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Can Trump End Up As the Republican Presidential Candidate?

I’m a political junkie, I live and breathe politics. I’ve run election campaigns (school boards), worked in election campaigns and I love to talk electoral politics, I read as much as I can.

In the polls Trump is far out in front, albeit with about 25% of the polled Republicans, and, Trump plus Carson is in the 40-50% range. Polls don’t predict elections: a poll is a photograph of a particular group of people at a particular time and place.

While the election is eleven months away we are two months away from the Iowa caucuses, followed by the New Hampshire primary and Super Tuesday on March 1.

A month ago I attended a panel discussion at the New School, a number of party insiders who had run or played major roles in presidential campaigns on both sides of the aisle. Ninety minutes of a deep dive; :the discussion centered around rapid response teams, building trust, policy papers, targeting voters by gender, race and ethnicity, campaign organization, the endless bumps along the road as the voting public begins to concentrate on the candidates.

The panelists shrugged at the leaders: Trump and Carson would fade away; Rubio, Cruz and Bush would battle it out, the panel was divided: a few thought Rubio would emerge, others, Bush.

On the other hand as Trump makes one outrageous statement after another and Carson appears clueless over policy neither one of them fades away.

Will the uninformed voters carry the day and nominate Trump?

Numerous polls and interviews conducted on the streets and various college campuses clearly indicates that a large majority of the American people are very uninformed about major issues

Scary and true; American voters know very little about the major issues: healthcare, immigration, tax reform, foreign policy, you name it and potential voters only have a vague understanding.

Polling is a complex skill; polls must identify the potential voters, which may not be easy. The goal is to identify prime voters , voters who voted in most previous elections and are therefore likely to vote in future election.

Whenever I start getting nervous about polls and the polling process I turn to Nate Silver at his blog: “fivethirtyeight

Newspapers and the media need viewers, eyes on the tube, and the way to paste them on the screen is simple, “…if it bleeds, it leads.”  Sex, violence, catastrophe, get the most “clicks” and clicks, viewership, drive advertising revenue. The more outrageous the comment the larger the audience, electoral politics has become a reality show.

Silver parses the polling numbers,

“Right now, [Trump] has 25 to 30 percent of the vote in polls among the roughly 25 percent of Americans who identify as Republican. (That’s something like 6 to 8 percent of the electorate overall, or about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked

Pollsters have a difficult time sifting through “Republican-leaning adults” and creating numbers that have more than shock value.

… most surveys cover Republican-leaning adults or registered voters, rather than likely voters. Combine that with the poor response rates to polls and the fact that an increasing number of polls use nontraditional sampling methods, and it’s not clear how much overlap there is between the people included in these surveys and the relatively small share of Republicans who will turn up to vote in primaries and caucuses.”

The long history of polling elections is consistent, public interest spikes as the primary elections approach,

” …public attention to the race starts out quite slow and only gradually accelerates — until just a week or two before Iowa, when it begins to boom. Interest continues to accelerate as Iowa, New Hampshire and the Super Tuesday states vote”

Silver sticks with “the chalk,” if the past is a predictor of the future Trump will not be the nominee.

“So, could Trump win? We confront two stubborn facts: first, that nobody remotely like Trump has won a major-party nomination in the modern era. And second, as is always a problem in analysis of presidential campaigns, we don’t have all that many data points, so unprecedented events can occur with some regularity. For my money, that adds up to Trump’s chances being higher than 0 but (considerably) less than 20 percent. Your mileage may vary. But you probably shouldn’t rely solely on the polls to make your case; it’s still too soon for that.”

While Silver is sanguine, other polling experts are more concerned. Polling methodology has moved from knocking on doors and asking questions to calling a landline and asking the questions; both methods are slow and expensive. Today much of polling is either by cellphone or online. The pollster has no direct contact with the subject. The online survey results are fed into a computer and the programmed algorithm spits out the data points.

Nate Cohen, writing in the NY Times mused over polling accuracy,Online Polls Are Rising. So Are Concerns About Their Results

Ready or not, online polling has arrived. Political analysts and casual poll readers now face a deluge of data from new firms employing new, promising, but not always proven methodologies. Nowhere is the question of the accuracy of the new online polls more evident than in the survey results for Donald Trump. He fares better in online polls than in traditional polls, and it’s not clear which method is capturing the public’s true opinions.

Are the subjects of polling more honest when face-to-face with a pollster or does the anonymity of online polling lead to more honest responses?

The world of social media, (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) the world of cyber data (Internet analytics) both drive political campaigns and drive the public opinion of candidates; every time you click on your computer the click is “analyzed” by a complex algorithm.

Campaigns target the potential voters utilizing the analytics: mobilize core constituencies that believe that President Obama is a secret Muslim, actually born in Kenya, a Black militant, the issues that “trigger” Republican primary potential voters.

The Republican debates were more reality show than actual debate – the one-liner, the masked insult, very little about actual polices.

Have we provided the voting public with a “sound basic education”?

The CFE v NYS lawsuit defines an adequate education,

” … preparing students to exercise citizenship duties;, ‘Such an education should consist of the basic literacy, calculating, and verbal skills necessary to enable children to eventually function productively as civic participants capable of voting and serving on a jury.’ 86 N.Y.2d 307, 316 (1995)

Sadly, as I listen to the voting public I begin to doubt that the education of our citizenry complies with the court-defined definition of a sound basic education.

Polling guru Nate Silver thinks that Trump has a “less than 20%” chance of gaining the Republican nomination; however, no other candidate has better odds.

The Iowa caucus, thee New Hampshire primary and the dozen March 1 Super Tuesday primaries can come and go with the same five Republicans vying for the top spot.

I fear that “the Donald” has a shot at the November ballot.

VAM is Dead: New York State Political Leadership Wheels and Deals to Claim Credit and Avert Blame

Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

A year ago Andrew Cuomo was rolling….

The governor shoved aside a pesky Fordham law professor in the Democratic primary and defeated Rob Astorino, the Westchester County Executive in November. Not the landslide that might have pushed him into the national limelight; however, a victory is a victory.  The worm in the apple was education; teachers were hostile, the state poured endless billions into schools, and the new Common Core tests scores were appalling: an opportunity to blame the poor scores on teachers (and their union) and satisfy his charter school buddies.

On December 18th Jim Malatras, the Cuomo Chief of Operations sent a blazing letter  to Chancellor Merryl Tisch, an accusatory letter demanding responses to a list of questions.

Think Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses  on the church door at Wittenberg Castle or Emile Zola’s J’Accuse letter  … excuse the references, I’m a history teacher.

The Malatras letter lists twelve questions, demands answers, and implies that since we have no confidence in the ability of the Board of Regents to resolve any of these questions/concerns we will use the budgetary process to impose our solutions.  And, to rub salt in the wounds one of the questions asks the chancellor to choose her method of execution.

“As you know, the appointment and selection of the Board of Regents is unique in that unlike other agencies selection and appointments are made by the Legislature. Would you make changes to the selection and appointment process, and, if so, what are they?”

On December 31 the chancellor responded with a 20-page letter , humble, respectful, and, meaningless.

True to his threats the governor packed the budget bill with education initiatives, the same that were included in his December 18th letter.

The teacher probationary period was increased from three to four years, struggling schools could be placed in receivership, an idea borrowed from Massachusetts, a complex plan backed by $75 million in state dollars: turn the schools over to outside “receivers,” who run the school independent of the school district, with powers to amend the teacher contract, and yet another teacher evaluation plan, again, borrowed from Massachusetts, usually referred to as the “matrix,” that embeds student growth scores (Value Added Modeling, aka, VAM) in a teacher rating.

Read about receivership here  and the “matrix” teacher evaluation plan here

The May to September romance did not end well.

The Legislature had no intention of giving away the power to appoint members of the Board of Regents; in fact, they filled the four vacancies with independents who immediately challenged the governor.

Over 200,000 parents, one in five, opted out of the state tests, and, the movement was growing. Grassroots parents, not tied to a political party, were sprouting all over the state, and, the culprit, the governor.

On the national scene the once ballyhooed Common Core was under attack.

The signature 2002 No Child Left Behind law that required annual testing and granted sweeping authority to the feds, was being reauthorized, with sharply reduced federal authority, and, teacher assessment was nowhere to be seen.

The governor scrambled to respond, at arm’s length; he resuscitated the 2012 Cuomo Commission, reduced and streamlined the membership, renamed the Task Force, with a new agenda.

See the Task Force web site here .

The Task Force set up “listening sessions” around the state, not webcast.

The agenda was simple, how the hell do we mollify these opt out parents and stop the teachers union from pummeling us across the state.

In a quiet move the governor selected yet another education adviser; instead of someone from the reform-y side the guv actually selected a state superintendent, one who has been a sharp critic of the state testing agenda.

The Task Force report is due the first week in December and the spin masters are bobbing and weaving.

In a New York Times article, titled, “Cuomo, in Shift, Is Said to Back Reducing Test Scores’ Role in Teacher Reviews,”  Kate Taylor, recounts the “politics,”

And according to two people involved in making state education policy, Mr. Cuomo has been quietly pushing for a reduction, even to zero. That would represent an about-face from January, when the governor called for test scores to determine 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

With a straight face, Jim Malatras said, “There is no position of this administration with respect to this issue.”

The position of the administration is to distance themselves from any negative fallout and at the same time defuse a ticking time bomb.

Commissioner Elia proposed reducing the impact of VAM to 20%, and withdrew the proposal when the Cuomo side pushed back, perhaps a moratorium on the impact of students test scores until 2019, by pure chance, the year after the next gubernatorial election.

Should the governor take credit for the  changes? If so, he risks the ire of his new-found charter school, deep-pocketed allies. The Long Island Republicans would love to take credit for changes and win over the opt-outs, and the Democrats, who appoint the Board members also want a slice of the pie. The Regents and the commissioner could be tasked with making the changes; they can be blamed for failures.

The use of student growth scores, VAM, is dead; the assassins are haggling over who stands over the warm corpse holding the still beating VAM heart over their head screaming victory.

Closing High Schools/Creating Small High Schools: How Can We Support All High Schools and All Students?

Should low performing schools be closed or fixed?  The most controversial policy of the Bloomberg administration was the closing of struggling schools, the creation of small schools and “choice,” a wide array of school choices. Are there unintended consequences to “choice?”

The Research Alliance for New York City Schools, housed at NYU, has released another report defending the signature policy of  Bloomberg, school closing/school creation, High School Closures in New York City: Impact on Academic Students’ Outcomes, Attendance and Mobility which claims,  “…apart from the general sense that school closures are painful, there has never been a rigorous assessment of their impact in NYC.” The Alliance studied 29 high schools closed between 2002 and 2008 and makes a number of overall findings,

* The schools designated for closure were, in fact, among the lowest performing in the City,

* Closures had little impact, positive or negative, on the academic outcomes of students who were enrolled during the phase-out process.

* Closing high schools produced meaningful benefits for future students

With the widespread use of credit recovery and teachers in the small high schools commonly marking regents exams of students they teach we’ll never know the actual progress of the schools. We do know troubling numbers of graduates require remedial courses in community colleges.

The Report admits ” …there are a range of other possible impacts from a school closure that our study did not examine, including, for instance, effects on educators, parents, and neighborhoods,” and the Report admits that the school creation reform is not a panacea,.

” … while this study shows clear gains for students in the wake of a closure, these students still did not fare well. On average, just 56 percent graduated from high school within four years, and less than half earned a Regents diploma. Finding ways to close the gap between these students and their higher-performing peers is essential.”

There is no question that most of the closed schools, there are a few exceptions, were among the lowest performing schools in the city, and, there comes a point when schools cannot be resuscitated. I served on the New York State Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams for a number of the schools and worked with school phaseout/school creation teams in a number of other closed schools. Jefferson, Taft, T Roosevelt, Canarsie were beyond help, the leadership was inept; teachers dispirited and schools were out of control.

The Report fails to address the core question: why did so many high schools become so low performing, and, how we avoid the reoccurrence?

The secret to school success has always been recruiting the “best” students, and best is defined as kids with high reading and math scores. The unwritten school leadership philosophy – attract the best academic students possible, Yes, teacher quality matters, great teachers make a difference, however, teacher quality cannot overcome the degradations of poverty.

In the 1970’s the Board of Education instituted a choice program called the education option (ed op) program. Schools created special programs within the school; students from across the city could apply to the program. For example, in James Madison High School the Center for Accounting and Management (CAM) opened 150 seats annually – half selected by the school and half spun out of the computer – all representing an academic span (16-68-16).  Madison actively recruited CAM applicants from other zoned school, and received numerous applicants. A choice program eroded academic data in some schools and aided the data in other schools.

Let’s call it “educational triage;” the Board sacrificed inner city low performing schools with Black and Hispanic populations to benefit the more middle class White schools; an institutional racism that emanated from City Hall.

The current Department of Education has continued the same policy – the 649-page High School Directory   offers hundreds and hundreds of high school choices, and, over 200 schools and programs are screened, meaning applicants must have high grades and/or high state test scores. Eighth graders can make up to twelve choices of schools or programs within schools; the applications are due next week and students are informed of their assignment in April. The Directory lists the number of applicants per seat for the prior year – the NYC iSchool, a fully screened school,  had over 3000 applicants for 118 seats, other unscreened  schools have 3, 4 or five applicants per seat. A dense computer algorithm matches students to schools.

I would wager the screened schools/programs have much higher percentages of White and middle class students than citywide averages. The iSchool has twice the percentage of White students as the citywide percentage.

The former Board of Education created education option programs, the current Department of Education created hundreds of schools, the screened schools and the highly popular schools attract the most academically able students. The polices of the former and the current school district leaders created winners and losers.


Virtually every high school should have a geographic zone.

If you live a few blocks away from a school you should have the ability to attend the school. Currently geography plays no role in school assignment. (Except for the few zoned high schools which still exist) .Neighborhood schools build community, build interactions among the full range of community organizations, from houses of worship to community and block associations. If a student wants to travel for 45-minutes to school, fine, if you want to walk a few blocks it should be your right.

The plethora of screened programs should be reexamined.

Do screened programs increase student achievement or segregate schools by race, class and achievement?  The endless names of high schools promises careers in medicine or law or sports management or justice or whatever, in reality students have to earn 44 credits with all but a dozen credits prescribed by state requirements. Fourteen year olds cannot be expected to make career choices. Career and Technical Education (CTE) high schools, formerly known as vocational high schools prepare students for the world of work, we should create more CTE schools; do we need scores upon scores of small high schools with vague “titles?”  Yes, aside from the eight entrance-by-examination schools we should have other gifted schools scattered in neighborhoods – do we need 200 plus?

Geographic high school superintendencies should be created to allow teachers by subject area to work and attend professional development across schools.

Teachers in small high schools do not have the opportunity to work together, there may only be two, three or four same-licensed teachers in a school. You grow by fertilization of ideas, by working with colleagues; school organizations should be structured to encourage cross-school interactions.

The Bloomberg/Klein regency believed in a disruptive innovation, create tensions in and between schools, create tension within the administration; under pressures schools increased graduation rates “by any means possible;” hundreds of high schools, some “succeeding,” aka increasing graduation rates, while others failed, and would be closed, an educational triage.  The detritus: kids living in poverty.

Two years into the new administration time to take an in-depth look at the dozen years of disruption and return to sanity.

The Reauthorization of No Child Left Behind Moves Forward in Congress: How Will It Impact New York State?

If you’ve had the stamina to watch the presidential debates which topic has not been discussed: that’s right – education. No Common Core, no testing, no teacher evaluation – nada.

Education has become a toxic topic, both ends of the education spectrum are passionate, the middle, to be perfectly honest, doesn’t understand and doesn’t care.

The Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) strongly support charter schools and test-score based teacher evaluation, the far right of the Republican Party wants to abolish the US Department of Education, including Title 1 funding.

Candidates are sticking with issues that mobilize their core supporters.

Mayor Bloomberg was the self-proclaimed education mayor; in his last term, as his fights with the teacher union accelerated his favorability rating dived,

Sol Stern, in the fall, 2013 City Journal reported,

…. New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents 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.

Across New York State 220,000 students, one in five students, opted out of the federally required grades 3-8 English and Math exams and polling clearly blames the governor for what parents see as excessive and punitive testing.

Hillary Clinton, at an AFT-sponsored forum mildly jibbed at charter schools  (They “cherry pick” students), she immediately was sharply criticized by the pro-charter crowd  – from both sides of the aisle.

Considering the acrimonious nature of the education debate it is encouraging that the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind is moving forward in both houses of Congress.

This morning I watched the Senate vote overwhelmingly to move the Senate bill to conference. A year ago both houses passed reauthorization bills; however, the bills were so different that no attempt was made to reconcile the bills.

Over the next few days House and Senate conference members will hammer out a bill incorporating the bills from both houses.

The path has been long and complex – the committee chairs in both houses and both parties have to craft bills that address the needs/philosophies/criticisms of a majority of the 435 members of the House and 60 members in the Senate. (Senate rules require 60 votes to advance a vote on the underlying bill).

The House is ruled by the majority, the Republican side. The Republicans control the agenda, the flow of bills. The complexity in the House is not the opposing party, the Democrats; the problem is within the Republican Party; the original House bill only passed by five votes. The Freedom Caucus, previously known as the Tea Party, has frequently opposed their own leadership, paring away enough votes to prevent the passage of leadership bills.  A reauthorization bill must satisfy the objections of the Freedom Caucus, A Republican leader who reaches across the aisle for Democratic votes could not survive as leader.

On the Senate side there are 54 Republicans and Senate rules require 60 votes for any bill to move to the floor, bipartisan bills are required. Senators Alexander (R) and Murray (D) have worked for months to create a bill that can garner the required 60 votes in the Senate.

The leadership in both houses and on both sides of the aisle appoints members to serve on the conference committee. Over the next few days the committee will probably agree on a bill that will come to the floor of both houses in early December – of course, there are still bumps along the road.

And, of course, the President must sign the bill.

The proposal (Read detailed description here) would keep some of the NCLB law’s most-important transparency measures in place, like continued annual testing in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. And it includes some protections for perennially foundering schools and those where poor and minority kids, or students in special education, and those just learning English, are struggling.

But otherwise, states would be handed the car keys when it comes to almost everything else, including: how much tests should figure in when it comes to rating schools vs. other factors like school climate; how to fix perennially foundering schools; and how to assist schools that are doing well overall, but still struggling to help certain groups of students (like English-language learners) … [the proposal]  prohibit[s] the U.S. Secretary of Education from interfering with state prerogatives on teacher evaluation, testing, standards, school turnarounds, and more.

Bloggers and teachers have railed against any reauthorization that continues annual testing; their problem is that civil rights organizations and advocates (NAACP, Urban League, La Raza and disability organizations) all vigorously support annual testing; organizations that traditionally have worked closely with teacher organizations. They argue that annual testing presents irrefutable evidence of achievement gaps, to do away with annual tests will remove the spotlight, a spotlight that is essential to advocate for their constituencies.

The proposed law would make Race to the Top and NCLB Waivers impermissible.

Arne Duncan would be replaced by Andrew Cuomo. Or, Mary Ellen Elia.

In most states the governor appoints the state board of education. The New York State constitution vests the authority to set education policy with the Board of Regents, who are elected by the state legislature – in reality selected by the Speaker of the Assembly.  Governor Cuomo has eroded the authority of the Regents. Decision after decision emanates from the office of the governor.  An example is the appointment of the Common Core Task Force. The governor appointed a fifteen-member Task Force, scheduled “listening sessions” around the state and set a first week in December date for a preliminary report. The commissioner has released her own description of the process along with a list of possible policy changes: shorter tests, the release of more test questions, a speeder release of the scores, promises of more teacher involvement in future state tests and a move to more adaptive and online testing.

See commissioner’s report here. (The report does not comment on teacher evaluation)

The governor can ignore the recommendations of the commissioner and the commissioner can ignore the recommendations of the task force; of course, the governor can convert his recommendations to legislation.

If the reauthorization bill becomes law: how will it impact on policy in New York State?

Stay tuned …

UPDATE: The conference committee has approved a bill – see Education Week discussion here – full text will be available in a few days.

The Public Housing Project to Prison Pipeline (with a stop at school): Musing on School Suspensions

A few weeks after the election of Bill De Blasio as mayor I trekked to the transition tent to listen to a panel to explore and recommend policies to the mayor-elect. The panel: NAACP, the Urban League, a pastor and Harlem-based community organizations all pointed to the “school to prison” pipeline and urged the mayor to intervene. Schools were suspending far higher percentages of black male students; .the result is frequent, targeted suspensions and students who are the subject of frequent suspensions are far more likely not to graduate and to end up in the criminal justice system.

The assumption: if the school system reduces suspensions of black male students these actions will also reduce entry into the criminal justice system and increase graduation rates.

School discipline polices in New York City are governed by the Citywide Standards of Intervention and Discipline Measures (April, 2015), formerly known as the Discipline Code. Read here.

All suspensions in New York City are served in a school setting, a principal level suspension (one to five days) in the school building and a superintendent level suspension at the suspension center, a special facility that provides education and guidance during the period of suspension. The numbers of suspensions has dramatically declined over the last two years of the de Blasio/Farina administration.

In the Success Academy charter schools suspensions are part of the school instructional program, minor infractions are subject to suspensions and frequent suspensions lead to “counseling out.” Around the country schools districts have adopted zero tolerance policies; misbehavior of any sort equals a period of suspension.

The American Psychological Association doubts the efficacy and the effectiveness of zero tolerance (Read APA report here)

… despite a 20-year history of implementation, there are surprisingly few data that could directly test the assumptions of a zero tolerance approach to school discipline, and the data that are available tend to contradict those assumptions. Moreover, zero tolerance policies may negatively affect the relationship of education with juvenile justice and appear to conflict to some degree with current best knowledge concerning adolescent development.

If zero tolerance leading to frequent suspensions are not effective why do schools defend the policy? An Atlantic article reports, “Administrators don’t suspend kids because they love kicking kids out of school … It happens because they don’t know what else to do.” School systems, which control the frequency of suspensions are moving toward, as Atlantic explains, “… restorative practices, a term used to describe talk-it-out behavior interventions. In these interventions, students involved in disputes or infractions participate in developing their resolutions, which include peer mediation, restorative circles, and group conferences.”

Calls for the end of zero tolerance have reached the White House as President Obama calls for the end of the policy.

“Restorative practices” operate within school buildings, unfortunately suspendable offences commonly begin outside of schools. School are not surrounded by moats, they are parts of a larger community.

A member of the NYS Juvenile Justice Task Force tells me that juvenile arrests are highly concentrated in a few communities in New York City (for example: East New York and Brownsville in Brooklyn) and the highest juvenile arrest catchments are also neighborhoods with concentrations of public housing. (NYCHA)

A 2011 NYU Furman Center report, “Public Housing and Public Schools: How Do Students Living in NYC Public Housing Fare in School?” explores the academic achievement of students living in public housing

Half of the elementary school-aged students in public housing attend just 10% of the City’s elementary schools, or 83 schools. This pattern of concentration holds at the high school level as well.

The percentage of students passing standardized math and reading exams at the average school attended by NYCHA students is notably lower than those at the average school attended by non-NYCHA students … we see persistent disparities between the academic performance of students that live in NYCHA housing and other students.

While the NYU report speculates on a wide range of reasons that may be the underlying cause of lower achievement of students living in public housing the report fails to explore the levels of crime in public housing.

An April, 2014 investigative report in the New York Daily News.

New York City Housing Authority’s 334 projects saw a 31% spike in major crime to an eight-year high, while the rest of the city experienced a 3.3% increase, the records show.

For the last twenty years, the tenure of Giuliani and Bloomberg, public housing has been abandoned; the city allowed the buildings to decay: dysfunctional elevators, leaky roofs, electrical and plumbing problems, heating plants that fail; buildings that house 400,000 New Yorkers. The Bloomberg administration pumped billions into infrastructure improvements, primarily in Manhattan, and ignored the residences of our poorest citizen.

It is not surprising that public housing; rife with crime is also infested with a gang culture. Kids grow up in a gang culture. A gang expert was asked: How do the gangs affect the neighborhoods, schools and other institutions where they’re active?

Gangs provide protection, belonging, and respect. They have replaced the traditional family. They obviously rule on intimidation and fear. Kids today believe in power by numbers and have two choices: join the power group or form a group to go against the power group. As far as the neighborhoods, usually gang-related graffiti increase and property values decrease. Poverty plays a major role in the formation of gangs and neighborhoods reflect the poverty… neglected homes, shuttered buildings, etc. Schools become more violent, metal detectors become the norm, increased security and after school issues (fights, etc.) ripple back to the community.

Gang cultures and school cultures are in conflict and kids have to learn to live in a bi-cultural world. One set of rules in the street, another set of rules in a school building. Unfortunately for some kids school is place for breakfast and lunch, a place to meet up with a crew, the education side is irrelevant; disputes in the hallways of the project spills over into the hallways of the school building.

Will reducing or eliminating suspensions end the so-called “school to prison pipeline or make school less safe? Do “restorative practices” work with students in high crime, gang impacted public housing projects?

I was sitting in on a principal council meeting in a school building with multiple schools. The conversation repeated itself at each meeting; kids were cutting classes and wandering into other schools in the building. After a period of finger pointing I offered, “Why don’t you speak with the gang kids?” A principal responded, “Why would we want to do that?” Perhaps unkindly I snapped, “Because they run your building.” Another principal chimed in “We want to get rid of the gang kids not coddle them.”

The poorest inner city neighborhoods, in New York City that includes the public housing projects, are far more similar to Afghanistan than the tony streets of Manhattan or Brownstone Brooklyn. You can’t suspend or arrest your way to the elimination of a gang culture, you have to eliminate the underlying causes, causes steeped in poverty and racism.

A year ago in a school nearby the school referenced above, at 10 in the morning there were six “pops,” a body was lying in the street outside the building, a car had driven up, the victim was assassinated. The police, the superintendent, the higher-ups descended on the school. A crisis management team arrived and offered to interview every kid to deal with trauma. The principal suggested working with the staff. For the kids violent death was not out of the ordinary – every kid knew someone, a friend, a neighbor, a relative, a sibling, who had died a violent death.

That same school had kids from the same projects, no suspensions, no kids wandering in the halls. The difference: school leadership. The principal of one school engaged the gang kids, in another the principals attempted to drive out the gang kids.

As long as we abandon entire neighborhoods, allow public housing projects to fester, homelessness to thrive, gang cultures have rich soils in which to grow.

Suspensions are a sign, an image of another culture. School leaders and teachers can create school cultures in which kids learn to both abide by the mores of schools and live in their own neighborhoods, the mean streets of the inner cities.

Eliminating suspensions and metal detectors will not end the so-called school to prison pipeline; they may very well make schools less safe for students and staff.

We need the people, the teachers, the politicians, who have the will and the ability to change worlds.

A complex world, maybe too complex.

Cuomo Common Core Task Force Listening Sessions Begin (With a Whimper)

Time for a review:

You will remember that the very hard charging Governor Spitzer resigned over the call girl scandal and was replaced by his lieutenant governor, David Patterson, who stumbled badly, Andrew Cuomo gained the nomination and was elected almost by acclimation. The state teachers’ union (NYSUT) did not make an endorsement. Cuomo, with minimal opposition passed a property-tax cap – the increase in school tax levies cannot exceed 2% … the impact: it is extremely difficult to negotiate local teacher contracts. (The “Big Five – NYC, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers are not part of the cap law). The 700 school districts struggle to meet basic costs and the wide disparity in funding from district to district is painfully obvious.

In 2013 the governor appointed the 25-member Commission on Education Reform, the commission held meetings around the state, scores of witnesses, hundreds and hundreds of audience members and many, many months later a lengthy, rambling meaningless report.

In Cuomo’s campaign for re-election in 2014 his opposition, Rob Astorino, was the popular county executive in Westchester, an overwhelmingly Democratic county. NYSUT did not make an endorsement; however, a number of Long Island locals endorsed his opponent in the primary, Zephyr Teachout, an unknown law professor from Fordham, and, clearly, teachers around the state were staying on the sidelines or voting for Teachout.

While Cuomo won the primary and the general election handily the election results were not the landslide that Cuomo anticipated.

In August, 2014, I was at a union event and chatting with a local union president who’s local endorsed Teachout, the Cuomo opponent in the primary. I told my colleague to expect retribution from Cuomo.

The retribution was a new, dense teacher evaluation plan, an increase in the teacher probationary periods from three to four years, a receivership model for the lowest achieving schools and a cozy relationship with the charter crowd.

NYSUT fought back ferociously, engaged the governor: rallies, paid advertisements, etc., the opt out movement grew and over 200,000 kids refused the exam.

The governor’s favorability rating nosedived.

The governor reconvened the commission (See Task Force website here), reduced the cast to 15 members with a new title, the Cuomo Common Core Task Force, with instructions:

The Common Core Task Force is a diverse and highly qualified group of education officials, teachers, parents, and state representatives convened by Governor Cuomo to perform a comprehensive review of learning standards, instructional guidance and curricula, and tests to improve implementation and reduce testing anxiety

The Task Force will complete its review and deliver its final recommendations by the end of this year.

The State’s learning standards must be strong, sensible and fair, and parents and teachers should be able to have faith in those standards. The Common Core Task Force will work toward this goal to ensure that we deliver the best possible education to our children.

On Friday, November 6th the Task Force met at a number of sites across the state. I signed up for the New York City meeting at La Guardia Community College. The meeting seemed organized, they had my name at the sign-in table and since I signed up to speak they had a number and an assigned seat – so far so good.

As I looked around the room – no webcast, no twitter hashtag – if you weren’t in the room – too bad.


The failure to avail every New Yorker of the opportunity to listen to the testimony at the Task Force, to participate via twitter, is insulting.

Two members of the Task Force, Assembly member Nolan and Ms. Hazlewood, a teacher from an elementary school in Brownsville led the ‘listening session.” (See full list of Task Force members here)

As soon as the speakers began about half the audience, identified as parents who had been bused to the meeting by Students First, the Moskowitz Success Academy folks, left – guess there was no one at the meeting important enough to impress.

There were a few speakers from pro-Common Core organizations, (Educators for Excellence, Chamber of Commerce) a few anti-Common Core speakers and a number of teachers and parents. The Task Force members asked questions, mostly about the impact of testing on Students with Disabilities and English language learners.

You can provide your testimony online and I encourage you to take a few minutes and put in your two cents (no more than 500 words):

The cynics among you will scoff at the entire process, and, I don’t blame you; however, I believe the Task Force (and the commissioner) will come up with a number of changes.

* Aside from undergoing a name change – the early grades standards will change as well as a number of other clarifying changes.

* The curriculum modules will also be modified.

* Fewer questions equal shorter tests, the release of more test items, and a quicker release of student scores.

None of these changes will pacify the naysayers – the opt outs.

Two of the major objections, the impact on Students with Disabilities and English language learners is not within the scope of the state – the annual “testing for all” is part of No Child Left Behind. I did remind the audience, meager by the time I spoke, that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), considered the gold standard of testing, uses a sampling technique. There is no reason to test every student every year.

The April/May grades 3-8 state tests will still be a Pearson test; QUESTAR, the new testing company does not take over until the 2017 testing cycle.

As I reminded the Task Force members the tests only impact teachers and schools, not students. I asked, rhetorically, whether Task Force member Hazlewood had any idea what her value-added measurement (VAM) score meant. I answered for her, she has no idea, no teacher has any idea nor does any principal.

The Task Force will hustle to complete work by December to produce a report that includes changes that may require legislation.

It’s hard to believe that the Task Force will recommend substantive changes to the brand new yet to be implemented teacher evaluation law or to the also brand new receivership law. There are a number of tweaks and clarifications necessary. Details can be really important.

With 200,000 opt out parents, heavily concentrated on Long Island and the suburban districts around the state, the legislature could take the initiative and recommend changes before the governor.

At the beginning of my testimony I turned to the governor’s staffer who appeared to be in charge and had a teaching moment.

“Unless you, the governor’s guy, understands that ‘participation reduces resistance’ and ‘change as perceived as punishment’ these listening sessions will be for naught and the public anger will continue to seethe and grow.”

Wednesday is now called Veterans’ Day, once called Armistice Day and in other nations Remembrance Day – World War One ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – the war to end all wars.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
“Dulce et Decorum Est ”

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under I green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.(“It is sweet and glorious to die for one’s country.”)

New York Schools Are the Most Segregated in the Nation: Are There Remedies? Is There the Political Will to Implement Remedies? And, Does School Integration Matter without Economic Equality?

n May, 2014 the UCLA Civil Rights Project issued a deeply disturbing report: Brown at 60: Great Progress, a Long Retreat and an Uncertain Future , the nation was slowly but surely moving away from integration to increasingly segregated schools.

In the unanimous Supreme Court decision, Brown v Board of Education (1954), the court ruled that “separate is inherently unequal,” and, the nation, albeit slowly, moved toward ending segregated schools. In reluctant states the courts ordered desegregation plans that were monitored by the courts. As court-ordered and court -enforced integration spread throughout the South the demographics in the nation continued to change, white populations declined, black populations rose and Latino populations skyrocketed.

Six decades of “separate but equal” as the law of the land have now been followed by six decades of “separate is inherently unequal” as our basic law. The Brown decision set large changes and political conflicts in motion and those struggles continue today.

In little more than four decades, enrollment trends in the nation’s schools (between 1968 and 2011) show a 28% decline in white enrollment, a 19% increase in the black enrollment, and an almost unbelievable 495% percent increase in the number of Latino students.

At the peak, 44% of black … students were in majority-white schools, the kind of schools that provided strong potential opportunities for diverse learning experiences. By 2011, that number had declined to 23%, a drop by nearly half, and the decline has accelerated in recent

The most striking element in the report, the state with the most segregated schools: New York State.

How could a state that prides itself as the most progressive state in the nation, one of the first states to pass a marriage equality law, a massive and progressive Medicaid system, both a governor and a mayor with deep progressive roots, also house the most segregated school system in the nation?

How can the state and the city begin to remedy the issue?

And, perhaps a deeper discussion, should the goal be to racially integrate schools? Is the goal of a racially integrated society still relevant sixty years after the Brown decision?

After page after page, chart after chart the report makes a series of recommendations:

* We recommend substantial expansion of magnet school funding,
strong civil rights policies for charter schools, serious incentives for regional collaboration, and teacher training for diverse and racially changing schools.

Are these recommendations the responsibility of the states or the federal government? What does the report mean by “strong civil rights policies for charter schools”? Does the report support federal funds for creating integrated charter schools? With a Republican Congress the recommendations are illusory.

* We … recommend that the Administration create a joint HUD, Justice Department, and Education Department staff assigned to work with experts outside government in devising a plan to support durable integration in communities and schools in the many racially changing suburbs, in gentrifying city neighborhoods, and in other locations.

Why would states accept the advice of “experts” to devise a plan to “support durable integration”? States look upon the federal government as intrusive, for example, the last seven years of the Obama investigation.

* We recommend that regional educators, researchers, urban planners and civil rights groups examine the results of various forms of regional cooperation in order to devise plans for regional magnets and student and faculty transfers. State officials could consider incentives or requirements for regional collaboration.

Once again the responsibility to “reduce racial isolation” lies with the states. Independent school districts are deeply entrenched in our history – school boards have not ignored “regional collaboration,” school boards have set up walls to continue racial isolation.

* We recommend that researchers, education writers, educational officials and leaders, education associations, teachers and teachers organizations begin to very actively communicate with the larger society about the vast opportunity gaps that exist and the costs of isolating disadvantaged children from middle class students and from students of other races in schools often overwhelmed by problems they did not cause and cannot completely overcome by themselves.

Asking the professional education community to “very actively communicate with the larger community” is beyond the scope of the role of educators. Barriers to integration are complex and in many cases did not happen by accident.

* [Educators] need to recommend systems of assessment and rewards that would keep good teachers in low-income minority schools rather than drive them out. They need to work very hard on broadening the diversity in their own ranks, which would entail a comprehensive effort of colleges of education, state education agencies, and teachers’ unions examining the ways in which the teaching preparation pipeline may lose teaching candidates of color. And they need, right now, to demand a voice in decisions which have been too often made in recent decades by politicians, foundation leaders, and others without any knowledge of the actual challenges facing schools segregated by race, poverty and language.

The New York City school system supports an “open market” transfer system, any teacher can transfer to any school and thousands of teachers avail themselves of the plan – a plan that encourages teachers to move from “low-income minority schools” to higher achieving schools. The current required pre-service teacher certification exams have resulted in significantly higher failure rates among applicants of color. These policies are the antithesis of the recommendation supra. To recommend that educators
“demand a voice” to counter decisions made by “politicians, foundation leaders, and others without a knowledge of the actual challenges” is an incredible burden in the era of Arne Duncan and the reformers’

The report concludes,

But a real celebration should also involve thinking seriously about
why the country has turned away from the goal of Brown and accepted deepening polarization and inequality in our schools. It is time to stop celebrating a version of history that ignores our last quarter century of retreat and to begin make new history by finding ways to apply the vision of Brown in a transformed, multiracial society in another century.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his brilliant and deeply troubling book, Between the World and Me (August, 2015) would disagree with the goal of racial integration of schools; he would abjure the “vision of Brown in a transformed, multiracial society ….” For Coates, “White America is a syndicate arrayed to protect exclusive power to dominate and control our bodies. Sometimes this power is direct (lynching) and sometimes it insidious (redlining). But however it appears, the power of domination and exclusion is central to the belief in being white, and without it “white people” would cease to exist for want of reasons.”

For Coates the concept of integration is a sham.

The New York City Council is strongly advocating that the Department of Education pursue integration policies. The School Diversity Accountability Act requires, “…[a report that] will include extensive school-by-school data, down to the grade level (and within specialized programs like gifted and talented programs), as well as the Department’s specific efforts and initiatives to strengthen diversity.” that is due in December, 2015.

Over the remainder of the school year school the issue of school integration will move to the forefront: expect a major and wide ranging debate.