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Abolish the ATR System, It Was Bad Policy in 2005 and Poor Policy Now. Teachers Belong in Classrooms.

On October 16th the Department of Education began to assign ATRs to vacancies in schools without the approval of the principal. The New York Times ran a harsh article   along with sharply critical editorials in the Post  and the Daily News . Unfortunately the entire process is misunderstood.

Teachers have been excessed from schools for decades, schools lost enrollment and the junior teacher was bumped and placed in another school in the district; it was an orderly procedure without favoritism or politics. In the late eighties the former Board of Education began closing schools, the Board and the Union negotiated a process; half the teachers in the replacement schools would be excess teachers from the closing school; although they did had to exhibit qualifications through an interview conducted by a Board-Union committee; once again, an orderly process.

In the early nineties a school proposed a new teacher placement plan to the Union. A committee consisting of a majority of teachers would interview and select all staff and be exempt form the seniority transfer plan. By 2005 60% of schools had opted for the School-Based Option (SBO) Staffing and Transfer Plan.

The 2005 Board-Union contract negotiations, the first for Bloomberg offered substantial raises and the Union agreed to the end the seniority plan and replace with the Open Market assignment system. All positions posted online, any teacher can transfer to any school, no years of experience required, only the approval of the accepting principal required: teacher “free agency”.

Additionally, teachers excessed from school would no longer be placed permanently in a school, the Department created an Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR), the ATRs could apply for Open Market vacancies; ATRs were assigned on a temporary rotational basis to schools. As the Bloomberg administration accelerated school closures the ATR pool grew to over a thousand teachers.

Under the Fair Student Funding formula used to allocate funds to schools actual teacher salary is credited against the school budget, a principal has to weigh potential teacher performance and teacher salary, a system clearly biased against higher paid senior teachers.

Bloomberg/Klein vigorously lobbied to change the law, to mirror the process in Chicago and Washington, if an excess teacher fails to find in a job in a specific period of time, regardless of their years of service, they are laid off.  In spite of the efforts the legislature had no interest in changing the law.

The ATR pool also contains teachers who were accused of either misconduct or incompetence, some were never found guilty of anything, and others were found guilty and paid a fine or a suspension; instead of being returned to a school the Department dumped them into the pool.

Of the teachers brought up on charges the vast percentage are accused of misconduct, not incompetence. The hearing officer, jointly selected by the Union and the Department, listens to witnesses; the burden of proof is on the Department, who must show by “preponderance of evidence” that the accused committed the acts with which they were charged. The hearing officer can dismiss the charges or, if he finds the teacher guilty, can reprimand, fine, suspend without pay or dismiss the teacher. Misconduct, for example, using inappropriate language, inappropriate discipline, an insubordinate act, etc., if the teacher has received satisfactory ratings for performance the penalty is rarely dismissal.

I was waiting to represent a teacher at a disciplinary hearing, the superintendent called me aside,

“How can you represent this teacher, he’ a terrible teacher?”

I blurted,

“You hired him, you gave him tenure and no one observed him in class.”

The superintendent reviewed the observation policy and required regular classroom observations with pre and post observation meetings.

The current teacher evaluation system combines supervisory observations and student progress as assessed by Measures of Student Learning (MOSL), described in the ADVANCE Guide for Educators, 2016-17 here .

Teachers currently are rated highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective; ATRs are rated under the former satisfactory or unsatisfactory system by a team of roving supervisors.

Under the current agreement ATRs will be assigned to vacancies, if they are rated effective or highly effective at the end of the school year under the ADVANCE system they will be permanently assigned to the school.

The ADVANCE system requires a combination of 4 or 6 formal and/or informal observations for each teacher, far different from the prior days of few observations.  Principals are not happy; thirty teachers equal between 120 and 180 teacher observations by the supervisory staff, and, the other half, the MOSL can be at variance with principal judgment.

Sadly, among the 800 or so ATRs there some who areunsatisfactory, the Department, instead of regularly observing teachers, offering the assistance, chose the easy path; dump them into the ATR pool and forget about them.

Hopefully under new leadership the ATR process will both place teachers into classrooms as well as monitor performance, work with teachers to improve their performance, and, if necessary pursue charges of incompetence under the law.

The disparity in teacher observations is a serious issue, a former Gates program officer writes,

Classroom observation is a deceptively difficult undertaking. Most teachers and administrators think they know good teaching when they see it. And they are confident in their ability to assess it accurately. I saw this firsthand as a district administrator. Occasionally, I would join teams of central office and site-based administrators on classroom visits. Invariably, as we approached the classroom, someone would mention how quickly he or she would be able to tell whether the teacher inside was “good”. Others would agree, some boasting that they could make the determination even faster.

Yet afterward, the administrators often disagreed, coming up with differing assessments of the instruction and citing varying pieces of evidence to make their case. Given the disparate opinions, it was hard to see how classroom observation could ever serve to improve teaching at scale.

The current multiple measures system used in New York City merges multiple formal and informal teachers observations with student performance metrics.

Teachers should be in classrooms; the ATR process was poor practice in 2005 and is still poor practice.


“Instant Teachers,” The SUNY Charter Institute Skips the Teacher Preparation Route: Politics, Muscle Flexing or Zombie Ideas That Will Not Die?

New York State has two charter authorizers, the SUNY Charter Institute  and the Board of Regents; each operates separately and maintains different standards for charter approval and charter renewals. Most charter schools have been authorized by SUNY, whose reputation is “charter friendly,” as evidenced by their recent move to extend the Success Academy charters years before their expiration date. The Regents reputation is close scrutiny and close monitoring and working closely with schools; SUNY plays less of a role in on-going support of the schools. (See list of SUNY charter schools here)

Charter schools fall into two categories, the charter school networks, charter management organizations (CMOs) that operate multiple schools, the prime example is the Success Academy Network, the Eva Moskowitz schools, 38 schools located in New York City.  The other category, referred to as community schools, or “mom and pop” schools, are single operator schools. There are currently 227 charter schools in New York City, about 1800 public schools

(Check out an earlier blog post that reviewed the charter school law and the current debate over teacher recruitment and certification).

Briefly, in July the SUNY Charter Institute proposed changes to their own regulations that would allow SUNY charter networks to “certify” teachers, the “certification” process would be wholly within the network and the State Department of Education would have no role in approving the process.

The Charter Institute argued it was more and more difficult to find certified teachers, although under the law charter schools staffs may include up to 15% uncertified teachers; public schools may only employ certified teachers

In spite of hundreds, maybe thousands of negative comments, including oppositional comments from the commissioner, the chancellor and the unions the SUNY board approved the new regulation. (Read the regulation here )

Upon approval  Commissioner Elia and Chancellor Rosa posted scathing criticism of the action (Read Rosa-Elia response here)

The teacher unions immediately announced that they intended to challenge the actions in the courts.

The SUNY Board of Trustees is appointed by the governor, and, the head of the board, Carl McCall is a close political ally of the governor.

The governor, up until now, has been a vigorous supporter of high standards for teachers. In the fall of 2014 the governor and the Board of Regents engaged in an almost vitriolic exchange of letters over the path of education in New York State. In a 20-page letter dated, 12.31.14 Jim Malatras, the New York State Director of Operations, laid out a path for education in the state. In the section dealing with teacher education Malatras wrote,

The Board of Regents also used Race To The Top funds to pilot clinically rich teacher preparation programs that are deeply embedded in classroom practice with extended teaching residencies/internships in schools rather than brief student teaching commitments. These preparation programs partnered with high-need schools to provide clinically rich experiences in return for the candidate’s commitment to serve in a high-need school where there is a shortage of well-prepared teachers. 

 In addition, the Board of Regents established new, more rigorous teacher and school building leader certification exams. Beginning May 1, 2014, new teachers must take and pass the Academic Literacy Skills test, which assesses a teacher’s literacy skills; a content specialty test, to ensure that teachers have the content knowledge they need to teach a certain subject; the edTPA, a teacher performance assessment that measures a teacher’s pedagogical skills; and the Educating All Students exam, which tests a teaching candidate’s ability to understand diversity in order to address the needs of all students, including English Language Learners and students with disabilities, and knowledge of working with families and communities. These new certification examinations ensure that teaching candidates have the knowledge, skills and abilities to be effective teachers. 

In 2009 Merryl Tisch, at that time the head of the Board of Regents, and now a member of the SUNY Board of Trustees and the SUNY Charter Institute board, excoriated SUNY and called for legislation to move all charter schools to the Board of Regents. (Read NY Daily News article here)

Why has the governor moved from supporting rigorous standards for prospective teachers to virtually no standards?

One theory is politics.

Politics in education?   Remember the Captain Reynaud line in the movie Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked, to find out that gambling is going on here.”

(Watch video clip here)

Governor Cuomo, his election for a third term a year away, is trying to assure that the charter school political action dollars will not be used to support a Republican candidate. While his actions may alienate the teacher unions, where can teachers go? They certainly wouldn’t go to a Republican, especially in the era of Trump, and, since Cuomo appears to be a shoo-in, they can’t afford to alienate the governor. There are far more important items: the property tax cap, levels of school funding, and, the decision over the moratorium on using student data to evaluate teachers.

Another theory: part of a multi-pronged attack on the so-called “public education monopoly” and teacher unions.

  • Law suits challenging teacher tenure law, the failed Vergara case in California and current law suits in New York State and Minnesota.
  • Supporting the use of student assessment data to measure individual teachers usually referred to as Value-Added Measures (VAM).
  • The case currently before the Supreme Court that would impact union membership dues collection.
  • And now, the beginning of an attack on teacher preparation programs, arguing that the programs do not produce better teachers, only create jobs in colleges, and, in this case charter schools, can do the job just as well and remove colleges as the teaching profession gatekeeper.

These attacks are all built on the belief that the marketplace should drive school success or failure. What is generally referred to as Portfolio Management or choice: public, charter, religious and private schools competing for students within the marketplace, the decision of parents, determining which schools survive and which don’t. The marketplace theory is based on the work of University of Chicago Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman.

Last week the Nobel folk announced the winner of the 2017 for economics – Howard Thaler, whose work directly challenges the centuries old views of the marketplace theory.

  … people, in their economic lives, are everywhere and always rational decision makers; those who aren’t either learn quickly or are punished by markets and go broke. Among the implications of this view are that market prices are always right and that people choose the right stocks, the right career, the right level of savings — indeed, that they coolly adjust their rates of spending with each fluctuation in their portfolios, as though every consumer were a mathematician, too …. this orthodoxy has totally dominated the top universities, not to mention the Nobel Prize committee.

Thaler spearheaded a simple but devastating dissent. Rejecting the narrow, [view] that serves as a basis for neoclassical theory, Thaler proposed that most people actually behave like . . . people! They are prone to error, irrationality and emotion, and they act in ways not always consistent with maximizing their own financial well being.

In his 2008 book Nudge Thaler argues that all decisions are influenced by external forces, aka biases,

… many of the familiar arguments for why people should simply be left to make choices on their own, and especially for why government should stay strictly out of the way, have little practical force. In many important areas of choice that matter both to the individual and to the rest of us (for example, when overuse of medical care drives up our insurance premiums and our taxes), the operative question is not whether to bias people’s decisions, but in which direction.

Sadly, as Paul Krugman, another Nobel laureate economist bemoans, zombie ideas keep arising from their tombs.

Whether the decision to create “instant” teachers is strictly a Cuomo political gambit or yet another deeply embedded zombie idea we’ll never know, and, the final decision will either come out of the courts or the court of public opinion.

A simple solution would have been to create a SUNY charter school Teaching Fellows program. For more than twenty years New York City, utilizing existing state alternative teacher licensing regulations recruited candidates in “hard to staff” certification areas, partnered with local colleges: an intensive summer in school and college classrooms and assigned to a school in September with a retired teacher or supervisor as mentor. The Fellows took evening courses and earned a Masters and full certification in two years. Thousands upon thousands of New York City teachers are graduates of the Teaching Fellows program. The SUNY Board of Trustees instead chose to skip colleges altogether.

Whether the reason for the decision is politics or Milton Friedman acolytes the losers are the children.

And the Next New York City School Chancellor Will Be ………

I understand that in an office across the city a “chancellor retirement date poll” has been established. I hope someone selects a date after November, 2021; in spite of the speculation, Farina may not be seeking warmer winter climes

Of course the rumors have been rampant for years, the first rumor: she’s only staying until a “permanent” chancellor is selected, that was almost four years ago.

New York City is a mayoral control city, the 2002 law created a central board, called the Panel for Educational Priorities (PEP), with a majority appointed by the mayor; technically the school board appoints the chancellor, in the “real” world the choice is solely that of the mayor. There is no required consultation, no “advice and consent” by the City Council. Last time round the mayor and his top advisors held interviews for chancellor in off-the-grid locations; wholly within the law.

On Tuesday, November 7th Mayor de Blasio, Comptroller Stringer and Public Advocate James will be reelected with a historically low voter turnout. The only election of interest, for leader of the City Council, only has fifty-one voters – the members of the  council. The council leader – the speaker – is the second most powerful elected office in the city.

The only requirement to be chancellor is state certification as a superintendent – and the Board of Regents has the authority to waive the requirement. Under Mayor Bloomberg, all three chancellors, Joel Klein, Cathy Black and Dennis Walcott, required waivers. It is highly unlikely that the current Board of Regents would grant a waiver.

If the current chancellor retires one of names that the mayor might consider, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, is not qualified under the law and would require a waiver.

Let’s speculate:

An easy choice: Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson.

Gibson, a Board/Department of Education lifer has worked her way up through the system. It would be a seamless transition, not controversial, and would result in the continuation of the current policies.

A higher profile choice is Rudy Crew, a former chancellor and current leader of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. The Department of Education, the P-12 school system has never been linked to CUNY, the community and four-year colleges. Crew might make sense if the mayor envisions a seamless P-16 school system.

Three senior members of the Board of Regents have lengthy and laudatory experience in the New York City school system as well as a firm understanding of the links between the city and the state. Regents Chancellor Rosa has been a breathe of fresh air, outspoken, highly collaborative, and has created a revitalized Board. Regent Cashin, a highly successful superintendent in the poorest section of the city, beloved by parents, a tireless worker with the ability to craft collaborative solutions including diverse interests, Regent Young, also a former superintendent has led the New York State My Brothers Keeper initiative, the first in the nation, aimed at improving outcomes for young men of color.

An academic and more recent deputy chancellor, Shael Suransky is currently the President of Bank Street College,

And, we can’t forget that former commissioner and former US secretary of education John King is hanging out at a Washington think tank, although I doubt it would be a politically viable choice.

How will de Blasio make the decision? What are the considerations?

On the day after the election de Blasio becomes a lame duck mayor, term limited, and is looking past city hall. The next four years will not be easy; Washington is making drastic cuts in the budget and the only question is how drastic. The city and the state will take deep hits; Medicare, and a host of other health care related cuts, education cuts and cuts across the entire budget. And this is only the first of the Trump budgets. The last four years the city’s budget outlook has been rosy, high rise, market rate buildings mean high income tax payers, tourism at all time highs, crime rates at all time lows, and a flow of “first round draft choice” immigrants. The stock market continues to spiral upwards to incredible heights.

A stock market sell off, continued Trump budget cuts, a jittery economy could bring a downturn in city revenues with cuts to city services. The City Council is far to the left with a hunger for increased city services, restrictions on market rate construction and a host of projects the mayor, up until now, has turned aside.

What does the mayor want to see as his legacy and his future? Can the city continue to prosper under Trump policies?

As we move closer to the 2018 midterms the democrats will work to take back one or both houses of Congress, and, the cavalry charge for the democratic presidential candidates will emerge, with a dozen or more democrats and who knows what will happen on the republican side.

Does de Blasio see himself as the leader of the national democratic progressive movement? Beyond his successes in New York City?

de Blasio can urge Farina to remain, if unsuccessful select a “safe” chancellor, akin to Farina, or, a higher profile innovator, whatever that means?

In this turbulent world of a “tweet” presidency, the future is, to be kind, uncertain.

Maybe de Blasio has a “baton in his knapsack,” and sees himself being promoted to a much higher leadership position with a headquarters at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Metal Detectors, Murder, Effective Instruction and School Leadership

Most mornings Sheila, the assistant principal, hosted coffee and whatever in her office. The school “brain trust,” the union, a few old timers, influential teachers would drop by to sip and nibble. Sheila would ask: “What do you think about …?” “We’re thinking of making a change …” “I have a problem: any ideas …?”

The school administration, the union and the “de facto” school leadership had a mature relationship. We worked out problems, very few grievances, occasionally Sheila would suggest, “Why don’t you file a grievance ….” The principal sustaining a grievance – and telling an assistant principal, “The principal had no choice; it’s the contract – he had to sustain the union.”

One morning the principal dropped by, agitated, and told us the the Board has chosen schools to install airport-type metal detectors and we were one of the schools. “I can’t do anything about it – the union should lead the charge, this is terrible- the neighborhood will think we’re an unsafe school.”

The brain trust mulled, why fight a losing battle? Why highlight the safety issue? Maybe we can extract more school safety officers, an additional teacher or two, and, we can make the scanning work. We set up homework helpers in the auditorium, we had a student DJ who piped in music, and it went smoothly.

Across the borough at Thomas Jefferson High School, a school plagued by safety issues had also been selected for scanning. The principal, Carol Beck, fought against scanning. Her kids were being stigmatized as criminals, the school wasn’t a prison, she mobilized parents and electeds and the Board of Ed backed away and removed the school from the scanning program.

Carol Beck, principal of Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, criticized what she called an emerging ”police state” approach to ridding schools of drugs. ”I’m not going to run this school like it is a Rikers Island annex,” she said, referring to New York City’s jail complex.

The next school year a student was shot to death in Jefferson hallway. (read accounts here and here) and additional in-school fatalities followed.

Last week in a Bronx high school students were stabbed by another student in a classroom. (Read account here and parents call for metal detectors here )

School safety procedures in schools are highly controversial. The “school to prison pipeline” has become a mantra that we hear again and again. Cries to rid schools of metal detectors are commonplace.

Some parent groups and advocates say the scanners installed at the city’s most troubled institutions more than two decades ago are now unneeded because of low crime rates, and they condemn them as discriminatory, since by and large they sit in schools serving minority neighborhoods.

The death at the Bronx school may not silence the opponents of scanning. Sadly, metal detectors are routinely used at airports as well as government buildings. Last week I attended a meeting at City Hall, metal detectors, visited an elected official in his office, metal detectors, and entered the office building that housed the offices of the New York State Attorney General, metal detectors; not only metal detectors, a photo ID, a phone call upstairs to the office to be visited for “approval.” I attended a football game: metal detectors.

Whether we like it or not we live in an unsafe world and enhanced safety precautions have become standard.  To rid schools of metal detectors is both reckless and a foolish denial of reality.

Schools reflect their neighborhood; reflect the culture of the neighborhood. The New York State Juvenile Justice Task Force tracks all juvenile crime, and, high rates of juvenile crime are highly concentrated in small number of neighborhoods and secondary schools in high crime neighborhoods frequently have metal detectors. Gangs and guns permeate some communities. The metal detectors in the ninety or so schools have been effective; the murder in the Bronx school was the first fatality in a school in over twenty years,

The use of metal detectors in schools should not result in long lines and long delays at school entrances, the school safety officers should treat student civilly and avoid needless confrontations, avoid treating students as felons.

I spent a few years working with a school plagued by discipline/safety issues. The Department of Education school safety folk showed us how to “map” incidents. On a grid map of the school we identified all incidents, by location, by time of the day, by the nature of the incident. Not surprisingly, incidents in the school cafeteria led the list, also, outside of the boys’ gym and in the hallways. The better use of school safety personnel solved the first two locations and, we discovered that the hallway “incidents” began in the classrooms of new and/or less effective teachers.

There is no secret to safer schools:

  1.  keeping weapons out of buildings is essential,
  2. the intelligent use of school personnel in the building;
  3.  effective, engaging instruction
  4. and school leadership.

In the same neighborhoods, schools in the same building or only blocks apart can be safe and orderly or out of control: for me the key is school leadership.

Characteristics of School Leadership:

Respect: Staff and student must respect the school leader – a highly visible leader, in the halls, in the classrooms, in the lunch room, interacting with the students and the staff, supporting the staff: respect is earned; it does come with the title of principal.

Teach a Class: The license, Principal was originally Principal Teacher, the first among all teachers. Teaching a class, maybe not everyday, maybe not for an entire period, you earn respect by acting as the lead teacher.

Consistent Discipline: I watched a principal stop kids in the hallway who belonged in class, she chastised the kids, and said, “Promise me you’ll go to class every day.” The kids nodded, and smirked when the principal turned away. The same principal told me she was totally committed to restorative justice practices, unfortunately, the students were not. Students need and respond positively to fair, sensible rules evenly applied rules.

Accountability: Students and staff must be accountable; from not being absent, to getting to class on time, for doing your homework as well as being prepared for class, both students and teachers, and, the school leaders using a smile or a frown, a few words, a “dressing down,” a call to a parent or a disciplinary letter; a word of praise when merited and a frown, of disapproval when necessary.

Leadership Gene: Too many school leaders have never exhibited leadership in their previous positions. Most applicants for college leadership programs are accepted and most candidates earn leadership degrees. Too many school leaders do not exhibit the requisite skills; they are not respected by students or teachers.

Kids should feel comfortable turning to teachers and school leadership to resolve conflicts.

Suspensions are post event consequences.

School safety and student achievement begins in the classroom. Effective teachers control their class, they sense student “issues,” they have the skills to resolve potential conflicts, to soothe, to mediate, to avoid potential conflicts. School leaders who “know” their students, who are respected, who both listen to and talk with students create nurturing climates.

The Every School Succeeds Act in New York State will measure schools by growth as well as proficiency, an improvement. We know also that non-cognitive skills are important, maybe, in the long run more important than a score on a test

Unfortunately if a school in a crime infested neighborhood with high suspension rate schools is orderly the powers that be tend to ignore the school: test scores rule.  No one in authority asks:  what are the skills of the leader and teachers in the orderly school?

It would be interesting to track the students in orderly schools beyond their school days.

In a nation with almost as many guns as people, in a nation where an angry man slays over fifty people for no apparent reason, metal detectors are a necessary safeguard.

Suspensions do not make for safer schools, they are a tool that is used when all else fails or to respond to a serious breach of behavior;; the key to safer schools are staffs that are connected to students, staffs with ability to listen with a third ear, staffs that understand the school as well as the community surrounding the school.

Let’s search out true school leaders who can train and guide their staffs. Safer schools are learning schools.

Comments and Ideas from Schools: “Fixing” the High School Application Process

My last blog, “High School Application Process  …”, touched some nerves!

Thanks to the teachers, guidance counselors and supervisors who chimed in.

“I used to have relationships with neighboring high schools, I knew the high school guidance counselors and asked them to look after my kids. I knew the parents; now, I have no idea where kids are going, it’s all guesswork. It makes no sense to me at all, I don’t see how this system helps kids.”

“Kids want to go to school with their friends, a school their siblings or parents attended, I put all the small schools in the building number one to four on the application, he received his 10th  choice. When I finally found someone to talk to they told me I should be happy, they told me my student went to a better high school.”

“What do I tell a student when they come to crying, why didn’t they get into a school and someone else did, what did they do wrong?  Why don’t they like him?  It’s tragic.”

 “I’m a guidance counselor, I’m supposed to advise my students, to assist them, to work with them to make an informed choice, and, I have no idea what to tell them. The assignment seems random.”

 The folks I spoke with all worked in high poverty schools.

This is not a stratified, random sample, the respondents were passionate, they want to help their students and to help their students they have to understand the assignment process; counselors and school leaders should play the key role in the process.

The Department reports that three of four students receive one of their top three choices – the counselors and school leaders that contacted me demur.

 ” …72 percent of eighth-graders this year and 75 percent last year, reported the DOE, got a spot at one of their top three choices (NYC DOE, Press Release, March 8, 2017).

The Independent Budget Office (IBO), part of the New York City government issued a report (October, 2016) “A Look at NYC’s Public High School Choice Process”  The 11-page report summarizes the process and points to specific issues,

Students who on average are lower achieving are routinely matched with lower performing high schools. But the prime reason for this matching is student’s own preferences – in fact, the rates for acceptance to students top choice high school programs are highest among lower achieving students applying to these programs.

* Lower achieving students first choice schools tend to be lower performing, have more disadvantaged students, and have less selective programs than the first choice of higher achieving students.

* Regardless of their own academic performance students in higher achieving middle schools tend to list higher performing high schools. In contrast , even higher achieving students in  lower performing middle schools often list lower performing high schools as their top choices.

If we starting from scratch how would a high school assignment system look that falls within the overall strategy of the current administration?

At the core of the approach to high needs schools are community learning schools  – schools that incorporate a wide range of services, from health to family to counseling.

Hazel Carter, the chairman of the Educational Leadership Department at CCNY wrote Creating Effective Partnerships for School Improvement,  which “…places the school within the community which is composed of a number of key players, including school leaders, classroom teachers, private foundations, higher education institutions, business and community based organizations, and government agencies. This book encourages leaders to embrace this broader community of stakeholders and to focus on the often overlooked and underutilized college and university partnerships.”

The current high school assignment algorithm  appears to assigning kids from high poverty, lower achieving schools to higher achieving schools, regardless of the location of the assigned school or the order of preference of the student.

Why would the administration’s school improvement strategy support a high school assignment system that separates needy students from their communities?

I asked my respondents for suggestions.

Let’s incorporate their suggestions into a different high school assignment system:

Transportation patterns differ from borough to borough, Manhattan has bus and subway routes that crisscross the borough, it is relatively easy to move around the borough; Brooklyn and Queens are much larger, public transportation routes more serpentine, a  new high school assignment system can vary from borough to borough.

One suggestion: In high poverty districts, as an example Brownsville and East New York, middle school graduates have first priority to seats in high school located within the district. The community school philosophy can be Pre K to12.

Students would be able to apply to a campus and prioritize the schools on the campus.

Another suggestion:

Why do  we have over 200 screened programs?  The top students, the “4s,” are encouraged to apply to screened schools, effectively lowering the achievement data in all non-screened schools.  We should begin to convert the screened programs to comprehensive programs, screened students and unscreened students in the same school. Screened schools segregate the system by race and class and deprive other schools of more able students.

On Thursday, October 12th Chalkbeat ( will host a discussion of the high school admissions system – checkout the website and sign up – the more voices the better.

I am not defending the “good, old days,” under the former system of zoned schools with education option components. The Board of Education allowed schools to wither, it was an unwritten triage system. I was on the SURR (Schools Under Registration Review) team at Taft High School in the Bronx in the early 2000s. Only five kids graduated with a Regents diploma out of a register of over 2000. Kids were wandering the halls, attendance and lateness was appalling, the “dirty little secret” was that Taft was used as the dumping ground, for students returning form suspensions, for troubled teachers, better to sacrifice Taft to save other schools. Taft  was not alone.

On the other hand,  if you drop by many, many high schools during first period you’d find endemic lateness. Students trickling in, late, and disengaged.  If you check the student zip codes in many of the small campus high schools they come from across the city.

“Why are you late?”

“The train was late,” or, “The train was too crowded, I had to wait,”  or any of a long list of transportation-related excuses.

Yes, graduations rates are up, better organizational models, better instruction or widespread use of credit recovery and other schemes?  Community College completion retention rates at CUNY  colleges are distressing, fewer than half the students return for the second year and two year degree completion rates are in the single digits.

Is the current high school assignment metric assisting or reducing chances of post-secondary retention/completion?

Should educators determine a high school application assignment process or should the economists, the data-wonks?

The New York City High School Application Process: Is It Fair to Students? Can It Be Improved?

The High School Application season is upon us and Chalkbeat is hosting a drink/snack discussion on October 12th: How can the NYC high school application process be more fair? (enroll at the link here)

Let’s begin with a review: thirty years ago there were 110 comprehensive high schools and 25 vocational high schools, as a result of the Bloomberg Portfolio Management approach, “… 150 low-performing schools were closed, reconfigured, and given a fresh start; the city opened 650 new schools.” Thirty years ago the vast percentage of students attended their neighborhood zone high schools, today, there are only a handful of zoned high schools; schools and students are assigned/matched through the high school assignment algorithm.

Bloomberg/Klein envisioned a portfolio of charter, public schools and parental choice with hundreds upon hundreds of choices; the future of schools would be decided by the application process which is actually a matching process. Schools that fail to attract applicants or perform poorly will be closed and new schools created.

The key to the process is the matching process, a dense algorithm  (“game theory”) similar to the medical school candidate selection process, it was introduced in 2004, designed by three economists.

Among the many categories of schools: geographically zoned schools, schools that are screened and unscreened – screened schools require high scores on state tests, high grades in middle school or some combination, arts schools require a portfolio or an audition.  Screened schools impact unscreened schools by removing the higher achieving students from the pool. A few years ago I counted about 200 screened schools and programs.

Over the next two months 8th graders will make up to twelve choices on their high school applications.

Check out the 626 page (really!!) High School Directory here.

The Directory does a good job of explaining the incredibly dense process; however, the essential person is the school counselor, who, hopefully will guide the student and their family through the process. The opening section of the Directory does provide many suggestions on how to navigate the many, many choices and decisions.

It is extremely difficult to  make an informed selection with hundreds upon hundreds of choices and a dense mathematical formula making the ultimate selection.

Applications are due December 1, 2017.

In January schools receive the names of the applicants, with no academic info, the school “matches,” namely, selects students; the recommendation to the school is to match at least five kids for each seat. Schools “declare” the number of available seats earlier in the school year.. The school does not know where the student placed the school on the application;  remember the student selects/ranks up to twelve choices. If a student attended a school fair and signed in the school will know the names of those students.

The number of rankings per seat varies enormously, some schools barely receive one kid per seat, other receive enormous numbers. Some schools have excellent “reputations,” aka as “more kids like my kid,” while other have never developed a following. Schools spend dollars on how to “brand” their school.

In the Spring students will receive their assignment/match – about 96% of students are assigned in the first round; the unplaced students participate in a second round, with many fewer choices.

Although the Department calls the process an application process it is actually, “…a matching process designed, in the words of the three economists who developed it, to ‘relieve the congestion of the previous offer/acceptance/wait-list process’ that conferred ‘some students multiple offers’ and ‘multiple students … no offers’ (Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Parag A. Pathak, and Alvin E. Roth, “The New York City High School Match,” American Economic Review, July 2005).”

And, although the system is complex it does work surprisingly well, ” …72 percent of eighth-graders this year and 75 percent last year, reported the DOE, got a spot at one of their top three choices (NYC DOE, Press Release, March 8, 2017). The algorithm may be confusing but it works fairly well and far better than the process it replaced.” An April, 2017 Columbia Teacher College essay does an excellent job of correcting common misconceptions and makes a number of recommendations to improve the process.

If you want to take a deep dive into how the “deferred acceptance algorithm” actually works check out a discussion with the designers here .

The process does have flaws, and the Independent Budget Office (IBO), part of the New York City government issued a report (October, 2016) “A Look at NYC’s Public High School Choice Process”  The 11-page report summarizes the process and points to specific issues,

* Students who on average are lower achieving are routinely matched with lower performing high schools. But the prime reason for this matching is student’s own preferences – in fact, the rates for acceptance to students top choice high school programs are highest among lower achieving students applying to these programs.

* Lower achieving students first choice schools tend to be lower performing, have more disadvantaged students, and have less selective programs than the first choice of higher achieving students.

* Regardless of their own academic performance students in higher achieving middle schools tend to list higher performing high schools. In contrast , even higher achieving students in  lower performing middle schools often list lower performing high schools as their top choices.

A primary goal of the portfolio management system was to encourage students in lower performing middle schools to move on to higher achieving high schools. The marketplace would determine the success or lack thereof of schools, and, students could break the chain of being tied to neighborhoods consisting of lower achieving schools. The IBO finds low achieving students in low achieving middle schools tend to select lower achieving high schools. Is that a flaw in the system?

The report concludes,

The matching process reflects  student preferences, to a large extent these preferences as stated in students’ lists of high school program ranking, are seen to be correlated with ‘background’ characteristics, their individual achievement, and the achievement level of their peers. This in turn suggests that inasmuch as there are large scale correlations between some background characteristics of students and the characteristics of the high schools they end up being assigned to, changing the algorithmic part of the application process will not succeed in eliminating such correlations.

In other words, the system works, if there is a flaw it may be at the middle school level with the advisement process, or, a reality, kids feel “safer” with peers.

I have two questions: should all schools have distinct geographic zones as well as a process to apply for students outside the zone?  I think neighborhood schools, from K to 12, both strengthens schools and neighborhoods  by tying the schools to organizations within their communities. Second, why do we have so many screened, aka selective schools?  Under the former comprehensive high school system schools served students with a wide range of academic abilities and interests. Midwood High School today contains a selective bio-medical program was well as being a zoned school, within the Midwood structure, as does Madison, a neighboring school; both schools are well integrated by race.

I look forward to the Chalkbeat evening, we always (well, almost always) learn from each other.

ESSA, Next Generation Standards, Curriculum: The Beginning of a Trip Up a Steep Learning Staircase

Once a month on a Monday morning the seventeen members of the Board of Regents trickle into the ornate Regents Room in Albany. A long table stretches across the center of the room, the members sit along both sides along with the commissioner; a video screen in one corner and automated cameras (the meetings are live streamed). The coffee is strong!!  Three rows of folding chairs surround the table: journalists, State Ed staff, lobbyists, advocates for some issue on the agenda, an occasional legislator, and me. Most of us know each other, at least by sight. On the walls portraits of bearded white men, the many chancellors who have led the Board of Regents since the origin of the Board in the late eighteenth century.

Slavery ended in New York State in 1827, I wonder if any of the first chancellors owned slaves?  (For another day)

The meeting begins with a sort of invocation. The chancellor, or other board member, muses about the role of the board, the million plus students, parents, what the member thinks and/or what should guide their decisions.

The first order of business on Monday was the approval of the ESSA Plan, all hundreds of pages.

View a 10-slide presentation here.

View presentations of various sections of the Plan here.

ESSA fatigue had set in, there was very little discussion. The year long effort is off to Washington with a decision by the feds expected in early 2018.

The meeting moved upstairs to the P-12 Committee and  a discussion of the Next Generation Standards, aka Common Core 2.0. The SED has been juggling the standards for two years. Hundreds of teachers, school leaders, college folk and SED staff have added and subtracted from what was the Common Core. I sat through an offsite meeting of teachers a few months ago. The very engaged teachers were totally committed, parsed words and phrases, and, I wondered: do classroom teachers, the ordinary Joe’s and Jane’s ever look at the standards?

Check out Highlights of the Revisions here.

In the discussion Regent Cashin, who was a teacher, a staff developer, a principal and a superintendent, asked a simple question:  Is there a curriculum that emerges from the standards?  The commissioner responded: curriculum is the responsibility of the school and/or school district and suggested that the BOCES centers, the regional State Education Department Support Centers could work with their surrounding school districts. In New York City the current leadership has been promising a curriculum for years.

Regents Cashin related that twenty schools in her district had used the Core Knowledge Curriculum with outstanding results. (The Joel Klein driven Board of Education did not renew the funding).

While the Common Core and it’s spin offs have dominated discussion for the last few years the importance of curriculum has emerged.

Charles Sahm in Knowledge Bank/US News wrote,  “A Compelling Case for Curriculum: Growing Evidence Suggests High Quality Curriculum is a Key Component of Student Success .”

One of the odd features of education policy is that while a plethora of research exists on the effects of systemic reforms (e.g., class size, charter schools, teacher and school accountability mechanisms), on student achievement there is very little data on whether curriculum – what kids are actually being taught – makes a difference.

 As Rebecca Kockler, Louisiana’s assistant superintendent of academic content, explained at the Hopkins/Hunter forum, over the past four years the state has reviewed more than 100 curricular programs according to their alignment with state content standards. The state leaves it up to districts to select curricula but helps them make informed decisions and facilitates professional development for the most highly rated curricula. Louisiana keeps track of what curricula districts are using and about 80 percent now employ materials from the state’s top rating tier. The state’s emphasis on curriculum appears to be generating results. Louisiana fourth graders achieved the highest growth among all states on the 2015 NAEP and the second highest in math.

Louisiana doesn’t write curriculum, they assess the alignment of curriculum to state standards on a public site.

Chester Finn, in Education Next, (“Curriculum Becomes a Reform Strategy”) hits the nail on the head,

Curriculum … is generally left to districts, which frequently leave it to individual schools and often to individual teachers or departments within them. When that classroom door closes, Ms. Smith and Ms. Gonzalez can teach pretty much whatever they want, using pretty much whatever materials they want, subject only to budgetary constraints, what’s in the “bookroom,” how fast are their internet connections, and what’s apt to be on their pupils’ end-of-year state test, which of course doesn’t exist for many subjects and high school courses.

New York State points with pride to the curriculum modules on the open source Engage NY web site. Unfortunately the modules are not aligned with current shifting standards; in New York, the state has spent the last two years amending the standards and will spend another set of years rolling out the standards. In other words, “ever-changing” standards, not aligned to modules and not aligned to state tests.

There is an increasing body of research that points to curriculum as the key to increasing student achievement.

Finn concludes,

  • the cumulative impact of a well-formulated curriculum over several years can be very large indeed.
  • “Changes in curriculum are relatively cost-neutral.” In other words, this is a low-budget reform. A powerful curriculum isn’t more expensive than a weak one.

Traditionally the New York City Labor Day parade takes place the Saturday after Labor Day. I met up with the UFT group on 47th Street waiting for our turn to march up Fifth Avenue. It was a spectacular day. For a couple hours you catch up with friends and make new friends. I chatted with teacher after teacher, did they know that New York State had standards? If so, did the standards impact their lesson planning and instruction? The answer was universal: they taught whatever program the school used, maybe Lucy Calkins, Teachers College Reading and Writing Project or Lucy West  or Singapore Math  or even ED Hirsch Core Knowledge or whatever the principal and/or the superintendent is partial to, in other words, the flavor of the day.

In high schools the curriculum is frequently driven by the contents of the book room.

I know this is radical, but, if we’re going to test kids wouldn’t it be a good idea to test them on the content that is actually taught?

What have we learned:

* We really good at crafting a plan, a high level of engagement across the state, every stakeholder having input, using some of the finest minds in the country to guide the process; however, will the implementation of the plan change outcomes for low performing kids and schools? Can ESSA overcome the impact of poverty, funding inequities, corrosive politics at the national and local levels?

* In spite of the federal law requiring testing state educational leaders are beginning to have doubts over the efficacy and impact of the state tests. The opt-out parents are clearly impacting thought across the state.

* Hopefully, now is the time to actually begin to explore alternatives to the traditional standardized tests

A number of states (for example New Hampshire) are piloting performance-based assessments. The Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (usually referred to as SCALE) partners with school districts to create and implement performance assessments. New Hampshire is in the fourth year is an expanding pilot, partnering with 2Revolutions, an education design lab, embedding performance assessments and working with teachers to change the practice and culture of teaching and learning.

For some the submission of the ESSA plan is viewed as a major achievement, for me, a first step up a long and steep staircase, without handrails.