changes.

    We cannot go back to a system that tolerates poor performance from students, teachers or administrators, but we must get rid of the system that evalautes performance using flawed metrics and reduces complex systems to a simple A or F.

    Getting rid of the networks should be the first step as they are a layer of bureaucracy and administration that are unrelated to what takes place in schools, except in very negative ways. Most of the networks are very good at making principals and techers submit data, but have very little to offer when it comes to solving problems of poor attendance, special needs students, and have demonstrably failed to offer anything in the way of curricula for implementing the Common Core.

    I think we need to view this an opportunity to go back to geographic districts, but not necessarily the original 32. Smaller districts might work better, Staten ISland, District 10 and District 2 can easily be split to create districts with shared communities. We can look at creating districts where elementary schools naturally feed into middle schools and eliminate the angst for parents and students of trying to choose a middle school.

    We can appoint SUperintendents whose primary job is to help principals move their schools forward. Who are in schools regualrly and are expected to offer suggestions for curricula, for pedagogical methods, and to ultimately support what the School Leadership team in that building brings forward as their plan.

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    • Were the pre 2002 school districts more effective in supporting schools than the current networks? In my experience most school districts were patronage mills and did not support schools, networks only have 6 or 7 instructional coaches for 25-30 schools, By returning to superintendents with direct supervisory authority don’t we risk returning to the top-down micro-managing that we abhored? Just asking …

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      • Yes, change involves risk. We don’t have to recreate the patronage mills of the past if we go back to geographic districts, we can, I believe, create a model that provides meaningful supervision and also focuses on education. I don’t think the networks have done anything to warrant keeping them. My personal experience of the “instructional coaches” is that many don’t have much experience as instructors and are not prepared to work with veteran teachers. They are tellers, not showers, and have a limited repertoire of skills to talk about.

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