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Albany. Teacher Evaluation, Cuomo. Seeming Chaos and the Heritage of James Madison

Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made. Otto von Bismarck

Thousands upon thousands of emails, texts, tweets; hundreds of visits, scores of demonstrations and rallies all challenging decisions of the governor. Millions of dollars funneled into the governor’s campaign, each day the tension builds towards decisions on teacher evaluation, tenure, “receivership’ and school aid.

It all seems chaotic and confusing, and James Madison would be smiling.

The “chaos” in Albany is the essence of democracy, the rough and tumble of politics was described by Madison as “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” exactly how decisions should be made. Madison, in Federalist # 51 wrote,

… the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions (Federalist # 51, 2/6/1788)

Yes, men are not angels.

The Democratic controlled Assembly, the Republican controlled Senate and the governor are jousting. The “public” casting arrows at the governor, the governor defending, deals offered, rejected, with a ticking clock.

Carl Heastie, the newly elected Speaker of Assembly meets with his members before and/or after each session, called “conference.” The speaker takes the “temperature of his members.” Under his predecessor, Sheldon Silver, the conference was pro forma, Silver ruled with an iron fist, any disloyalty. or perceived disloyalty was treated with retribution. Heastie, on the other hand, has been open to his members. The dumping of two long time incumbent regents and the election of four new regents clearly was the will of local members of the Assembly.

At the Monday conference a proposed teacher evaluation plan, referred to as a “matrix” was discussed and looked upon with suspicion by the members. On Tuesday a new plan, a six member committee, two each appointed by the governor, the Assembly and the Senate, and reporting back by June 1st, all state aid would be held up until the committee reports. Thursday a plan to turn the creation of a new teacher evaluation plan over to the Regents.

And probably new “concepts” coming fast and furious as we move toward the March 31 end of the fiscal year.

State aid could be held hostage until teacher evaluation is resolved. As the governor’s popularity rating continues to tank the legislators are more emboldened.

Perhaps members will have an opportunity to run home Sunday, do laundry and run back for the Monday through Aril 1 almost round the clock sessions.

If the factions cannot reach a budget by April 1 the governor can take the nuclear option, issue “emergency budget extenders” and force through his budget. See the background on the extender option here
and the current Cuomo “threats” here.

The extender option would be declaring war on the legislature and with a falling popularity rating the extender option, if popular with the public could revive his reputation or sink him to the depths.

I am asked “Aren’t the Republicans on the governor’s side?” Yes, the Republicans support charter schools, as long as they’re not in their districts; however the Republicans need the Democrats on the issue of “ethics,” a rather obtuse term. The key factor is a limitation on outside income, Many in the Republican leadership retain high-paying jobs as lawyers, and some may have “Shelly Silver ” problems. The Republicans need the Democrats to avoid being squeezed by the governor.

All sides need an artfully crafted solution that will allow everyone to claim “victory.” The Governor, the Assembly, the Senate, the teacher union and the public, all must appear to have saved face and come away with a piece of the pie.

It is rare to be able to claim victory while holding the still warm heart of your enemy over your head, although when Shelly Silver was led away in handcuffs it was the gratifying equivalent.

I was arguing a grievance before an arbitrator, while I knew I was right the Department was arguing the grievance was untimely, they would agree they were wrong, they would not agree to back pay.

A light bulb flashed! I convinced the arbitrator, and eventually the Department to put days into the grievant’s absent teacher reserve that equaled the value of the lost salary. The Department didn’t have to write a check and the grievant received a remedy that probably exceeded the actual back pay. A win-win.

Can the contending sides craft a “win-win”?

For Madison the essence of government: In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government.

Ultimately the labyrinth that are the halls of Albany will be mastered by the people. That is the magnificent beauty that our founding father left to us to cherish and defend.

Will the Newly Reconstituted Board of Regents Create a New Agenda? Can the Regents Convert Parent/Voter Anger into Support? Can the Regents Lead a National Revolution?

Appointment, actually “election” to the Board of Regents was an honorific, after decades of service you were selected to serve on the Board. Once a month you trekked to Albany, discussed policy issues, and with rare exception confirmed the decisions of the commissioner. Prior to last year no one can remember a Regent who was not reappointed after completing their five year term.

For years state test scores incrementally increased, all was well in the kingdom.

Newly appointed Commissioner Steiner had his doubts and commissioned a study.

In July, 2010 a report by Harvard professor Daniel Koretz found that the state tests, as suspected, were getting easier each year.

“It is very likely that some of the state’s progress was illusory,” said Daniel Koretz, the Harvard testing expert who led the research. “You can have exaggerated progress over all that creates very high pass rates. It doesn’t seem logical to call those kids proficient.”

Former Commissioner Miles retired, and no investigation took place: Were the Regents aware of the “easing” of the scores? Was Chancellor Bennett aware of the manipulations? No one seemed to care. Bennett continued on the board and was addressed with the encomium, “Chancellor Emeritus.”

The Common Core changed the landscape.

New Commissioner King turned aside suggestions to phase in the Common Core and testing: full steam ahead.

The criticism mounted, suggestions to slow down, to phase in, all ignored.

A year ago Regent Jackson was not reappointed and this year two of the senior Regent members, both had served for over twenty years and were actively seeking reappointment were bumped by local legislators.

Regents Bennett and Dawson, complained that “politics” had driven them out, and, of course the process is political (see Jessica Bakeman article here)

The public outcry over Common Core testing, in the summer of 2013 two-thirds of students failed the state grades 3-8 tests, had grown and grown. Too many members of the Regents were tone deaf, and Commissioner King went on the road to quell the rising parent rebellion. The first meeting was in Poughkeepsie was a disaster and, King responded that the meeting has been “co-oped.” He failed to understand the anger.

As a Social Studies teacher I did not object to the Common Core – for example see 9th grade standards below:

* Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.

* Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.

* Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

The standards were not revolutionary, in fact, they were not dramatically different from the last set of standards.

The difference is that the current standards are dogma with the rigidity of religious dogma. The failure to “teach” a Common Core lesson is apostasy, with serious consequences for the practitioner.

The standards were written in stone, not a word could be changed, works of fiction were discouraged, the math was obtuse, the whip was cracked in Washington and with Jesuitical enthusiasm the lowly priests, the classroom teachers were expected, no required, to chant the mantra..

Resistance grew: scores of U-Tubes railing against the Common Core, from Diane Ravitch to 53,000 views of a high school senior in Tennessee, the orthodoxy was challenged.

The elected were getting nervous, as anger grew they feared retribution at the polls.

The holy books, the Bible, the Talmud, the Koran, are philosophical texts, over the centuries who would have thought that the Crusades, the religious wars that slaughtered millions of Catholics and Protestants, the Holocaust and the Sunni-Shiite genocides, all “justified” by the writings within the holy texts,

The seemingly benign Common Core State Standards have been imposed with fanatical vigor, flailing teachers who dare to challenge a comma, creating tests with dire consequences and dividing students and teachers into “highly effective” and “ineffective” categories based on the economic status of students.

.The reconstituted Board of Regents have a rare opportunity, the Regents and the Regents alone can restore confidence in education in New York State.

How about thr following agenda?

Challenge the Feds:

The Obama-Duncan education policies are widely discredited, the reauthorization of ESEA will smolder for months in Congress, many ideas, many conflicting ideas with the possibility of an Obama veto. Why not challenge two of the most outrageous edicts? English language learners must be tested after one year in the country and Students with Disabilities must be tested at their chronological age rather than their functional age; the feds denied an attempt to alter the requirements through the waiver process. Challenge the feds: No testing of ELLs for their first three years in the country and testing in years four and five will only be for diagnostic purposes, not for school or teacher accountability. Testing for SWD will be determined by the Individual Education Plan (IEP).

The SED folk will say we can’t violate federal edicts, why not?

Reconfigure the Cut Scores

The standards-setting process sets the cut scores, the cut scores determine the student achievement levels from 1 to 4, from lowest to highest. Commissioner King closely controlled the process. Calls to phase in the new cut scores were ignored. After the public relations catastrophe the SED decided to phase in the impact of the Common Core Regents exams over eights years as well as phasing in the TASC, the replacement for the GED..

The Regents can reconfigure the cut scores based on the 2012 score distributions and phase in the new scores over an extended period. It would be both highly controversial, attacked by the Post and the Daily News and applauded by parents and educators across the state.

Review the Common Core State Standards

The standards have not been chiseled on Mount Rushmore, at least not yet. The Regents can appoint a panel: university, superintendents and practititoners to examine the CCSS and recommend changes. “Participation reduces resistence.”

Measure School Progress Using a Risk Load Index

The November, 2014 Center for NYC Affairs report , A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal about NYS’s Lowest Income Elementary Schools,identified “risk factors,”

The report identifies 18 “risk factors” that are associated with chronic absenteeism, … Schools with a very high “risk load” are likely to suffer from poor attendance. Some of the school factors are: students in temporary housing; student suspensions; the perception of safety; and principal, teachers and student turnover. The neighborhood factors include: male unemployment, presence of public housing or a homeless shelter in a school’s attendance zone, adult levels of education, and involvement with the Administration for Children’s Services.

The Regents should begin the process of creating a student academic growth measurement utilizing the “risk load” factors and incorporate the index in the determination of student growth, comparing inner city. high poverty schools with well-resourced high wealth schools is both foolish and futile.

Begin a Discussion: Moving Away from a Property Tax-Based System

The New York State school funding system is deeply flawed; school funding is based upon wealth, the wealthier the school district the higher the per student funding. The state budget can ease the impact of the property tax system, not resolve the inequities. The state must begin to move away from property taxes, all funding should emanate from the state based upon a state-wide formula. This is a highly complex, highly political, in fact, explosive issue. The Regents can begin the discussion, ultimately the changes require changes in the law.

The new Board of Regents can begin to place education policy back on track, can begin to reflect communities, families and practitioners.

It wouldn’t be easy, the ed (de)formers will attack; editorials, the billionaires club, the Washington think tanks, all will attempt to dissuade the Regents.

The days of members of the Board of Regents whiling away days rubber stamping decisions of an all-powerful commissioner are gone. Regent members are in the forefront of change, if they remain on the sidelines, act meekly, the legislature may decide to change the role of the Regents,

A clock is ticking.

What is the “New Teacher” Crisis? Should We Set High Barriers to Becoming a Teacher or Figure Out How to Retain New Teachers? Exploring the Dunning -Kruger Syndrome

The Dunning-Kruger effect, named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University, occurs where people fail to adequately assess their level of competence — or specifically, their incompetence — at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than everyone else. This lack of awareness is attributed to their lower level of competence robbing them of the ability to critically analyze their performance, leading to a significant overestimate of themselves.

The State Education Department, under former commissioner King and de facto commissioner Wagner have made decisions that I have to believe are due to a Dunning-Kruger effect, they make no sense otherwise.

The latest are the decisions relating to “raising the bar” for prospective teachers by creating unproven testing obstacles.

The first wave of education reform in New York City was intended to move from patronage hiring to hiring based upon qualifications. The creation of the Board of Examiners, a quasi-independent board created examinations for teachers and supervisors and promulgated rank-ordered lists. Teachers who received passing grades were appointed to positions in schools pursuant to their grade: highest grade to the lowest passing grade. For seventy years the hiring of teachers was a meritocracy; I remember sitting in the gymnasium at Brooklyn Tech High School for hours poring over questions and writing a series of essays. Months later I was grilled by a panel of examiners, it seems like it took hours, and, eventually a list was posted in the newspaper listing the candidates who passed the exam, with their grade. Yes, a form of public shaming, we survived.

In the 60’s the Board of Examiners became the subject of increasing criticism, with a rising civil rights movement racial disparities in pass/fail rates challenged the validity of the tests: were the tests actually job-related?

In the 1972 the federal courts ruled the Board of Examiners tests unconstitutional. (Read the Court of Appeal decision here ), the Chancellor at the time supported the decision of the trial court,

In a memorandum to the Board of Education, quoted by Judge Mansfield in his opinion, Chancellor Scribner stated that to defend against plaintiffs’ case,

“… would require that I both violate my own professional beliefs and defend a system of personnel selection and promotion which I no longer believe to be workable.”

From the mid-seventies into the 90’s New York City required a 20-minute interview. New York State instituted a two-exam system: the LAST and the ACT-W, passing rates continued to increase; today they are in the high 90th percentiles.

A recent study conducted by Hemp Langford of SUNY/Albany and other scholars reviewed teacher quality,

We analyze 25 years of data on the academic ability of teachers in New York State and document that since 1999 the academic ability of both individuals certified and those entering teaching has steadily increased. These gains are widespread and have resulted in a substantial narrowing of the differences in teacher academic ability between high- and low-poverty schools and between White and minority teachers. We interpret these gains as evidence that the status of teaching is improving.

Unfortunately New York State jumped on the “raise the bar” bandwagon without reviewing teacher quality within the state. At the March 17th Regents Meeting the de facto commissioner, defending the new hyper-testing requirements said,

“I think we all want … to send a very clear message that it should be difficult to enter the profession.”

No. I think the “very clear message” we want to send; New York State is preparing highly qualified students to enter the profession. “Difficult” does not assure quality.

The State Ed Department has certainly made it difficult to become a teacher, with no assurances that the hurtles will improve the quality of the workforce.

Prospective teachers in New York State are now required to pass four separate examinations: edTPA, the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST), the Educating All Students (EAS) test and the Content Specialty Test (CST) in order to receive their initial teaching certificate.

The edTPA, created by Stanford University and administered and scored by Pearson,

Evidence of a candidate’s ability to teach is drawn from a subject-specific learning segment of 3-5 lessons from a unit of instruction taught to one class of students. Materials assessed as part of the edTPA process include video clips of instruction, lesson plans, student work samples, analysis of student learning, and reflective commentaries. Based on the submitted evidence, which is reviewed by trained scorers, faculty and candidates can discuss the impact of candidates’ teaching performance on student learning and determine ways to improve teaching. Faculty can analyze evidence of candidate performance to guide decision-making about program revision. State education agencies may use edTPA scores for licensure and accreditation

The Academic Literacy and Skills Test (ALAST) is a 210-minute, computer-based exam.

[The teacher candidate] reads a complex informational and narrative text and demonstrates command of key ideas and details in the text … makes logical inferences based on textual evidence … delineates and evaluates the argument and specific claims in a text.

The ALST consists of a selected response section and constructed responses, two focused responses and one extended response.

The Educating All Students (EAS) test is a 135-minute, computer-based exam “consisting of selected response items based on scenario-based responses … the competencies include Diverse Student Populations, English Language Learners, Students with Disabilities, Teacher Responsibilities and School-Home Relationships.”

The Content Specialty Test (CST) is a series of tests in about fifty different areas, the Multi-Subject Grades 1-6 (Common Branches) is a computer-based test:

Part One: Literacy and English Language Arts, Part Two: 40 selected-response items and a constructed response item in Mathematics: Part Three: 40 selected-response items and one constructed response item in Arts and Sciences, tests can be taken in three separate sections or at one time: 5 hours and 15 minutes.

About ten hours of actual testing time and days and days preparing for and constructing the video segment of the edTPA.

The tests and the test preparation materials cost the student about a thousand dollars.

Is the any evidence that the battery of testing will produce more qualified teachers and better student outcomes? The answer is no.

There is general agreement that the edTPA is valuable and should be integrated into college programs; “clinically-rich” programs incorporate a great deal of actual in-class practice teaching, and, a few colleges, very few, use videos as reflective teaching-learning tools for teacher candidates.

I asked the Director of Field Services in a teacher education program if he saw any relationship between the ALAST and EAS exams and teacher quality. His answer, “I’m baffled, top students failed and marginal students passed, it makes no sense to me.”

The State Education folks clearly suffer from Dunning-Kruger Syndrome; they are ignoring mountains of evidence insisting that they are correct.

In New York City 35% of new teachers leave within five years and I’m sure the same number accrues in inner city high poverty school districts across the state; teachers leave high poverty schools at much more accelerated rates than teachers in high achieving schools.

The core of the teacher issue is teacher retention in schools with the lowest academic achievement.

Sadly the rush to “test to teacher excellence” appears to be driving away prospective teachers, enrollment in teacher preparation programs across the state is sharply down.

While the folks in charge constantly beat the diversity drums, they agree that we should attract a more diverse teaching workforce; however, the failure rates on the ALAST and the EAS are significantly higher among black and Hispanic test takers. The exam system is the subject of a lengthy litigation (Gulino v Board of Education and State Education) that is nearing a conclusion; the federal court could rule the exams are discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Yes, I understand Finland only selects teachers from the top ten percent of applicants, Finland is also a nation with almost no childhood poverty and income equality, within their workforce teachers are well-paid. If we dragged Finnish teachers across the pond and dumped them in Rochester or East New York we would not see magic.

Rather than address the problem, attracting the right candidates, providing high quality teacher preparation programs based in evidence, supporting new teachers over their first few years, we are discouraging new applicants, using “tests” that are unproven, not valid or reliable and ignoring the discouraging exit of new teachers, from both the profession and from high needs schools.

Is there a vaccine to cure Dunning-Kruger Syndrome?

The Charter Wars Revisited: “Backfill,” Suspensions, Choice and Authentic Assessment at the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Institute (MI) is a conservative think tank, publishes City Journal and supports research; Marcus Winters, a senior fellow and professor at University of Colorado has written a number of papers supporting charter schools. The latest MI event was entitled “Are NYC Charter Schools Doing All They Can to Serve the Neediest Students?”

Winters presented his latest paper, “Pushed Out? Low Performing Students and Charter Schools,” Winters argues,

• Low-performing students are more mobile, regardless of where they are enrolled: in NYC charters as well as traditional public schools, low-performing students are more likely to change schools than their higher-performing peers.
• Low-performing students are not more likely to exit NYC charters than traditional public schools.
• To the extent that higher attrition rates for low-performing NYC students offer cause for concern, they are no less a problem for the city’s traditional public schools than they are for its charters.

Winters agreed there was anecdotal evidence in regard to “push outs,” however due to the lack of transparency there is no hard data, although he did agree that the failure to fill vacated spots in charter schools, commonly called “backfill” was an issue.

Read Chalkbeat on the “backfill” issue here.

Read the full Winters report here.

I was nibbling on the breakfast fruit and croissant and sipping my coffee when next speaker changed the entire tenor of the meeting.

Seth Andrew is the founder of Democracy Prep and Democracy Builders, an avid supporter of charter schools. Andrews challenged the charter school community: in the upcoming April lottery open up positions in all grades. Currently, with rare exception, charter schools only accept students in their opening grade. He argued if charter schools ended the “backfill” accusations, charter schools and public schools could be compared evenly. Andrews turned to Ian Rowe, his co-panelist and the CEO of Public Prep, and challenged him to fill empty seats in his charter schools, and specifically referenced declining enrollment grade by grade with specific numbers: they didn’t come to blows, however, it was “hot and heavy” for a while. For Andrew if a kid doesn’t get picked in the initial charter school lottery s(he) is trapped in a public failing school. If charter seats are available every year in every grade we would have an even playing field between charter and public schools. Andrew warned if charter schools fought “backfill” it would be forced upon them. Andrew further pushed the envelope, he charged that for every kid charters lose by attrition, they lose the funding for the kid, let’s say $15,000, and they attempt to replace the money through philanthropy, which Andrew says is not a workable model. I was stunned, and fascinated.

Jim Merriman, the President of the NYC Charter School Center, and another panelist, agreed that single entrepreneurship charters were at a substantial disadvantage; they had no outside support network; he mused about a BOCES-type support system. There are, I believe 37 BOCES centers across the state, school districts purchase services from BOCES, perhaps specialized services for Students with Disabilities, Career Education, literacy, math or technology experts, all available to assist the surrounding school districts. Would a BOCES-like network be necessary for the individual charters schools to prosper?

Merriman sees charter schools as evening the playing field. For decades, according to Merriman, middle class parents could chose neighborhoods with “good” schools or attend screened schools that use reading and math scores to segregate students by race and class, charter schools simply give the same advantage to inner city kids surrounded by low performing schools. What would de Blasio say?

In the Q & A I asked whether the substantially higher rates of charter school suspensions was increasing the “school to prison pipeline?” The highly unsatisfactory responses: charter schools have standards and students must live up to the standards, and, public schools want to suspend, and can’t. In my view charter schools suspend high numbers of kids due to the inexperience of their teachers. Experienced teachers learn to “listen with a third ear,” to grow antenna, to intuitively know when a kid is angry or frustrated or depressed, they know how to intervene and avoid a confrontation situation.

All the panelists agreed the current state testing system was deeply flawed. Ian Rowe suggested project-based authentic assessments on every grade.

Charters, public, unions, cities, suburbs and rural, I believe every school across the state would agree that authentic assessment would be a far better system to assess student progress than the current Pearson Common Core tests. (Read an excellent Grant Wiggins article here on authentic assessment)

Is it possible to get past Eva and work with charter schools on areas where there is common agreement?

Will charter schools agree to “backfill” vacant seats?

Will public and charters work together on professional develop and school/teacher support?

Can charters and publics work together to move from Pearson tests to true authentic assessment?

Sol Stern was a resident scholar at MI who specialized in the Middle East and Education, he mused about which of the two would be resolved first … I used to think Education

The “March Massacre:” The Legislature Dumps Two Senior Regents Members and Appoints Three Former Superintendents: Change Is In the Air.

Call it the “March Massacre,” two of the longest serving members of the Regents were seeking re-appointment, a process that in the past was automatic, were bumped, and, the two vacancies were filled with retired superintendents (Chin/Johnson)

Judy Chin Interview:

Beverly Ouderkirk Interview:

Judith Johnson Interview:

Catherine Collins bio:

The new 17-member Board will have six former superintendents.

The actions of the leadership of the NYS Assembly are an example of democracy in action, when the public rises up, attend meetings, visit legislators, write letters, create web sites and Facebook pages, the electeds listen.

Commissioner King, although well-intentioned did not, or refused, to understand that the public, primarily parents and teachers care deeply about their children and their profession. You cannot bully to change, reform is a process, and if change is viewed as punishment it will fail.

The Common Core State Standards became the symbol of evil, resistance grew and grew, and Pearson, the test-makers become a dirty word.

Kids who had done well in school suddenly failed state-wide exams, the Common Core State Standards seemed unfair, seemed punitive. Teachers, who were successful for years with the flash of a pen, became unsuccessful. Requests to slow down, to phase in the changes were ignored, not only ignored, but disrespected. From the Common Core to teacher evaluation, to new College and Career Readiness metrics, one massive rollout after another. Superintendents, principals and teachers were overwhelmed, no one was listening. Parent anger grew and was directed at local electeds, why couldn’t they slow down the train?

King was shuttled off to Washington, no matter, the anger continued to build.

Opt-Out Long Island has 20,000 members and growing, Opt-Out movements are growing across the state,

The governor flinched in June and introduced a law to slow the impact of the Common Core, and, out of anger/revenge or just plain nastiness vetoed his own bill.

Fred Dicker, in the NY Post, writes, democrats despise Cuomo,

“People in the party all hate him,’’ one of the state’s best-known Democratic operatives told The Post.

A prominent Democratic elected official added, “There’s an ABC factor at work here. It’s ‘Anybody But Cuomo.’’

Cuomo’s attack on teachers, his full-blown support of the King agenda escalated, parent and teacher anger seethed.

The Assembly leadership sent a signal: they “fired” two of the most senior members of the Board of Regents and added three public school superintendents to the Board. If you view the U-Tubes above you can watch the interviews, the superintendents are teachers, and as all educators they question the direction of education in New York State. Why the hyper-emphasis on testing? Why test kids every year? Why rate teachers by test student test scores?

While the governor is demanding that the use of student tests scores increase to 50% and 35% of observations are made by an outside entity, the new Regents, with many years of experience in the trenches demur.

Today the legislature will “elect” seven members of the Board, four new (see above) and three incumbents (Cashin, Tilles and Young), will the new members, all accomplished women, continue to follow the King policies or move the state in a different direction. And, the best way to make a statement is to select a commissioner who represents the parents, teachers and citizens of New York State, not ill-considered “reform” agenda out of Washington.

A number of times the former commissioner and his staff explained why DC “rules” or “regulations” prohibited what appeared to be a perfectly sensible idea, Harry Phillips, who chose not to run again, jumped in, “Let’s challenge the feds, let’s be disobedient”

Harry was right, hopefully the new Board will move the education ship of state back on course.

The Enigma of Race and Culture: Orlando Patterson, The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth

The current school wars can be roughly divided into two camps: the Obama/Duncan camp, raise both standards and teaching quality through testing and teacher assessment, close “failing schools,” (as defined by test scores), create choice and competition through the unlimited creation of charter schools and all policy decisions emanate from Washington and enforced through the use of carrots and sticks,
versus, for lack of a better title, the Network for Public Schools camp, until we address issues of poverty, racial segregation and inequality gains in student achievement will be limited.

Sociologists who study black America are also divided in camps: those who emphasize the role of institutional racism and economic circumstances are known as structuralists, while those who emphasize the importance of self-perpetuating norms and behaviors are known as culturalists.

Mainstream politicians are culturalists, you seldom lose an election by talking up the virtues of hard work and good conduct. But in many sociology departments structuralism holds sway.

The New School University sponsored a half-day conference, “All Minds Matter: the Crisis and Struggle of Boys and Adolescents of Color in Schools” To quote the introduction to the conference,

…our country has maintained a system of oppression of Afro-Americans through the use of the criminal justice system. Another means of subjugation, one could argue, resides in our inadequate educational systems that punish boys of color more than it educates them.

And, the following day Orlando Patterson, lectured on his just-released book, “The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth,”

… seeks to unravel a uniquely American paradox: the socioeconomic crisis, segregation, and social isolation of disadvantaged black youth, on the one hand, and their extraordinary integration and prominence in popular culture on the other. Despite school dropout rates over 40 percent, a third spending time in prison, chronic unemployment, and endemic violence, black youth are among the most vibrant creators of popular culture in the world

At the New School event one presenter, a clinical psychologist emphasized implicit teacher bias, and discussed how, through proper training, these “biases” can be reduced; he saw these attitudes as commonplace among teachers. Another panelist, from the Children’s Defense Fund bemoaned how we are failing to implement what we already know, the younger you are in experiencing poverty the less the chance of graduating high school, and emphasized the crucial role of childcare providers, who, for the most part are unlicensed and untrained.

Howard Steele, the co-director of the Center for Attachment Research and a leading expert in the field of attachment theory,

The most important tenet of attachment theory is that an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for the child’s successful social and emotional development, and in particular for learning how to effectively regulate their feelings.

And discussed the need for training of caregivers, and, by implication, the impact of dysfunctional families on developing disconnected youth.

David Banks, the founder of the Eagle Academy, regaled the audience with the successes of the Expanded Success Initiativ and challenged the larger educational community, “We know what works, why aren’t we doing it.”

Pedro Noguera, a professor at NYU with a long list of publications about youth of color, saw the “solutions” as piecemeal and challenged the new city administration to develop a strategy across city agencies, and mused: why not a neighborhood-based jobs program in addition to community schools? “Grit without opportunity is fruitless.”

At the end of the day, are racist, white power elites, consciously or unconsciously, responsible for the “school to prison” pipelines,? Are insensitive schools and teachers, by suspending and marginalizing youth of color crushing opportunities for academic achievement? Or, is there a “culture of poverty,” mores, customs and traditions that punish “acting white,” that idolizes violence and overbearing masculinity?

A day later Orlando Patterson explored many of the same themes in a his highly controversial exploration of race and culture

(Read a lengthy, and critical analysis of the “Cultural Matrix” from the current issue of the New Yorker here
A critique of Patterson (“The Caribbean Zola”) from the Harvard Magazine
Or, Is Patterson part of the “blaming the victim” crowd here )

Patterson discusses what he calls the paradox of black youth; on one hand socio-economic disconnection, historic rates of incarceration and high levels of violence and homicide, on the other hand the impact of black youth culture on music, sports, fashion and entertainment: social isolation and cultural dominance. There is no “culture of poverty,” but, poverty matters. Culture according to Patterson, is a set of rules, a shifting set of configurations. Within the inner city Patterson sees highly variegated cultures, the inner city middle class who choose to live in a racially comfortable neighborhood, the black proletariat, aka, the working poor and the disconnected, not working and not in school, depending on the city from 15-25% of inner city youth.

These complex cultures buffer from poverty; liberate and empower, and, contain violence and other destructive impulses. At the end of his lecture, and his 700-page tome Patterson, not surprisingly tells us that segregation matters, it creates isolation from social networks of mobility, isolation from the cultural capital of the middle class mainstream. Culture is not immutable; change is both possible and desirable.

The weakness of the presentation is the next steps, the actual policy recommendations: we should emulate Europe and move towards a welfare state, not exactly likely, work towards better parenting decisions, better decisions among teenagers, and, desegregation as a goal.

The commenters were challenging: Patrick Sharkey pointed to the recent historic reductions in crime rates, we know that “broken windows” and “stop and frisk” are not the reason, what is?

Niobe Way, in a depressing presentation sees all youth, black as well as white, becoming less and less connected as they move into their middle and late teens, higher rates of depression, a loss of “humanity,” again, why?

David Kirkland, an NYU professor, challenged Patterson, perhaps more accurately savaged Patterson. “Cultural Matrix” criminalizes black youth, hip hop helps black youth survive in a deeply racist society; the ideologies of oppression are the enemy, Kirkland sees Patterson as standing with the white power elites.

Patterson responded vigorously, the criminal element in the black inner city is real; they’re responsible for the extreme levels of violent crime, the 80%, the middle and working classes want the police to protect them, to rid neighborhoods of destructive elements, without the oppressive policing we see in Ferguson and elsewhere.

Guess Patterson and Kirkland didn’t sit next to each other at the post- meeting dinner.

The audience, half black and half white, mostly NYU students were also divided, with many Kirkland supporters. A young black woman asked a question which began with “… of course we live in a racist white world …,” although Patterson demurred I doubt he impacted.

The issues of race, gender and class are the subtext of every conversation, whether stated or implied, and topics that disturbing and avoided.

I was teaching a graduate education class; at the first session I asked the dozen or so students, in one sentence, tell us their educational philosophy, a little boring, “All student can learn,” “I can make a difference,” until we got to Mohammad, a black man, “All whites are racists, it all comes down to their ability to deal with it.”

It was a wonderful semester.

Scott Walker, Andrew Cuomo and Labor Unions: Will Cuomo Follow the Walker Path?

Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin decided to take on public employees and dismantle collective bargaining. In spite of a maximum effort by public employee unions, endless demonstrations, rallies, sit-ins, a recall election and a run for re-election Walker defeated the unions and is now a frontrunner in the run for the Republican presidential designation.

Sen. Rand Paul won this weekend’s Washington Times/CPAC presidential preference straw poll for the third time, but the real battle was going on beneath him, with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker easily distancing himself from the rest of the field…

Candidates are strategic: polling, focus groups, funders, oppositional research, nothing happens by accident. Walker decided that the road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue required stepping over the bodies of teachers and public employees, and, maybe, he’s right.

Cuomo is equally strategic, and cunning.

New York State, for decades, has been governed by “three men in a room,” the three power brokers, the Speaker of the Assembly, the Majority Leader of the Senate, and the Governor, traded this for that and agreed upon a budget; everyone got their “piece of the budget pie.”

Eliot Spitzer came into office with guns blazing; the “enemy” was the legislature, the same legislature that was needed to sign off on state budgets, needed to sign off on all legislation. Spitzer’s resignation in 2008, a prostitution scandal, with greeted with smiles by legislators, clearly schadenfreude. Lieutenant Governor Patterson assumed the gubernatorial role, and, although he had served for twenty years in the State Senate, and his father Basil served as an advisor to labor unions, Patterson followed the Spitzer path. I sat in the Assembly chamber as Patterson in his State of the State message attacked the Legislature and labor guests in the gallery. Patterson stood up to both houses, and instead of negotiating a last minute budget, used a new concept, executive orders, to fund the state on a month by month basis, bypassing the Legislature.

Gotham Gazette reports,

Governor David Paterson, with the help of good government groups and lawyers, used an untried executive authority to push through a spending plan to keep state government funded without the Legislature’s consent.

Scandal and bad press haunted Patterson and he didn’t run, Andrew Cuomo, the Attorney General, ran, and was elected easily. NYSUT, the union representing the teachers in New York State decided not to make any endorsement. Would Cuomo follow the confrontational Spitzer-Patterson path, or, work with unions in a collaborative relationship? The union decided to wait and see.

Cuomo came out of the box swinging, threatening, and as aggressive as Spitzer, with more finesse.

A marriage equality law that was muscled through the Senate, highly controversial anti- gun legislation, a property tax cap, a teacher evaluation plan and continuing the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

A rising star in the Republican Party, Westchester County Executive, Rob Astorino, was gaining momentum; the national polls pointed to Republican landslides. Cuomo had raised tens of millions while Astorino had trouble. Governor Christie, the New Jersey Governor and RNC chair decided not to fund the Astorino campaign and Cuomo snatched up millions from pro-charter school PACs depriving Astorino of the charter PAC dollars.

Not only did NYSUT not endorse Cuomo, locals around the state decided to endorse Zephyr Teachout, Cuomo’s opponent in the Democratic primary.

Cuomo defeated Teachout 2:1 in the primary and in spite of an enormous lead only ended up with 54% in the November general election. Teachers either voted for a third party candidate or stayed on the sidelines.

Cuomo not only wrote off teachers he decided to take the Scott Walker path, to vigorously challenge core union issues and threaten to use every political tool.

“I will not sign a budget that does not have an ethics plan as outlined in my proposal. Either pass my budget or shut down the government,” Cuomo said.

Legislators are angry that Cuomo is trying to weaken the body as a whole by using the tactic – they are also upset that he is not letting certain policies stand on their own merits.

Meanwhile, watchdogs like New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli have both said the strategy is fiscally irresponsible.

Thanks to court rulings, “These kinds of policy choices can be asserted into emergency appropriation bills,” DiNapoli told Alan Chartock on The Capitol Connection on Thursday. “The Legislature holding up the budget is really not a smart strategy.” DiNapoli went on to tell Chartock: “New York arguably has the strongest executive compared to any governor in any state in the union”

NYSUT and their members are fighting back, tweets, demonstrations, trips to Albany, local rallies, TV ads, all trying to erode Cuomo’s public support. Cuomo is fighting back, a report, a misleading report , and demanding harsh interventions in 187 schools.

There is a crisis of failing schools in New York State. In fact, more than 109,000 students are currently enrolled in New York’s 178 failing schools.

• In New York City, more than 50,000 students are currently enrolled in 91 failing schools.

• 77 of New York’s schools have been failing for a decade, with more than 250,000 students passing through these schools while state government has done nothing.
• Statewide, more than 9 out of 10 students in failing schools are minority or poor.

What the report fails to mention is that in 2012 over 70% of students passed the state tests, in 2013 and 2014 only about 35% passed the exams

A. The kids got significantly dumber
B. Teachers forgot how to teach
C. The state gave a new Common Core exam, an exam for which both students and teachers were not prepared.

The governor is not a fool; he is both punishing teachers and tip-toeing down the Scott Walker path. Cuomo’s problem, his miscalculation; he is not running as a Republican.

If suddenly Hillary decides not to run Cuomo could easily jump into the race, or if the democratic candidate loses in 2016 Cuomo could start preparing for a 2020 run, all extremely speculative.

Could Cuomo, or any democrat candidate, expect to get the presidential democratic nomination as an anti-teacher, anti-labor candidate? Cuomo has carved out a niche on the democratic spectrum, a social liberal and an economic conservative; however, can a Scott Walker-like anti-labor policies resonate on the democratic side of the aisle?

Will Cuomo seek a face-saving resolution of his battle with teachers, or, does he go for the jugular?

The public and behind-the-scenes give and take may define Cuomo for the remainder of his political career, and, to be honest, the endgame is shrouded in the mists.