Category Archives: “receivership”

Albany Convenes: What Can We Expect From the State Legislature and the Governor?

No one’s life, liberty or property is safe while the New York State legislature is in session. Anonymous, 19th century.

The New York State legislature convened this week and the annual gubernatorial State of the State speech is slated for next week. This will be the first year in quite a while without major education battles hanging in the balance. Politics makes for strange bedfellows (and visa versa); last year’s enemies can become this year’s friends. Last year was a bruising year for education, the governor used the budget process to force through the legislature a host of highly controversial laws: yet another dense teacher evaluation law called the “matrix,” increased teacher probation from three to four years and a receivership plan that could result in the 140 lowest achieving schools handed over to a “receiver,” probably a not-for-profit with the power to change/amend collective bargaining agreements

In September the Governor appointed a Task Force to recommend changes in his own plans.

The final report of the Cuomo Commission (Read full report here), which was adopted by the Board of Regents, “froze” the teacher evaluation plans for four years and requires a deep review of the Common Core State Standards. The Governor was backing away from his harsh legislation passed in the spring.

Both sides of the aisle, the Democrats and the Republicans are committed to eliminating the Gap Elimination Adjustment; the State reduced funding to school districts during the first years after the 2008 near national default, it appears highly likely the “owed” dollars will be fully restored in this year’s budget.

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit dollars were also frozen during the fiscal crisis and New York City will fight for the payment of the owed dollars.

The Democrats will fight for the NYS Dream Act which would make, with restrictions, non-documented high school graduates eligible for the NYS Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). (Read description of the battle last year here)

Why all pleasantness?  Why are the Republicans, the Democrats and the Governor not sparring?

The answer: this is an election year, not only an election year but a presidential election year, not only a presidential election but an election with a popular Democrat, either Clinton or Sanders, and possibly a controversial Republican at the top of their ticket.

The Republicans are very concerned that a Democratic sweep in New York State will have coattails, will sweep along other Democrats on the ticket.

Over the years the April date for the presidential primary in New York State was not exciting, the winners were already chosen. This year the April 19th New York State primary may be key to either Clinton-Sanders or the leading Republicans. A number of other state elections have been scheduled for April 19th, including the Skelos seat – a heavy Democratic turnout could challenge the leadership of the Senate, currently held by the Republicans by a single seat.

The Democrats in the Assembly will also fill the two vacant seats on the Board of Regents. Merryl Tisch announced she will not be seeking another term (an at-large seat) and Anthony Bottar (Syracuse) apparently also will not be seeking another term. Regents are “elected” by a joint meeting of both houses of the legislature, with the overwhelming majority in the Assembly the selection is in the hands of the Speaker of the Assembly. Last year two long time incumbents were not re-appointed and the local legislators had significant input into the selection. Eight of the seventeen members of the Board will have been selected in the last two years.

The 2016 session opened January 6th with a welcoming speech by the Speaker who also laid out the broad priorities of the Democratic Conference (Read speech here)

The Assembly will meet two days a week in January and February and move to three days, to four to around the clock as the March 31 budget approaches. May and June will bring three day a week sessions with June 16th set as the end of the session. Tuesday is traditionally lobby day as the hordes descend on the Legislative Office Building to meet with their local electeds (or their staff). If you are going to trek to Albany make sure you have set up an appointment, the earlier in the day the better; members are called into session in the afternoon. You actually have more meaningful meetings in the member’s district office on a Friday.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 bills will be introduced, they all can be tracked on the Assembly website. The vast, vast, vast majority die, either for the lack of a Senate partner bill, or, the leadership chooses not to bring the bill to the floor; fewer than 500 Assembly bills will become law.

You can read a bio of your Assembly member here and read the bills they have introduced by clicking on “legislation” on their web page.

Politics can be frustrating, excuse me, is frustrating. What seems to clear to you might not be so clear to a legislator, who is juggling scores of bills. As you wait in the anteroom to meet with your legislator the group behind you might be waiting to advocate for the position opposite to your position. Are you a contributor?  A modest contribution goes a long way; it’s a sign of support, no matter how modest.

All politics are local.

Both sides of the aisle need a peaceful session, no demonstrations, and no angry constituents; on the other hand the opposition party will try and ratchet up their supporters.

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
― Winston S. Churchill

“Everybody Hates Chris:” School Integration Must Not Replace Addressing Poverty/Crime/Education in a Coordinated Initiative

“Everyone Hates Chris” was a highly acclaimed program, Chris Rock narrated his trials and tribulations as one of the few black students in a  middle school (”   … a prime example of how to take serious issues and approach them in a humorous yet thought-provoking way. The series is innovative, funny, and stereotype-defying — enjoyable for teens and their parents.”).

During the period referenced in the program I was the union rep in school district, and, I’m very familiar with his school. The school neighborhood was Italian-Irish single family houses and the school had a sprinkling of black students who traveled across the borough. I remember a day I was visiting the school, as I was talking with a teacher at the classroom door an Afro-American kid came running by the classroom followed by a rather large adult screaming “Come back here you f___ n ___.”

The teacher, apologetically, “He’s the dean, he gets excited.”

I skulked away hoping I wouldn’t have to defend his actions.

Don’t think Chris Rock enjoyed his middle school years.

It’s easy to integrate schools by the numbers, it’s difficult to create welcoming, integrative school cultures.

The May, 2014 UCLA Civil Rights Project report, Brown at 60: Great Progress, a Long Retreat and an Uncertain Future, made headlines across nation. One of the conclusions,

Segregation is by far the most serious in the central cities of the largest metropolitan areas; the states of New York, Illinois and California are the top three worst for isolating black students

The report especially resonated in New York City, led by a mayor and a city council that is among the most progressive in the nation: how could a liberal city, with a mayor who ran on a platform of equality accept a segregated school system? In his inaugural address Mayor de Blasio emphasized the inequality theme,

… the state of our city, as we find it today, is a Tale of Two Cities – with an inequality gap that fundamentally threatens our future.

The facts are far more complicated. From 2010 to 2014 the population of New York City has grown by 3.9% (4.7% in Brooklyn – See detailed NYC population data here). The increase is due to increases in births over deaths – New Yorkers are living longer and having more kids, international migration – we’re a worldwide destination city as well as immigration from across the country, although the out migration is almost as high.  The city is booming – demand for housing has sharply increased costs, gentrification is a citywide phenomenon as formerly undesirable neighborhoods become “hot” the poor are forced into fewer and fewer areas of the city. Demand for affordable housing increases, developers build expensive market rate housing.

The White Flight to the suburbs in the 50’s through 80’s has become a White Flight into the city in the 00’s.

The city is 44% white – the school system is 15% white and white students are concentrated in Staten Island and a few other neighborhoods. The racial differences in elementary schools a few blocks apart may be stark, one almost all white, the other all of color.

At the high school level the landscape is more complex; the specialized and small “boutique” screened high schools are segregated, Stuyvesant High School has 20 black students in a register of 3326 (0.6%), Bronx High School of Science has 66 black students, the register is 3006 and Eleanor Roosevelt, a highly desirable screened school has 22 black students in a school of 554.

On the other hand two of the most soughtafter large high schools (each school has over 3,000 students) in Brooklyn, Madison and Midwood, have diverse populations.


    HISPANIC 572 17.6%
    ASIAN 642 19.75%
    BLACK 572 17.6%
    WHITE 1,429 43.97%


    HISPANIC 490 12.34%
    ASIAN 1,379 34.72%
    BLACK 1,156 29.1%
    WHITE 888 22.36%

Screened and testing for admission high schools are overwhelmingly white and Asian, large traditional high schools located in middle class neighborhoods reflect the ethnicity of the city.

At the elementary school level schools are far more segregated, Chancellor Farina’s former school, PS 6, located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan is an example,


    HISPANIC 50 7.14%
    ASIAN 88 12.57%
    BLACK 15 2.14%
    WHITE 525 75%

There are many examples of elementary schools that abut minority neighborhoods that are overwhelmingly white.

Two members of the City Council, Brad Lander and Richie Torres, referencing the UCLA Report, bemoaned the segregated nature of NYC schools,

 More than half of New York City’s public schools are over 90 percent black and Latino. Meanwhile, many of the best-regarded public elementary schools are getting whiter

Lander and Torres  passed legislation  that requires the city to release detailed data that  ” … will include extensive school-by-school data, down to the grade level (and within specialized programs like gifted and talented programs), as well as the Department’s specific efforts and initiatives to strengthen diversity” and an additional bill that “calls on the NYC DOE to establish diversity as a priority in admissions, zoning and other decision-making processes.”

Lander/Torres advocate for the Department of Education to adopt district-wide “controlled choice” enrollment practices.  A lengthy paper  describes the principles of controlled choice,

The comprehensive citywide or zonewide educational offerings of Controlled Choice sever the hostage relationship between real estate market forces and personal educational opportunities. With Controlled Choice, an individual’s schooling opportunities are no longer constrained or facilitated by one’s capacity to rent or purchase housing near to or distant from a preferred school. Controlled Choice operates on the premise that schools are public and should be available to everyone, while housing is private and its use is, therefore, limited to an individual or a family of individuals. Thus, the Controlled Choice method assumes that schooling opportunities should not be dependent upon one’s financial capacity to rent or purchase various housing accommodations. Indeed, Controlled Choice prevents these experiences from being linked by ensuring that all schools are available to all students. Controlled Choice provides comprehensive educational opportunities to population groups by insisting that groups with which individuals chose to identify and that are recognized by the school system should receive proportional access to all public educational opportunities provided. If school assignments were made in a random way, this would occur automatically. Since individuals are granted the freedom of choosing schools, this individual freedom must be constrained by reserving seats for groups. This method is fair to individuals and to groups. Moreover, by reserving a proportion of school seats for members of various population groups, Controlled Choice ensures the presence of a critical mass of students unlike the prevailing group and thereby guarantees diversity in all schools.

Families list schools in the catchment area in preferential order and a computer algorithm assigns students utilizing the preferential choices as well as diversity data. The controlled choice concept has been used in a number of cities including Boston.

The Department has granted permission for seven schools, all in gentrifying neighborhoods to reserve seats in the incoming 2016 kindergarten class for “disadvantaged” students, aka students of color.

The move to “Controlled Choice” (which will probably be branded with a different name) will be difficult, and, perhaps flammable. In a decision about where to live a major consideration is the quality of the neighborhood school; in a controlled choice environment there is no neighborhood school.

Even if the city adopted a controlled choice plan only hundreds of students would be impacted. An enormous battle to create integrated schools, a virtuous goal; however, integrated schools do not guarantee academic success. Chris Rock’s parents placed him in an academically successful school and the experience was far from positive. Sadly, the white students  may gain more than the students of color traveling from a distance into a foreign neighborhood.

A hundred schools are either renewal or receivership schools or both – the lowest achieving schools in the city. For the most part the schools are located in the poorest zip codes in the city (See Concentrated Poverty by District report here) and in districts with the highest juvenile justice crime numbers (See Citizens Crime Commission report, Sustaining Crime Reductions in NYC: Priorities for Preventing Youth Crime here).  Living in deep poverty, living in violent, crime-ridden neighborhoods impact performance in schools; the evidence is overwhelming. (See report: Understanding the impact of trauma and urban poverty on family systems: Risks, resilience and interventions here)

School leaders and teachers, no matter their caring and skills, cannot overcome the external burdens alone. What is the city, what is the City Council doing to address the external factors that impact school performance?

The website Chalkbeat lists the school integration controversy as one of the six most important stories of the year, an interesting story, not a “most important” story. The most important story is why the city is not concentrating all city services on the hundreds of schools and thousands of students suffering in the most eroded neighborhoods

The Board of Regents Convene With a Contentious Agenda and the Ominous Shadow of the Governor

Wednesday morning the seventeen members of the Board of Regents and the newly selected commissioner will convene in the ornate Regents Room to begin the 15-16 school year. Oddly the agenda, to a large extent, has been set “across the street,” on the second floor of the Capital building, the executive offices of the governor.

Education policy for two centuries was set by the members of the regents with significant input from the commissioner. Commissioners worked their way up the ladder, from teacher to principal to superintendent to commissioner; all that changed in the last few years. David Steiner came from the university and John King had no public school experience, in fact, only limited experience in the world of charter schools. The newly selected commissioner returns us to the world of experienced educators.

In the current convoluted landscape of education the governor has effectively replaced the regents: adoption of the Common Core State Standards, a massive labyrinthine principal/teacher evaluation system, the receivership of struggling schools have been set in legislation by the governor with the regents being asked to set regulations in place.

The unpaid, un-staffed members of the regents are “elected” by a joint meeting of the NYS legislature. In reality the democrats select the members; there are far more democrats than republicans in the combined houses. In the last session the legislature dumped two of the most senior members of the regents and selected four new members (three incumbents were re-elected, there were two vacancies and two regents replaced); three former school superintendents and one nurse educator (the State Education Department is in charge of all schools, pre-k through college, all museums and libraries and the professions).

The four new members and two second-term regents members have formed a caucus to oppose the approval of the governor’s new matrix principal/teacher evaluation plan (3012-d); the debate will be lively.

The regents will approve regulations for the completely untried receivership law; if low performing schools fail to make progress, as defined in the regulations, the school may be removed from the district and placed under the supervision of a receiver who has sweeping power. (See Regents agenda here).

Not only has the governor seized control of the education agenda the feds have been the agenda-setter for all of the states. The feds require that after being in the country for one year all English Language Learners in Grades 3-8 must be tested regardless of their English language skills. The feds denied the NYS waiver request and the regents and the commissioner are asking the feds to reconsider.

The regents are forming a working group to discuss the pass/fail rates on the new Common Core Regents exams; we are currently in year three of the eight year phase-in of Common Core Regents; the grades are currently scaled to keep pass-fail rates at the same level as before the Common Core: are students making adequate progress in passing the new Regents, and, if not, how should the regents members respond?

Regent Cashin is highlighting the new testing regimen for prospective teachers who are required to pass four exams at a cost of about $1,000; the exams are timed and computer-based: are the exams accurate predictors of success? Are the high failure rates the result of selecting the wrong candidates, faulty college curriculum or simply poorly crafted exams? In an era of sharply declining enrollments in college teacher education programs the poorly designed Pearson-created exams should not be an unnecessary impediment.

While the funding of schools is the responsibility of the governor and the legislature the 2% property tax cap is resulting in drastic cuts in services in low wealth districts, of which there are several hundred located in rural districts with declining revenues. The regents can highlight and recommend changes to the “other side of the street.”

How will the regents address the large numbers of Students with Disabilities who are unable to “pass” grades 3-8 tests and unable to achieve the safety net requirements on the Regents exams? Should the regents create alternative pathways to graduation? Portfolios?

In some schools English Language learners are making progress similar to all other students while in others the majority of students are graduating at extremely low rates: Why? Higher or lower levels of instruction? Better professional development? Better designed instructional models?

Educational decisions, as the state constitution intended, should be made by the Board of Regents. Hopefully the governor will move away from his senseless policies that have antagonized parents and teachers across the state.

Far reaching education policies crafted behind closed doors by invisible staffers is not a fruitful path to better education. The two hundred thousand op-outers will grow and grow; the angry electorate will continue to grow.

Hopefully the governor will rethink his ideas and the legislature will continue to select regent members willing to challenge the governor as well as collaboratively develop approaches to address the core issues confronting children and families across the state.

Mixed Martial Arts in Albany: Cuomo versus Heastie versus Skelos

The mixed martial arts bills are progressing through the state legislature, the actual mixed martial arts, the combat in the octagon, the real blood sport is in full bloom. The featured bout: Cuomo v Heastie v Skelos.

The 150 members of the Assembly and the 63 members of the Senate gather in Albany the first week in January, some are deeply involved in introducing bills, other spend their time on constituent services and some work on their outside employment. Over the next term, the 2015 and 2016 sessions, over 15,000 bills will be introduced into the Assembly, about 500 will become laws, less than five percent of the bills introduced.

Members from Manhattan may file hundreds upon hundreds of bills, members from the inner city fifty bills, and chairs of major committees may file hardly any bills. Introducing a bill is a long way from passage, bills require democratic sponsorship in the Assembly, republican sponsorship in the Senate and gubernatorial support for final passage, a long, long road.

From January until the end of March the legislative leadership is consumed with the budget and the leadership has to gauge the temperature of their caucus, called the “conference.” Before or after a floor session members will meet in conference,’ a closed meeting, members and top staff only, no votes are taken, no minutes, the members can speak freely. How “tough” are the members? Do they want to risk going beyond April 1 without a budget? Do they want to “take on” the governor directly? Do they want to risk antagonizing core constituents? Who are the members more afraid of: the governor, their constituents? Or, the speaker?

Sheldon Silver ruled with an iron fist, he probably kept a copy of The Prince at his bedside, and one of his favorite quotes might have been,

“It is much safer to be feared than loved because …love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”

Why am I quoting Machiavelli? Was he a totalitarian or a human rights respecting republican (Read Phillip Bobbitt, The Garments of the Court and Palace: Machiavelli and the World That He Made (2013)).

Heastie, the speaker, needs the total support of his members, the 105 democratic members of the Assembly, the conference. He has to create a team, a united group who supports the speaker without reservations, a team who knows they cannot back away, that unless they stand up to the governor he will roll over them. You gain loyalty by acts, by making decisions that support your members.

Those of you who have played sports or played in an orchestra or danced in a company understand leadership, under the synergy created by teamwork, the sum is greater than the parts in a synergistic organism.

Five Regents are seeking re-appointment and there are two vacancies. In the Westchester-Rockland judicial district the speaker clearly approved of the Assembly democrats making the selection. Open interviews were conducted in Westchester, about a dozen applicants. Apparently the legislature will select Judith Johnson, a retired superintendent who is highly regarded across the counties, who was the choice a majority of the legislators.

Robert Bennett was the Regents from the Buffalo area, Bennett served as the chancellor prior to Merryl Tisch, served on the Board for twenty years, and his bio on the SED website recounts a long and illustrious career. Recently Bennett has begun to antagonize more and more sectors within the community, supporting charter schools, supporting the Common Core, supporting testing and, mostly, unconditionally supporting former Commissioner King. At the Albany interviews Assembly member Ryan skewered Bennett. Bennett proudly announced he was heading a task force to review special ed regulations, Ryan asked Bennett to what extent he was responsible for the failures of the last decade, and Bennett stumbled.

The Sunday Buffalo News reports that Regent Bennett has withdrawn and will support Catherine Fisher Collins,

Dr. Collins is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and the first African American nurse practitioner to graduate from the University of Buffalo’s School of Nursing Nurse Practitioner program. In addition she holds three certifications in health education.

The new speaker understands power, he defers to his members to fill a vacancy and is willing to dump a twenty year incumbent to acknowledge bubbling anger among voters.

Heastie is building a team, a team willing to follow their leader wherever he chooses to go, to the edge of the cliff, and, if necessary, over the edge.

Cuomo will bully, threaten, and try to undercut the speaker; veiled threats, not so veiled threats, waiting for the speaker to take whatever is on the table at the eleventh hour.

Senate majority leader Skelos has his own list, how much does he cede to Cuomo, and, can he partner with Heastie against Cuomo?

Speaker Heastie is the most powerful Black elected official in New York State, and, in time, potentially, one of the most powerful in the nation. Standing up to an incumbent governor only increases creds, and standing up to an incumbent governor and losing reduces his image.

Cuomo wants to be standing on the podium early on the morning of April 1st announcing the fifth straight on time budget, how can he reach an agreement without appearing to lose face? Can he “win the battle and lose the war,” by defeating Heastie and alienate Black and liberal voters?

In the Cuomo camp some advisors are probably telling him to follow the Scott Walker path, attack public employee unions unrelentingly, after all, it may be a path to the presidency. Other advisors will remind Cuomo, he’s running as a democrat, not a tea party republican.

I don’t know how Cuomo, Heastie and Skelos get to that April 1st stage, I don’t know the deals, the trade-offs, I don’t know how the questions of teacher evaluation, testing, tenure and “receiverships” will be resolved, for the three men in a room, the endgame, how the public views the “winners” and “losers” will drive the decisions.

“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger, but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”
― Niccolò Machiavelli