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Graduation Measures: Will/Should the New York State Regents Examinations Survive?

If you attended high school in New York State you probably took Regents Examinations, so did your parents, grandparents and great grandparents. The Regents exams have been around since 1865 and have undergone revisions numerous times; currently the Board of Regents is engaged in a deep dive into high school graduation requirements called Graduation Measures, take a look at the evolution of the Regents exams over the decades here.

I have written about the Graduation Measures process in my last two blogs, see (“Is NYS Raising, Lowering or Adjusting High School Graduation Requirements”) here and (“Graduation Measures: What is the Blue Ribbon Commission and How Will It Impact Education in NYS?”) here

This year (2022-23) a yet to be selected Blue Ribbon Commission will draft a plan and in the fall of 2023 the Board of Regents will review the plan and ultimately accept, reject or amend the plan.

The process began with in-person regional meetings and moved to Zoom during COVID, dozens of meetings and hundreds of participants across the state. I attended a meeting in the fall of 2019, a presentation by the commissioner, a video by the chancellor; we divided into tables and lengthy discussions responding to a template.

While the Graduation Measures process is broad-based the audiences and advocates asked the same question: what’s happening to the Regents Exams?

New York State is one of only eleven states with exit exams; there are safety nets for students with disabilities (Read here) and Appeals and Superintendents Determinations here.

One side argues failing an exam should not stand in the way of earning a diploma.  Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015) states are required to test students in reading or language arts and math annually in grades 3-8 and once in grades 10-12, and in science once in each of the following grade spans: 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12. Read here for detailed requirements of ESSA.

Graduation rates in NYS have been increasingly incrementally in spite of the required Regents Exams, and, did jump over the last two years when Regents Exams were cancelled due to COVID. The 2021 graduating class:  See here

All Students:                              86%

Afro American:                          80%

Hispanic:                                   80%

Economically Disadvantaged:   81%

English Language Learners:     61%

Students with Disabilities:         64%

New York City has shown an astronomical jump from 2019 to 2020, See here.

Fair Test, an anti-testing advocacy organization argues states that have abandoned exit exams have seen significant jumps in graduation rates and see only positives in the actions.  See Report here.

Exit exams deny diplomas to tens of thousands of U.S. students each year, regardless of whether they have stayed in school, completed all other high school graduation requirements, and demonstrated competency in other ways. 

The Multiple Pathways to Graduation coalition is asking supporters to sign a petition to urge New York State leaders to decouple Regents exams from graduation requirements Read here.

On the other hand the New York Equity Coalition, representing numerous civil rights organizations has serious doubts about the increase in graduation rates,

Since 2016, New York’s graduation rate has risen 9.4 percentage points, with double-digit increases in Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse. The class of 2021 continued this upward trend, with an 86.1% graduation rate in 2021, a 1.3% increase over the 2016 cohort. While this is great news on the surface, recent changes to state graduation requirements make it difficult to know if graduation rate improvements accurately reflect how well schools are preparing students — especially those who have been historically underserved by the system

While the need for additional flexibility, particularly during the pandemic, is understandable, these changes represent a troubling trend with the potential to exacerbate longstanding inequities in postsecondary preparedness, including graduates needing and paying for non-credit bearing college courses or struggling to pass required workforce exams.

And goes on to make a number of targeted recommendations, Read Report here

Is the State lowering graduation requirements in order to increase graduation rates or to remove unnecessary barriers to graduation and post secondary education?  Can you eliminate exit exams, i. e., Regents, without lowering standards?   Hotly debated questions.

The State is rightfully proud, the only state to adopt My Brothers Keeper with full funding support from the executive and legislative arms of state government, Commissioner Elia wrote.,

Why is it so critical that all students meet high standards and graduate with a meaningful diploma? It’s simple. When some are excluded, all of us ultimately suffer – in many ways. We suffer from our failure to meet America’s commitment to provide opportunity for all; we suffer from competition with others who educate their students to higher standards; we suffer from an unqualified workforce; we suffer from a lagging economy; and, ultimately, we suffer from a society in greater stress. Only when the gaps are eliminated will our State have the resources on which our economic future depends. Only then will all of New York’s students have the choices in life that they deserve.

The support for retaining Regents Exam is vigorous; Bloomberg.com (“High School Diploma’s Should Mean Something”) writes,

America’s high schools have a credibility problem: The country’s graduation rate is at a record high, but too many students are receiving diplomas without earning them. The most straightforward solution is to require all high-schoolers to pass exit examinations before graduating.

If we look beyond our boundaries the highest achieving nations have exit exams, high stakes exit exams.

Many progressive educators look to Finland as a model education system, no standardized tests, student assessment is project-based, teachers have wide latitude in the classroom, teaching is a highly desirable, well-respected profession, and, Finland administers an extremely rigorous high school exit examination, (See description here) and sample questions here.

China’s Exit Exam, the Gaokoa, has been embedded in the Chinese culture since the time of Confucius and drives Chinese parents across the Chinese Diaspora, a test  that determines a student’s career and even marriage and is considered the world’s toughest exam. See here.

The Netherlands requires a high school exit exam See here.

The French exit exam. The Baccalaureate, is administered annually to 800,000 students French speaking students around the globe.

Are these anachronisms, burdensome and degrading for students or do the exams drive the intellectual capacity of generations of students?

In a month or so NYSED will select the Blue Ribbon Commission and the process will begin, the issues will go far beyond the future of the Regents Exams; however, the future of the exams will be at the top of the public agenda.

Should students be able to answer the question below (January, 2020 American History Regents examination)?

In developing your answer to Part II, be sure to keep these general definitions in mind: (a) explain means “to make plain or understandable; to give reasons for or causes of; to show the logical development or relationships of” (b) discuss means “to make observations about something using facts, reasoning, and argument; to present in some detail”

Part II THEMATIC ESSAY QUESTION Directions: Write a well-organized essay that includes an introduction, several paragraphs addressing the task below, and a conclusion.

Theme: Foreign Policy Throughout United States history, the government has taken foreign policy actions that have resulted in differences of opinion among the American people. These actions have had impacts on the United States and on other countries and regions.

Task: Choose two foreign policy actions that have caused disagreement among the American people and for each

• Explain the point of view of those who supported the foreign policy action

• Explain the point of view of those who opposed the foreign policy action

• Discuss the impact of the action on the United States and/or on another country or region

You may use any foreign policy action that caused disagreement among the American people.

Some suggestions you might wish to consider include

* purchasing Louisiana (1803),

* declaring war against Mexico (1846),

* purchasing Alaska (1867),

* annexing the Philippines (1899),

* maintaining neutrality in World War I (1914–1917),

* providing Lend-Lease aid to Great Britain (1941),

* sending troops to Vietnam (1964–1973),

* ratifying the North American Free Trade Agreement (1993), and

* implementing Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003).

You are not limited to these suggestions.

Guidelines: In your essay, be sure to:

• Develop all aspects of the task

• Support the theme with relevant facts, examples, and details

• Use a logical and clear plan of organization, including an introduction and a conclusion that are beyond a restatement of the theme

Graduation Measures: What is the Blue Ribbon Commission and How Will It Impact Education in New York State?

In the fall of 2019 I attended a regional conference as part of the statewide review of high school graduation requirements called Education Measures. The regional meetings moved from in-person to online during the COVID plague and many, many hundreds of New Yorkers attended and voiced their opinions. (See my recent blog post here).

The next stage is a year long examination by a so-called Blue Ribbon Commission (See here), about 40 stakeholders, selected by the State Education Department from applicants, described as diverse and inclusive

“… will undertake a thoughtful and inclusive process to explore what a New York State high school diploma means and what it should signify to ensure educational excellence and equity for all New York State children” and “will meet approximately every other month. Members will include educators, administrators, researchers, school counselors, professionals from business and higher education, parents, and students.”

The role of the commission is described as,

“Recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission will be developed through a lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and consider those requirements that will drive improved instructional practice and curricular selections aligned to the Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework (See Frameworks here) and the New York State Learning Standards  (See NYS Learning Standards here) in all areas for all student populations.”

See the structure of the Commission below,

I’m confused, as I understand an unelected body, the Blue Ribbon Commission, will meet “every other month,” maybe five or six times, and create a draft of a document that will impact every student in the state.

Legislators hold hearings serve on committees and write laws, the Board of Regents, with the assistance of two highly qualified moderators, (Scott Marion and Linda Darling-Hammond) and State Ed staff wrote the extremely complex Every School Succeeds Act, due to the Open Meeting Law, I sat through most of the meeting; I’m confident that the members of the Regents are fully capable of assessing and composing Graduation Measures.

What is the role of the Board of Regents in the Blue Ribbon Commission process? 

Sounds like the Regents will have no role and at the end of a year the Commission presents the Board of Regents with a document, a proposed plan.

The Regents, with assistance of SED staff and Linda and Scott wrote the ESSA plan: aren’t members of the Board of Regents capable of writing the current plan? Aren’t Regents closer to their constituents than the Commission? Aren’t many of the Regents career educators?

I’m also confused by some terminology: what are the differences between standards, frameworks and curriculum? They appear to be used interchangeably. Is culturally relevant sustaining education a curriculum? If so, is it voluntary for school districts to adopt or not?  Is NYSED going to use culturally relevant sustaining education scorecards to assess school and school district curricula?  See scorecards here.

New York State has adopted Next Generation Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics (Read here) and the April/May grades 3-8 federally required standardized tests will reflect the Next Generation Standards, is the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission working within the parameters of the Next Gen Standards

Let’s step back and look at New York State, according to NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), called the “gold standard” we’re mired way down the state list (Read here ), our neighboring states, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey are far ahead.

Will the Education Measures initiative positively impact teaching and learning across the state?

David Steiner, a former NYS Commissioner of Education, in 2020 wrote,

A student’s academic achievements have a thousand causes: nurture, nature, society, zip code, luck – and that’s before she even enters school. But the highly effective teaching of excellent material – over successive years of education – can mitigate much that fate has otherwise predestined.

The under-teaching of our most underprivileged students – so often those of color – has done the reverse. Our least prepared, youngest teachers try to curate their own materials, materials that they believe are “appropriate” to their less-affluent students, to the point where these children rarely encounter grade-level texts or math problems. Such well-meaning pedagogical practices viciously multiply the preexisting disadvantages of students. Those who start behind, stay behind.

State Ed avers the new Education Measures, through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion will drive improved instructional practice and curricular selections aligned to the Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework

For me the key question: will the Education Measures initiative move the state towards the implementation of a “high-quality” curriculum, aligned to rigorous state standards?

Much of the discussion over the last two years has centered on the future of the Regents Examinations and Safety Nets, actions that will increase graduation rate: will the actions increase the knowledge and skills of New York State high school graduates?

David Steiner wrote, Research confirms what effective educators and policymakers know from practice: The implementation of a “high-quality” curriculum, aligned to rigorous state standards, leads to notable student learning gains. Yet less than half of teachers report they are using curricula that are “high-quality and well aligned to learning standards.”

Steiner suggests we must meld the curriculum with classroom practice and offers a practical pathway,

  • Focus on leaders first.

  • Create time, structures, and formal roles for ongoing, school-based collaborative professional learning.

  • Adopt a research-based, instructional rubric to guide conversations about teaching and learning with the curriculum.

  • Anchor coaching and feedback in the curriculum.

  • Recognize the stages of curriculum implementation and what teachers need to progress to higher stages.

  • Ensure that districts work closely with schools to plan for, communicate, and implement school-based professional learning that blends support for curriculum and instructional practice.

Steiner’s recommendations make more sense than the vague platitudes in the Graduation Measure/Blue Ribbon Commission process.

Should we be considering more Safety Nets or more instructional models?

The current safety nets for Students with Disabilities and English as a New Language are not adequate, we should explore more effective instructional models

The Blue Ribbon Commission will undertake, “a thoughtful and inclusive process to explore what a New York State high school diploma means and what it should signify to ensure educational excellence and equity for all New York State children’ and “recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission will be developed through a lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and consider those requirements that will drive improved instructional practice and curricular selections aligned to the Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education.”

We seem to be jumping off the diving board without checking on whether there is water in the pool.

Perhaps it’s too early, perhaps I’m too negative, I fear at the end of the process we may have moved in the wrong direction.

Is New York State Raising, Lowering or “Adjusting” High School Graduation Requirements?

New York State is in the midst of a deep dive into what they are calling “graduation measures,” read here.

The Board of Regents and State Education Department have undertaken a thoughtful and inclusive review of the State high school graduation measures. Our ultimate goal is to explore what it means to obtain a diploma in New York State and what that diploma should signify to ensure educational excellence and equity for all students in New York State.

John Hildebrand at Newsday lays out the debate here.

Beginning in 2019, interrupted by COVID and resuming on-line the state has held numerous forums; in-person and Zoom. I attended a session at a high school in Brooklyn, a detailed presentation, we divided into small groups, I sat with a high school superintendent, a principal, a couple of teachers and parents, we responded to a number of prompts (a “thought exchange,” read here) one of us took notes, reported back to the entire room, an interesting evening; multiply by dozens of similar events across the state.

At each regional meeting, attendees will have the opportunity to break into smaller groups to discuss and provide feedback to the Department on five guiding questions:

1. What do we want all students to know and to be able to do before they graduate?

2. How do we want all students to demonstrate such knowledge and skills, while capitalizing on their cultures, languages, and experiences?

3. How do you measure learning and achievement (as it pertains to the answers to #2 above) to ensure they are indicators of high school completion while enabling opportunities for all students to succeed?

4. How can measures of achievement accurately reflect the skills and knowledge of our special populations, such as students with disabilities and English language learners?

5. What course requirements or examinations will ensure that all students are prepared for college, careers, and civic engagement?

Why is the Board of Regents/State Education entering into this process?  What is their agenda? Is the final report already written? (These days cynicism is healthy).

Let’s begin with a deep dive of our own.

In the nineties the business community was critical of the value of the high school diploma.  About three/quarters of students received the local diploma, no Regents examinations necessary, they took the RCT (Regents Competency Test), maybe at the 9th grade level. Business organizations and legislators complained; kids were leaving high school with a diploma and minimal literacy and numeracy skills.   After a couple of contentious years the Regents/SED moved to phase-in a Regents only diploma and phase-out the RCT diploma. The phase-in was coupled with a number of safety nets and other adjustments. In spite of initial fears graduation rates continued to increase every year.  See August 2021 Graduation Rates disaggregated here.

Graduation rates are measured by cohort: where are the students four years after entering the ninth grade.

The 2017 Cohort (2021 graduation) Graduation Rate was 86% among all students, 84% are graduating with a Regents diploma, 2% with a local diploma, Black and Hispanic students 80%, Special Education 64%, Dropout Rate 4%. Some students remain in school longer than four years and some Special Education students remain in school until they are 21 and some leave without a diploma.

 Under Every Student Succeeds Act (2015) states are required to test students in reading or language arts and math annually in grades 3-8 and once in grades 10-12, and in science once in each of the following grade spans: 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12. Read here for detailed requirements of ESSA. New York is one of only eleven states with exit exams required for graduation.

Around the world testing is commonplace and stakes can be high, even in Finland, the matriculation examination is very high stakes, the highest achieving nations have rigorous, high stakes testing.

The primary issue bubbling beneath the surface is the question of the Regents, the requirement to pass five Regents Examinations, albeit with a number of safety nets for specific categories of students, and, the state has received a grant to explore alternatives to standardized testing.

Major civil rights organizations are skeptical of reducing the role of the Regents Exams and eliminating the grades 3-8 standardized testing. Due to COVID New York State waived the Regents requirements, Education Trust NY strongly support Regents Examinations and is leading a campaign to assure the exams continue to be offered.

… the widespread use of Regents exemptions in high-need districts, including the Big 5, signals that there may be many students who are underprepared for college or workforce-bound postsecondary pathways. The data findings underscore the need for greater support and resources for high school seniors to ensure that they are prepared for college, careers, and their desired future.

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, representing over 200 organizations across the nation has vigorously supported annual student testing, the just retired Conference leader, Wade Henderson, wrote,

…“I don’t think you can dismiss the role that assessments play in holding educators and states overall responsible for the quality of education provided,” said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella group of civil rights advocates that includes the NAACP and the National Urban League. States and school districts that don’t want to deal with the daunting task of improving the achievement of poor students complain about testing as a way of shirking accountability, Henderson said. “This is a political debate, and opponents will use cracks in the facade as a basis for driving a truck through it,” he said.

New York State has received a five year grant to develop a number of performance-based assessment models, called Performance Based Assessment and Learning Networks, see preliminary plans.  The ESSA law did provide for the opportunity to apply for flexibility pilots, a number of states applied, see brief summaries of the pilots here. To the best of my knowledge the New York State project is not part of the ESSA pilot.

New York State appears to be edging away from the required annual grades 3-8 testing and Regents Examinations while major civil rights organizations are on the other side of the fence, fearing the moving away from testing will result in the abandonment of the neediest children.

At the recent American Federation of Teachers convention a resolution (see full text here) was adopted, Equity Through Culturally Responsive, Balanced Assessment Systems,

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers will call on the U.S. Department of Education to call for changes to the federally mandated testing requirements to allow grade-span testing in lieu of grade-by-grade testing, and allowing locally determined screening and progress-monitoring assessments, that schools may already administer throughout the school year, to be used to meet federal mandates, and will work to include federal funding dedicated for professional learning on assessment in the next ESSA reauthorization;

Perhaps the Board of Regents and the American of Teachers (AFT) can work together on this issue?

Next blog: 

Do current diploma course requirements prepare students to thrive in the world of higher education and the world of work?

Should New York State require high quality curriculum?

First Impressions: Superintendents Prowling Schools Engendering Fear or Building Partnerships with Teachers and Parents

  • “Two things remain irretrievable: time and a first impression.” ~ Cynthia Ozick.
  • “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” ~ Will Rogers.
  • “You only have one first chance to make one first impression that lasts a lifetime.” ~ Nas.

Summer school is off and running, for kids a combination of making up for lost time, learning new academic skills mixed with sports and the arts. Some schools are clustered with other schools in the same building, three or four principals, time to work closely with students, a tutoring relationship; too many kids are missing, never showed up, attendance might be spotty, a bucolic time.

Unfortunately too many teachers are “in excess,” bumped out of their school due to budget cuts. They “belong” to the school district; no one will be laid off, as the leviathan remodels itself teachers are wondering: what school will I be assigned to? What grade?  How can I prepare?  

A lawsuit was filed challenging the budgeting process and the indomitable Leonie Haimson fills us in on the lawsuit,

Here is a press release with more detail and quotes from the plaintiffs; and here are the legal documents. If you’re going to read only one of them perhaps the shortest one that also outlines many aspects of the case is my affidavit.

City Council members who voted for the budget, cutting $215 million, are back-peddling, they were unaware of the cuts. The Mayor points to significant reductions in student enrollment and advocates criticize a flawed formula called Fair Student Funding, and, it’s only the third week in July.

I just returned from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) convention, 2300 teachers and health care workers from across the nation and union leaders from a range of other nations  (Education International see here), including the Ukraine. There are days, too many days, when the future looks bleak, too much negativity, the path too long and too steep. Hanging with fellow like-minded unionists and listening to a range of leaders was uplifting, with allies and leaders perhaps “we will overcome.”

Randi Weingarten’s State of the Union Address here.

First Lady Jill Biden’s Address here

Reverend Otis Moss III riveting sermon, a “must watch,” here

Timothy Snyder, the author of On Tyranny and The Road to Unfreedom, a historian of the Holocaust laid on a chilling view of the fight to remain free, watch here.

Speeches by  Senators Elizabeth Warren, and Ed Markie, Congress member Ayanna Pressley, the Mayor of Boston and the Democratic candidate for Governor of Massachusetts  Maura Healy, currently the Attorney General of Massachusetts and former professional basketball player, a superb speech here.

Back to the Apple, as the superintendents, new and renewed, are visiting schools, the “first impressions” spread across the district.

“S/he never smiled, just walked with the principal from classroom to classroom,”

“S/he walked around the building with the principal, greeted everyone and introduced them self, upbeat, really seemed interested, asked lots of questions.”

We were on strike, the first morning, lined up in the front of the building with picket signs; a new experience, no one had ever been on strike. We had never met the new principal; he was only assigned a few days earlier. A door opened at the side of the building and a school aide wheeled out a cart with a large steaming coffee urn, and turned to the picketers, “complements of the principal,” not a bad first impression.

I laid out a “to do list” for the new and renewed school district leaders a few blogs ago (see here), you only have one chance to make a first impression.

If you’re an educator in New York City you’re a little cynical, maybe more than a little.  The behemoth plods along, for the print media, “if it bleeds it leads,” are we recovering from the pandemic, is another wave coming, is democracy in jeopardy, the big picture is cloudy.

We all live in villages; every school is a village with its own culture, some invigorating others dismal. The role of the leaders, superintendent, principal and union leader is to build together. In Boston, at the AFT Convention, recharged, we listened to colleagues from Alaska to Florida, from Oregon to Maine, all working in schools, too many fighting against a tide of ignorance, others working to build effective learning communities with unionized teachers.  

Maybe a union song …..

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Convention: A Preview

I will be attending the AFT Convention (See program here) next week in Boston, one of over 2,000 union members from across the nation. The convention will welcome guests, Vice President Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren, First Lady Jill Biden and other political and educational leaders.

The delegates are elected by members from the thousands of locals across the nation. The AFT represents teachers and other educators, nurses and health care workers from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and other large cites as well health care workers from North Dakota to Florida, over a million members.

Any local union can submit a resolution and about a dozen committees debate the resolutions, every delegate chooses a committee and participates in the debates (See the Constitutional Amendment and Resolutions here). The debate in the committees is frequently vigorous. The committees choose three priority resolutions to report to the entire convention. A dozen microphones scattered across the floor; delegates line up and debate the resolutions setting organizational policies; over 2,000 members participating in debate, the essence of democratic decision-making.

Divisional Meetings (higher education, K-12, retirees, health care) discuss latest issues with thought leaders from across the nation, an opportunity to speak with teachers from around our nation.

In the waning days in June the Supreme Court issued three monumental decisions: rulings declaring three issues unconstitutional, Roe v Wade, Maine’s prohibition on using public funds in religious schools and New York State’s strict gun control law.  How will the AFT respond?  How will the AFT respond to attacks on the LGBT community? To attacks on teacher speech in the classroom.

The convention will establish policies and responses.

Teachers vote, teachers’ family vote, teachers work in elections, “boots on the ground,” the 1.6 million AFT members, living in every school district in the nation are a powerful political force.

A crucial election in November and the convention will begin the mobilization of AFT members.

I’ll be at the convention and hope to blog a few times to keep you in the loop.

A Cynical Staff and New Leadership: Can the Chancellor Create/Support Coherent Instruction and Collaborative Schools? A Summer of Planning for Change or “More of the Same”?

Archeologists examining the Lescaux Cave paintings and the clay tablets of the Sumerians have noticed the drawings might be of children answering reading tests.

For a long time, a very long time, we determined the success, or lack thereof, of children, their schools and school districts through the results on standardized tests.  The dispute over the reason we require students to take standardized tests is cacophonous;  read some arguments here and here.

The bottom line: federal law requires annual grades 3-8 tests in English and Mathematics and English, Math and Science in Grades 10-12 and the law is not going to change; the major civil rights organizations support annual testing. Education Trust NY supports continuing the Regents diploma (See petition here) and the Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights, a coalition of over 150 organizations loudly opposes the “anti-testing” folks. (See position paper here).

We are caught up in a continuous eddy of testing and, sadly meaningless testing, the testing models have little or no impact on outcomes and New York City has been caught up in the tides of testing.

City and State is an online organization that reports on New York State news and hosts an education event in August; the state and local education leaders roll out plans for the upcoming years with hundreds in the audience, I usually attend. At the 2019 event New York City School Chancellor Carranza rolled out his plan, (See here): reading and math tests with instant results a number of times a year, close monitoring of results through an undefined analysis of the data, school Instructional Leadership Teams driving instruction to address the deficits unearthed by the exams, unfortunately the newly revised state tests, the Next Generation Standards are not aligned with the Carranza testing.

Carranza left and the testing continued.

We’ve been testing for decades, millenniums, and the reading wars (Read here) and math wars (Read here) continue, in fact, increase in virulence.

Maybe it’s time for the wars to subside.

The new leadership replaced 1/3 of the superintendents (15 out of 45) and hopefully is changing the role of the superintendents.

The superintendents, retained and new, are spending the summer “getting acquainted” with the new educational leadership team, and, maybe taking a fresh look at their own role.

The New Teacher Project, formerly led by the current Deputy Chancellor has just released a prescient report, Instructional Coherence: a Key to High Quality Learning Acceleration for All Students,    ,

The report begins, “… every component of the student academic experience should be tightly aligned and designed to advance core grade-level instruction. But too often, we see well-intentioned learning acceleration efforts that lack this coherence keeping students from seeing the full benefit of the extra support educators are working so hard to provide.”

And goes on to define: What is Instructional Program Coherence?

 Instructional program coherence means ensuring that every element of an instructional program and its strategies— from core instruction to interventions to extended time—works together to advance the same set of grade-level student experiences. It encourages educators and leaders to align their multitiered systems of support in ways that will accelerate learning for all students.

Educators within instructionally coherent systems continually examine the alignment and coherence of their program and recognize that “when faced with incoherent activities, students are more likely to feel that they are targets of apparently random events and that they have less knowledge of what should be done to succeed.” Researchers have found that reform and intervention efforts that work to strengthen coherence are more likely to advance student achievement than those that work to improve schools “through the adoption of a wide variety of programs that are often uncoordinated or limited in scope or duration.”

Instead of “throwing” programs at students, filling their days with incoherence, by the way, often for the teacher as well as the student, a targeted, coherent approach.

Coupled with coherence is collaboration, teachers working together, learning together; Bob Hughes, the former leader of New Visions for Public Schools and now the K-12 leader at the Gates Foundation writes,

  Earlier this month, I had a chance to spend time with Baltimore teachers at a site visit. These teachers, all involved in continuous improvement work sponsored by their district, brought persistence, innovation, and joy to the work. This week, I visited ISTE and saw hundreds of teachers reconnecting with the broader education community, collaborating with and learning from each other, and sharing plans and dreams for how they will use experience with technology to reinvent parts of their practice. It was incredibly energizing!

The mechanical and deadening testing and response to testing is deadening for teachers as well as students. A school-wide coherent, teacher to teacher driven collaborative approach can revitalize both staffs and students.  It should never be about “Finding the Main Idea,” a typical question on a test; it should be about the excitement in the text, excitement in the activity.

I hope superintendents and their staffs will be in schools, not with checklists, in schools collaborating and interacting with staffs.

I was facilitating common planning time in a high school and asked if I could sit in on a class, the class was an Advanced Placement history class, all Afro-American students in an inner city high school. The teacher flashed on the screen, “God is Dead,” asked for responses from students and facilitated a discussion of Frederick Nietzsche. Later I passed one of the students in the hall and asked, “What do you think of Mr. K’s class?” The student responded, “I can’t wait to get there every day,”

The End of a School Year: “Free at last, Free at Last …”

Early in the afternoon on the last Monday in June a “whoosh” of wind will sweep across the city, not a storm, tens of thousands of teachers exhaling: a hellacious year ending.

From COVID to a new mayor and a new chancellor, to testing, testing, testing, to confusion piled on confusion, to a final “gift,” drastic budget cuts and teacher excessing and teachers asking: where will I be teaching next year?

City Council members who voted for a budget that included $215 M in school budget cuts demonstrating against the cuts claiming they were duped. (Read here).

The school wars never end.

For some teachers a few days off and back in summer school, or taking required courses, or just decompressing.

Back in “the day” there were cheap, really cheap charter flights, backpacking across Europe, sleeping in youth hostels, student Eurail passes, my wife and I exchanged our apartment with a family in Paris and attended a Gifted Education Conference in Hamburg and we crossed over Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.  Another summer a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to study Luso-Brazilian History and Culture, as a teacher you are always, from year one to your last year striving to become a better teacher.

As a school district union rep I was a member of the District Leadership Team, and summers involved planning for the upcoming school year. While the New York City school system was, to be polite, lethargic, local school districts ranged from top down, “my way or the highway,” to highly collaborative; I was lucky enough to work in a collaborative district, the teacher union had a seat at the table; being heavily involved in school board elections didn’t hurt.

The new Adams Department of Education team, as I have written , has a window of opportunity; they can simply continue the chancellor to superintendent to principal to teachers pipeline, who salute and continue to do whatever they have been doing, they’re comfortable and Newton’s First Law of Motion is powerful.

… every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force. This tendency to resist changes in a state of motion is inertia.

Two elements of personal and organizational change,

* Change, especially imposed change is viewed as punishment,

* Participation reduces resistance

In a few days the Banks/Weisberg/Blackburn team will announce the new superintendents, I suspect many of the current superintendents will be replaced.

Will the superintendents simply be new faces, old style leadership, (electronic) clipboards and checklists, school goals resulting in triage management, concentrate on the “issue” of the moment, or, will the new leadership begin to build truly collaborative school and district cultures?

Advice to the new gals and guys:

  • Call the district union rep, ask s/he to set up a Zoom meeting with all the school union reps, introduce yourself, tell them your goal is a partnership, a two-way street between the superintendent’s office and classroom teachers.
  • Work with the district union rep and set up a face-to-face planning meeting with the school union reps.
  • Ask the school reps: what has been working well? Not so well?  What can we, (emphasize “we”) do better?
  • Provide funding so schools can bring in “volunteers” (pay them) the week before Labor Day to plan for school opening and other issues specific to individual schools.
  • Election Day is a Staff Development Day, how can you use the day to target issues you jointly agreed must be addressed.
  • Attend school staff meetings and at the meetings engage the faculty. 
  • Your staff must be in schools, not tied to a desk in the District Office.
  • Support School Leadership Teams, how can you provide on-going training to the SLTs, not “one-shot” here today, gone tomorrow
  • District Leadership Teams should be forums, consider “live-streaming” the meetings, once again, an arena to address, to self-criticize, to engage,
  • Perhaps a District Newsletter, highlighting achievements, introducing staff members and roles.
  • Reach out beyond the school community, local faith-based leaders, local electeds, business leaders, other city agencies, enlarge the team.

In my role as a school district representative I visited schools almost everyday, sometimes scheduled faculty meetings, frequently an availability to answer questions.   In some schools teachers ate lunch alone in their rooms, in others with teachers on the grade, in a few together in a faculty room. Sometimes by age, the newer, younger teachers hung out together, sometimes by language, schools had unique cultures. In one school the principal “invited” specific teachers to lunch with him, a hierarchical school culture; in another teachers played Scrabble every day during their lunch, with kibitzers.

Does collaboration weaken the role of the school and school district leader?

In my view just the opposite, collaboration develops a distributive leadership model. In every school there are the witch doctors, maybe a senior teacher, who sets the tone in the school; other teachers and parents look up to them. It’s not the title, it’s the respect.

A few years ago I was at a Broadway play and at intermission a women greeted me, she was a teacher in one of the schools in my district.

Me: “You still working?”

Her; “Almost forty years, I love every day.”

Me; “You still teaching pre-K?”

Her: (with a smile), “Of course, although I had a tussle with the new principal.”

Me: “What happened?”

Her: “Brand new principal called me in and tells me he’s switching me to the First Grade, told him I never taught the First Grade, he was adamant.”

Me: “What happened?”

Her: “A few days later, he was crazed, told me his phone was ringing off the hook, there was a petition floating around with scores of signatures demanding he place me back in pre-k, he ordered me to stop calling parents”

Me: “What did you do?”

Her: “Told him the truth, I only called one parent, btw, he didn’t last too long.”

Teachers jump out of bed, “I overslept, I’ll be late,” and suddenly; a smile; it’s the first day of summer vacation, a hugh sigh as s/he drifts back to sleep …..

The “new team” might be slapping putty on the cracks and a new coat of paint on the crumbling Department of Education structure, or, a new architect, a new building in process.

In the meantime, a few days on a beach, a few hikes in the country, refilling the tank.

Repairing a Leviathan in Flight: Rebuilding a School System

 Urban school systems can be compared to a lump of silly putty, amorphous in shape, easily molded, and slowly but surely returning to the original amorphous lump.

For twenty years (2002- present) mayors (Bloomberg, de Blasio, Adams) have been molding the school system, and for twenty years the school system has shrugged off the “reforms.”  Yes, we’re moved from 110 comprehensive high schools to 485 small high schools on multiple school campuses, from thirty geographic school districts to ten mega-districts, to empowerment to affinity networks back to geographic districts, the list goes on and on; the one item that hasn’t changed are school cultures and classroom instruction in spite of bold initiatives by mayors and chancellors. School systems remain autocratic structures, the “orders” are heralded with the cries of trumpets (press releases), each ukase praised and leadership saluted, and as the drumbeats rumble the “orders,” the touted innovation fades into the dustbins of history. Lurking in the corners, are the gems, schools and clusters of schools that manage to survive and prosper. At times, a gifted leader, or, hopefully, leaders who develop enduring school cultures.

Over the past few weeks clarion calls, schools for dyslexic children, a chaotic system to assign students to high schools,  $215M cuts in school budgets  (www.uft.org/budgets), the firing and hiring a new swath of superintendents  as another year fades away, and, probably not soon enough.  In January a four year extension of mayor control was “in the bag,” in the waning days of the Albany legislative session a two year extension, a reconfiguration of the school board and, totally unexpectedly a law requiring the lowering of class size in New York City schools.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands of teachers are being “greeted” with letters of excess, the reductions in school budgets mean a reduction in staff, what will happen to the excess teachers?  And, doesn’t the reduction in class size require additional teachers? 

Ironically, the chaotic ending of the school year does not mean a respite for the teacher union and management leaders, contract negotiations are beginning. And, although the contract expires at the end of September under PERB rules the current agreement remains in full force and effect until the new agreement is ratified.

Mayor Adams quickly, very quickly, completed a “handshake” over the city budget and averted the tsunami of folks advocating over the restoration of school budget cuts.

The contract negotiations are an opportunity, for both the mayor and union. A long time ago, as a neophyte union activist I was a member of the fifteen member negotiating team, today the negotiating team has 400 union members.  Lucille Swaim, an economist, was the director of negotiations, a brilliant woman.  We met with the Board of Education team every few days, reviewing the union demands and the Department demands, yes, management also has demands.  Sub-committees reviewed, asked questions, reconfigured language, and eventually moved to almost around the clock negotiations.  In the current set of negotiations a core question: what will be the percent salary increase?  With rampant inflation, economic uncertainty and PERB “negotiation guidelines” (“ability to pay” and “pattern bargaining”) the negotiations are, lets say, “clouded.” The Citizen’s Budget Commission (CBC) an independent self-proclaimed budget watchdog suggests,

The tight job market and high inflation may increase municipal unions’ demands. Raises totaling 3% annually would cost about $1.5 billion in the first year, increasing to $4.3 billion in the third year. While a portion of a PEG for Productivity and higher tax revenue could defray some collective bargaining costs, much more will be needed, otherwise raises will be unaffordable.

While school personnel begin teaching summer school, taking required courses or simply decompress after a hellacious year the union and management, Mulgrew and Adams, will spend their summer attempting to craft an agreement.  It’s impossible to predict negotiations outcomes, although the union was primarily responsible for Dinkins election he allowed the contract to expire and waited months to eventually complete a contract, alienating teacher membership, the union made no endorsement and Giuliani was elected mayor. As Bloomberg’s hostility toward the union escalated the union waited, the contract remained “in full force and effect” and Mulgrew negotiated with the new mayor.  Although the union endorsed Thompson the in primary they negotiated two agreements with de Blasio, full back pay reasonable salary increases and a number of innovative contractual initiatives.

Mulgrew and Adams can lob brickbats or repair the bruises of the Albany and New York City budget tussles. School can open in September with hundreds of excess teachers, thousands of oversize classes and hordes of unhappy parents and no contract agreement.

On the other hand, are Adams/Banks/Weisberg considering the restructuring of the Department: much greater authority delegated to Community Education Councils, superintendents and teachers and moving the Leviathan into dozens of education villages.

Fiona Carnie in an article entitled, Rebuilding Our Schools from the Bottom Up, writes.   

We live in a democracy and yet our schools are far from democratic. Decisions made by central government, … and are rarely scrutinized or debated by those whose daily lives are significantly affected by them. Little surprise then that there is so much disenchantment on the part of teachers, disaffection of young people and disengagement by parents, many of whom feel powerless in the face of current education policy. … schools can transform their culture by strengthening voice, participation and the understanding of what it means to be part of a learning community. Giving examples of schools where teachers are encouraged to explore new ideas and discuss the challenges they face, where parents are actively involved and supported to help their children, and where young people are genuinely listened to and able to contribute to decisions about their learning and their school, a new way forward is charted, one which recognizes the power of developing a shared sense of purpose and a common vision. It proposes transforming our schools from the bottom up.

The path for Chancellor Carranza was testing, periodic tests with speedy results, Instructional Leadership Teams (ILT) in schools using the test results to modify instructional practices, with no evidence of any modification of school instructional practices. Testing and more testing is a failed gluey strategy, it hangs on.

There are glowing examples: involving the school community in targeted initiatives, Norm Fruchter and his team at the NYU Metro Center point to examples (Equity Audits: Stakeholders Making Education Policy),

Over several decades, a variety of teacher-based and data-driven collaborations have developed more participative school reform processes. An example of this participative school reform process can be observed in the efforts of UChicago Consortium on School Research. Their initial analysis of students’ on-track academic performance, beginning in the ninth grade, for example, has evolved into a process of data analysis and strategic intervention that engages school staff in continuous improvement efforts. This participative school reform effort has resulted in significant increases in the Freshman On-Track rates in Chicago high schools, as well as correlating with improved graduation rates. These improved student outcomes are consistent across all racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups, genders, and incoming academic achievement levels.

Read full essay here.

Windows open, windows close, we are in that moment in time, an opportunity to turn the Leviathan around, to move from a plodding lump to stakeholder driven villages with a common purpose.

Dan Weisberg, the deputy chancellor, led the New Teacher Project and is undoubtedly aware of the research favoring the stakeholder role in policy creation and implementation.

Maybe, a fruitful summer and a “new” Department of Education.

The New Mayoral Control Law in New York City: Who Won? Who Lost?

Beginning with Governor Pataki governors used an arcane section of the state constitution and court decisions to cram non-budgetary items into the budget, the legislature grumbled, if they failed to pass the budget by April 1st the state could not pay its bills, including paying state employees.  Under Governor Patterson the legislature flexed its muscles and refused to pass a budget, and had to pass budget extenders to keep the state running, each extender contained a slice of the governor’s budget, after a few months the governor got his budget. 

Suddenly, in August, Cuomo resigned facing impeachment and Kathy Hochul, the virtually unknown lieutenant government sat in the Governor’s Mansion, and immediately began her campaign for the 2022 Democratic line with two opponents, Tom Suozzi a Nassau County congressman running from her right and Jumaane Williams, the New York City Public Advocate, running from her left and probably a well-funded Republican running in November.

Governor Hochul released her 160-page preliminary budget at the end of January, and it included many non-budgetary items, including,

NYC Mayoral Control. The Executive Budget provides a four-year extension of Mayoral control of the New York City school system.

Mayor Adams could cross off his to-do list and move on to other items and Hochul expecting an Adams endorsement.

Adams did not endorse Hochul, maybe he wanted to use the endorsement to squeeze her for other legislation. Adams did have a widely publicized dinner  with our disgraced former governor Andrew Cuomo, who might be considering running in the August 23rd primary.

As the budget talks proceeded in Albany the legislative leaders announced the budget would not contain any non-budgetary issues, the governor could not run around the legislative process, all non-budgetary bills would be debated and dealt with through the legislative structure, for the members, a long desired goal.

On March 4th a Joint Meeting of the Assembly and the Senate met and invited political leaders and the public to participate, Mayor Adams spoke briefly, on his way to another meeting from his car. Representatives from half of the CECs, the Community Education Councils, and spoke, all opposed the renewal of mayoral control, and they did not offer a specific plan, except, parents play a major role on the PEP, the Panel for Education Priorities, and the central school board. I added my three minutes with my testimony.

The budget passed without any mention of mayoral control and the question of mayoral control was contentious in the legislature. Mayor Adams traipsed to Albany to meet with legislative leaders, who were in Buffalo with President Biden in the wake of the horrendous shooting. The bungled process to rehire or replace superintendents was alienating parents and a few key legislators across the city (See my blog here) and in the waning days the legislature took action.

  • Extended mayoral control for two year (until 6/3024)
  • Expanded the Panel for Education Priorities, from the current 15 members (one appointed by each borough president, one by the CECs and nine appointed by the mayor, the appointing authority can remove members at any time), the new PEP will have 23 members, 13 appointed by the mayor, (three of whom must be current public school parents of a Special Education, an ESL and a District 75 student) one appointed by each borough president , five appointed by the CECs, to fixed terms, see bill text below.
  • Additionally, the City must use State Aid to reduce class size under a specific timetable; if the City fails to comply future funds will be withheld.

See class size bill here  

SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS:
 Sections 1-5 - amends the contracts for excellence statute as it relates to New York City to require New York City to develop a class size reduction plan to reduce class sizes over the next five years, with input from parents and stakeholders.

See governance structure (PEP) bill here.

Summary of new governance structure:
 Section 1-10: Increases the members of the PEP to include more parents, codifies the Citywide Council on District 75, increases CEC membership, provides CECs with a greater role in the selection of superintendents, requires New York City Department of Education to provide greater outreach and communication to CECs, requires a parent coordinator in every school, requires an assessment of New York City school governance and extends mayoral control and accountability for two years. All members are subject to one year terms and may only be removed for good cause. This section also increases the number of mandated parent appointments made by the Mayor and requires that one be a parent of a student with a disability, one be a parent of an English Language Learner, and one the parent of a student attending a District 75 school.

I have heard the usual cynicism from naysayer; however, the language in the bill is unique,

In  a city school district in a city having a population of one million or more inhabitants such contract shall also include a plan, WHICH SHALL BE DEVELOPED IN COLLABORATION WITH THE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING UNITS REPRESENTING TEACHERS AND THE PRINCIPALS AND SIGNED OFF ON BY  THE CHANCELLOR  AND THE PRESIDENTS OF EACH BARGAINING UNIT, to reduce [aver-age] ACTUAL class sizes, [as defined by the  commissioner,  within five years 
  The winners:
 Leonie Haimson, the leader of Class Size Matters, who has who has fought the battle, at times one of the few voices, for years and years
 The school education community, the gals and guys actually in classrooms
 The teachers union, the UFT, often reviled by the print media, quietly and effectively achieved a goal it had sought for decades.
 The State legislature, who listened to the school community and responded in creative way, 
 The loser:
 Mayor Adams
 Maybe ego, maybe inexperience, maybe he will learn. Failing to endorse Governor Hochul after she included mayoral control extension in the preliminary budget was a blunder, a serious blunder. 
 The NY Post, the Daily News, see David Bloomfield’s op ed, calling the legislature a “sausage factory,” quoting the trope “Laws are like sausage, better to not see them made,” on the other hand, sausages taste good.  Is 23 too large for a board, will the membership spend all its time bickering, are there better governance models?   The Board of Regents has 17 members, the debate is oft times contentious and many effective policy decisions. 
 Relationships matter, Cuomo and de Blasio spent eight years bickering.
 Mayor Adams failed to respect Governor Hochul
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A134hShx_gw

How Do You Select a School District Superintendent?

UPDATE: The NYS legislature is closing shop, for a while. The legislature is adjourning on June 2nd with many issues undecided including the extension of mayoral control of NYC schools. If the legislature fails to act the governance structure will default to a seven member board, one member appointed by each borough president and two by the mayor.  The current board has a majority appointed by the mayor and the members can be fired at any time by the appointing authority, the mayor or the borough president. Numerous plans are floating around Albany (See Politico musings here), from extensions of one, two or three years, from reducing the number of mayoral appointees to less than a majority to selecting a blue ribbon task force to recommend another governance model. The last few days of an Albany session, called “the Big Ugly,” totally unrelated bills packaged and passed, deal upon deal (“You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”), BTW, the Roman Senate, the Greek Agora, the Constitutional Convention, every democratic body includes compromises, at times “ugly.”

Another UPDATE: Just in, a mayoral control extension “deal” plus a “sweetener. See here

——————————————————————————————————————–

Only a few weeks after his selection as chancellor David Banks announced the current superintendents, the forty-five school district and high school district leaders will have to reapply for their jobs, de Blasio’s choice as chancellor, Carmen Farina replaced fifteen of the superintendents within months of her selection.

Michael Fullan, was asked in an interview, what are some of the challenges of leading school district improvement in an era of change. Why do people resist change and what do you feel distinguishes the successful organizations that have strong capacities for change?

In The right drivers for whole system success Fullen responded,

I think I first want to put the focus on what we call ‘whole system reform’, which is either the whole district or sometimes even bigger, as in the whole state or providence. It’s not one school at a time; it’s a whole set of schools. The ones that we find are successful have superintendents that have put the focus on the achievement agenda and then, instead of focusing on what I call negative accountability, they focus on capacity building. Capacity building in this instance means developing a teacher’s ability at the school level to work together in a collective capacity to zero in on making the changes, monitoring the results, and making corrections … but it definitely is leadership and focus as it builds capacity.

Banks selected a team of deputy chancellors with limited experience in New York City; only one of his choices had a leadership role in the city,

Desmond Blackburn, the deputy chancellor in charge of the superintendents was the superintendent in Brevard County in Florida, a 75,000 student district.  See linked-in bio here and an interview with Blackburn here.

The superintendent selection process in New York City is embedded in chancellor regulations. and Banks/Blackburn stumbled.  The regulation includes a long, long list of qualifications, requires a written educational philosophy section and recommendations; the “Chancellor’s designee (Blackburn and his team) conduct interviews candidates who they deem “qualified.”

The Chancellor’s designee shall review applications and shall interview qualified candidates from among those who apply in response to the website posting.

A number of the incumbent superintendent applicants were not found “qualified” and were not selected for the next phase and, the roof blew off the process.

In a few instances parents collected signatures on petitions supporting incumbents, an Albany legislative leader slammed Adams/Banks and questioned the renewal of mayoral control. Chalkbeat reports,

Banks announced in March he would make 45 superintendents reapply for their positions, he also promised to make the process of picking new district leaders more inclusive than before. 

That promise seems to have backfired, with parents protesting after some well-liked superintendents were cut before the public had a chance to weigh in on who should lead their districts. 

But following that outcry, the education department is now backtracking: Officials announced Monday that all sitting superintendents have been asked to join a round of public candidate forums, after some initially did not make the cut.

The next step in the process, the consultation step is taking place via online meetings,

CONSULTATION WITH PARENTS AND STAFF Following completion of candidate interviews [by the Chancellor’s designee], the Chancellor’s designee will determine the proposed final candidate or candidates for community superintendent and will ensure that consultation occurs with the district’s Community Education Council and Presidents’ Council, as well as a representative of the UFT, a representative of the CSA, and a representative of DC 37. Such consultation shall include a meeting at which the councils and employee representatives listed above have the opportunity to meet and talk to the proposed final candidate(s) and to provide feedback to the Chancellor’s designee. The Chancellor’s designee shall consider such feedback prior to recommending a candidate for community superintendent to the Chancellor.

The consultees, “provide feedback” and the Chancellor’s Designee “shall consider such feedback prior to recommending a candidate … to the Chancellor.”

Under the era of decentralization (1970-1997) elected school boards chose superintendents, in a few districts the boards worked closely with the community and the staffs, highly effective models, in others, sadly the highest poverty districts, the boards were dominated by local electeds and were patronage pools. The central board intervened numerous times, removed boards and appointed trustees. In 1997 the law was amended and the chancellor had final approval over superintendent selections.

Many Community Education Councils (CEC) believe they should hire the superintendents

I suspect Banks will change many district leaders; a significant question is their new role.  The de Blasio superintendents had limited staffs, targeted data-points in schools, a great deal of meaningless testing, and centrally driven initiatives from Renewal to Thrive to the MAP testing and I-Ready  have had limited impact. The touted increase in high school graduate rates mirror increases across the state and reflect additional pathways and safety nets.  Transfer High Schools  work with overage unaccredited students and are effective models, the Affinity District  (150 schools) have the latitude to bend board regulations and union rules within closely monitored frameworks, on the other hand chronic absenteeism is endemic across the city and post secondary education, Community College completion rates, are distressing.

While the Murdoch print media, the Post and the Daily News lauds mayoral control and criticize opponents who suggest modifications, the improvements in data-points may very well be the result of a closer teacher union/mayoral collaboration.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with superb superintendents: what made them superb?

One conducted a faculty conference in each school engaging the staffs, not preaching, engaging, an opportunity for teachers to speak directly with the superintendent.  Another, in addition to meeting with principals and parents on a monthly basis, met with the school union leaders. 

Teachers felt part of a team.  Participation reduces resistance.

Banks has continued to mention increasing the authority of superintendents, without details, in the waning years of the Bloomberg suzerainty the city was divided into self-selected networks with network leaders (not superintendents), some blossomed, some wilted, Carmen Farina returned to the classic superintendent model with ukases from the aeries fading away.

Symbolism is very important.

It was day 1 of a teacher strike, we were picketing in front of the school, a new principal had been assigned and no one had met him.

A side door opened and a school aide pushed out a cart with a 50-cup coffee urn, she said, “compliments of the principal”.

The strike ended, a few teachers had crossed the picket line and the antipathy was noticeable; one teachers complained to the principal, “send a notice to the faculty, speak to the offenders,” the principal spoke to the teacher, “I understand your discomfort, it’s an uncomfortable situation, I’ll be glad to facilitate your transfer to another school.”

The staff and the principal had a close working relationship.

Superintendents are the link between the Mayor-Chancellor and the classroom teachers; they convey the message down the ladder and hopefully up the ladder. Over the twenty years of mayoral control, with a few exceptions, superintendents have been anonymous; they saluted and carried out the latest “new thing,” in many schools MAP testing is going on this week, in the last week in May. A useful exercise?

I worked with a network leader, on a staff development day he brought the entire network to a school, a buffet breakfast with the school band playing, stepped on the stage in the auditorium, talked about change, not being afraid to fail, told the audience he enjoyed writings songs, picked up a guitar and sang his newest song.  A superintendent willing to fail …..in front of hundreds of teachers.

He was actually pretty good.