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Does the Specialized High School Admitance Test (SHSAT) Discriminate Against Black Students? or, Does the Discovery Program Discriminate Against Asian Students?

The Manhattan Institute hosted a panel, “Diversity by Decree: Is NYC’s New Policy for Elite High Schools Constitutional? The panel moderated by Troy Senik the Vice President for Policy and Programs at MI, John Yoo, Pacific Legal Foundation and the John Heller Professor of Law at U. C. Berkeley School of Law, Wai Wah Chin, President, Chinese American Citizen’s Alliance of Greater New York and Ray Dominico, Director of Education Policy at MI.

The Pacific Legal Foundation is challenging the de Blasio-Carranza use of the Discovery Program section of the Hecht-Calandra Law (1971) that embedded the Specialized High School Admittance Test (SHSAT) in statute.

The Discovery Program section of the law establishes a “second chance,” to gain acceptance for “disadvantaged students” to the Specialized High Schools,

(d) The special schools shall be permitted to maintain a Discovery Program to give disadvantaged students of demonstrated high potential an opportunity to try the special high school program without in any manner interfering with the academic level of those schools. A student may be considered for the Discovery Program provided the student: (1) be one of those who takes the regular entrance examination but scores below the cut-of score (2) is certified by his local school as disadvantaged (3) is recommended by his local school as having high potential for the special high school program and (4) attends and then passes a summer preparatory program administered by the special high school…..  A candidate reached for consideration on the basis of this examination score will be accepted for admission to the Discovery Program only if his previous school record is satisfactory. Any discovery program admissions to a special high school shall not exceed fourteen (14) per cent of the number of students scoring above the cut-off score and admitted under the regular examination procedure of (b) and (c) above.

 The Discovery Program faded as the Specialized High Schools failed to support the program; additionally the “disadvantaged students” who were accepted into the program were primarily white and Asian.

It is the changes in the Discovery Program that is the basis of the legal challenge.

New York City is expanding this alternative admissions process — known as the Discovery program — as a way to increase the diversity of the specialized high schools, where black and Hispanic students are underrepresented. Though the effort has received less attention than the mayor’s ambitious proposal to get rid of the test entirely, it has an advantage because — unlike eliminating the test — it does not require the approval of the State Legislature.

By 2020, 20 percent of the ninth-grade seats in every specialized high school will be set aside for Discovery students, according to city education officials. Currently, only 5 percent of the 4,000 ninth-grade seats are filled through Discovery.

And who makes it into the program will also change. Students are currently eligible if they meet the city Education Department’s criteria for being disadvantaged. But under the new plan, only students who attended high-poverty middle schools will be accepted. Changing to high-poverty schools means that those accepted will be more likely to be black or Hispanic, since they dominate at those schools.

John Yoo is a controversial figure;  he authored memos during the Bush administration supporting “enhanced interrogation” (aka, torture), and, recently has been critical of the Trump border wall.

Yoo was almost giddy in his presentation, quoted Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza as clear evidence that the new iteration of the Discovery Program was designed to discriminate against Asian students unconstitutionally depriving more qualified Asian students of seats in the elite schools and referenced challenges to college admissions.

Whether the current debate over the use of race in the admittance of students to college is equivalent to the elite high schools admittance is open to question.

SCOTUS, in Fisher v The University of Texas (2016), by 4-3 decision, upheld the racial elements used,

The Court held that the University of Texas’ use of race as a factor in the holistic review used to fill the spots remaining after the Top Ten Percent Plan was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. Previous precedent had established that educational diversity is a compelling interest as long as it is expressed as a concrete and precise goal that is neither a quota of minority students nor an amorphous idea of diversity

Yoo reminded us that the Supreme Court has changed, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, according to Yoo, are likely not to support the Fischer when issue comes before the highest court again.

The Harvard Admissions case, alleging a quota restricting the admission of Asian students is awaiting a decision at the Circuit Court; the case will be appealed regardless of the prevailing side and could move towards the highest court, although it could take a  few years. There are similar law suits perking through courts in other areas of the country.

Yoo did not address the issue of “disparate impact;” if a test is used as a requirement of employment and adversely impacts a “protected group” the test is discriminatory absent evidence that the test is “job related.”  In Duke Power Company,

Court held that Duke’s standardized testing requirement prevented a disproportionate number of African-American employees from being hired by, and advancing to higher-paying departments within, the company. Neither the high school graduation requirement nor the two aptitude tests was directed or intended to measure an employee’s ability to learn or perform a particular job or category of jobs within the company. The Court concluded that the subtle, illegal, purpose of these requirements was to safeguard Duke’s long-standing policy of giving job preferences to its white employees.

Griggs v Duke Power Co (1971)

There are parallels to the use of tests to admit students to educational programs.

Students accepted into the elite high schools through the Discovery programs did as well as student’s accepted through the testing process: does the “disparate impact” concept challenge the use of the SHSAT?

In the early 70’s a class of Black and Puerto Rican teachers challenged the use of a qualifying examination for positions of assistant principals and principal, the court held,

[T]he examinations prepared and administered by the Board of Examiners for the licensing of supervisory personnel, such as Principals and Assistant Principals, have the de facto effect of discriminating significantly and substantially against Black and Puerto Rican applicants.

  Such a discriminatory impact is constitutionally suspect and places the burden on the Board to show that the examinations can be justified as necessary to obtain Principals, Assistant Principals and supervisors possessing the skills and qualifications required for successful performance of the duties of these positions. The Board has failed to meet this burden. Chance v Board of Examiners 1972

The litigants, represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation chose to equate the Discovery program with the foundational decisions of the court; Justice Harlen’s dissent in Plessy v Ferguson (1896).

  Our Constitution in color-blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.  In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.   The humblest is the peer of the most powerful.  The law regards man as man and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved….

On one hand only a handful of Black students passed the test, the entering class at Stuyvesant is over 70% Asian: is the test discriminatory, or, is the use of the new Discovery Program, that will result in Asian students having higher grades and not accepted, discriminatory?

While one can argue that the Discovery Program is part of the law, the term “disadvantaged students” is not defined, the Department has simply more narrowly defined the relvant section of the statute; clearly to achieve the intent of the law.

The issue is both emotional and controversial.

Black scholars, electeds, as well as white progressives argue that any test that advantages one racial/ethnic group over another is discriminatory, and, with a long history of racial discrimination the SHSAT is especially distasteful.  I was at a Midwestern university a few days ago and a professor of Afro-American history was appalled by the vigorous defense of the test. During the same visit I sat in on a class that discussed the many, many, centuries-old use of examinations in China to select the government ruling class,

The examination based civil service thus promoted stability and social mobility. The Confucian-based examinations meant that the local elites and ambitious would-be members of those elites across the whole of China were taught with similar values. Even though only a small fraction (about 5 percent) of those who attempted the examinations actually passed them and even fewer received titles, the hope of eventual success sustained their commitment. Those who failed to pass did not lose wealth or local social standing; as dedicated believers in Confucian orthodoxy, they served, without the benefit of state appointments, as teachers, patrons of the arts, and managers of local projects, such as irrigation works, schools, or charitable foundations

Examinations are at the core of Chinese cultural values.

I suspect the court will not sustain the Pacific Legal Foundation.

Interestingly, Afro-Americans were the largest supporters of Hillary Clinton in 2016; Asians were the second largest supporting group. While “testing” is an important value in the Asian community; the discriminatory impact of the test is of concern to younger Asians.

By the time the court challenges are resolved de Blasio and Carranza may have moved on to other careers.

UPDATE: The court refused to halt the de Blasio-Carranza revised Discovery Programwhile the case proceeds through the courts

Power and Politics in Education:Who Controls Education Policy? The Left? The Right? or Teachers and Parents?

A few months ago I began getting e-messages to join actions sponsored by #BlackLivesMatteratSchools,

  • End Zero Tolerance
  • Mandate Black Studies #ethnicstudies
  • Hire More Black Teachers
  • Fund Counselors Not Cops

Back in October at the Network for Public Education conference I met the teacher from Seattle who was leading the movement. The motion was introduced at the January delegates meeting at the UFT, the NYC teachers union. The motion was overwhelmingly rejected, teachers are, by nature, cautious.

The student behavior code in New York City is spelled out in minute detail, zero tolerance does not exist and suspensions at the school and superintendent level are closely controlled by the overlords. I believe curriculum should be determined, to the extent possible, by teachers at the school level, and, New York State is embarking on a statewide Culturally Relevant Pedagogy initiative. The Men Teacher in Education program, richly funded by the city encourages men of color to enter schools of education in the City University. And, I would change the last “Ask” to “Fund Counselors AND cops.”

Teachers want orderly schools, and have mixed feelings about the #blacklivematteratschool agenda.

A core question: will the asks/demands of #blacklivesmatterinschools lead to better outcomes for student of color or satisfy the philosophies of a small group of activists? Even deeper, who controls educational policies: elected/appointed school boards, educational (de)reformers, Unions, parents, or a power establishment with an agenda to control schools and other social services?

Is the #blacklivesmatterinschools an example of Critical Policy Analysis?

  • Challenging traditional notions of power, politics and governance
  • Examining policy as discourse and political spectacle
  • Centering the perspectives of the marginalized and the oppressed
  • Interrogating the distribution of power and resources
  • Holding those in power accountable for policy outcomes

Janelle Scott (UC Berkeley) Sonya Douglas-Horford (Teacher College) and Gary Newman (NYU) explore in the just-released, “The Politics of Education Policy in an Era of Inequality

” In a context of increased politicization led by state and federal policymakers, corporate reformers, and for-profit educational organizations … This book provides a critical perspective and analysis of today’s education policy landscape and leadership practice; explores the challenges and opportunities associated with teaching in and leading schools; and examines the structural, political, and cultural interactions among school principals, district leaders, and state and federal policy actors. [The book] shares a theoretical framework and strategies for building bridges between education researchers, practitioners, and policymakers”.

 On one side of the fence, Arne Duncan, Betsy DeVos, the Fordham Institute, the state commissioners, aka the decision-makers, straddling the fence, the teacher unions, and on the other side the Network for Public Education, the Opt Out parents, #blacklivesmatter and the growing host of opponents to the educational establishment, albeit, with many divisions within their ranks.

School discipline is an excellent example, should schools have a code of conduct, a discipline code, with clearly delineated punishments, including suspensions within an education setting, or, are the concepts of suspensions criminalizing students and an integral part of the pipeline to prison?

The “Fund counselors not Cops,” is an excellent example.

New York City employs school safety officers in every school; they are not police officers, not armed; although they report to the police. The number varies with the number of “incidents” reported by the school. All “incidents” in schools must be posted on the Online Reporting School Safety database, ORSS. The Department requires scanning in higher incidence schools and critics point to the scanning as demeaning and counterproductive; frequently resulting in long lines of students, having to arrive a half hour early to be on time to class.

Police officers are assigned to schools with high numbers of school incidents. Are these policies required to make schools safe environments for teaching and learning or do the very presence of police officers and school safety officers negatively impact student achievement?

A large study in New York City found,

We find that exposure to police surges significantly reduced test scores for African American boys, consistent with their greater exposure to policing. The size of the effect increases with age, but there is no discernible effect for African American girls and Hispanic students. Aggressive policing can thus lower educational performance for some minority groups. These findings provide evidence that the consequences of policing extend into key domains of social life, with implications for the educational trajectories of minority youth and social inequality more broadly.

 The results, on the surface point to heavy police presence as depressing academic achievement especially among Afro-American males.

The Pittsburgh School System selected targeted schools for training and implementation in restorative justice practices, after two years, modest reductions in suspensions in the elementary school grades, and surprising results in middle schools,

  During the study period, there was a negative effect on math test scores for students in third through eighth grade, particularly for students in middle-school grades and for black students. 

 The NYC Mayor and Chancellor hold Town Hall meetings, by invitation, elected parent leaders interact with the mayor and chancellor, a meeting was live streamed, the parents came from high poverty, high crime neighborhoods in the Bronx. One parent complained there weren’t enough police around the schools, especially in the morning and at dismissal, she received applause and positive nods from the parents in at the meeting.

Max Eden, at the Manhattan Institute, reviewed school surveys in New York City; parents, teachers and students fill out detailed surveys each year, Eden reported,

The key findings: school climate remained relatively steady under Bloomberg’s discipline reform, but deteriorated rapidly under de Blasio’s. Specifically, teachers report less order and discipline, and students report less mutual respect among their peers, as well as more violence, drug and alcohol use, and gang activity. There was also a significant differential racial impact: nonelementary schools where more than 90% of students were minorities experienced the worst shift in school climate under the de Blasio reform. 

 How should school safety be approached: school safety officers, police, restorative justice, more teachers of color, perhaps more engaging curriculum and teaching?

 As far as “More Black Teachers,” in three school districts in Brooklyn in which the school population is 90% Black the teacher demographic is 60% Black:  Should there be a goal of a percentage of Black teachers? Are Black teachers more effective? (Are White teachers more effective with White students? Implications?) Does teacher gender impact student achievement?

At every level, from school districts, to cities to states to Washington the world of education is divided into factions, some hanging on to deeply entrenched beliefs, others increasingly challenging these beliefs.

Are the policy elites, who have dominated the aeries of the education world, who impose policies, simply yet another example of white privilege dooming the future of children of color? Or, is Critical Policy Analysis correctly challenging the power structure?  Or, are they trying to impose another set of policies emanating from the other side of the philosophical/political spectrum? Are research findings beginning to erode traditional beliefs, or, an example of advocacy research?

Politics pits ever-Trumpers versus never-Trumpers on the Republican side, traditional Democrats versus AOC Democrats on the other side, with a growing center searching for answers.

Wherever you are on the political spectrum one lesson should be clear, without teachers and parents, no educational innovation or policy will gain traction. Cuban and Tyack in “Tinkering Towards Utopia” parsed one hundred years of education reforms, one after another they faded into the dustbin of education policy initiatives without the support of parents and teachers.

Teachers and their union must be at the center of educational policy, as long as policy wonks view teacher unions as adversaries, change will be viewed as punishment.

The UFT, the New York City teacher union, in its new contract, is trying to move schools towards greater collaboration, in spite of opposition from the supervisors union. The chancellor and the union president are working together to engage the lowest performing schools, assisting the schools to develop tools to move the schools forward, risky for both the chancellor and the union.

Those at the top of the ladder, the foundations (Bill Gates, etc.), the electeds, the state commissioners, the think tanks should pick up the phone and engage Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the presidents of the two largest teacher unions.

Remember the Lyndon Johnson story: he appointed a critic of his policies to an important job in he White House, his advisors wondered, why? Johnson replied, “Better peeing out of the tent then peeing into the tent.” (Perhaps a little misogynistic, you get the point)

The Mayor Releases the School Diversity Advisory Group Interim Report: a Tepid Report with No Time Frame for Implementation

The long delayed Report was released on Tuesday, no roll of drums, a “soft” release with tepid, or shall I say a “toe-in-the-water” set of recommendations.

The NY Times headlines, “New York Public Schools Should Be Evaluated on Diversity, Not Just Tests, Panel Says,”

Over the next five years, the panel recommended, elementary and middle schools should reflect the racial makeup of their local school district, and high schools should look as much like their local borough as possible, in terms of race, income level, disability and proficiency in English.

 The education website Chalkbeat emphasizes what is not in the Report, “De Blasio’s School DiversityAdvisory Group issues its first Report — but it doesn’t touch the SHSAT or Gifted and Talented ”

… the group calls for more schools to represent the demographics of their immediate districts rather than the city as a whole. And it calls out nine specific districts that should be required to come up with integration plan.

 … the report is also notable for what it doesn’t include: It does not address the mayor’s controversial proposal to integrate the city’s elite specialized high schools. Nor does it say what to do about segregated gifted and talented programs or selective admissions policies more broadly (those issues are expected to be addressed later).

 The 118-page Report,  is rich in data with many charts and graphs, student demographics by race by district as well as teachers, principals and suspensions.

The Report is carefully written, dozens of recommendations and proposed strategies with a 3-5 year time frame.

Screened middle schools are commonplace across the city, schools that select students by grades on standards tests and other surrogates for race and class. The Report has “serious concerns,”

As an Advisory Group, we have serious concerns about the practice of screening students for middle school admissions – both because of the experience it creates for students and because of the impact it seemingly has on segregation in middle school. The Advisory Group will continue to consider the impact of middle school screens for its final report. However, it is important to this group that we consider the unintended consequences and the potential replacement policies before we move forward on any recommendations on this topic

 The Report has a major caveat, “unintended consequences,” meaning the fear of white/middle class flight.  Aggressive school integration initiatives not only did not achieve their goals in some instances the result exacerbated school segregation.

Admittance screening barriers in high schools are widespread, the Report, again, acknowledges the problem and tip-toes, avoiding any specific policies,

While we as an Advisory Group acknowledge the demographic imbalance in the City’s screened programs, we also recognize the advantage for all students to have access to academically advanced courses as well as the advantages that come from an academic experience fostered by a diverse environment, particularly in high school. The Advisory Group plans to continue examining the admissions practices of NYC high schools, and plans to look at admissions practices that have successfully led to high-performing, integrated school communities elsewhere, before making final recommendations.

New York City has a long history of gifted programs, Intellectually Gifted Programs (IGC) in grades 4, 5 and 6 determined by test scores, Special Progress (SP) classes in Junior High School, a few school districts collected all high achieving kids and placed them in gifted a school, under decentralization school districts had wide latitude, some districts tested kids and placed kids in classes with glitzy names (“Eagle”).

The Bloomberg/Klein administration was more cynical, screened programs were authorized across the city with test scores, interviews, portfolios  etc., required for admission, and , yes, in too many instances the programs/schools were segregated by race.  Most of the screened programs are in Manhattan, a lot less expensive than $40,000 for private school tuition.

The Specialized High Schools admission standards are not addressed in the Report, although, the resuscitated Discovery Program could increase students of color, we won’t know until the end of summer.  The nine districts listed in the Report will be encouraged to create their own plans, there may not be as much enthusiasm as there was in District 1 (Lower East Side) 3 (Upper West Side) and 15.Brownstone Brooklyn).

Under decentralization District 22 created one of the largest integration programs in the nation – over 1,000 Afro-American kids were bused from overcrowded all minority schools to underutilized white schools. The program was created by an elected school board was support from the electeds. It faded away under mayoral control. The current local boards, CECs, are ‘elected” by the local officers of parent associations. The CECs do have zoning authority within their district, albeit, with the approval of the Chancellor.

A mayor with “aspirations,” who defines himself as the most progressive mayor in the nation, who wants to build his progressive resume without alienating middle class white families, aka, “unintended consequences.”

Reminds me of the 19th century term, “mugwump .”

The Report has dozens of recommendations, a section rolling culturally relevant pedagogy into schools across the city, as well as training staff and prospective staff; recommendations to increase the role of parents and on and on.

The many datasets are interesting, and, raise questions. Why the sharp disparity in suspensions from district to district?  More effective restorative justice programs or superintendents tightening the faucet?  District 23, Brownsville, with among the highest crime rates in the city has among the lowest suspension rates, District 19, East New York, along side Brownsville, many more suspensions. District 23 also has (not in the Report) many instances of kids not receiving mandated Special Education services: a coincidence or district leadership that simply prohibits suspensions and ignores Special Education service mandates?

There are lots of doubts whether the administration or the chancellor intends to act aggressively. Tweets from NY Times reporter,

Eliza Shapiro‏ @elizashapiro

I heard a sense of resignation today on de Blasio’s willingness to integrate schools among some members of the working group today. When I asked about whether City Hall is going to make integration a priority, Maya Wiley [committee co-chair] noted that the mayor is only in office for 3 more yrs.

What if a good school in NYC meant a racially integrated school, not just a school with high test scores? It’s up to de Blasio, who has spent the last 5 years avoiding use of the word “segregation,” to decide whether that proposal will become city policy:

The Report is an interim report, I fear the final report will be up to the next mayor.

What Can We Learn from the Dutch? Can (De)Reformers, Teacher Unions, Charters, Opt-Outs Co-Exist and Schools Thrive?

(Revised from a 2015 blog)

I was on a bus traveling from Aachen in Belgium to Maastricht in the Netherlands when I noticed a huge American flag. The bus driver told us it was a United States military cemetery, the grave sites of over 8,000 fallen Americans. The residents of Margraten, a nearby town have “adopted” our soldiers and visit the site maintaining and placing flowers on the graves. “It’s the least we can do,” the bus driver remarked, “your sons and daughters sacrificed their lives to protect us from the Nazis.”

I love the Dutch.

Amsterdam is filled with bikes, everyone, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity is pedaling around the cobblestone streets. I asked the concierge the reason why bikes were so commonplace, with a sly smile, “Part of our anti-alcoholism campaign, if you get drunk and drive you kill someone, if you ride your bike and fall you skin your knee, we like to drink.” Everyone, from bartenders to hotel staff to government officials to teachers is interested and knowledgeable about both American and world politics. They are baffled by our current administration, and, worry about rising nationalist sentiments in their nation.

Can it be their education system?

The darling of the anti-reformers has been Finland, without dissing Finland; the population is only a little larger than Brooklyn, virtually no childhood poverty, a homogeneous population and income equality. The Netherlands is a more interesting nation, the size of Connecticut and Massachusetts, a 15% immigrant population highly concentrated in major cities.

The Netherlands education system functions like a group of 8,000 charter schools.

The Atlantic describes the unique school-centered approach to education,

With complete control of their schools’ budgets and no laws about class size … principals can opt to have two classes of 15 second-graders each or to have one class of 30 and hire an art teacher, … They decide how to evaluate their teachers. They even pick when the school day starts and ends for each grade.

 Teachers across the Netherlands say that while they have certain topics they’re required to cover, they feel free to teach how they want. The idea of a scripted curriculum with pre-prepared lessons, used by thousands in the U.S., is alien. [A principal interviewed] does require his teachers to make lesson plans to ensure they’re thinking ahead, but he never checks them. “I don’t know what they’re doing right now,” he said. “I don’t have to know.”

In high school, Dutch students are required to learn certain things in each subject, but the sequence and details are left up to the schools. [The principal] of Leon van Gelder high school in Groningen, says she only steps in when a teacher’s students are failing exams. Otherwise, teachers say, they’re free to do what they want. “We have a program … but everyone does it their own way,” said Sophie Traas, a French teacher at Leon van Gelder.

According to the Organization for Economic Community Development (OECD) the Netherlands has a 92% high school graduation rate, half of all high school students, the highest in Europe, are in what we would call Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, there are over 2,000 vocation areas. 87% of three year olds are in pre-school programs and 100% of four year olds and there are exit exams in the elementary and secondary schools, not required but commonly taken by students,

The Center on International Education Benchmarking reports an overview of the Netherlands,

Think in terms of a national “parent trigger” system, “… any small group of parents can require the state to establish a school for their children at state expense …, most schools are managed by a school board responsible for several schools, to which the money is supplied by the state. The schools can be religious or non-religious and are often affiliated with organizations committed to a particular pedagogical approach, such as Montessori or Waldorf schools…”

Schools compete with each other for students, “There are no defined school catchment areas in the Netherlands, so parents may enroll their children in any primary school they wish.”

Secondary schools can set their own entrance requirements and use the elementary school exit exam scores and the recommendation of the elementary school teacher to determine acceptance.

As is commonplace in Europe an Inspectorate is charged with inspecting schools to make sure that the schools’ funds are being spent appropriately, the curriculum is in place and the attainment targets are being achieved.

The Netherlands minorities include Indonesians, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao in the Caribbean (former colonies) and new immigrants from troubled nations in Africa and the Middle East. Dutch schools are increasingly segregated by race,

“Many Dutch parents, apparently deciding that their children would be more likely to get a better education in schools populated by children from better educated families chose schools that answer to that description, leaving behind what have come to be called ‘Black schools,’ populated by students of immigrants who, though they have the right to move to other primary schools, often cannot do so or do not wish to do so”

By every measurement Dutch schools are rated at the top of the OECD nations:

Why are Dutch schools so successful?

* “The very high level of support for young children in the Netherlands;
* The willingness of the Dutch to provide substantially more financial support to schools serving poor and minority children than to others;
* The high standards set by the government for student attainment and the effectiveness of the Dutch accountability system with respect to those standards;
* The almost legendary effectiveness of the Dutch approach to mathematics teaching;
* A system of pathways through secondary education that does an unusually good job of matching students … to available education program options and motivates students to work hard in school by assuring them that there will be jobs for them if they do so; and, finally,
* The Dutch teacher preparation system assures teacher quality … candidates are among the top quarter of all school graduates”

Compared with other OECD nations the Netherlands provide higher teacher salary “… and has developed a severe shortage of teachers; the reasons are complex:, some of them demographic, some economic, some having to do with a decline in the perceived status of teachers and some having to do with what the teachers perceive as government intruding in recent years on their professional prerogatives.”

All is not perfect in the Netherlands, in 2012 one of the teacher unions went on strike,

Dutch teachers are to go on strike against a proposed increase in their working hours Dutch secondary teachers – who are members of the union Teachers in Action (LIA) are going on strike for three days this week to protest against the government increasing their hours and their teaching time for no extra pay as well as shortening their holidays. The government is also cutting 300 million Euros from the education budget which will mean bigger classes and even more pressure on the teachers.

The Netherlands appear to support both the reform, parent and teacher union agendas. All charter-like schools run locally, with fully unionized teachers. School funding that matches student need, and a totally reverse school choice at the high school level, the choice is at the school level, as well as highly paid and educated teachers who are fighting against erosions of teacher autonomy. A school system that leads to a job, a school system with high graduation rates and a school system with off the charts test score compared other OECD nations.

The Dutch have seemed to combine policies that appear antithetical to each of the sectors in our nation. Highly autonomous schools, similar to our charters, the government funds all schools, public and religious, all schools are unionized, a “parent-trigger,” parents can start schools, almost total school autonomy with testing at levels, well-paid staff with high pre-service academic requirements, half of high school students are in CTE programs leading to employment, and, on the negative side, a largely segregated school system.

The Obama-Duncan attempts to nationalize education (Race to the Top and the Common Core) have been abysmal failures. The fifty states should be viewed as fifty separate nations; federal intrusion with dollars seemed attractive to state commissioners and turned out to antagonize teachers and parents, and, increasingly, state political establishments.

It is possible that a state could seek a “grand bargain,” emulating the Dutch education system (except integrating schools), unlikely, but possible. It makes more sense than the (de)formers, funded by the far right and billionaires imposing contentious policies that have pitted the (de)formers against teacher, parents the progressives.

And, let us not forget that New York City, fka, New Amsterdam, was a Dutch colony until 1664, Russell Shorto in “The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America,” recounts the origins of our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic city.

Have the teacher strikes created a blue wave of national teacher activism? How will teacher activism impact presidential candidate platforms?

A year from now, February 4, 2020, the greatest circus in the world begins: the caucus/primary race to choose a Democratic candidate for president. Iowa voters, first in the nation, will cast ballots at caucuses around the state, a week later New Hampshire voters will trek to the polls and every week or so through mid June the 4,000 plus delegates will be selected and at the Democratic Convention, July 13-16, select their candidate.

The Convention Rul es reduces the power of superdelegates (usually electeds) and also restricts voters to members of the Democratic Party, (Bernie is not a Democratic Party member).

See Rules here.

Check out the dates of primaries here.

The following is a list of notable announced candidates:

  • Cory Booker(D), a senator from New Jersey, announced that he was running for president on February 1, 2019.
  • Pete Buttigieg(D), the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, announced that he was running for president on January 23, 2019.
  • Julian Castro(D), a former secretary of housing and urban development and San Antonio mayor, formally announced his candidacy on January 12, 2019.
  • John Delaney(D), a former representative from Maryland, filed to run for president on August 10, 2017.
  • Tulsi Gabbard(D), a representative from Hawaii, announced that she had decided to run for president on January 11, 2019.
  • Kirsten Gillibrand(D), a senator from New York, announced that she was running for president on January 15, 2019.
  • Kamala Harris(D), a senator from California, announced that she was running for president on January 21, 2019.
  • Elizabeth Warren(D), senator from Massachusetts, announced she had formed an exploratory committee on December 31, 2018.

Hovering on the edge of candidacies: Joe Biden, U. S. Senators Sherrod Brown, (Ohio) and Amy Klobushar (MN), still considering former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and probably a host of others; a few “maybes,” who have been visiting early primary states, current NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo.

One of the fascinating questions is whether the new found teacher activism, the strikes in red states, the strike in LA, the approaching strike in Denver, will continue to build. In the November, 2018 hundreds of teachers and nurses ran for local offices around the country; I suspect the activism will translate into running for delegate seats for the 2020 Democratic Convention.

The strikes did not grow out of Facebook posts, the strikes were the result of grassroots activism. With schools located in every town and across every state, teachers have a presence and the strikes begat more activism.

The Janus decision that was planned by the anti-teacher union, pro-choice think tanks and oligarchies seems to have  had the opposite of the effect intended; rather than erode the power of unions the SCOTUS decision appears to have reinvigorated teacher unions.

Hundreds of teachers  across the nation ran for political office.

In New York State the blue wave was a tsunami, Democratic wins both in September primaries, throwing out “straddlers,” who tried to work both sides of the political landscape and in November,  seizing control of both houses of the legislature by majorities that have never been seen.

Eliza Shapiro, in the NY Times, wrote,

Over the last decade, the charter school movement gained a significant foothold in New York, demonstrating along the way that it could build fruitful alliances with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other prominent Democrats. The movement hoped to set a national example — if charter schools could make it in a deep blue state like New York, they could make it anywhere.

But the election … strongly suggested that the golden era of charter schools is over in New York. The insurgent Democrats … have repeatedly expressed hostility to the movement.

John Liu, a newly elected Democratic state senator from Queens, has said New York City should “get rid of” large charter school networks. Robert Jackson, a Democrat who will represent a Manhattan district in the State Senate, promised during his campaign to support charter schools only if they have unionized teachers.

And another incoming Democratic state senator broadcast a simple message about charter schools: “I’m not interested in privatizing our public schools.”

 The statutory cap on charter schools in New York City is about to be reached, with little chance of increasing the cap.

Is this a New York State only phenomenon, or, is it spreading across the nation?

Education has been far down the issue list for presidential candidates, not so the last few months: will education remain high on the political agenda; most of the announced Democratic candidates supported the LA strike.

While education issues vary from state to state one uniform issue is charter schools. One of the first out of the box candidates is Cory Booker, a vigorous supporter of school choice, aka, charter schools and vouchers. As part of the rollout of his candidacy he paraded his hedge fund charter supporters.

Kamala Harris, was California Attorney General before her ascension to the Senate, as AG in California she threatened to incarcerate parents of students who were truants, and has been silent on charter schools, a major issue in California.

Elizabeth Warren began her career as an elementary school teacher in Oklahoma, and, at the 2018 AFT Convention gave a rousing pro-public education speech. Amy Klobuchar (MN), at the 2016 AFT Convention wowed the audience with passionate support of public schools. The newly elected governor of Minnesota nominated the Mary Cathlyn Ricker, the Executive Vice President of the AFT as the Commissioner of Education for Minnesota. (Read George Will, Washington Post assessment of Klobuchar’s presidential chances here).

Education was absent from the 2016 Clinton-Trump campaign and teachers were divided. Most teacher unions endorsed Clinton, significant numbers of teachers supported Bernie; in November some Bernie teacher supporters voted for third party candidates or failed to vote.

For the next year ten, or fifteen, or twenty Democrats will vie for public support, will seek their place on the political spectrum, how far left can I go? how do I attract younger activists without alienating older voters? can I get the youngest voters into my campaign? can I raise the dollars necessary to run a campaign? Next : the February to June race across fifty states, the weekly posting of delegates won, the “dropouts,” the quiet and not so quiet “arrangements” among candidates, the hundreds of candidate forums culminating in the July 13-16th Convention.

I don’t have a candidate, I do know who I‘m not supporting, I’ll contribute  what I can, dollars are essential, and, whomever wins will be my candidate.

Democrats who were unhappy with Hillary or just plain alienated by the process, who decided not to vote may have determined the outcome.

Teacher activism across the nation can not only play a role in setting a pro-public school, anti-choice platform; it can also mobilize a blue wave of teacher activists.

The teacher strike in West Virginia may have the turned the tide of politics across the nation.

How Should We Evaluate/Assess/Rate Teacher Performance? (Maybe Peer Review)

We live in a world of assessment; let’s take a look at sports. Every major league baseball team has a group of data wonks who collect bits and pieces of data and create algorithms to assess and predict future performance. Once upon a time we could quote batting averages, home runs, earned run averages, now we’re overwhelmed by Wins Over Replacement (WAR), launch angle, etc… We live in the world of Sabermetrics (“A Guide to Sabermetrics Research”).  Every sport has its own set of data used to assess player performance and to predict outcomes.

If we work out we keep track of minutes on the treadmill, number of pull-ups and dips, deep knee bends,  we can measure our performance. We can keep track on our I-Phone or I-Watch. If we play golf: has our handicap dropped? Or, tennis: are we beating players we used to lose to?

Dancers and musicians practice with a coach, guided practice, and improve at their art.

Which raises the nurture/nature question?  Do some athletes and artists have encoded DNA that makes them a better athlete or musician, or, does 10,000 hours of practice produce excellence? Grit and determination or natural ability?

David Epstein, The Sport’s Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance explores,

The debate is as old as physical competition. Are stars like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Serena Williams genetic freaks put on Earth to dominate their respective sports? Or are they simply normal people who overcame their biological limits through sheer force of will and obsessive training?

The truth is far messier than a simple dichotomy between nature and nurture. In the decade since the sequencing of the human genome, researchers have slowly begun to uncover how the relationship between biological endowments and a competitor’s training environment affects athleticism. Sports scientists have gradually entered the era of modern genetic research.

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell lays out the much quoted “10,000 hours rule,”  simply put: gaining mastery requires 10,000 hours of “deliberate” practice.

The principle holds that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field.

But a new Princeton study tears that theory down. In a meta-analysis of 88 studies on deliberate practice, the researchers found that practice accounted for just a 12% difference in performance in various domains.

In education, a 4% difference
In professions, just a 1% difference

In it, [the authors] argue that deliberate practice is only a predictor of success in fields that have super stable structures. For example, in tennis, chess, and classical music, the rules never change, so you can study up to become the best.

But in less stable fields, like entrepreneurship  [and teaching]… rules can go out the window… mastery is more than a matter of practice.

Teaching is a far more complex task: on one side the teacher, with whatever skills s/he possesses, on the other side twenty or thirty students with a wide range of life experiences: are they hungry, or bullied, or depressed, and, in the middle the content you’re expected to transmit to the students, content, or, standards, or a curriculum or a program, none of which you played a role in selecting. Almost ten years ago the Obama-Duncan administration decided  dense algorithms can be used to compare teachers to teachers who are teaching “similar” students, the tool is called Value-Added Measurement, referred to as VAM, it was rolled out as “we can use results on standardized test scores to rate and compare teachers.” John King, at that time the NYS Commissioner adopted the use of VAM combined with supervisory observations, to assess teacher performance.

The pushback was vigorous, Chancellor Merryl Tisch convened a summit, experts from around the country to discuss the efficacy of using the VAM tool. The experts were crystal clear, VAM was never intended to assess the performance of an individual teacher. The Board of Regents agreed upon a four year moratorium on the use of standardized test scores to assess teacher performance. Last week both house of the state legislature passed a bill returning the question of teacher assessment to school districts, with considerable pushback from parents who felt district would simply substitute another off-the-shelf test.

See my blog here

We should completely de-link teacher assessment from test results.

The Netherlands are among the highest achieving school systems in the OECD, 8,000 unionized public schools functioning like charter schools. the schools have extremely wide discretion in how they run. Read a detailed description here.

European school systems use an inspectorate system (See links in the blog here), the school supervisory authority sends teams of experts into schools to assess the functioning of the school.

Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s New York State sent Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams into schools for a deep dive into the functioning of the school and produced highly specific (“Findings and Recommendations”) reports. I was the teacher union representative on many teams.

New York City conducts periodic Quality Review visits to schools, a type of inspectorate system.

Experienced educators conduct a two-day school visit. They observe classrooms, speak with parents, students, teachers, and school leaders. They use the Quality Review Rubric to help them examine the information they gather during the school visit.

After the school visit, a Quality Review Report is published on the school’s DOE webpage. The Quality Review Report rates the school on 10 indicators of the Quality Review Rubric. The report also describes areas of strength and areas of focus and has written feedback on six of the indicators. Information from this report is also used in the School Quality Snapshot.

The QR teams can be improved, they should be joint Department/Union teams and the union should play a role in constructing the Quality Review Rubric.

As far as the assessment of individual teachers we shouldn’t fear peer review, respected colleagues providing feedback.

Let me say, I’m not hopeful. At a recent live streamed town hall, (by invitation only), the mayor, the chancellor and the chancellor’s crew met with parent and community leaders from the Bronx. To a question about the large number of schools in a district the chancellor posited an additional deputy superintendent, and added, the press would attack him for bloating the administration, and, the oress would be correct. Level upon level of supervision “monitors” data: educational decisions should be made in schools not in distant offices. A parent worried, she was in her son’s 6th grade class and saw student work replete with frequent spelling errors, the deputy chancellor suggested a Google Spelling app, the parent sighed, “He’ll only want to play video games on the computer.” Maybe a sign the school has serious instructional issues?

Empowering schools and holding them accountable for their decisions make much more sense than measuring and punishing, and, BTW, resources matter they matter a great deal, and, any school assessment should factor in “poverty risk load.” (See discussion here ).

Figthing over whether a teacher is “developing” or “effective” is insane, maybe we should be working to create collaborative school communities in which school leaders, parents and teachers work together to craft better outcomes.

Teacher Evaluation: NYS Legislature Returns Teacher Evaluation to Local Districts within Collective Bargaining and Decouples from Student Testing

The New York State legislature voted to return the teacher evaluation process to school districts,

This bill would amend the annual teacher and principal evaluation system to eliminate the mandatory use of state assessments to determine a teacher or principal’s effectiveness. 

This bill seeks to maintain the rigorous standards set for teacher and principal evaluations, while simultaneously addressing some of the concerns from parents and educators. Allowing school districts and teachers, who know their students best, the ability to negotiate whether they would like to use the standardized tests in teacher or principal evaluations will ensure that a more fair and effective evaluation system will be established. Furthermore, in order to ensure that schools are not negatively impacted as a result of their choice between retaining their current evaluation system and choosing a new one, this bill provides that school districts will not lose their state aid increases while a district is in the process of negotiating/entering into a successor collective bargaining plan. 

The original law requiring school districts to use standardized test results to assess teacher performance was widely criticized by teachers and parents, and, in response to the criticism a four-year moratorium was placed on the use of standardized test scores, this is the last year of the moratorium. During the moratorium districts have been using a combination of supervisory observations and “student learning objectives,” aka, “measurements of student learning” determined at the district level, called the “matrix .”

With over 700 school districts in New York State the law returns the question of teacher evaluation to the local level and to the collective bargaining process. Districts will have flexibility within the frameworks set by the new law.

The larger question was whether teacher evaluation should be set by the Commissioner and the Board of Regents, set by the legislative process or driven, within guidelines set in statute, at the local level by elected school boards and teacher unions: that question has been determined.

The law has nothing to do with the administration of grades 3-8 tests, all fifty states must give annual tests.

The anti-testing factions within the state have vigorously opposed the new law  arguing that any changes should specifically reject the use of any testing in teacher evaluation, basically returning to supervisory evaluations only.

On the supervisory observation side New York State requires school districts to choose from among a range of instructional practice frameworks to assess teachers. New York City uses the Danielson Frameworks; other districts use Marzano, Marshall and a few others. These frameworks were originally designed to be used in teacher preparation programs, not to assess teacher performance. Experienced supervisors and teachers can generally agree on what constitutes a “highly effective” or “ineffective lesson,” less agreement on differentiating “effective” from “developing;” more troubling is the use of observations as a retributive act. As the relationship between the teacher union and the former mayor deteriorated in New York City the number of “unsatisfactory” observations increased dramatically. The number of unsatisfactory observations remained at about the same level for decades, tripled under Bloomberg, and returned to prior levels under the current mayor.

The current system places supervisory observations on one side of the matrix and locally developed tools, Student Learning Objectives (SLO) or Measurements of Student Learning (MOSL) on the other side of the matrix. The collective bargain agreement in New York City allows for an appeal if the observations and SLO/MOSL scores show a wide disparity.

There is a fear the smaller districts with fewer resources will choose an “off the shelf” standardized test in addition to the state standardized tests, an additional test for students. Parents have options: they can opt out, or, lobby their elected school board. The Bureau of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), regional student education centers, can coordinate the creation of SLO/MOSL in regions across the state.

Why does the federal law require annual tests? Current federal law requires standardized tests in English and Mathematics in grades 3-8 because a coalition of civil rights organizations lobbied vigorously to include testing in the law. In the run-up to the passage of the new iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) the Democratic co-sponsor of the law supported required testing,

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., stood on the Senate floor and called standardized testing a civil-rights issue. “We know that if we don’t have ways to measure students’ progress, and if we don’t hold our states accountable, the victims will invariably be the kids from poor neighborhoods, children of color, and students with disabilities,” she said. 

The NAACP and many other civil rights organizations support the annual student testing requirement,

Nineteen groups, including the NAACP and the Children’s Defense Fund, recently released a statement backing the law’s core testing requirement. “ESEA must continue to require high-quality, annual statewide assessments for students in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school,” Wade Henderson, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said at a Senate hearing … 

The opt out parents, concentrated in New York State and Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education are vigorous opponents of annual student testing, and, in many cases, all student testing.

The NAACP president Derrick Johnson spoke at the Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Indianapolis in October, the NAACP and NPE both oppose charter schools and the NAACP has called for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools, a position taken a few years ago at their national convention; allies on one issue, opponents on another

New York State has a long history of testing. Regent examinations in New York State began in the late 19th century;  4th and 8th grade testing prior to the NCLB  annual testing. For decades the NY Times published the results of grades 4 and 8 tests, by district in descending school order.  The opposition to testing is partially due to the Obama/Duncan decisions to tests to assess the performance of individual teachers, to use tests to punish schools, the complexity of the algorithm coupled with disastrous roll-out of the Common Core: diverse constituencies melded.

A few days ago the state announced the latest round of schools requiring interventions, 

The State Education Department today announced district and school accountability determinations as required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and New York’s ESSA plan. State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia identified 106 school districts as Target Districts, 245 schools for Comprehensive Support and Improvement and 125 schools for Targeted Support and Improvement.

 I suspect some of these schools were identified due to scores in subgroups: Title 1 eligible, English language learners and students with disabilities, one of the prime goals of the law. I do not know the impact of opt outs on the computation to determine a school’s accountability status. The law requires a 95% participation rate in schools, and, if schools fall below the required participation rate states must develop plans to increase the rate; Optout is only an issue in New York, Colorado and Washington.

It is highly unlikely that we will see any changes in the federal requirements in the near future. New York State receives $1.6 billion annually in federal dollars; the state is not going to take any actions that might jeopardize federal dollars.

If you are interesting in pursuing the methods by which the state determines accountability status click on the link(s) below.

Elementary School Sample PowerPoint Template: Explaining the New Accountability System

High School Sample PowerPoint Template: Explaining the New Accountability System

Understanding the New York State Accountability System Under ESSA

This document provides answers to questions about the New York State Accountability System under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Answers to questions are based upon the 2018-19 accountability determinations, which were made using the 2017-18 school year results