What Will September Look Like in Schools? A Return to Pre-COVID Normalcy, Testing and More Testing or Moves to School Autonomy?

You may have noticed last Friday at about 3 PM there was a breeze across the city, teachers breathing a sigh of relief, the most intense school year imaginable ended.

Today the Mayor and the Speaker in the City Council announced a budget agreement (Read details here); the Mayor calls the budget a “Recovery” budget.

A cursory look, no midyear budget adjustments, funding formulas equalized for schools and dollars for widely applauded programs continued and in some cases increased funding. We’ll find out the details over the next week as the budget hawks comb through the details. See more details here

The first Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) election is in chaos. Eric Adams had a substantial lead and appeared on his way to election, the transfer of votes from the voters who cast ballots at the polling places vaulted Kathryn Garcia into second place only an eyelash behind Adams with over 100,000 absentee ballots to be counted, and, after releasing the count the Board of Elections withdrew the count acknowledging errors.

We won’t know the results for weeks, maybe longer if the loser decides to challenge in the courts. Reminds me of a famous phrase by a NYS Judge, “No one’s life, liberty or property of safe while the Legislature is in session.”

Eric Adams, who appeared to have an insurmountable lead, announced he would accept the determination of the voters (Can he not accept the determination?, Sounds like another politician who recently refused to accept an election result); Eric Adams’ campaign and its surrogates said the collaboration (Yang and Garcia campaigning together) was a move to diminish the power of Black voters and likened it to “voter suppression” and others called RCV “racist:” if Adams loses will he move to the courts, or the streets?

The Board of Election in additions to determining the winner in RCV elections has to determine winners in other city-wide and councilmanic elections, over forty elections. Is the Board of Elections incompetent, underfunded, overworked or all of the above?

The leviathan, aka the Department of Education, meanwhile staggers forward; unfortunately, at the heart of the “recovery” model is half a billion dollars for testing,

  • Intensive Academic Recovery for Every Student to establish baselines with assessment data, core ELA & Math instruction, tutoring, and teacher planning time: $500M in FY22

How long have we been doing this?  Remediation simply is an ineffective strategy.  The Department seems to be following the Carranza model, called Edustats, frequent testing with teacher feedback, a remediation model.

Eric Nadelstern, a retired deputy chancellor, sees schools as the core of change, not bloated superstructures.

Eliminate as much of the bureaucracy north of schools as possible and put the savings into schools and classrooms

And empowering schools.

Democratize schools by involving teachers, parents and kids in the most important decisions that affect them. If there’s a lesson to take away from the January 6th insurrection, it’s that schools must go beyond simply talking about civics and democracy. They must become the best examples in our society of the many benefits democracy can provide. Students don’t learn from listening to us talk about democratic values, but rather from experiencing them.

And a simple plan,

Integrate schools within and across districts. Unzone our schools and admit by lottery if there are more applicants than seats.

Scottt Marion, the leader of the Center for Assessment and perhaps the most thoughtful commenter on the meaning of assessment

Accountability must shift from a top-down approach that relies heavily on a single end-of-year test to one that recognizes and supports the more holistic nature of learning and assessment reform.  

Further, my vision of accountability recognizes that real and sustained change only occurs when actors in the system take ownership of the need to change, as well as the methods necessary to bring about that change

Ukases from the aeries of the Tweed Courthouse (the Department of Education headquarters) do not change practice, as Marion says, real and sustained change only occurs when actors in the system take ownership of the need to change, as well as the methods necessary to bring about that change.

If remediation doesn’t work how should we plan for September?

David Steiner (and others) surveyed the research,

In these circumstances (substantial learning loss), schools may be tempted to focus on the need to” remediate” their students—indeed, to do so more than ever before. Remediation in the United States has traditionally meant that teachers try to provide students whose work is deemed “below grade level” with the material that they had not learned the first time around. Often this is called “meeting students where they are.”

This well-intentioned strategy sounds like common sense … there is strong evidence that this approach just doesn’t work. It is deeply discouraging to students, and in most cases, simply locks them into a permanent and debilitating learning gap. Instead, … I advocate for accelerating rather than remediating.

What does “accelerating rather than remediating look like? A principal of a school describes the process here https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/commentary/acceleration-not-remediation-lessons-field

Maybe I’m too harsh; maybe the collaborative relationship between Meisha Porter, the acting chancellor and the unions (UFT and the CSA) will result in a more school-based planning.

If the Mayor and the Department decided to  divide the 500 million, among the 40 school districts ($12.5 million each) and ask them to write plans with the principals, teachers and parents, in other words, ownership at the district/school level, accountability will owned by all the stakeholders.  Wishful thinking?

The Department is a bureaucracy, a self sustaining bureaucracy, and does an excellent job of surviving; it is a lump of silly putty, no matter how much you change the shape the lump returns to its original amorphous shape.

Will the new chancellor retain or disassemble the bureaucracy?

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