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Do New York State High School Graduation Requirements Prepare Students for College and/or Work? Are We Graduating Under-Prepared Students? or, Are The Requirements Ill- Suited to the Current World?

Tuesday morning in Albany was chilly with a few inches of snow, a group of parents were picketing in front of the Department of Education building carrying “Diploma for All” signs; not the first time, they had picketed before, parents of children with disabilities who could not reach the safety net threshold for a high school diploma. It was a little odd, there were no agenda items dealing with diploma requirements.

The parents filled up a meeting room later in the day, and, voila, minutes before the meeting started an item appeared on the agenda, a change in high school graduation requirements:  an additional pathway that would allow students with disabilities to graduate with a local diploma without having to pass any regents. (See proposal here)

Monica Disare, from Chalkbeat tweeted,

Very important Regents item on graduation today. It was not posted until about 5 minutes before the meeting and it looks like the Regents are about to vote.

It appears state officials are saying students with disabilities would be able to graduate with a local diploma by passing no Regents exams and instead earning a CDOS. But this is big deal and we haven’t had a chance to ask questions yet, so I will keep updating as we go.

The Regents passed the proposal with very little discussion followed by applause from the “Diploma for All” parents in the audience.

Chalkbeat and the New York Times followed up with articles, read here  and here.

A little history: for decades New York State had a dual diploma system, the Regents diploma, requiring passing five Regents examinations and a local diploma, requiring passing Regents Competency Tests (RCTs) in English, Math and Writing; the tests are low skilled, perhaps at the Eighth Grade level. Of students in the state who earned a diploma about 75% earned the local diploma, aka, the RCT diploma. After years of debate, in the mid-nineties, the Regents moved to phase in a single diploma, the Regents diploma and phase out the RCT test and RCT diploma.

The phase-in of the all Regents diploma involved reducing the passing grade to 55 and slowly increase the number of Regents requiring a grade of 65, the phase-in took about ten years.

There was a concern: would the single diploma result in reducing graduation rates?

The Regents also created a safety net for students with disabilities, dropping the Regents passing score to 55, the two-day, six hour English Regents was reduced to a one day three-hour exam (passing rates increased by 20%), the Global Studies Regents covering the Ninth and Tenth Grade curriculum was reduced to only cover the Tenth Grade (to be implemented in June, 2019), the 4 + 1 option was adopted, an additional Pathway to graduation.

The Regents also introduced scale scores for the new Common Core-based Regents exams, assuring passing rates similar to previous years; without scale scores pass rates would dropped precipitously mirroring the drop in Grades 3-8 scores when the Common Core test were implemented.

Check out a detailed explanation of the wide range of diploma options available to students in the state.

August 2017: Diploma Requirements Video Series – Information on the credit and assessment requirements to earn a New York State Regents or local diploma.

June 2017: UPDATED Guidance on New York Diploma Requirements  – New Guidance!

February 2017: Diploma Requirements including Multiple Pathways

February 2017: Summary Diploma/Credential Requirements
This chart includes information on the required units of credit and examinations for a Regents diploma, a Regents diploma with advanced designation, a local diploma the CDOS Commencement Credential and the Skills and Achievement Commencement Credential.

The changes have resulted in incremental increases in graduation rates, The New York Times reported in February,

The New York State Education Department said … that the high school graduation rate hit a new high of 79.4 percent in 2016, an increase of 1.3 points from 2015 and more than 12 points from a decade ago. But changes to graduation requirements in 2016 made it hard to know whether schools were doing better or students were simply clearing a lower bar.

Among other changes, the Board of Regents, the body that governs the state’s education system, made it possible for students with disabilities to graduate by passing two Regents exams, rather than five [the new change would not require students with disabilities to pass any Regents exams] if they showed proficiency in the other subjects through coursework. The Education Department said that 418 students statewide benefited from that change alone, which nudged the graduation rate up by 0.2 percent.

Additionally, the Regents allowed more students to appeal to their districts to graduate despite falling slightly short on one or two Regents exams. The Regents also let students graduate by passing four Regents exams and earning a credential showing that they have the skills for entry-level employment.[CDOS] The Education Department said it could not say how many students had benefited from those changes.

The most recent change will result in another jump in graduations rates; however, will students be “college and career ready?”  To put it another way, will high school graduates be able to succeed in college?

The community college completion rates are distressing. For the entering 2014 class in CUNY community colleges only 6.1% earned an associate degree after two years. Staggering numbers of students entering the CUNY system require remediation. According to the New York Times,

… about 80 percent of freshman entering community college in the CUNY system require remediation in reading, writing, math, or some combination of those subjects. Students of color are twice as likely to be assessed as needing remediation as white students. But at the end of one year, only half of all students in remediation have advanced out of those classes. The need for remediation is a chronic problem at community colleges around the country as students graduate from high school without the skills they need for college.

As the Board of Regents nibbles away at the graduation requirements, allowing more students at the edges to graduate are the Regents helping them to move on to college or graduating students who are less able to succeed in college?

The Board of Regents and the State Education Department not only regulate K-12 schools; all colleges in the state require program approval as well as the professions. The Office of the Professions  licenses sixty professions and close to a million practitioners ranging from acupuncture, dentistry, medicine, nursing, psychology to public accounting, social workers and veterinary medicine. The Office sets licensing standards for the colleges and institutions that provide training as well as the examinations required for each profession.

The Commissioner and the Chancellor have vigorously supported high entry standards for prospective teachers, are they proposing easing standards to earn a New York State High School diploma? Are they proposing easing the standards for the other professions?

High school graduation exit testing requirements vary widely from state to state, from the SAT and the ACT to PARCC and Smarter Balance tests, the feds require test in English, Math and Science, the new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act requires a 67% graduation rate for all high schools. (Check out detailed federal guidance here)

Over the next few months I expect the folks in Albany will take a deep dive into the question of high school graduation requirements; it is always worthwhile to reflect on current policies before jumping to the “new thing,” the preferred choice of the so-called reformers.

Homework: Read “Has the high school diploma lost all meaning?” and be ready to discuss the article and the suggestion below:

… rethink the high school diploma. Base it on demonstrated competency rather than time in school or Carnegie units compiled. Or consider, …, instituting a multiple-tier system in which college-bound students receive, say, “academic” diplomas, and those who are career-bound get “applied” diplomas that signal more practical things, like responsibility, reliability, or on-the-job skills. This would not be tracking by a different name; both options would have a whole lot in common, and every student would have the option to choose either at any time.

What say you?


Do Teacher Expectations of Student Performance Impact Student Outcomes? Is There a “Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations?”

At first look it was a nice school, the kids wore uniforms, the hallways were orderly, kids work displayed on bulletin boards, the classrooms were inviting, the kids busily involved, something was disturbing me. The work seemed, I’m searching for words, too easy, and I asked the principal.

“We teach at the grade proficiency of the students, not their actual grade. Our children enter school way behind and we want to build self esteem, we don’t want to discourage our scholars.”

I asked her whether, in fact, the kids were making progress at a rate that would bring them up to grade level, she sighed, “It’s a challenge.”

Was a dedicated, caring Afro-American principal exhibiting, “the soft bigotry of low expectations?”

We know, and have known for decades that children from lower socio-economic groups enter schools with a staggering vocabulary gap.

In recent years there has been growing concern about the “vocabulary gap” widening between children from different socioeconomic groups. By age three, it is believed that children growing up in poor neighborhoods or from lower-income families may hear up to 30 million fewer words than their more privileged counterparts.

Anne Fernald is a psychology professor at Stanford University who has discovered that the language gap between rich and poor children emerges during infancy. 

…  five-year-old children of lower socioeconomic status (SES) score two years behind on standardized language development tests by the time they enter school. In fact, a March 2013 study by Fernald and colleagues titled, “SES Differences in Language processing Skill and Vocabulary Are Evident at 18 Months,” reported that signs of the vocabulary gap are evident before a child is even two-years-old.

Unfortunately, inequities that present themselves in early life can create a ripple effect throughout a person’s life. According to researchers, most of the high school achievement gap between poor, middle-income and wealthy students is already visible by kindergarten and the children who have weak pre-literacy and numeracy skills in kindergarten are, on average, the same children with weak vocabulary and math skills in seventh grade.

Fernald goes on to explain that the income related gaps are due to parenting styles and home learning environments and makes a range of suggestions on how changing these behaviors would have positive outcomes.

Unsaid, but implied, is that ‘high poverty” parents are not “good parents,” and, by implication, that these parents should adopt middle class “parenting styles” and “home learning environments,” in other words, “become whiter.”

A New Republic essay, “Why Do Rich Kids Do Better Than Poor Kids in School? It’s Not the “Word Gap.” challenges the “word gap” message,

…  the “word gap” sends a message to poor parents and parents of color that there is something wrong with their parenting if it is different from the practices of affluent, white parents.

 It unfairly takes the onus off of schools and teachers to provide sophisticated learning opportunities in which their students can excel and places the blame for failure squarely on parents’ shoulders.

 As a result, poor parents and parents of color are viewed as less capable because of what they do not know, just like their children.

 Lisa Delpit, author of  “Silenced Dialogues:   Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children,”  suggests that the progressive education that is commonplace in schools across the nation puts poor, non-white children at a disadvantage, and calls for an education that recognizes cultural differences,

Deliberately unstructured teaching strategies like “whole language,” “open classrooms,” and “process, not product” were putting poor, non-white children at an even greater disadvantage in school and beyond, Delpit argued. Instead, she suggested teachers should explicitly “decode” white, middle-class culture for their low-income students, teaching them Standard English almost as if it were a foreign language, for example, and introducing math concepts through problems with cultural resonance for disadvantaged kids, such as calculating the probability that the police will stop-and-frisk a black male, as compared to a white male.

 In the world of sociology,  “oppositional culture” theory explores how “historically oppressed groups” develop an antagonism towards the dominant group and their values, a theory that is highly controversial.

The oppositional culture explanation for racial disparities in school performance posits that individuals from historically oppressed groups (involuntary minorities) signify their antagonism toward the dominant group by resisting school goals. In contrast, individuals from the dominant group and groups that migrated freely to the host country (immigrant minorities) maintain optimistic views of their chances for educational and occupational …

 Gershenson and Papageorge in “The Power of Teacher Expectations: How Racial Bias Hinders Student Expectationtake a deep dive into the matching teacher expectations to student achievement, with a troubling conclusion,

Our analysis supports the conventional wisdom that teacher expectations matter. College completion rates are systematically higher for students whose teachers had higher expectations for them. More troublingly, we also find that white teachers, who comprise the vast majority of American educators, have far lower expectations for black students than they do for similarly situated white students. This evidence suggests that to raise student attainment, particularly among students of color, elevating teacher expectations, eliminating racial bias, and hiring a more diverse teaching force are worthy goals.

Intellectual and policy arguments in teacher rooms, in my view, are fruitless. When I ran meetings the only rule was “we can only discuss what the people at the meeting can change; we must fight for changes in the larger arena through our unions and political activism, we can impact policy. Elections matter!!!

 My suggestions:

At the policy level,

  • Expand early childhood education: New York City has a Universal Pre-K for four-year olds and is phasing in 3 for All; the quality of classroom instruction must be closely monitored.
  • Although controversial I advocate for twelve-month schooling from pre-K through the First Grade. All education requires a firm foundation and getting kids off to the best start possible is essential; rather than remediating through the Twelfth Grade, pumping the money in the earliest grades will garner results in the upper grades.

At the school level,

  • Upgrading curriculum and classroom instruction is the core issue; “easier” curriculum, which is commonplace, is foolhardy; culturally relevant curriculum is tricky. The afro-centric schools of the 90s were not successful; however, agreeing upon a curriculum across schools and school districts and states is a heavy lift. Standards, Common Core State Standards or the revised New York State Standards are not a curriculum.
  • Creating schools with rich, instruction-driven, participatory school cultures is essential. Too many school leaders simply do not have the skills to both lead and develop a distributive leadership culture.

School leaders and teachers must always reflect on their practice. We cannot “blame” students, or parents, or society, we can change our practice. To use a sports analogy, we practice, guided practice, and, we change or adjust our game plan. If the lesson doesn’t work blaming the students is not going to produce better results. High expectations alone will not result in better outcomes, we must couple high expectations with lessons and curriculum that impacts the lives of our students.

Why Have New York City Homicides (1990: 2262) Declined So Precipitously (2016: 335)? Can Small Schools Connecting with Students Be at the Core?

(This is an amended version of an October 27th post, The homicide numbers for 2017 will be under 300 – a truly incredible reduction and while the reasons are many and complex I believe schools deserve credit)

At the height of the crack epidemic (1990) there were 2262 homicides in New York City; in 2016 there were 335 homicides – incredible. (Check out NYC crime data here).

While homicide rates continue at high level in city after city the rates in New York City continue to decline, probably below 300 for 2017.

What are we doing right?

See top 30 city homicide rates here.

Not only are homicide rates high the rates are breaking records in a number of cities.

In spite of the spotlight homicide rates in Chicago continue to spike: The Atlantic takes a deep dive into the persistently high homicide rates.

Criminologists, sociologists, psychologists, electeds have all parsed the reams of data to attempt to provide an answer: why has the homicide rate in New York City continued to decline, to decline precipitously while in other cities the rates have been persistently high or increasing?

Broken Windows” Policing and “Stop and “Frisk”

The eight years of Giuliani and the twelve years of Bloomberg were years of what critics called “harsh” policing. Arresting turnstile jumpers and public intoxicators, “stop and frisk” widely used in communities of color targeting young men of color, policies that both administrations claim reduced homicide rates.

A 2000 National Bureau of Economic Research study reports,

Many attribute New York’s crime reduction to specific “get-tough” policies carried out by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s administration. The most prominent of his policy changes was the aggressive policing of lower-level crimes, a policy which has been dubbed the “broken windows” approach to law enforcement. In this view, small disorders lead to larger ones and perhaps even to crime.

 In Carrots, Sticks and Broken Windows (NBER Working Paper No. 9061), co-authors Hope Corman and Naci Mocan find that the “broken windows” approach does not deter as much crime as some advocates argue, but it does have an effect

 Skeptics believe that it was the economic boom of the 1990s – a “carrot” that encourages people to remain on the straight-and-narrow – that brought about the drop in crime rates in New York City and the nation.

 The contribution of such deterrence measures (the “stick”) offers more explanation for the decline in New York City crime than the improvement in the economy, the authors conclude.

 So, “broken windows” had an impact; although not as much as claimed by the proponents.

However, Mayor de Blasio ended “stop and frisk” and arrests for low level misdemeanors have ended, homicides continue to spiral downward, and, at a faster rate.

 The Impact of Legalized Abortion

 A far more controversial theory comes from the “freakonomics” guys called the Donohue-Leavitt Hypothesis  that proffers that the Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision, the legal accessibility of abortions, resulted in sharp decreases in a generation of potential victims and perpetrators.  Males from poor dysfunctional households who were not born could not be victims or perps therefore resulting in sharp decreases in serious crime rates. The hypothesis has been vigorously debated.


 Gentrification is defined as “… the renovation of a deteriorating urban neighborhood by means of the influx of more affluent residents.” The process in New York City has been accelerating; Bedford-Stuyvesant, Harlem, Williamsburg, Washington Heights and other neighborhoods have seen the steady flow of middle class families into the neighborhoods pushing the poorer residents into existing “ghetto” neighborhoods.  New York State Juvenile Justice Task Force data shows that juvenile perpetrators are increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer neighborhoods. The concentration of potential victims and perpetrators into smaller geographic areas make it easier to police neighborhoods.

Some would argue that while gentrification pushes the poor out of neighborhoods and increases racial and economic segregation; a positive byproduct could be the reduction of crime.

Small High Schools

 Disconnected youth is defined as youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not working and not in school. Higher crime/arrest rates, higher controlled substance involvement, high pregnancy rates, a long list of negative metrics, and, cities and states around the nation are struggling to create programs to engage youth.

detailed report, “One in Seven: Disconnected  Youth in the 25 Largest Metropolitan Areas” parses the data, Boston and Minneapolis have the lowest percentages, Phoenix the highest; however, there is no correlation that I could discern between serious crime and disconnected youth by city. New York City is 17th out of the 25 Metro areas; however, much lower homicide rates.

While I could not find crime rates among disconnected youth by city we do know that victims and perpetrators are more likely not to be in school and not working.

New York City has done a commendable job of keeping school-age kids engaged in the school system.

I proffer that keeping 16 to 21 year olds engaged in school plays a role in reducing homicide rates

Beginning in the late eighties, increasing in the nineties and sharply accelerating under Bloomberg the Board and successor Department of Education closed large high schools and replaced them with small high schools. There are currently about 400 small high schools and programs by and large located in the former large high school buildings. The school registers are about 400 students. An MDRP study finds,

… small schools tended to have common traits, including a rigorous curriculum, often built around themes like conservation and law, and highly personalized relationships between students and teachers.

The schools have also formed partnerships with community groups and businesses to offer hands-on learning experiences.

The predecessor large high schools commonly had registers of over 2000 kids, and, sadly, many had high absentee rates, large class sizes and the absence of services.

I served as the teacher union representative on numerous Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams; too many schools has passed the tipping point; they had become dropout mills with large percentages of disengaged students characterized by long term absentees, cutting classes, high failure rates in classes and on Regents exams

After the 1975 fiscal crisis the school system was an afterthought, the Koch administration had little interest in schools, the decentralized school system, with exceptions, was dominated by venal politicians and patronage. Schools were starved for resources and the most disadvantaged schools suffered.

The Bloomberg administration, for his first two terms, plowed dollars into schools, (2003-2011) sharp increases in teacher salaries and a concentration on closing large dysfunctional schools and creating small schools.

While you can argue that increasing graduations rates were due to credit recovery and other management tools, the more “personalized relationships between students and teachers” cannot be disputed.  The small high schools “connected” with students.

When school leaders and teachers know the name of every kid, engage with the kids on a daily basis, kids feel part of a community.

Kids who were not surviving in small high schools, students who were “overage age and under-credited” have another chance – transfer high schools. There are fifty transfer high schools scattered around the city. A hearing in Brooklyn held by the New York State Department of Education asking for public comment around the ESSA plan and the mandated 67% graduation rate, endangering transfer high schools;  student after student, parent after parent testified how the transfer high school had saved their lives.

Only about half of the students in transfer high school graduate, a cohort, who did not succeed in small high schools, who do not succeed in a transfer school have another chance, the Pathways to Graduation program, targeting students from 17 – 21 years of age Pathways prepares students for the high school equivalency examination, formerly the GED, now the TASC exam – once again, a program built on personalized relationships between students and teachers.

I proffer that students in the New York City school system are less likely to be disconnected. Students who struggle with academics, students from single parent or dysfunctional households, students living in gang-infested neighborhoods are “connected” with their school staffs.

The culture of these programs connects students to staffs, builds communities, acts as an alternative to the streets, and, in my opinion, plays a role in reducing homicide rates.

Smaller schools, smaller class size, schools with flexible programming, student advisory classes addressing social and emotional needs, students not left to be won over by the streets, meaning fewer disconnected youth, means fewer kids likely to be victims or perpetrators.

Smarter policing not harsher policing, more job opportunities, higher wages, all play roles;  the impact of schools have been ignored in parsing the reasons for declining homicide rates.

I allowed kids to pick their own seats in my high school classroom. On day one a student picked the seat right in front of my desk. He was small for his age, too much acne, and the other kids used unkind language, today we’d call bullying.

One day he apologized before the class began.

“I’m sorry – I didn’t do my homework, I was practicing with my band.”

Offhandedly, I replied, “Is the band any good?”

The student, hesitantly, replied, “Yes.”

Me: “Do you have a cassette?”

The kid beamed, “Sure”

I gave the cassette to my son who has a friend who books acts, he said they weren’t bad, they should book performances at open mike venues and try and build up a following. I passed the info along to the kid.

Years later I was walking down a street and someone shouted, “Mr. G”

It was the same student.

Me: “Did you’re band make it …?”

Kid: Smiling, “We weren’t good enough, I was the sound guy, and I became a sound technician, make good money, thanks for the advice.”

We do our job and impact lives; usually we never know the impact we have.

Will Race and/or Ethnicity Be a Factor in Selecting the Next New York City Chancellor?

Last week Mayor de Blasio announced Deputy Mayors Anthony Shorris and Richard Buery would be leaving his administration; nothing surprising, running the city is an extremely intense 24/7 job. Shorris’ replacement, a promotion from within the administration was immediately named. Buery’s position was different, his title, “Deputy Mayor for Special Projects,” actually his role was to manage projects closest to the mayor. He led the pre-K for all implementation; there are now over 70,000 four-year olds in school and the phase-in of the 3 for All, a pre-K program for three-year olds in the two poorest districts in the city.

It is expected that over the next few weeks additional changes at the top of the de Blasio administration will take place and it is widely whispered that the Carmen Farina, the Chancellor of the NYC Schools will announce her retirement.

The major mayoral educational initiatives, schooling for three and four year olds, are monumental.

Other nations (“What France Can Teach Us About How to Educate the Most Vulnerable Two-Year Olds ” are moving towards enrolling the most vulnerable two-year olds into school.

In recent years, the [France] has decided that boosting the number of 2-year-olds enrolled in école maternelle—with a particular eye toward struggling families who live in the equivalent of U.S. public housing or come from immigrant communities—is one of the surest paths to promoting educational equity. In France, nearly all youngsters already start school at the age of 3, so the latest shift is really about moving up the starting line by a year for the kids who need it the most. 

 The de Blasio initiatives have been widely applauded and I believe will have enormous impact on the education of children who have traditionally been left behind.

The whispering about a replacement for the current schools leader is getting louder (“And the Next Chancellor Will Be …. ”)

Among the whispers is the question of whether “identity politics” will impact the decision if a new chancellor is to be selected. The term “identity politics,” is controversial  and sometimes used interchangeably with diversity, and to others means some jobs should be reserved for people of color, or a specific gender or ethnicity.

A prime example is the current controversy over the selection of a new President of the City College of New York (CCNY). While the college is in the center of Harlem the student body is geographically and ethnically diverse.

In October, 2016 the CCNY President precipitously left her position and the CUNY Board of Trustees appointed Vincent Boudreau, the Dean of the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership as acting president. The selection process is lengthy, tedious and proscribed by regulations of the CUNY Board. After an extensive search, unexpectedly, with glee by the college community, the Board selected Boudreau.

The college, sometimes referred to as Harvard on the Hudson, has been recognized for success in its mission, providing an exemplary education to students at the bottom of the economic ladder.

CCNY ranked # 323 among the more than 27,000 degree-granting institutions of higher education worldwide according to the CWUR, which conducts the largest academic ranking of global universities.

At home, The Chronicle of Higher Education ranks CCNY #2 nationally among four-year public institutions with the highest student mobility rates.

 The mobility rates reflect a measure of the percentage of all students in a birth cohort at a particular college whose parents were in the bottom 20 percent for household income, and who reached the top 20 percent for individual earnings.

 Hours before the CUNY Board was scheduled to formally appoint Dr. Boudreau  a group of Harlem politicians, actually the “old guard” protested his selection.

Describing themselves as “extremely disappointed,” a group of prominent political, religious and community leaders from Harlem is lodging an unexpected 11th-hour protest against the expected next president of the City College of New York.

Former Gov. David A. Paterson, former Representative Charles B. Rangel and former Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright were among 20 people named in an email sent to The New York Times over the weekend after a report indicating that Vincent G. Boudreau, the college’s interim president, would be given the permanent post on Monday.

“Nobody had reached out to the community,” said Hazel N. Dukes, president of the N.A.A.C.P. New York State Conference. “We want to know his intentions, how he’s going to build a team at the college, whether it’s going to be a diverse team.”

 For me Dukes’s comments are code for identity politics.

The college, in fact, all the CUNY campuses, are deeply involved in recruiting diverse faculties

The Office of Recruitment and Diversity (ORD) will be hosting its third biennial Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Conference and we welcome your participation.  The daylong conference will be held at the CUNY Graduate Center on Friday, March 31, 2017 and the theme is CUNY at the Crossroads: Diversity and Intersectionality in Action.

 Building on the success of past years, this conference offers faculty and academic administrators the opportunity to focus on research-based evidence, present new ideas, discuss experiences with colleagues, and develop constructive actions for change in the belief that diversity in all its manifestations is a driver of our collective success.  We recognize that in order for CUNY campuses to become inclusive and welcoming communities for all, a commitment to diversity must be supported and strategically promoted at all levels and in partnership with others.

 My more cynical friends see the actions of the Harlem “old guard” as trying to squeeze concessions in the way of jobs from the CUNY Board – nothing would surprise me.

The Chancellor of the NYC Schools, the President of CCNY, the leaders of educational institutions, should be the most qualified candidates, candidates with proven records of success.

On Wednesday I will be attending the monthly delegate meeting of the teacher union. The hundreds of delegates were selected by teachers in their schools, and, the room is extremely diverse: by race, by ethnicity, by gender, there are no quotas; the delegates represent the wide spectrum that is New York City.

Yes, encouraging underrepresented groups to apply to become teachers, to apply for positions in colleges is vital.  New York City supports the Men Teach,

“NYC Men Teach engages and recruits men of color to become teachers in New York City by providing early career support, professional development, mentoring and networking services.”

Colleges recruit applicants from across the country to assure diverse college faculties.  The key words are “highly qualified” and diverse staffs.

Hopefully the CUNY Board will move forward and select Boudreau as the President of CCNY and hopefully if Chancellor Farina retires the Mayor will select the best possible candidate for the job, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender.


The CUNY Board of Trustees selected Boudreau as their 13th President at their meeting tonight

“In some ways, the idea of a truly inclusive public education system as an engine of our democracy began on this campus 170 years ago,” said Boudreau. “Shepherding that legacy into the future brings significant challenges that will require the mobilization of the talents and affections of people on our campus and in our communities. I’m confident that the founding mission of CCNY is alive on campus today and I am both honored and awed at the prospect of stewarding that mission.”

Why Do Teachers Hate to Be Observed and Supervisors Hate to Observe Teachers? (and How Can Observations Become Meaningful Tools for Improvement?)

(A) Teacher: “That ***** (insert gender non-specific unsavory word) principal observed me, what does s/he know about teaching? I have clothes older than her/him. What can I possibly learn from her/him?”

(B) Teacher: “The principal observed me, I can’t wait until we discuss the lesson, and I learn so much from her/him.

(C) Principal: “Got an email, I’m falling behind in my observations; don’t they realize I have a school to run? These observations are a waste of time.”

(D) Principal: “I love to observe teachers and they love to be observed. We learn so much from each other.

Select the correct answers.

Most teachers have very little confidence that the current lesson observation process makes them better teachers and principals feel observations are an overly burdensome task.

In a small cohort of schools teachers and school leaders are constantly engaged in talking about teaching.

Foolishly, policymakers, instead of prioritizing improving instruction have focused on “rating” teachers. In New York State the system, the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), a combination of supervisory observations and student growth scores generates a score for each teacher and a rating of Highly Effective, Effective, Developing and Ineffective (HEDI).

In order to become a teacher in New York State prospective teachers must pass three nationally normed exams, student-teaching assessed by the college; getting a job means being selected in an interview and usually teach a demonstration lesson, and, serving four years as a probationary teacher. In spite of all the hurdles the “winners” have a substantial attrition rate in the first five years of employment.

Among middle school teachers who entered their school during the past decade, more than half have left that school within three years (“Who Stay and Who Leaves,” 2013, The Research Alliance for NYC Schools)

An attrition report  (December, 2015) avers that 37.4% of teacher across the New York City school system left within five years.

With rigorous entry hurtles  and high attrition rates it should not be surprising that well over 90% of remaining teachers are rated Highly Effective or Effective.

Aside from separating out the weakest teachers does the observation process tell us anything about practice?

Do observations discriminate between teachers whose students learn a lot and teachers whose students do not?

An Education Next article titled, “Teacher Observations Have Been a Waste of Time and Money” (December, 2016) states,

Teacher observation scores and student test scores show little correlation. This evidence was recently reviewed by the Institute of Education Sciences, which concluded that “teacher knowledge and practice, as measured in existing studies, do not appear to be strongly and consistently related to student achievement.” The Measures of Effective Teaching study found that overall observation scores had small and mostly insignificant correlations with test scores, and correlations with scores on individual observation items likewise were small. Another study investigated correlations between observations of math instruction and math achievement. Correlations between practices observed in classrooms and math scores were small, and some were negative. Another recent study using the same data set found that teacher observation scores also were not correlated with so-called ‘noncognitive’ outcomes such as ‘grit’ and ‘growth mindset.

 Alternately stated, evidence about teacher knowledge and practice is weakly and inconsistently related to student achievement. Observations are fundamentally about teacher practice. The finding is saying observations and test scores are measuring different things.

Observations are all about rating a teacher’s performance, not about improving practice.

A man stops a stranger and asks, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”

The stranger responds, “Practice, practice, practice.”

I was listening to a principal dancer at the Bolshoi, who was asked to describe his day.

“On the day I’m performing I rest, on all on other days I practice and take lessons, six days a week.”

A player in the New York Philharmonic describing her day,

‘Rehearsals, performances, and, of course, I practice every day.”

Malcolm Gladwell, the pop psychologist popularized the “10,000 hour rule,”

Gladwell in the New Yorker wrote,

 No one succeeds at a high level without innate talent, I wrote: “achievement is talent plus preparation.” But the ten-thousand-hour research reminds us that “the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.” In cognitively demanding fields, there are no naturals. Nobody walks into an operating room, straight out of a surgical rotation, and does world-class neurosurgery …

Few teachers are naturals, hopefully they improve as they gain experience; schools of education emphasize “reflective practice,” teachers who consistently think and rethink lessons. Unfortunately most in-service teachers work in isolation, they close the door and apply what they learned in their pre-service training. Reflective, aka, deliberative practice, is simply not part of the regimen of most teachers,

  Deliberate practice …  a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.

 The law requires local collective bargaining agents and school districts negotiate within legal boundaries an observation process, read the UFT-Department of Education classroom observation choices below,

Under our teacher evaluation system, teachers have a choice between four options for classroom observation:

  • Observation Option 1: A minimum of one formal classroom observation and three informal observations is required.
  • Observation Option 2: A minimum of six informal classroom observations is required.
  • Observation Option 3: The principal or other evaluator conducts four informal observations. The teacher makes his or her classroom available for two non-evaluative visits from a colleague. (Available only to teachers rated Effective and Highly Effective the prior year.)
  • Observation Option 4: The principal or other evaluator makes three informal observations. The teacher makes his or her classroom available for three non-evaluative visits from a colleague. (Available only to teachers rated Highly Effective the prior year)

Educators may also decide whether or not they consent to have any observations videotaped.

 The role of the principal is primarily to rate teachers, there is very little emphasis on leading professional conversations, little emphasis on creating a culture of ongoing improvement. Charlotte Danielson, of Frameworks fame, has another book, in my judgment far more relevant.

Charlotte Danielson, “Talk About Teaching: Leading Professional Conversations” (2009) Listen to a discussion with Danielson here.

Danielson writes,

Principal and supervisors have the formal power in schools. Professional conversations between teachers and administrators and among teaching colleagues in school occur within the context of the school’s management structure. In that structure, the principal is the designated leader of the school; teachers work, at least to some extent under the direction of the principal; and yet, teachers, no less than administrators are professionals … they have acquired considerable expertise … there is an inevitable tension between the professionalism of teachers and the authority of administrators.

…a school leader must exercise soft leadership skills, a focus on vision and purpose, persuasion, appeals to professional ethics, and dialogue that engages teachers in a problem-solving approach to the multiple challenges facing schools.

Danielson goes on to suggest how the school leader, within the context of the power relationship, can foster professional conversations, to both lead and engage and collaborate.

I spent a couple of years facilitating common planning time, meeting with teachers within a subject and grade: teachers agreed to share lesson plans in a Drop Box, exchange graded student assignments, and increasingly began to not only share lesson plans but to comment on colleagues plans. Teachers looked forward to our meetings (I always brought comestibles!).

In my own school we agreed upon an alternative observation option: triads of teachers observed each other (A observed B, B observed C, and C observed A), teaching similar topics in the same week and meeting to discuss the lessons around a common set of questions. The minutes of the meeting became the observation report. It was revelatory for the teachers; they had never seen another teacher actually teach a lesson.

The current observation regs allow for intervisitations that are rare in schools.

I argue that highly effective schools are characterized by school cultures designed around reflective practice.

Teachers actually talking about children, talking about a particular skill or a particular lesson; less effective schools lack rich school cultures, and are commonly characterized by toxic cultures.

At principal meetings principals, in groups, observe lessons and discuss their ratings of the lesson, they do not discuss how to create school cultures that encourage meaningful professional conversations.

Getting beyond observations as a rating tool and moving towards observations as a learning tool is a core challenge of improving outcomes for students.

Anticipated Vacancy: Chancellor of the New York City School System: Qualifications and Duties Below:

Position: The Chancellor of the New York City School System is the Chief Executive Officer of 1800 schools, over 1.1 million students; and serves at the pleasure of the Mayor; technically the Central School Board, called the Panel for Education Priorities (PEP) selects the Chancellor; however, the Mayor appoints a majority of the PEP.

Qualifications: A well regarded educator with a deep knowledge of large urban school systems, New York City experience preferable with the ability to work closely with teacher unions, elected officials, advocacy organizations and is also not perceived as part of a “failed” school system of that they helped lead.


  • To increase scores on state examinations and raise high school, graduation rates on an annual basis’ (or else)
  • To explore alternatives to state tests and state Regents examinations,
  • To have no problem with implementing mayoral initiatives (whether you agree with them or not), to be a firm and unwavering supporter of the Mayor,
  • To be perceived as totally transparent with the media and the public,
  • To be praised by the print media (NY Times, NY Post, NY Daily News) as well as think tanks (Manhattan Institute, Alliance for Quality Education) and other outlets,
  • To work with charter school networks, to be critical of charter school networks and  also not be perceived as being to closely supportive of charter schools,
  • To craft and implement an integration plan for schools with wide involvement of communities and elected officials without reducing the highly popular screened schools that are primarily responsible for segregated schools,
  • To change entrance requirements for the elite examination schools to increase the percentages of Black and Hispanic students in the schools without being accused of diminishing the quality of the schools.
  • To create and implement a program to increase test scores in schools in the lowest five percent of schools. (Note: Prior attempts in New York City and other urban cities have been unsuccessful)
  • To be willing to accept responsibility for all negative issues and be willing to offer your resignation at any time.
  • At a moments notice create a program to deal with the crisis of the day.
  • And many other yet to be determined responsibilities.

You may ask: How can a school district leader satisfy everyone? How can a school district leader be both an educational leader and also implement a political agenda? And, the answer is simple, with great difficulty.

In fact, the history of  large urban school district leaders has been, to be polite, less than exemplary.

The first mayoral control superintendent was in Boston, and is the one example of a close and effective partnership; however, in a state that has been the one glowing example of a state that has created a state education system that continually leads the nation. The so-called Massachusetts “Education Miracle” (Read “What Led to the Massachusetts Miracle” here and ‘Spreading the Massachusetts Education Miracle” here) has been well-documented and not successfully replicated anywhere else.

Los Angeles has had a revolving door of school district leaders, an elected school board with campaigns costing millions and an ever expanding number of loosely regulated charter schools. A recent Chicago school district leader is currently in prison and the teacher union and the mayor have been battling in what seems like an endless combat.

The first three New York City chancellors under mayoral control were not educators, a lawyer (Joel Klein), a business woman (Cathy Black) and a parent advocate (Dennis Walcott). The current chancellor, a Department of Education “lifer” has brought calm to a roiling system.

There are a number of former high ranking Department leaders as well as a few others waiting in the wings (See a blog speculating re the “candidates” here ).

 Chancellors have to walk a thin line, a very thin line. On one hand they are the education expert, the person entrusted with the education of over a million students, a person hopefully with both experience and a person understanding that change is always necessary; on the other hand they are part of the mayor’s cabinet and have to act within the confines of the mayor’s agenda.

The Mayor, the Chancellor and Union have an excellent relationship: Is now the time to leverage the relationship and move, together, in a different direction?  What are we not doing that we could be doing? Or, does the system only require minor tweaks?

Education (de)reformers have not only not reformed education they have substantially weakened the traditional education/progressive/democratic party/civil rights coalition.

Jennifer Berkshire does a superb job of describing how education reformers destroyed the Democratic Party – highly recommend your read here.

A few queries:

Improving outcomes for the lowest achieving students has been a challenge for decades: Is there a different approach? (Read Kirkland, et. al., Separate and Unequal)

Is the current iteration of school management, sort of a superintendent-lite setup, the most effective system to build sustainability and innovation at the school level?

Is a core unaddressed issue the consistently high teacher turnover rate?

Why are the Internationals Network, sixteen high schools that only register students who have been in the country for four years or less so successful, and, can we replicate their “secret sauce?”

Are our superintendents and principals currently highly effective leaders? And, if not, why not? And, if they are, why aren’t we seeing the results?

It is extremely difficult to change direction in huge bureaucracies; think of turning an ocean liner, mega organizations are guided by Newton’s First Law of Motion

  An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed nd in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Mega organizations have been compared to super putty; you stick in your finger to reshape the blob only to see it slowly return to its original shape.

We have learned that “… the vocabulary about school reform … has assumed the same role as the prayer book of the Episcopal Church — by repeating the words you are supposed to be improving yourself and the world around you.”

Tyack and Cuban, in the 1995 classic “Tinkering Towards Utopia,” reviewing a century of reforms warn us that reforms that do not have the support of teachers and parents are doomed to failure.

We have a window, the first few months of a new administration, a new administration that won with 2/3 of the vote, an administration with national ambitions, an administration that needs a visionary school leader, with s ticking clock and critics who want to return to past policies or move in a “reform-y” direction.

Interested in the job?

Mayor de Blasio, “We need the school system to look entirely different in the coming years,” Is the Mayor contemplating changes? And, if so, what changes?

If you read the print media, the Post the Daily News, the Wall Street Journal you’d believe the mayoral election was going to be close – as the dust settled the Republican challenger to de Blasio received a scant 28% of the vote: Blasio cruised to an overwhelming victory. Check out the map of the city indicating geographic voting patterns, not surprisingly the white working class voters; Trump voters in the presidential, were also Republican voters in the mayoral.

An older Afro-American woman, smiling, “we elected our second black mayor.”

For twenty years the heavily Democratic city elected Republican mayors (Giuliani: 1993-2001, Bloomberg: 2001-2013), and, among Bloomberg’s first actions was to move to mayoral control of the public school system.  Large cities: Boston, New York, Chicago became mayoral control and scholars generally praised the change from school boards with divided leaderships to a mayor.

The results of their examination indicate that, although mayoral control of schools may not be appropriate for every district, it can successfully emphasize accountability across the education system, providing more leverage for each school district to strengthen its educational infrastructure and improve student performance, “The Education Mayor,” Kenneth Wong and others, 2007.

The UFT, the teacher union in New York City, supported the change, negotiating with a single mayor who was fully responsible for the school system seemed far better then a school board appointed by borough presidents and thirty-two elected school boards.  In contracts negotiated in 2005 and 2007 teachers received a very substantial 42% salary increase and the union was on board, sort of on board, for a number of the initiatives pushed by the mayor/chancellor.

The union-Bloomberg relationship waned over time and by his third term turned toxic and the public began to side with the union. Sol Stern, in the NY Daily News wrote,

…  the public remains dissatisfied with Gotham’s schools. According to a poll of city voters commissioned by the Manhattan Institute, New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor: Almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28% who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

In 2013 the newly elected Mayor de Blasio appointed a familiar face, a Department of Education lifer who was the superintendent in his home district. The new chancellor returned to a superintendent system and slowly began to dismantle the Bloomberg-Klein policies. Chancellor Farina was welcomed after three chancellors, who were not educators and required waivers from the state commissioner.

At a news conference the day after the recent election de Blasio declared,

“We need the school system to look entirely different in the coming years,” Mr. de Blasio said, citing proposals to expand free education to reach all 3-year-olds and to have all students reading at grade level by third grade. “That is the mission I will be most focused on, that will be the issue I put my greatest passion and energy into.”

  In his first term the mayor has created two monumental programs, Universal Pre-K  (UPK) and 3K-for-All.  70,000 students are currently enrolled in UPK and 3K for All has begun in two of the poorest districts and rolling out adding two districts each year.

Other de Blasio/Farina policies are more controversial and have been both lauded and criticized, the Renewal Schools initiative, attempts to restore the schools instead of closing the schools, shrinking and phasing out the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool, made up of teachers bumped primarily from closing schools and the lack of curricula, all  have been both lauded and widely criticized.

Eric Nadelstern, a deputy chancellor under the Bloomberg/Klein years is sharply critical of the school renewal program,

Failed schools never reinvent themselves. Period. There’s no data that says they do. The idea essentially is part of the age-old central office practice of rewarding failure and penalizing success. Oh, you’re not doing well? We’ll give you a lot of money. You are doing well, we’re not going to give you that. They’d do much better to reverse that and close those schools. You can’t ask the people who caused the failure in the first place to come up with a better idea.

 Let’s get back to that post-election comment:

“We need the school system to look entirely different in the coming years,”

 The mayor went on to announce a goal, “…to have all students reading at grade level by third grade,” which sounds a little like the description of the mythical city of Lake Woebegone were all children are above average.

What does the mayor mean by “look entirely different?”  Is he hinting that the current chancellor is retiring? And, if she does, who will replace her?

 In early October I speculated on the possible successors to the current chancellor: check out here.

 Let’s remember, the day after the election Mayor de Blasio became a lame duck mayor, he is term limited and I’m sure is looking beyond New York City. Is he trying to make the city the model for education in other big cities across the nation?

In his first four years he added Universal Pre-K and began 3K for All, unique programs and pumped hundreds of millions into the renewal schools, the ninety or so lowest achieving schools, with, to be polite, only modest gains.

Will he continue his approach, adding targeted programs and basically avoiding any structural changes to the management system as well as avoiding any substantial changes to what happens at the school level: continue a good relationship with the unions, keep parents “happy,” and also keeping the critics at bay by throwing dollars at problems. For example, a student is killed, stabbed in a school in the Bronx, and, apparently the student was retaliating for bullying. The City Council holds a hearing and the chancellor throws seven million dollars at a number of anti-bullying initiatives.

Or, is the mayor going to “make the school system look entirely different?”

If he is there is a long, long line of reformers with ideas.

  • Does New York City need a curriculum?  For decades the former Board of Education maintained a curriculum section that produced curriculum across a board range of areas, the Bloomberg crowd folded up the section and the current leadership has not made a uniform curriculum  a priority.
  • Is the current “superintendent-lite” system,  a superintendent with a very small staff the best way to manage schools?
  • A number of states are piloting alternatives to standardized testing, the Board of Regents is discussing different approaches: Does New York City have any interest in exploring alternatives?
  • Should a limited number of schools and/or school districts have more latitude in designing and implementing educational initiatives, perhaps a return to the autonomy zone concept?

I’m sure you could add to the list. I expect the mayor will roll out his second term plans as we move toward his inaugural.

De Blasio moved from one of fifty-one City Council members to citywide office,Public Advocate and went on to an upset victory in the September 2013 four-way Democratic primary. He has been a strategic candidate, a candidate who understood his voter base. There doesn’t appear to be a political path forward in New York City; then again, who ever predicted that a Councilman from Brownstone Brooklyn, outside the normal democratic party structure would emerge as mayor, and, manage the city so well. The city is thriving, violent crime at an historic low, yes, rents rising and a lack of affordable housing; on the other hand more New Yorker taxpayers able to pay the absurd rents and buy apartments commonly in the million dollar range thereby funding a wide range of projects.  The mayor grapples with how do you maintain your high income tax payers and create more affordable housing?

I believe the mayor sees himself as the leader of the progressive wing of the national democratic party; able to unite the Bernie and Hillary wings and appeal to Afro-American voters.

Mayor de Blasio as the leader of the model city: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden,”