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Should Low Performing Charter Schools Be Closed? Are Charter Schools in Violation of Federal Regulations and State Law? Creating an Even Playing Field

This year, by happenstance, an unusually large number of charter schools are up for renewal.

A little background: the law sets a cap on the number of charter schools, a cap for NYC and one for the remainder of the state, the NYC cap has about 25 slots left and over 100 slots for the rest of the state. There are three charter authorizers, SUNY, the Board of Regents and the NYC Department of Education. The charter is the equivalent of a permit to operate a school; the charter must be renewed every five years. In the fourth year the charter authorizer examines the school; in the original application the proposed school established goals; the authorizer examines the schools data in considerable detail and determines the length of the charter renewal; from another five years down to a low of 1.5 years.

In December charter renewal recommendations from NYC came before the Regents, usually pro forma. This time, Regent members had questions, lots of questions, and asked the Department to attend the January meeting and explain their renewal criteria.

There is no question that there are many charter schools that are struggling, with little hope of improvement. Single entrepreneur charter schools have no place to go for help; maybe they can purchase a professional development package, hire a consultant, change the principal, with no guarantee that results will change. If they struggle for the first five years, what will change in the ensuing years?

The Department and the State have also identified 94 struggling public schools in NYC, about a dozen are referred to as “out of time” schools, they have not shown any progress over a number of years. The Department is closely monitoring the schools, each school has a detailed plan, and many of the schools are receiving State Incentive Grant (SIG) dollars which bring outside resources into the school. Chancellor Farina says the schools need time.

The former administration crowed that they closed over 150 schools; I believe the Regents have closed something like seventeen charter schools.

At the February Regents meeting three schools from Buffalo were up for renewal and the recommendations were: one school, 3.5 years, another 4 years and the third the full 5 years. Regent Bennett, who represents Buffalo, objected, he claimed the Regents either extended for 3 or 5 years, nothing else (He’s wrong) and urged the Regents to extend all for five years. The committee chair, Regent Bottar, huddled with SED staff, and extended all for five years. Why should a Regent be permitted to over turn a decision based on an examination of data? As an aside, I am told Regent Bennett’s daughter teaches in a charter school in Buffalo.

Are we treating public and charter schools the same? Is there an equal playing field?

The law clearly gives the Board of Regents the power to revoke charters,

When a charter school’s outcome on student assessment measures
adopted by the board of regents falls below the level that would allow
the commissioner to revoke the registration of another public school,
and student achievement on such measures has not shown improvement over
the preceding three school years;

In the original charter application applicants agreed that percentages of Students with Disabilities, English language learners and Title 1 eligible children would at least match the percentages in the surrounding school district.

the charter school shall demonstrate good faith efforts to attract and retain a comparable or
greater enrollment of students with disabilities, English language
learners, and students who are eligible applicants for the free and
reduced price lunch program when compared to the enrollment figures for
such students in the school district in which the charter school is

And, if the charter school fails to “attract and retain” said students the Regents can revoke the charter, with a caveat,

Repeated failure to comply with the requirement to meet or exceed
enrollment and retention targets of students with disabilities, English
language learners, and students who are eligible applicants for the free
and reduced price lunch program pursuant to targets established by the
board of regents charter school demonstrates that it has made
extensive efforts to recruit and retain such students, including
outreach to parents and families in the surrounding communities, widely
publicizing the lottery for such school, and efforts to academically
support such students in such charter school, then the charter entity or
board of regents may retain such charter.

When it comes to student suspensions charter schools must meet the same criteria as public schools,

A charter school shall meet the same health and safety, civil
rights, and student assessment requirements applicable to other public

Charter school discipline policies routinely violate both state law and federal regulations. State law,

No pupil may be suspended for a period in excess of five
school days unless such pupil and the person in parental relation to
such pupil shall have had an opportunity for a fair hearing, upon
reasonable notice, at which such pupil shall have the right of
representation by counsel, with the right to question witnesses against
such pupil and to present witnesses and other evidence on his or her

The feds have released extensive guidance relating to discipline practices which charter schools routinely ignore.

Let’s take an in-depth look at charter schools versus public schools. The charts in the link below give the average percentages of English language learners, total special education (Students with Disabilities), special ed students in self-contained classrooms and students in temporary housing in public elementary and K-8 schools by Community School District

There are glaring differences in EVERY school district.

Now, why not compare “apples to apple,” let’s compare charter and traditional schools sharing the same buildings, which is generally referred to as co-location, once again glaring differences in % ELL, % IEPs, % High Needs Special Education (self-contained classes) and % in temporary housing.

The Department has created a tool called the peer index; it uses the index to compare schools with similar demographics for purposes of school assessment. The link below compares charter and traditional schools within Community School Districts, and, yes, once again in the vast percentages of charter schools serve significantly fewer percentages of high needs students

In realm of school suspensions Chalkbeat, the go-to site for school news reports,

New York City charter schools suspended students at almost three times the rate of traditional public schools during the 2011-12 school year, according to a Chalkbeat analysis, though some charter schools have since begun to reduce the use of suspensions for minor infractions.

Overall, charter schools suspended at least 11 percent of their students that year, while district schools suspended 4.2 percent of their students. The charter-school suspension rate is likely an underestimate because charter schools don’t have to report suspensions that students serve in school.

If we compare general ed students to general ed students in charter and traditional schools the traditional schools would far outpace the charter schools. The assessment of charter schools, whether conducted by the NYC Department or the State Department of Education is deeply flawed.

The charter review process, just as the State Diagnostic Tool, has to assess student progress taking into account the total percentage of students with disabilities, special education students in self-contained classes, students in temporary housing, English language learners and other “risk factors” To compare schools in affluent suburbs with students in high needs communities is unfair to all students and school staffs.

We must expect progress in all schools; our challenge is developing tools to measure progress. The primary purpose of measuring progress must not be to “rate” practitioners, the purpose must be to guide the school, to assist the school in developing and implementing appropriate interventions.

Unfortunately the modus operandi in too many charter schools is to limit the admission of high needs youngsters and to rid the school of low performing and “difficult” students.

The State Department (SED) acted vigorously in districts that were not assigning “undocumented” new arrivals to classes as they arrived, they ordered the districts to comply. The SED must act with the same vigor with charter schools.

The charter school program in New York State is fifteen years old, the SED has danced around the issue of two separate and unequal systems of schooling, the law is clear, the sanctions for not complying with the law is the revocation of the charter and the SED has to make it clear that revocation will result for charter schools failing to comply. To allow charter schools to skulk around the law with a “wink and a nod” is not acceptable.

The question of closing low performing schools, traditional and charter, is complex, we have not developed sophisticated tools; graduation rates and scores on state standardized tests are not adequate. There are times when school leadership and school staffs ate not up to the challenge – up to now the NYC Department and the SED has allowed charter schools to slide, they sidestepped the toxic politics.

It’s time to address the issue.

“All politics is local,” Will Governor Cuomo Listen to the Folks in the Provinces?

“All politics is local,” Tip O’Neill, Speaker of the House (1977-87)

Presidents, senators, speakers of the house, governors, political parties and the hordes who spin fight for the hearts and minds of the American people, well, at least the less than half of the American people who bother to vote.

The election cycle never ends.

Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration, response to the Russians in the Ukraine, fighting ISIS, and on and on, each side tries to “win” the intellectual and visceral fight, from Fox on the right, to CNN to MSNBC on the left; however, networks and cable stations no longer have the influence they once had.

Newspaper sales decline every year, cyberspace is the battlefield. Americans get their “news” from websites, from Facebook, and, increasingly from Twitter. Hashtags rule.

Slowly and inexorably the fight over education appears to be tilting against the Obama/Duncan/Cuomo agenda.

Rubin Diaz is the Borough President of the Bronx, an anachronistic elected position, with the demise of the Board of Estimate in 1990 the borough president has no vote and no control over legislation or budgets, the borough president is the cheerleader for their borough. Diaz is highly popular and dependent on the governor, the state legislature, the mayor and the council to fund projects. In his sixth State of the Borough address, a long list of job creation achievements, new housing and economic development projects, he added the line, “Children shouldn’t be defined by one test.” The line was greeted with applause from the hundreds in the audience.

Thirty-plus Republican members of the NYS Assembly introduce a bill to discontinue the Common Core,

Section 1 of the education law is amended by adding new section 115,
which shall discontinue implementation of the common core state

While the bill will not move in the Assembly, 106 members in the 150-seat Assembly are Democrats and the Assembly, similar to the House of Representatives, is driven by the majority party. The Republicans have seized upon a popular issue, especially in the suburban districts. The bill was widely applauded on blogs across the state.

Amy Paulin is an outspoken and widely popular Democratic member of the Assembly. When Regent Harry Phillips, after many terms of outstanding service announced he will not be seeking a new term Paulin and her colleagues in the judicial district (Westchester, Rockland, Duchess) organized public interviews for candidates for the vacancy. I believe fourteen candidates participated in the public interviews. In the past Regents were selected in backroom wheeling and dealing. A year ago Regent Jackson was dumped and replaced by Regent Finn, with no public input. With the change in Assembly leadership sunlight appears to spreading across the state.

Paulin authored a letter to Chancellor Tisch, following the pattern of Malatras letters to Tisch (Malatras is the Governor’s top policy advisor who penned two confrontational letters to the chancellor). The letter, with the signatures of five other Assembly members, (see entire letter below) trashes the governor’s proposal re changing the teacher evaluation law.

In his third term Mayor Bloomberg decided to confront teachers and their union, issue after issue, battles back and forth, and the public increasingly began to support teachers over the mayor, In May, 2013,Sol Stern in the City Journal reported,

New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents [to a Zogby poll] said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

Local politics is tilting toward teachers, in the waning years of the Bloomberg administration the public appears to be tilting against Cuomo’s education agenda. When electeds ask, “should I support the governor’s education agenda or ‘people’s agenda’?” more and more electeds are choosing to stand with their constituents.

Siena College polls reports, “By a 15-point margin, 49-34 percent, voters say implementation of Common Core standards should be stopped. Voters also say they trust the State Education Department (SED) and the Board of Regents to set education policy far more than they trust the Governor or Legislature.”

Five weeks down the road the state budget is due – the clock is ticking towards the April 1 deadline. While not reaching a budget is a possibility (Governor Patterson’s budget wasn’t concluded until the end of the legislative session in June). If a budget deal is not reached the governor, through executive orders, actually pushes through his budget piece by piece, however, for months the rhetoric is, “the governor has lost control.” It is likely that a budget deal will be reached, and, the governor’s education agenda will likely be part of the budget deal.

How can the governor reach a budget deal that includes a resolution to his many confrontational education initiatives?

Education is an obstacle to the elephants in the room: rent control and the property tax cap.

Both laws sunset at the end of the session, rent control, (the “Erstadt Law ” requires that laws dealing with rental apartments must be passed in Albany, not the City Council) must be renewed by the legislature or rent control will end in New York City. The Republican Senate will extract their “pound of flesh.” The property tax cap, the center of Cuomo policy, also requires the approval of the legislature, and is unpopular among local school boards and local governments; additionally mayoral control also sunsets at the end of the session.

Ideally, budget negotiations will resolve as many contentious issues as possible, narrowing the field for the end of session negotiations.

If the budget is completed by April 1 you can bet that teacher union leaders will not be on the stage. How do you reach a settlement, a settlement that will not make everyone happy, that will not lead to endless sparring?

An ambitious governor, a new speaker of the Assembly and a Senate majority leader with “Bharara” problem; let the games begin.

It’s Oscar night – my favorite movie clip – give it a look/listen:

Local State Reps Pen Critical Letter to NYS Education Chancellor Merryl Tisch
Pat Casey | Feb 18, 2015 |

In the wake of much criticism regarding the evaluation of teachers in New York State, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) penned the following letter, which was also signed by local representatives David Buchwald (D-White Plains), Thomas Abinanti (D-Greenburgh), Ellen Jaffe (D-Rockland), Steve Otis (D-Rye), and Kenneth Zebrowski (D-Rockland).

We believe that New York State’s Annual Professional Performance Review (“APPR”) process fails to accomplish the purposes for which it was developed, and provides unreliable data rather than accountability and transparency. While we believe that teachers and principals should be evaluated by trained administrators and held accountable for their performance, for the reasons set forth below we do not believe that the APPR, as currently constructed, is a reliable measure of teacher or principal performance. Nor do we believe that the APPR process contributes to the professional development of teachers or principals. And although Education Law Section 3012-c purports to expedite the process for termination of ineffective teachers and principals, it actually has the opposite effect.

1. The APPR “HEDI” scale is seriously flawed and makes it impossible for an evaluator to differentiate meaningfully among educators. A teacher receives scores on three subcomponents of the APPR: (i) student growth on state assessments (worth 20 points), (ii) locally selected measures of student growth (worth 20 points), and (iii) locally developed teacher practice measures, mostly classroom observations (worth 60 points). The composite score that a teacher must receive on the three subcomponents of the APPR in order to be deemed Effective is 75 out of a possible 100 points.

The scale doesn’t work because the percentage of available points required by the state for an Effective score on the first two subcomponents (45%) is much lower than the percentage of available points required for an Effective composite score (75%). Imagine a teacher who receives a 9 out of 20 points on the first two subcomponents, which deems her Effective. In order to achieve a composite score of Effective, she must receive 95% of the available points on the third subcomponent, which is negotiated by the school district.
With a very narrow point range to work with, i.e., 57 to 60 points, an administrator cannot meaningfully differentiate among effective teachers through the scoring of the third subcomponent, the locally developed teacher practice measure.

We urge you to recommend that the Commissioner fix these inconsistencies in the scoring ranges as part of the annual review process.

2. The APPR sets up for failure good teachers, good principals, and good schools. A teacher who earns a rating of Effective or Highly Effective may in a subsequent year earn an Ineffective rating because his new class of students did so well in the prior year that there is no room to demonstrate the amount of student growth required for a higher score. Even if his students do extremely well on standardized tests compared to similar students across the state, he may receive a poor APPR score.

A principal too can be penalized for setting high standards for his students. A principal may receive a score of “Developing” if the school does not offer more than five Regents as is required for a higher score. Many high performing school districts give their own, more rigorous exams in lieu of a Regents exam, and thus do not meet the threshold for a higher score. Another criterion for receiving a score of “Effective” or “Highly Effective” is the percent of students scoring 80% or more on the Algebra I Regents in ninth grade. In many districts throughout the state, the stronger students take the Algebra I Regents in eighth grade, and the weaker students take it in ninth grade. The scoring does not account for the students who took and passed the exam as eighth graders, thereby penalizing the principal.

3. The APPR is designed for less than 20% of all teachers. Only teachers of fourth through eighth grade ELA and math receive student growth ratings based solely on state standardized test scores. Teachers of other grades and content areas (more than 80%) must work with their principals to agree on student learning objectives (“SLOs”). If a teacher teaches a course that has a state-mandated assessment, such as a Regents exam, that teacher’s SLOs must include as evidence the results on those assessments. Teachers who teach other grades or non-regents subjects will have SLOs that may include test results from third-party vendors, district or BOCES developed assessments, or locally developed assessments—and the target outcomes are determined locally. Although SLOs are treated as if they are comparable in reliability to standardized test scores, they can’t be comparable simply because they are locally developed, with locally determined target outcomes. Even if one accepts—which we do not—the premise that results on ELA and math tests are a reliable indicator of student achievement or educator effectiveness, it is clear that it is unfair and unreliable to compare teachers whose ratings are based solely on state standardized test scores with teachers whose ratings are based on SLOs.

4. Most teachers do not receive appropriate professional development based on their APPR scores. A better designed APPR would require principals to work with all teachers, including those rated Effective or Highly Effective, on their professional development. It would require principals, as educational leaders in their buildings, to develop the most appropriate evaluation tools and the best professional development program for all teachers in their schools. New York is missing an opportunity to incentivize our best teachers to become leaders among their peers.

5. Education Law Section 3012-c makes the dismissal of ineffective teachers more difficult than under prior law. The APPR is supposed to enable administrators to identify those teachers who are ineffective, and to use the APPR ratings in an expedited 3020(a) proceeding. However, the use of the APPR in disciplinary proceedings requires two consecutive annual ratings of Ineffective, the development and implementation of a teacher improvement plan, and validation of those Ineffective ratings through at least three observations by an independent validator. The result is that ineffective tenured teachers will teach for at least two years before they can be removed from the classroom based on their APPR scores. Even worse, the law makes the termination of ineffective probationary teachers and principals more difficult than was the case under prior law.

New York State’s APPR process fails to accomplish the purposes for which it was developed because it provides a one-size-fits-all approach that does not adequately take into account differences in educator experience, class composition, subject and grade level taught or other factors. It is unreasonable to assume that the same standardized evaluation tool will fairly and reliably rate an experienced PE teacher in a rural middle school, a brand new fourth grade teacher in an urban school, a mid-career guidance counselor in a high-performing suburban school, and a principal of a BOCES career and technical education program. Because the tool is unreliable, the data it produces is also unreliable. Therefore, the proposed increased reliance on standardized testing would unfairly penalize, or fail to identify weaknesses in, teachers, principals, schools and school districts.

We believe that the Regents and the State Education Department must convene a group of superintendents, principals, teachers, school board members, and parents who can advise the legislature, based on their broad knowledge and expertise, how to improve Education Law Section 3012-c so that it will achieve the important goals of increasing educator accountability, encouraging professional development to develop great teachers and principals, and expediting the termination of ineffective teachers and principals.

Thank you for your consideration and for all that you do for the students of New York State.

School to Prison Pipeline: Are Suspensions a Reflection of the School Neighborhood? Will Fewer Suspensions Lead to More Disruptive Schools? Will Better School Leadership and Classroom Instruction Lead to More Orderly Schools? Musing on the Complexities of School Climate

The “Talking Transition” tent popped up on Canal Street shortly after the de Blasio victory in November, 2013, panel after panel of organizations discussing what they wanted to see from the new administration. I wandered down to listen to a discussion of school discipline, mainly the “school to prison pipeline” and sat next to high ranking Department official. A panelist was spouting statistics about the rising number of suspensions in kindergarten classes, I looked to my “neighbor,” who was punching in numbers on his phone, and he whispered, “She’s wrong.”

The tidal wave is in full bloom, suspensions are both “racist” and the cause for high dropout rates, low graduation rates and lives of despair with the stain of prison lasting for a lifetime.

A May 29, 2013 New York Times editorial agrees,

… the creation of a repressive environment in which young people are suspended, expelled or even arrested over minor misbehaviors — like talking back or disrupting class — that would once have been handled by the principal.

The policies have not made schools safer. However, by criminalizing routine disciplinary problems, they have damaged the lives of many children by making them more likely to drop out and entangling them, sometimes permanently, in the criminal justice system. The policies are also discriminatory: black and Hispanic children are shipped off to court more frequently than white students who commit similar infractions.

The New York City Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) fact sheet parses the data on student suspensions, race, and prison populations.

A report in The Nation calls for the de Blasio administration to address what they see as a major impediment to school progress, the hellacious impact of student discipline run wild,

The Department of Education has announced a School Climate Reform Commission

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña today announced a series of school climate and discipline reforms – developed in partnership with the NYPD and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice – that will ensure the safety and dignity of New York City’s students, and hasten the decline of crime in our schools. In addition to the coordination and collaboration across City agencies, the work of the City Council, other elected officials, and community stakeholders has been invaluable in this revision of the discipline code and continued movement towards progressive disciplinary approaches.

An op ed in the NY Daily News praises the commission as a good start, and urges the Department to move forward aggressively to find alternatives to the current discipline code.

Bob McManus in the NY Post is appalled,

… the administration’s enthusiastic embrace of public-education’s latest social-justice crusade — the dubious effort to retain dysfunctional, and sometimes dangerous, students in their classrooms at the expense of serious students.

Specifically, as Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced last week, there will be a sharp decrease in sanctions on disruptive students. It’s part of what one report terms an effort “to further rein in some of the most severe punishments while also keeping schools safe.

Will tougher scrutiny of suspensions, more effective training of school leaders and principals lead to the adoption of alternative procedures to discipline students,(i. e., restorative justice) higher graduation rates fewer dropouts, in other words, is reducing suspension the key to better outcomes for students of color?

Over the last two years suspensions have dropped sharply, the question is why?

Has the Department simply whispered to school leaders, “no,” we’re not going to approve suspensions; in fact, we’re going to “punish” you in your evaluation, your Principal Performance Review? On the hopeful side maybe school leaders and teachers are becoming more effective in dealing with disruptive students.

The guiding document is the Discipline Code (as amended September, 2013), the Code lists violations by the seriousness of the event and lists a range of escalating levels of “discipline” and guidance interventions; from a meeting with parents, a verbal reprimand, up the ladder to a principal suspense (1 to 5 days out of class and in school) to superintendent suspension (removal from school to an alternative learning site). Each “incident” must be entered in the Department OORS database and the database is tracked by the Department.

The sharp drops in school suspension are also mirrored in sharp drops in arrests of juveniles outside of schools. The NYS Juvenile Justice Task Force reports a decline in juvenile arrests in NYC of 39% since 2011. Of juveniles arrested in NYC 62% are Black, 36% Hispanic and 2% White. On the borough level in 2011, 2012 and 2013 arrests dropped in each year.

Bronx 2011: 3748, 2012: 2599, 2013: 2071
Manhattan: 2011: 1935, 2012: 1625, 2013: 1310
Kings: 2011: 3628, 2012: 3065, 2013: 2346
(See a wealth of data on the Task Force site).

The overall reductions in crime in NYC appear to be across the board, from murders to other crimes as well as juvenile arrests and school suspensions.

I strongly suspect that if we disaggregate the juvenile crime data by school district we would find a strong correlation between juvenile arrests and school suspensions; in other words schools reflect their communities.

In my experience the school leader not only guides the instructional program in the school, the school leader establishes a culture, a culture that includes teachers and students.

I was sitting at a campus council, the six principals in the school were meeting and discussing a range of issues, a major and intractable issue, “threats” and “intimidation,” a principal was complaining about the influence of the gangs. I suggested, “Why don’t you meet with the gang kids?” The principal snapped back, “Why would I want to do that?” Unkindly, I replied, “Because they run your building.”

In another school the principal told me he checks in with the gang kids every morning, “Anything going on that I should know about …?”

A principal proudly told me, she was totally committed to restorative justice, unfortunately the kids weren’t, and the school was chaotic.

Hopefully the City and the Department will allow data, and not political preconceptions, determine future policy decisions.

If I Were a Candidate for the Board of Regents … (The Five-Minute Opening Statement I Wish a Candidate Would Have Made)

Last week a joint meeting of the Education and Higher Education Committees of the NYS Assembly interviewed scores of applicants for the seven regents positions that up for election or re-election. Two positions are vacant (Queens and Westchester/Rockland/Putnam) and five are candidates for re-election.

On Monday the committee interviewed the incumbents and for the remainder of the week interviewed other aspirants. Usually the local electeds select a candidate, and at a joint meeting of both houses “elects” the regent. I sat through a number of the interviews, tedious. The candidates are allowed a five minute presentation and respond to questions; the interviews last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending upon the number of legislators present and interest in the viability of the candidate. Below: the five minute presentation I hope a candidate would have given.

Members of the legislature, the media and others in the audience,

The Board of Regents was created in 1784 and is vested with the authority to establish policy for all schools and professions in New York State. Unfortunately the board continues to operate aloof from the citizens of the state. There appears to be a growing disconnect between parents, legislators and board members.

Board members are elected by a joint meeting of the legislature to represent their judicial district or, as at -large members. The board must change its practices so that, to the fullest extent possible, the public can both be aware of the deliberations of the board, and, participate in the discussions.

As a prospective board member I propose structural changes,

* The entire regents meeting, the full board meeting and the committee meetings, especially P-12 and Higher Ed committees, should be webcast and archived, the comments of the board members should be available to the state, not just the audience on that particular day.

* There must be an opportunity for public comment. Virtually every public meeting, from school board to town hall has a mechanism for real time public comment, a parent in White Plains, Rochester, Buffalo, the North Country or the Bronx should have an opportunity to participate in the meeting via cyberspace.

* Regents should be required to hold public forums in their districts, perhaps fall, winter and spring, once again, an opportunity for the public to interact, face to face, with regents members.

* The regents agenda and attachments should be written in “plain English,” with a brief explanation for each item and posted online a week before the meetings, now they are available Friday or Saturday before the Monday meeting and densely written.

* The board should seek funding for a state-wide Parent Information Center, similar to the New York City “311” system. The ability to establish a mechanism to answer parent questions varies widely throughout the state, consolidating into one state operated center is essential.

The role of the regents is to establish policy; increasingly policy has been set in Washington and regents role has been to figure out procedures to implement these policies. The Common Core and Race to the Top are national policies and they have dominated educational discussions for the last five years. The Malatras letters from the governor are another example of overreach; just as educational policies should not be written in stone in Washington nor should they be written on the second floor of the Capital.

Educational policy has been set by the commissioner, not the regents. The Race to the Top funding ends in June and the board must re-establish its role.

What are the priorities of the regents?

I suggest: equitable, adequate funding, responding to the current high stakes testing climate, creating a pathway to work or college for all students, responding to the criticism of “low performing” schools, the testing of English language learners and students with disabilities, too many school districts, the power and authority of the SED to intervene in school districts are some of the items that should become priorities of the regents.

Currently the feds require that students with disabilities are tested at their chronological age, not at their functional level, the result is dooming kids to failure; and, the feds also require that English language learners are tested after one year in school regardless of their level of English acquisition. Regent Phillips, who is not seeking re-election, on numerous occasions has suggested that the regents simply do what is right and confront the feds, create a crisis. Unfortunately his suggestion has not resonated with his peers.

Under the current ESEA Waiver, Reward Schools receive additional funding, why are we supporting sending additional dollars to successful schools? Perhaps we should consider relieving successful schools from burdensome reporting requirements and use the dollars to support the neediest schools.

A core question deals with a mechanism to determine individual student and school progress: are the current Common Core-based tests the best way to assess progress?

The seventeen women and men in a room, the members of the board, with broad public input, should set the direction of education in the state of New York.

Thank you for your patience and I look forward to your questions.

Unfortunately the audience for the interviews was meager, a few members of the regents, a few media reps, a NYSUT staffer, and a few others. The interviews were not live-streamed.

There is no formal process, the local legislators will caucus, discuss among themselves, and recommend to the brand new Assembly leadership. Early in March the legislature will formally elect, or reelect the candidates and incumbents.

Cuomo, “Fifty Shades of Grey” and Receivership: Whipping School Communities Does Not Create More Effective Schools, Working Together Really Does Work.

Is something going on with Jim Malatras and Meryl Tisch? Another billet doux, not quite a Valentine Day greeting.

Back in December Malatras, Cuomo’s policy wonk authored an accusatory letter demanding that the chancellor respond to nineteen questions (“Fifty Shades of Grey” ??), the chancellor, meekly, provided a 20-page letter pretty much accepting the flailings of the governor. (Read an earlier blog here)

Cuomo rolled the Malatras letter and the Tisch response into his annual State of the State message, the governor, reminds me a little of Christian Grey displaying his whips and chains and threatening what he sees as a submissive teacher workforce. Well, hasn’t quite worked out that way as the teacher union and their allies fight back, thousands upon thousands of tweets, rallies, TV and radio, and the public increasingly wonders why the governor is bullying their kid’s teacher.

Malatras latest letter asks Tisch to respond to the governor’s vague “receivership” concept,

One of New York State’s greatest failures has been the persistent state of our failing schools. As you know there are 178 failing schools in New York State [note: there are 4400 schools in the state] and 77 have been failing for a decade…

That is why the Governor adopted your recommendation note: [the Regents have never discussed this issue] and proposed a law based on the Massachusetts receivership model with an added provision that these schools become community schools with wraparound and other services…

A broad section of education stakeholders have supported the Massachusetts approach [note: who are they?], including the AFT President Randi Weingarten, who supports the model in the Lawrence School District…

[the governor would] like SED to further research the Massachusetts model by performing a comprehensive data and field analysis to see how and why the program is working and the specific measures that are making the model a success.

So, I asked Randi, is Malatras accurate? She replied,

I have been pretty clear – I don’t– we support what happened in Lawrence

This is what I said to Albany TU (Read entire article here)

“I’m not for receivership. The only place its working is in Lawrence, Mass., and that’s because there is collective bargaining and the leadership believes that teachers should have a voice, and, as such, collaboration among all partners exists. Instead of receivership, there’s the Chancellor’s District model that we rolled out in New York City, which provides a real strategy for turning around low-performing schools.”

Repeat: Weingarten does not support receivership, with the exception of Lawrence, which got off the a rocky start; however, the relationship between the receiver and the union in Lawrence has improved considerably, although the receivership route appear more based on the person selected as receiver than the model itself.

In 2010 Massachusetts won a Race to the Top grant and passed wide-ranging school reform legislation, (Read a description here). The law allowed the State Commissioner to place the lowest achieving school districts in the state into receivership, the state chooses a receiver who has wide ranging powers, including the right to abrogate collective bargaining agreements.

Since Malatras highlights Lawrence let’s take a look at the Lawrence model, called an “Open Architecture Model,”

In November 2011, the Lawrence Public Schools was placed into state receivership by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary & Secondary Education. Under receivership, the Commissioner of Elementary & Secondary Education appoints a receiver, who is vested with the powers of the school district superintendent and the local school committee. In addition to consolidated governing authority, the receiver also has the power to amend or suspend aspects of collective bargaining agreements in the district. No end date has been specified for receivership, though the Commissioner has stated that he expects the turnaround will take at least five years.

The goal of the turnaround is to create high-performing schools using the following strategies: 1) shifting more resources and autonomy to the school level; 2) creating a leaner, more responsive central office; 3) ensuring all schools have great leaders and teachers; 4) harnessing the talents of partner organizations; 5) expanding the school day and adding learning time for students; and 6) increasing student engagement through enrichment opportunities.

Under the open architecture model, the role of the district is to establish “thin walls and foundations” for some common standards across the district, while providing maximum “white space” for school design. In other words, the district establishes basic policies and flexible supports for schools, enabling educators to design and run a variety of school types within the system. This is in contrast to traditional school districts, where centralized policies dictate the nuts and bolts structure of all schools, central office support is one-size-fits-all, and there is little room to innovate at the school level.

In an August, 2014 the receiver, in a letter to all staff, reviewed the district accomplishments, philosophy and path forward, worthwhile reading.

I am not calling for the imposition of the Lawrence Model or for the imposition of any specific model, Randi referenced the NYC Chancellor’s District; “successes” are not determined by which reading or math program you use, success comes from creating a new district/school culture. Success comes from staff buy-in, school communities working together creating a synergy, a collective energy. The union was a partner in the Chancellor’s District; for a couple of years I worked as the union guy on the education side, all meetings were open to the union. I sat in on principal’s meetings, on all types of planning sessions; the union was an equal partner, and, the “sounding board” for the district leadership. Virtually every school had a teacher center, prospective teaching candidates were pre-screened to assure quality, and the Chancellor’s District leadership was highly visible and available. The Chancellor’s District was a highly proscriptive model, the Lawrence Model is school-based with different schools designing difference approaches within a common philosophy, a very different model and both worked in highly collaborative settings.

The community school wrap around services component acknowledges the challenges of working within neighborhoods with economic, social and emotional issues, however, the community school concept is complex, aside from Cincinnati we have very little experience.

A serious constraint is the definition of accountability, currently test scores and graduation rates. We have to broaden the definitions: reducing chronic absenteeism, reducing suspensions, increasing parent participation, reducing teacher mobility and the intelligent use of parent, student and teacher surveys. We have to incorporate the realities, schools with students in shelters, in foster care, in the social service system, parental incarceration, neighborhood crime statistics, percentages of student with disabilities and English language learners, all impact the academic data, and, a wider and more nuanced view of accountability gives a more accurate picture of a school community.

The Massachusetts receiver model gives the receiver the right to change any or all staff: principals and teachers, and abrogate any sections of the collective bargaining agreement, without any evidence that the outcomes will improve teaching and learning.

Let’s not forget that the legislature allowed State Ed to take over the Roosevelt School District, they assigned the superintendent who ran the district for years, without any improvements. Receivership removes the school district from the local educational authority and hands it over to a receiver and other not-for-profit organizations, without any evidence that the model will show improvement or create chaos.

In spite of the apparent successes in Lawrence, before we jump on the train, the Regents should convene the stakeholders, primarily the unions and seek agreements on what is necessary to move forward, what impediments have to be removed and what supports have to be added.

A perhaps apocalyptical quote from Lyndon Johnson describes the complexities of change,

“It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”
―Lyndon B. Johnson

Can NYC Chancellor Farina Turnaround the “Reform” Wave? Can Working With Parents and Teachers Trump “Test and Fire”??

We live in a generation of “big data,” as Ian Ayres shows us in “Super Crunchers: Why Thinking by the Numbers is the New Way to Be Smart” (2007) virtually every industry parses numbers to determine important organizational decisions. For decades education, for better or for worse, was run by the educational hierarchy, and can be characterized as more interested in maintaining the bureaucracy than in changing the bureaucracy.

The last decade has seen a tidal wave of change, the new breed of educational leadership now agrees, data drives decision-making, and, economists, sociologists and management gurus own the data. Robert Gordon, an economist, designed the current weighted students funding (called Fair Student Funding in NYC) formula change that moved from “average teacher salary” to “actual teacher salary” in determining school budgets, a change that critics charge disadvantages senior teachers by encouraging principals to staff schools with new, low salaried teachers: principals must decide, “should I hire a senior teacher or two new teachers?” William Ouchi, a management professor at UCLA published the “bible” of school management, “Making Schools Work” (2003), a book that revolutionized the structure of urban school systems, Ouchi argues that principals must be given wide discretion in running their own schools, and, be held accountable for results.

The Ouchi mantra drove the Bloomberg-Klein school system,

1. Every principal is an entrepreneur
2. Every school controls its own budget
3. Everyone is accountable for student performance and for budgets
4. Everyone delegates authority to those below
5. There is a burning focus on school achievement
6. Every school is a community of learners
7. Families have real choices among a variety of unique schools.

The former inhabitants of Tweed measured every aspect of school performance and reduced the metrics to letter “A” to “F” grades. The “everyone is accountable” and “everyone delegates authority to those below” meant that the folks at the bottom, the teachers, were on the “firing” line. In classrooms the focus moved away from instruction to managing test scores, credit accumulation and school grades.

The data focus drove policy decisions in New York City, in Chicago and in Los Angeles, in virtually every urban school system.

The focus on data also drives policy at the state level. At the February 9th NYS Regents Meeting Education Resources Strategies, a consulting entity, will present recommendations based on a paper, “Spinning Straw into Gold: How State Education Agencies Can Transform Their Data to Improve School Critical School Resources Decisions” (December, 2014). On the next to the last page, almost as an afterthought, the paper avers, “…stakeholder engagement is critical …from unions to parents diverse stakeholders have raised questions … [about] misuse of state-collected data … often stem from a misunderstandings about how the data will be used.” In New York State the parent-driven opt-out movement is blossoming all over the state, there will be over 1000,000 parents, maybe manh more, choosing to remove their students from the discredited state testing program; they fully understand the misuse of testing. Teachers and their unions are at war with the governor who wants to base all high-stakes decisions on test results, from hiring to firing, from remuneration to promotion.

What is absent is a discussion about teaching and learning: the role of school leaders and teachers at the point of contact, in classrooms.

Kate Taylor, in the New York Times writes about the changing attitude in the new leadership of the Department of Education. The appointment of Carmen Farina, a 71-year old with over forty years of experience in the school system is an anomaly. The primary source of high level leadership has been the Broad Academy, funded by the Eli Broad Foundation, a leadership preparation program deeply ensconced in world a “big data” who have paved the way for the young and data-driven, oftentimes lacking in actual teaching and school leadership.

Taylor describes an incident,

The new schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, walked in, saw a spreadsheet projected on the wall and cut off the official who was presenting the data. “I know a good quality school when I’m in the building,” she said, according to one participant in the meeting. “We’re going to do this,” she added, “based on the schools we know to be good.”

The Bloomberg-Klein crowd closed and created schools, public and private, at a dizzying pace, they “…either shut down or began to phase out 157 schools and opened 656 new, smaller schools” as well as opening 173 charter schools.

Farina has changed the entire vocabulary,

Instead of the previous administration’s technocratic, sometimes corporate language — full of terms like “accountability” and “competition” — her speeches are peppered with a new set of buzzwords, like “collaboration” and “trust.”

Teachers, their unions, advocacy organizations and communities, for the first time in a decade, are viewed as partners, valuable partners, who are engaged in the day-to-day process to improve schools; not without sharp criticisms from the supports of the former administration.

Eric Nadelstern, a visiting professor at Columbia University Teachers College and a former deputy chancellor under Mr. Klein, with whom Ms. Fariña clashed, said that Ms. Fariña was “an outstanding teacher” and “a great principal,” but that as chancellor she was relying on strategies that had proved unsuccessful over decades of efforts to transform urban the systemic approach to thinking about how to move the system from where it is to where it’s never been,” Mr. Nadelstern said. “And part of that really is defining learning outcomes so that the public knows how to hold you accountable.”

He went on: “What exactly are they focused on that you can measure and as a consequence manage by and hold them accountable by? I haven’t heard anything.”

In reality Farina has simply clarified lines of responsibility; the tools to assess schools and principals include a deep dive into school progress, measured by quantifiable numbers and the observations of the reviewer.

The Principal Practice Observation Tool details the expectations of the external review and is the core of the principal’s overall rating, the Principal Performance Review.

Additionally schools are periodically subject to Quality Reviews by either the superintendent or a trained reviewer: see the details of the QR process here.

Farina is bucking the national tide, the reform-y mantra: teachers resist change, do what you have to do to force change in the name of “civil rights” for all children. Teachers view “change” cloaked as “reform” as punishment and push back; the result has been teacher wars in city after city. The reform, actually (de)form emphasis on “accountability” through numbers based on test results has also spawned a rising tide of parent opposition. The opt-out movement, the refusal to allow their children to participate in state tests is massive.

By the end of the Bloomberg administration parents believed teachers more than the mayor in regard to educational decision-making. The claims of “progress,” coming from the (de)formers is questionable at best.

Farina invited the union to work as a partner, standing together; working to refurbish and revive struggling schools, as a partner she also criticized the lunacy of our governor.

She is a risk taker; however, there are no guarantees: will a real partnership between the union and the chancellor actually begin to budge the behemoth, the New York City School System, forward? Or, as Eric Nadelsten warns, Farina is actually recloaking failed strategies?

Farina, the Mayor and the union are bucking a rising tide, the tide of charter schools, eliminating tenure and data-based firings, the tide of “big data” driving decisions, decisions made by the wonks, not the grizzled educators who have fought the wars for decades.

Then again, the sports data-wonks churn out the numbers, numbers which can’t guarantee winners; frequently it’s the teamwork, the passions, the dedication to one’s craft, a leader who uplifts rather than tears down, Farina could just end up turning around the direction of our national education system.

Albany and The Art of Compromise: How Will the “Irreconcilable Differences” Be Resolved? (Or Maybe Not!)

Politics is the art of compromise, no matter the differences, the passions, the antagonisms, the vast majority of issues end in some kind of compromise. Electeds constantly have the proverbial “finger in the air,” testing the winds of public opinion. Yes, occasionally there are issues that require an “up or down” vote, issues that defy compromise: choice, death penalty and marriage equality are examples, and, yes, frequently the path is agonizingly slow.

Partisans on both sides drum up their troops: send emails, tweets with the proper hashtags, office visits, speaking out at public meetings, all try to tilt the final vote to their side of the street.

There are times when we wish Aztec Heart Sacrifice was an option.

Holding the still beating heart of your opponent over your head as you scream in victory is a fitting ending, although frowned upon by the officialdom.

Governor Cuomo, in his State of the State message outlined a litany of “reforms,” in reality political revenge against teacher unions that failed to support him, or, supported his opponent, and jumping on board the richly funded (de)form train.

The New York State fiscal year begins April 1, if the budget is not in place the state’s financial rating drops and the governor’s approval rating takes a hit. Legislators won’t get paid and in order for the state to continue to function “continuing resolutions” and “executive orders” drive the state budget process. The governor ends up incrementally getting what he could not get in the orderly budget process, although at a political cost.

The political calculus is at a very high level. The two legislative houses, the 150-seat Assembly dominated by the downstate Democrats and the 63-seat Senate led, by a hair, by primarily suburban Republicans have to negotiate settlements on hundreds of issues that are included in the budget.

Members in both houses are already deeply engaged in internal discussions about crafting compromises, trade-offs (“logrolling”) and drawing “lines in the sand” that may or may not be flexible.

A prime example: the property tax cap versus rent control.

The Cuomo “Opportunity Agenda” is a 500 plus page listing of hundreds of initiatives, the education section begins on page 218, not exactly at the top of the agenda.

Let’s take a look at some of the proposals:

“…the current teacher discipline system is broken … [its] costly and time consuming …physical and sexual abuse [accusations] teacher should be suspended without pay …”

Defending members who are accused of physical or sexual misconduct is not popular with the public, or for that matter, with legislators. In the last contract the UFT and the Department of Education negotiated changes in teacher discipline that only apply to teachers in New York City. Commissioner King called the provisions, “A model or the state,” The provisions are embedded in the collective bargaining agreement,

The parties agree that certain types of alleged misconduct are so serious that the employee should be suspended without pay pending the outcome of the disciplinary process. Serious misconduct shall be defined as actions that would constitute:

• the felony sale, possession, or use of marijuana, a controlled substance, or a precursor of a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia as defined in Article 220 or 221 of the Penal Law, or
• any crime involving physical abuse of a minor or student ….), or
• any felony committed either on school property or while in the performance of teaching duties, or
• any felony involving firearms as defined in Article 265 of the Penal Law.

A tenured pedagogue who has been charged under the criminal law or under §3020-a of the New York State Education Law with an act or acts constituting sexual misconduct (defined below) shall be suspended without pay upon a finding by a hearing officer of probable cause that sexual misconduct was committed.

A rebuttable presumption of probable cause shall exist where the Special Commissioner of Investigations (“SCI”) substantiates allegations of sexual misconduct, or a tenured pedagogue has been charged with criminal conduct based on act(s) of sexual misconduct.

The UFT has also entered into agreements with the Department to expedite hearing, since the agreement cases have averaged 105 days from the preferment of charges to the decision of the arbitrator.

The State Education Department (SED) does not have clean hands. For years the SED has hassled with arbitrators over the rates, length of hearings and other administrative matters, the “solution,” the SED decided, was slowing the payment of arbitrators, from 3-4 months to 18-24 months, and, eventually managed to change the law. Many arbitrators quit the panel and some refused to issue decisions until they were paid,

Nearly half of the state arbitrators assigned to hear cases of teacher misconduct in New York City have quit in the last few weeks [June, 2012], creating a potential backlog of cases in an already cluttered system,.
Ten of the 24 arbitrators who handle city cases have walked off the job, primarily because they have not been paid. Some arbitrators contracted by the state are owed at least two years’ back pay. State Education Department officials did not deny that the arbitrators are owed back pay.

There are a small number of teachers who have been awaiting decisions for a few years.

Additionally, cases are costly because school districts use outside counsel at hourly rates, depending upon the location, hundreds of dollars an hour is a standard rate. SED could force school districts to use state attorneys housed in BOCES centers and bill the school district, the cost would be substantially lower.

As of this date both sides are adamant, “fixing a broken system” on one side and “defending due process” on the other.

Another issue on the governor’s agenda is the recertification of teachers every five years.

“…recertify every five years much in the same way as attorneys …”

My lawyer friends smile, they can take “recertification” courses online [formally known as Continuing Legal Education], while on a cruise, at some fabulous resort, at worst, an annoyance, at best combining a vacation with some education. From the courts website:

Q] As an experienced attorney, what is my CLE requirement?
A] Experienced attorneys must complete a total of 24 accredited CLE credit hours during each biennial reporting cycle (the two-year period between your attorney registrations). At least 4 of these credit hours must be in the Ethics and Professionalism category. The remaining credit hours may be in any category of credit.

Q] What kinds of courses count toward my CLE requirement?
A] Experienced attorneys may earn CLE credit by attending CLE courses offered in the traditional live classroom format, or in nontraditional formats such as audiotapes, videoconferences, online, etc., so long as the CLE Board has accredited the provider to offer the course in the particular format, or the course is eligible for credit under New York’s Approved Jurisdiction policy.

If the “recertification” process is the same as “Continuing Legal Education,” this item does not, on the surface, appear to be an irreconcilable issue.

The Cuomo Opportunity Agenda also has a lengthy section on “Raising the Bar,” increasing the requirements for teacher candidates, requiring higher grade point averages in college to enter a teacher education program, evaluating teacher education programs based on the “grades” of graduates once they enter teaching, etc. However, just released research questions the need for any changes,

The academic capability of new teachers in New York City has risen over the past 15 years, new research shows. Between 1999 and 2010, the average SAT scores of New York City college students receiving their teaching certification increased by 18 percent, and the SAT scores of entering teachers in New York City improved by 49 percent, according to the study published in Educational Researcher.

The test score gains were particularly pronounced among teachers hired to work in high-poverty schools, which resulted in a substantial reduction of the academic ability gap of teachers hired at affluent versus high-poverty schools.

If we continue to “Raise the Bar” are we going to reduce the applicant pool? What is the correlation between SAT scores and effective teaching? What will be the impact on candidates who were English language learners or came up the ladder from community colleges? Will “Raising the Bar,” in effect bar minority teachers? After the first year of the new required teacher certifications exams applicants of color and Hispanic applicants have significantly lower pass rates (Read here)

Another Opportunity Agenda idea is to increase the probationary period from the current three to five years.

Under current law school districts have the ability to extend tenure, with the agreement of the teacher, and, in New York City the practice is not uncommon. The major problem is not granting tenure too early, the problem is teacher attrition. 31.1% of teachers who were hired in 2009-10 quit by year four. 16.6% of teachers in 2012-13 have quit. School districts, and, in New York City, schools, have total discretion who to hire. New York State colleges, up to last year were pumping out far more teachers (except in ESL, bilingual and some science areas) than could be absorbed. This year the registration in schools of education declined sharply. The extension of the probationary period could discourage applicants and have very significant “unintended consequences.”

On a range of other issues the governor and teachers/parents are miles apart.

Over the next two months the battle for hearts and minds will resonate around the state. Will the governor’s approval rating dive? Will legislators line up with Cuomo or his opponents? Will the print, electronic and cyber media tilt for or against? Bus and train loads of foot soldiers will trek up or down the Hudson to walk the corridors of the Legislative Office Building (LOB) as the emissaries of the “three men in a room” exchange ideas and memorandum and actual texts of proposed legislation.

For many any compromise is a loss, the equivalent of planting the flag on the top of Mount Suribachi must be the outcome.

I expect that the outcome will be a very complex combination that to some extent can be viewed as a partial victory for all sides; although I do envy the Aztecs.