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Should Religious Exemptions Be Available for the COVID Vaccine? Will SCOTUS Intervene in Determining Religious Exemptions?

A year ago COVID spread seemed uncontrollable and Governor Cuomo, under emergency powers granted by the state legislature placed in-person occupancy limits on attendance at religious services. We knew the virus was highly contagious and his order seemed reasonable. The order was challenged alleging the order violated the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” [The Fourteenth Amendment included states in the First Amendment guarantees, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;”]. The lower courts sustained the governor’s actions and in an unprecedented action the Supreme Court, without any oral argument, overturned the actions of the governor.

The conservative Court majority wrote,

Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.

Justice Sotomayor dissented,

Epidemiologists and physicians generally agree that religious services are among the riskiest activities. Justices of this Court play a deadly game in second guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily.

The Court, in an extraordinarily speedy hearing and decision framed the limitations on attendance at religious services as a violation of the First Amendment.

As COVID and Delta continued to ravage the nation the courts appear to have changed direction. Indiana University announced in July that all students must be vaccinated and the case was fast tracked to the US Court of Appeals, the court rejected the appeal in no uncertain terms. (Read decision here)

I wrote in detail about the question of the power of the court, and, the impact of public opinion on the courts – take few minutes and read here.

As the school year approached school districts began to require employees to be vaccinated and the New York City requirement would place unvaccinated employees on unpaid leaves. A group of teachers appealed and the court rapidly denied their appeals.

NYS Governor Hochul ordered all hospital employees vaccinated with no religious exemption. Once again a group of employees challenged the order, a federal judge in Utica issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) and Tuesday made the TRO permanent pending a full hearing before the court.

 Plaintiffs have established that [Hochul’s order] conflicts with longstanding federal protections for religious beliefs and that they and others will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of injunctive relief. Plaintiffs have also satisfied the remaining elements necessary to obtain preliminary relief. To reiterate, these conclusions have nothing to do with how an individual employer should handle an individual employee’s religious objection to a workplace vaccination requirement. But they have everything to do with the proper division of federal and state power. In granting a preliminary injunction, the Court recognizes that it may not have the final word. “Congress permits, as an exception to the general rule, an immediate appeal from an interlocutory order that either grants or denies a preliminary injunction.” Because the issues in dispute are of exceptional importance to the health and the religious freedoms of our citizens, an appeal may very well be appropriate.

Governor Hochul announced the state will appeal the decision.

In a landmark 1990 case, Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, the court ruled that states do not have to provide a religious exemption from a generally applicable law that is neutral on its face with respect to religion. Courts have consistently found that vaccine mandates do not require a religious exemption, and several states — California, Connecticut, Maine, New York, West Virginia and Mississippi — do not offer one.

The Conway Regional Health System in Arkansas, for example, requires that people who claim to oppose vaccines because of their use of cell lines from decades-old abortions must also attest that they do not use other products that were tested on cell lines, a long list that includes Tylenol, aspirin and Benadryl. (Read discussiion here)

Dr. Joseph R. Sellers, president of the Medical Society of the State of New York, said in a statement that the nonprofit organization for physicians, residents and medical students was “greatly dismayed by today’s decision.”

“We believe this step will result in a flurry of attempts to circumvent the well-reasoned vaccination requirement that was an important step towards reversing the recent surge attributable to the more easily spread Delta variant, … No major religious denomination opposes vaccinations, and the Supreme Court has for over 100 years upheld vaccination requirements as a means to protect the public health.”

Litigants cited violations of the U.S. Constitution, along with the New York State Human Rights Law and New York City Human Rights Law, claims the vaccination violates the law because the state Department of Health regulation requiring workers to get the vaccine provided no exemption for “sincere religious beliefs that compel the refusal of such vaccination.”

The appeal, submitted by the Thomas More Society, a conservative think tank court papers said all of the available vaccines employ aborted fetus cell lines in their testing, development or production. But religious leaders have disagreed over the issue and the Vatican issued a statement last year saying the vaccines were “morally acceptable.”(Read discussion here )

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in its interpretation of Title VII, defining “religious practices to include moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.” The EEOC also stipulated that “[t]he fact that no religious group espouses such beliefs or the fact that the religious group to which the individual professes to belong may not accept such belief will not determine whether the belief is a religious belief.” In other words, that Pope Francis sees vaccination as morally permissible for Roman Catholics even though vaccines were tested or developed using cell lines derived from aborted fetuses has no bearing on whether a Catholic may have a protected religious belief against vaccination because of the vaccines’ remote connection to abortion.(Read extended discussion here)

The question is whether someone’s personal religious belief can extinguish a law or regulation has been the subject of litigation for many years.

Core questions:

Why aren’t the protections afforded to individuals under the free exercise of religion absolute?

Does the rule of law, public safety and general welfare trump any claim of religious exemption?

 As far back as the late 19th century, the Supreme Court has acknowledged it would be absurd to allow people to opt out of many generally applicable laws by simply claiming their religious beliefs compelled contrary action. In 1879, the court correctly posited, “Suppose one believed that human sacrifices were a necessary part of religious worship; would it be seriously contended that the civil government under which he lived could not interfere to prevent a sacrifice?”

 Does claiming a religious exemption makes laws optional; each person would be in charge of which laws s/he wanted to comply with and when.

The “protection of society” would surely seem to include obtaining a vaccine to protect oneself and others from a deadly virus.

We know the government can sometimes impose regulations, even if those regulations burden actions taken in furtherance of religious beliefs.  

The Supreme Court concluded in 1940, “Conduct remains subject to regulation for the protection of society.”

 The “protection of society” would seem to include obtaining a vaccine to protect oneself and others from a deadly virus. This is perhaps the quintessential example of the government having a compelling interest to enact a law, even if it arguably burdens the freedom of religion in some narrow cases.

(Read detailed discussion here)

The docket of the Supreme Court is determined by the members of the court, 7-8,000 cases are appealed to the court, about 80 are scheduled for argument, and, recently the court has created a “shadow docket,” without oral argument or briefing cases that the court believes will result in “ irreparable harm” are decided, frequently in unsigned decisions.

Once a court renders a decision it rarely revisits the issue, called “stare decisis,” unless, of course, it decides to revisit the question, and, the current court has made it clear, it has no compunction about revisiting prior decisions .

On November 3rd the Supreme Court will probably expand the 2008 5-4 Heller decision, reinterpreting the founders meaning of the 2nd Amendment to allow open weapon carry in New York State.

On December 1st the Supreme Court will revisit Roe v Wade and expectations are the six member conservative faction will overturn or seriously limit.

Has the Supreme Court exceeded the authority envisioned by the Constitution? Is the time approaching that the powers of the Court should be curtailed? A NY Times guest editorial warns,

… the Reagan revolution in the law … was motivated by resistance to judicial meddling, primarily by the Warren court of the 1950s and ’60s, and it rested on the idea that judges are stewards of an existing body of law and not innovators charged with radically remaking it.

Failing to remember that will squander the public trust that is so essential to the court’s historically unquestioned authority to say what the law is. Already this year, Americans’ approval of the court has plummeted.

It will also strengthen the calls for structural changes. Some proposals to overhaul the Supreme Court — like the institution of term limits and a modest expansion of the bench — would arguably be salutary.

Is the Next Chancellor Standing Offstage? Is the Next Chancellor David Banks?

The twelve-candidate, ranked choice voting Democratic mayoral primary seems a long time ago and the presumptive next mayor, Eric Adams has three months to go until he raises his right hand and is sworn in as mayor.

Adams is overwhelmed with advice, overwhelmed with office seekers and the New York Times reports his closest confidant is former mayor Michael Bloomberg.

New York is a strong mayor system of municipal government, the mayor runs the city. S/he appoints all the commissioners, controls the budget and appoints a majority of the school board, effectively appointing the school district leader, called the chancellor. The 51-member City Council approves the budget, holds oversight hearings and has no control over spending.

Bloomberg gave his commissioners wide authority, his school leader choice, Joel Klein, was an attorney, a litigator and a disaster. Dennis Walcott succeeded Klein as chancellor and allowed the senior staff to basically run the school system.

Mayor de Blasio brought back a retired superintendent, Carman Farina, who reverted the system to the pre-Bloomberg management structure. De Blasio tried, unsuccessfully, to intertwine political and education issues: admissions to the Specialized High Schools, testing for the Gifted and Talented classes, furthering school integration plans, retaining a heavy reliance on testing and top-down lockstep centralized leadership.

The school system is in disarray.

The self-appointed cognoscenti, (and the New York Times), predicts David Banks, the CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation will be the next chancellor.

New York has a unique school management structure, most schools are part of the traditional geographic school districts superintendents reporting to executive superintendents reporting to the chancellor; however clusters of schools work with school support organizations, they look like and are not Charter Management Organizations.  Six of the support organizations are clustered in the Affinity District, 147 (out of 1800) schools with wide latitude as to educational modalities and some funding flexibilities. Other support organizations work within the traditional structure. I know, too much – Norm Fruchter at the NYU Metro Center takes a deep dive (Read here and here)

David Banks is the CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation  (checkout website here), a support organization that works with five 6-12 all boys schools in New York City and one in Newark. Let me emphasize, these are public schools, not charter schools. (David’s bio here Click to access DB-Bio-1-19-18-updated.pdf)

David did not follow the traditional route, some will criticize that he didn’t “pay his dues,” others will remind us of his extremely challenging mission, young men of color fall at the bottom of any list: highest dropout rates, lowest college enrollment etc. and David is committed to these kids.

The chancellor is at the top of the pyramid and typically the “new guy (gal)” rolls out some new testing program or other new initiative. How do we define doing the same thing over and over again knowing it isn’t working? I’m told we will be screening kids for social and emotional problems using a tool called DESSA. What will we do with the results? Do we have sufficient numbers of counselors, social workers and psychologists to address the trauma faced by far too many kids?

For endless decades chancellors have been searching for the magic bullet, the big fix, the elusive “answer,” sadly we know the search is fruitless.

Linda Darling-Hammond, at the Learning Policy Institute, asks What Will It Take to Promote Whole-Child Development, Learning, and Thriving at Scale, (Read here) and points to a cluster of schools one of which is in New York City, the Internationals Network.

The Internationals Network is a support organization working with seventeen secondary schools that only accept new immigrants, an extremely challenging cohort of students, with outstanding results. Over the summer the superintendent, principals, teachers and students met and produced a report, (See report here), thoughtful and exactly what schools should be doing – the “ask,” from the entire team including the superintendent – give us “flexibility with accountability,” the answers are in the schools, thoughtful teachers and school leaders can craft pedagogical models that work for the children in their schools.

The current hubbub over Gifted and Talented classes is an example. Mayor Bloomberg created the model, a citywide test given to four-year olds to attract supporters, a cynical and effective political decision. Mayor de Blasio’s Desegregation Task Force recommended ending the classes, de Blasio demurred, he needed the same voters, until this week when a potential run for governor might be assisted by abolishing the classes.

The decision should not be made by chancellors; these decisions should be made by District and School Leadership Teams at the local level. The battle over heterogeneous versus homogeneous classes is decades old, the Renzulli Method (Watch a superb 5-minute presentation here) explains how to deal with giftedness in a heterogeneous class.

Some schools require highly structured programs; others have or could acquire the skills to develop tools to serve their students and families. We should target funding to address the needs of, to use the words of William Julius Wilson, the “truly disadvantaged,” we should seek out more Black, male school leaders, we should ask schools: what training do you want the chancellor to provide.

We need a bottom up school system, a school system driven by the needs of the schools not by the needs of chancellors.

And, don’t be seduced by technology, we don’t need a deputy chancellor for technology, some day “they” may staple a chip into our earlobes, until then kids need relationships with nurturing mentors. We have to learn from each other, we have to learn to share, learn to ask, learn to be reflective.

David, you have seen on a day-to-day basis the challenges we face and I’m sure you have been frustrated by seemingly distant decisions that impede not assist.

The mantle of chancellor does not come with a scepter and orb, how many so-called education reforms are rightfully rusting away.

Let’s take what is working and scale it up.

We need a leader, a coach, who listens to the troops, who engages us, who challenges us, btw, as do the Mets.

Mandated Vaccinations versus Chaos: Can you run the NYC school system without 8,000 teachers and tens of thousands of others? [Updated]

Governor Hochul is requiring all health care workers be vaccinated and many are refusing; Mayor de Blasio is requiring that all New York City teachers (and other school-based employees) show proof of vaccination by Monday, September 27th. If they fail to present evidence of vaccination they will be placed on a leave without pay. The decision has been temporarily suspended pending the US Court of Appeals hearing arguments on Wednesday, September 29th.

Will the courts sustain the decision of the mayor?  Can schools operate and operate safely without thousands of employees?

The mayor is “confident” schools can run with existing staff while the UFT and CSA presidents see a school system in disarray.

UFT President Mulgrew said the mayor has said “he’s hopeful and comfortable” that redeploying some staff as well as calling in substitutes will be enough to create a safe and effective learning environment for students.

“I don’t feel ‘hopeful and comfortable’ is enough,” Mulgrew said. “Hopeful and comfortable is not a plan” to keep students sufficiently distanced, supervised and safe.

CSA President Cannizzaro also disputed the mayor’s contention that there are thousands of substitutes ready to step in to fill the gap. “Subs will be very hard to come by because everyone is looking for substitutes right now,” he said.

Both the UFT and CSA have encouraged their members to get vaccinated. Cannizzaro said 95% of school administrators had been vaccinated, while Mulgrew estimated more than 90% of UFT members in schools had been. The percentages of other school workers who are vaccinated may not be nearly as high, they said. Mulgrew noted that the president of Teamsters Local 237, the union representing school safety agents, told him that only 50% of his members had been vaccinated.

On Friday the federal court provided a respite,

A federal appeals court has issued a temporary injunction against a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for New York City educators set to go into effect early next week, temporarily blocking enforcement while the case is sent to a three-judge circuit court panel for review.

Will the courts support the mayor’s ability to place school employees on unpaid leaves if they refuse vaccinations?

 Almost a year ago the Supreme Court ignored a century of case law and overturned Governor Cuomo’s restrictions on the number of attendees at religious services citing the First Amendment, the Court wrote,

Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.

Justice Sotomayor dissented,

Epidemiologists and physicians generally agree that religious services are among the riskiest activities. Justices of this Court play a deadly game in second guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily.

The Court, in an extraordinarily speedy hearing and decision framed the limitations on attendance at religious services as a violation of the First Amendment.

As COVID and Delta ravaged the nation the courts appear to have changed direction. Indiana University announced all students must be vaccinated and the case was fast tracked to the US Court of Appeals, the court rejected the appeal in no uncertain terms. (Read decision here)

I wrote in detail about the question of the power of the court, and, the impact of public opinion on the courts – take few minutes and read here.

While I have not seen the appellate briefs in the current case one of the constitutional issues: Does the mandatory vaccination regulation violate the Fourteenth Amendment?

You can follow the New York City vaccination case here.

If the courts support the mayor and refuse to stay the vaccination order can schools function without, according to Mulgrew, 10% of teachers and tens of thousands of non-teaching school personnel?

School leaders have been provided with names of non-vaccinated personnel in their schools and are scrambling to set up plans. The union contract does provide for teachers to be assigned classes in lieu of preparation periods and compensated; although not on a permanent basis. Teachers can be voluntarily assigned to teach and additional class in lieu of preparation at a contractual rate.

The teacher contract (See here, page 48) does provide substantial additional compensation for teaching an additional class for a semester.

The number of unvaccinated teachers per school range from very few to many; entire school schedules may have to be reconfigured, schools may have no staff to cover classes. The mayor’s comment about substitute teachers being available is illusory.

If the court sustains the mayor and does not grant a stay for further appeals or a period for planning for implementation the issues will be myriad. If School Safety Officers, who monitor building entrances are placed on unpaid leaves, who monitors building entrance?  The Department is requiring only vaccinated can enter a school building, who monitors? Will unvaccinated unmonitored visitors put students at risk?

How many elementary school classrooms will require new teachers or a different substitute each day?

Will running a school system without thousands of teachers violate state education law? Union contract provisions? Will students with disabilities receive full mandated services?

Of course the actual placing of teachers on unpaid leaves may “encourage” teachers and other school personnel to get the stick in the arm.

If thousands of school personnel are placed on unpaid leaves what happens to the salary not paid?

I believe the courts will sustain the mayor and not provide a stay, effectively knocking the ball into the mayor’s court. In other words, you made a decision, you deal with the consequences.

Governor Hochul is considering using the National Guard to replace state heath care workers who refuse vaccinations: who is Mayor de Blasio considering?

One of my recent blogs was entitled, New York City Schools Adrift in a Raging Storm, an understatement.

BTW, isn’t the nation on the verge of defaulting?

UPDATED (9/27/21. 9 pm)

The NY Times reports: “New York City’s vaccine mandate for nearly all adults working in its public schools can proceed as scheduled, a federal appeals panel ruled on Monday, reversing a decision made over the weekend that paused enforcement of the mandate until later this week at the earliest.

Mayor Bill de Blasio had originally ordered well over 150,000 educators and staff in the nation’s largest school system to receive at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by tonight at midnight.

But on Monday evening, he said he would extend the deadline until the end of the day Friday, meaning that the mandate would take effect next Monday morning, Oct. 4″

Let’s finish on a high note: Marvin Gaye singing the National Anthem

Is New York State Ready to Drive Dollars and Services to the “Truly Disadvanged”?

A couple of years ago I made my annual ophthalmologist visit with the high tech gadgets, the doc said, “You’ll need cataract surgery down the road, they’re not ripe yet.” Ripeness is an interesting concept; in addition to cataracts ideas also can become ripe.

A “ripe” idea may be driving dollars and programmatic assistance into schools to the “truly disadvantaged” students.

At the height of Johnson’s Great Society the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965) allocated significant federal dollars to states and on to school districts and schools. While the law itself has morphed to No Child Left Behind to the Every Student Succeeds Act Title 1 of the law provides supplemental funding to schools. In New York City Title 1 school budgets can reflect about 10% of the total school funding. (Check out a history of ESSA here).

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act uses census poverty numbers and allocates dollars to states that in turn drive dollars to school districts and the formulas are decided locally.

At the district level in New York City, poverty cutoff rates are established by county and based on individual students’ eligibility for free lunch. Students are eligible for free lunch if their family income is at or below 130.0 percent of the federal poverty level, as self-reported on lunch eligibility forms.

“Self-reported on lunch eligibility forms” is a low bar and a crude method of determining poverty.

Twenty years after the Great Society program William Julius Wilson in the Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass and Public Policy (1987) asks,

In the period following the thirtieth anniversary of the 1954 Supreme Court decision against racial separation . . . and the twentieth anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a troubling dilemma confronts proponents of racial equality and social justice ‘ a black underclass has emerged and conditions in inner city ghettos have deteriorated, despite civil rights victories and the creation of the Great Society. What went wrong? Have affirmative action and Great Society programs made things worse? Has racism intensified? Or are other factors at work?

Wilson’s findings were highly controversial. Some argue he was blaming the poor for their failure to rise out of poverty.

In “More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City” (2009) Wilson responded to his critics pointing to cultural factors in addition to inequity and poverty, countering the “blame the victim” and pointing to how housing and transportation institutionalize inequality in America.

Critics of Wilson point to racism as the underlying reason for persistent poverty.

Molefi Kete Asante, a professor at Temple University and a leading theorist of Afrocentricism posits,

Race in America is a psychological, physical and social location for determining the conditions of one’s current and future life. This is because America’s benefits and privileges have been structured around race and its markers for difference. Those markers, largely physical, identify some people as being privileged and others as being victims. As a central concept in America’s history, race has always been an arena for selecting who will eat and who will not eat or for determining the quality and condition of a group’s possibilities.

Critical Race Theory and the Black Lives Matter movement point to the prime importance of race and aver the subtext of every conversation is race.

Ibram Kendi, the author of “How to Be an Antiracist,” (2019) rejects assimilationist ideas, the belief that African-American people and spaces should strive toward a standardized white norm — as inherently racist.

 There is no such thing as “not racist” ideas, policies or people, he argues, only racist and antiracist ones.

Kendi expands on his anti-racism beliefs here.

Can diversity training eliminate anti-racist mindesets?

Eesha Pendharkar is a race and diversity reporter at Education Week and closely followed a black-led equity and diversity training program in a high school in Bangor, Maine. Eesha comes from a privileged caste in India and concludes,

 If schools keep doing the best they can to help everyone, and, particularly, if white students and teachers understand the history of how and why people of color were treated as they were in the past and why that needs to change with the investment of a lot of time, money, and commitment, the experiences of students of color in school may improve.

But I remain skeptical. I don’t know that schools can fundamentally change the mindset of teachers, administrators, parents, and students, perhaps because I come from a culture where racism, too, is so deeply embedded. The answer might be that it can’t. Because unless you acknowledge that systemic racism is ingrained in schools, pledge to identify how, and work constantly to make changes, the education system will not get better. I stand on more than 3,500 years of Indian history to prove it.

The identification of the “truly disadvantaged” and driving funding and supports and driving funds based on specific metrics and rejecting racism are not in conflict.

The Biden American Rescue and Infrastructure Plans may have more impact than the 1930s FDR New Deal and the 1960s LBJ Great Society. Nobel Prize Paul Krugman explains here.

The time is now ripe.

The Center for NYC Affairs report “A Better Picture of Poverty” (2014)

… looked at absenteeism-endemic schools through the lens of what we characterize as a “total risk load” of social and educational factors in the schools. Our goal: To identify New York City’s “truly disadvantaged” public schools. This is a concept brought forward by researchers at the Consortium on Chicago School Research (who expanded on the term by the renowned urban sociologist William Julius Wilson). Some urban schools serve students and their families who face the heaviest misery and hardship imposed by poverty and family dysfunction, and these are typically in neighborhoods most bereft of the reserves of community “social capital” that can offset poverty’s worst effects

Inspired by recent research on truly disadvantaged public schools in Chicago and Philadelphia, we devised a risk load instrument of 18 salient indicators from census data and other sources. We wanted to go beyond the yardsticks commonly used to measure poverty in the schools. When, for example, some 80 percent of public school students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, such familiar statistical brushes paint with strokes far too broad to be very useful.  Read the Report here and an Education Week article here.

We can now readily identify the “truly disadvantaged.” The question: will we use the data to drive policy?

The San Antonio school district,

…. calculates a ranking for each Census block in the city, maps the level of poverty in each neighborhood, and pinpoints the areas with the greatest need. The district then reserves space for children from the poorest neighborhoods at its highest-performing schools. The district also adjusted the way it allocates resources to ensure that children with the greatest needs get appropriate levels of support. Texas adopted SAISD’s socioeconomic block system in what has been called “perhaps the biggest change in the way the state funds schools.”

Will New York State take the same action?  Will New York State move from identifying Title 1 by submission of free lunch forms to “risk load factors;” identifiers of the truly disadvantaged?

The New York State has adopted Culturally Relevant Sustaining Education Frameworks (Read here) and a policy statement on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (Read here), although, there is a caveat, “The Board expects that all school districts will develop policies that advance diversity, equity and inclusion – and that they implement such policies with fidelity and urgency,” in other words, the Board can only ask, not force districts or schools.

In New York State curriculum is school district responsibility; the state can “expect,” can “urge;” however the state does not control curriculum at the local level.

The State can adopt the truly disadvantaged “risk load factors,” in the distribution of state and Title 1 funds

The time is ripe.

New York City Schools Are Adrift in a Raging Storm [UPDATED]

The bagels were piled high, a steaming urn of hot coffee, a welcoming “gift” from the Parents Association. For some back to school after a few weeks break after teaching summer school, for others back from trekking across Europe, a few squeals of joy, an engagement ring, a baby on the way, everyone anxious, no matter how long we taught the first day back to school evoked anxiety.

We’d all trickled into the auditorium; the principal’s welcoming back speech, all the administrators rattling off the changes and expectations, the principal and the administrators leave and the school union leader makes announcements: class size grievance timelines, end of term reorganization grievances and welcoming the new teachers.

This year: COVID protocols, what happens if (when?) a student or staff member tests positive, the length of quarantines, in-school testing, and on and on.

And more questions for the school union leader:

Can the mayor refuse medical or religious exemptions for vaccinations? Who determines the frequency of in-school testing of students, Btw, Is class size too high?

If masking is required, who enforces? Can non-masking students be barred from schools? Are these questions resolved by the governor, the state commissioner of education, the board of regents? or, are these decisions made at the school district level…? UPDATE: an arbitrator rules on mandatory vaccinations for school staffs, medical and other exemptions, see decision here.

9/13/21 UPDATED FAQ – Vaccination Regulations fo ALL staff members read here

Notice the absence of debate over the instructional program.  A scandal bubbling beneath the surface surrounds the former chancellor, Richard Carranza who slid away mumbling about differences with the mayor.

The NY Post reported Carranza hired a principal from Houston (clearly no one in NYC was qualified) and rapidly promoted her, and somehow failed to note their relationship  – see NY Post reporting here and here.

Was de Blaso aware of Carranza’s relationship, and, when was he aware and why didn’t he take any action?

Carranza was committed to testing, he called his program Edustats; a diagnostic/proscriptive test, Instructional Leadership Teams in every school, tailoring classroom instruction to address to student shortcomings; we’ve been seeking the testing magic bullet for decades, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, the Common Core, the educational landscape is littered with the detritus of failed education reforms.

Tyack and Cuban in Tinkering Towards Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (1995),

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.

The NYC School District is adrift in a raging storm.

Two years of billions of American Funds dollars are flowing into the city, are the funds targeting specific issues, will the funding be used to redesign the system to address the post American Rescue Fund era?

The Research Alliance for NYC Schools asks the right questions,

The Research Alliance conducts rigorous studies on topics that matter to the City’s public schools. We strive to advance equity and excellence in education by providing nonpartisan evidence about policies and practices that promote students’ development and academic success.

  • The Research Alliance Blueprint proposes developing a system of education equity indicators, including not just outcomes, but also opportunities and resources. What opportunities and resources should be tracked to better understand and address the root causes of educational inequality? 
  • How can schools best use new state and federal dollars to meet students’ needs? Which staffing and partnership models hold promise for delivering effective individualized support and instruction?
  • How can service coordination and partnerships between schools and communities be strengthened? 
  • How could budgets be reallocated to invest more in schools, communities, and families with the highest levels of need?
  • What innovations from the last year are most promising for improving educational quality and equity?

The NYU Metro Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools also has a thoughtful blog with pragmatic policy recommendations.

Norm Fruchter and Christina Mokhtar, in “Vulnerable Schools and COVID 19” write,

Ten years ago, we published Is Demography Still Destiny? Neighborhood Demographics and Public High School Students’ Readiness for College in New York City. In that study, we linked the college-readiness rates of graduating NYC students to the racial/ethnic composition of their home neighborhoods. We found that the higher the percentage of Black and Latinx residents in city neighborhoods, the lower their students’ college readiness scores. We concluded that, against the claims by the then mayor and Schools Chancellor, unfortunately, demography was still destiny for the city’s Black and Latinx students. 

Though the city made significant efforts to distribute laptops and iPads to students without such devices, overarching connectivity issues and limited broadband access locked many city students out of remote learning. Worse, because so many Black and Latinx family members in high COVID-impacted neighborhoods are employed as essential front-line workers, they could not work remotely and were often unable to effectively support their children’s online educational experience. Finally, because many families of essential workers were consistently exposed to COVID-19 at work, their children witnessed the ravages the pandemic wreaked on their families, friends, and neighborhoods. Far too many Black and Latinx students suffered the emotional and mental health tolls of these experiences.

The new stimulus funds must be distributed equitably, with a particular focus on the city’s most vulnerable schools. Of the city school system’s 650 elementary schools with early grades in 2020-21, almost 400, or more than 60%, are predominantly Black and Latinx, low-income and perform poorly on standardized tests. No single approach to improvement will fit the diverse needs of these challenged schools, whose vulnerabilities were heightened by the effects of COVID-19. For example, the subset of schools that serve significant populations of homeless students (who had lower rates of online participation during remote schooling), need enhanced transportation resources and consistent outreach, so that student learning capacity is not disrupted by the bureaucratic demands, continual transfers, and other limits of the shelter system. This subset of schools must also provide full-time after-school programming, including homework help and Internet access not available in shelters. Finally, homeless students (as well as many other vulnerable groups of students who have experienced different types of trauma during this pandemic) need the full range of social/emotional supports that effective school-based counseling and nurturing can provide. 

Another subset of vulnerable schools, made even more vulnerable by the effects of COVID-19, has high percentages of students with chronic absenteeism. (NYC public schools with the lowest attendance rates were predominately in the same neighborhoods with the highest COVID-19 rates). A Better Picture of Poverty (Read full report here) estimates that nearly 130 city elementary schools struggle with persistent chronic absenteeism–some 30% to 40% of the schools’ students are absent more than 10% of the school year. (This figure was likely much higher in 2020-21 due to the pandemic.) Effective teaching is severely challenged in schools whose attendance varies so significantly. Curriculum continuity is threatened; teacher-student connections and relationships are attenuated; and student academic achievement suffers enormously. (The New School’s maps of the city school districts most deeply affected by persistent chronic absenteeism correlate very strongly with the neighborhoods we identified as having the lowest levels of college readiness in our Demography/Destiny study.) 

To advance the city’s capacity to respond to student and family need in those vulnerable elementary schools, and to intervene to improve them, the DOE should build on the analyses begun by A Better Picture of Poverty. The DOE should use its extensive data library to precisely characterize the conditions of student and family need in as many subsets of vulnerable elementary schools as possible. Then the DOE, in collaboration with community schools and advocacy and school reform groups, should define the interventions that will make a difference in those subsets of vulnerable schools.

. The DOE needs to similarly incentivize and support the principals and teachers of those 400 vulnerable elementary schools to design and develop a menu of specific programs that meet the needs of each school and their students, needs that the pandemic has cruelly exacerbated. 

Why hasn’t the Department used the Research Alliance and the NYU Metro Center blueprints to both redesign the use of the Biden Rescue Fund dollars and the functioning of the Department itself?

Meisha Porter, the acting chancellor is doing a yeoman job under trying circumstances, tiptoeing along a tightrope waiting for Eric Adams, the presumptive mayor to select a new chancellor while a lame duck mayor tries to burnish a tarnished reputation in his waning days following a crumpled Carranza plan.

We all know children can’t wait; they only get one shot at schooling.

Governor Hochul, the UnCuomo Governor: A Supporter of Public Schools or a Machiavellian with a Velvet Glove?

Governor Hochul, a fresh voice, a new pathway and checking many of the boxes; rent relief, emphasis on ethics, on culture of openness, a “kinder and gentler” voice in the Mansion. 

The NY Times called the new governor the “UnCuomo,” collaboration across geographic and party lines instead of cracking a whip. (Read here)

On his last day former governor Cuomo whined about being forced from office on his way out the door (Read here)

Hochul selected two key staffers, secretary to the governor and counsel to the governor – both highly respected across party lines. (Hochul top aides here)

Schools do not fall under the direct purview of the governor; in New York State the members of the Board of Regents are “elected” by a joint meeting of both houses of the state legislature – in reality by the Speaker of the Assembly chooses; however, the members of the Board of Regents act independently, the Commissioner of Education is chosen by the 17-members of the Board of Regents, the governor has no role.

Within a week or so Hochul will choose a Lieutenant Governor, probably an Afro-American elected official from New York City. (UPDATE: Hochul selected Brian Benjamin, a 44 year old State Senator representing upper Manhattan, he was a 4th place finisher in the June primary for NYC Comptroller) and have to determine whether to replace the Commissioner of Health and the Budget Director, both close to Cuomo and maybe involved in questionable decisions.

What can we expect from Governor Hochul?

  • Ask the Department of Health to require everyone entering schools to wear a mask and leave enforcement up to school districts?
  • Will she require that all school personnel must be vaccinated with religious and medical exemptions with frequent testing for non-compliers? Who pays for testing and additional staffing to enforce compliance?  Is there an accurate data-bank of vaccinated school employees?
  • Will remote options be left to the discretion of the school districts?
  • Does the governor have a position on charter schools?  Buffalo has been overwhelmed with charter schools with more in the pipeline. Will she support legislation to increase oversight responsibility and transparency of charter schools and explore the impact of charter schools on district public schools? 
  • Does the governor support, oppose, or have no position on parents opting  children out of federally required standardized testing?
  • Will the governor take a position on mayoral control of New York City schools? Eric Adams, the presumptive mayor favors extending mayoral control.
  • Will the governor seek to revise the state school funding formulas?

Any items we missed?

The Governor will have a 4-month Grace Period, a New York City mayor beginning to exit and a new mayor preparing to come on board, the legislature not in session, a time to travel across the state, campaign without actually campaigning, preparing for her first legislative session.

In whatever is the equivalence of a “smoke-filled” room, gubernatorial wannabes will be plotting out their runs in the June primary. No rank choice voting, no matching funds, a  Cynthia Nixon from the left, a candidate of color, a Social Democrat, Scott Stringer, who knows, and, the Republican candidate, Lee Zeldin, a Congressman from Suffolk County, an avid Trumper and pro-Netanyahu waiting for the primary winner in November

In the summer of 2014 a few teacher union locals on Long Island endorsed Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham, in the Democratic primary. After Cuomo won the primary and the general election he used the broken budgeting process to add a year to teacher probation (from three to four years) and a few pro-charter bills.

Cuomo was the most Machiavellian of recent governors.

“it is much safer to be feared than loved because …love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”
― Niccolo  Machiavelli,The Prince

Will Hochul balance openness, collaboration, teamwork and bipartisanship with the toughness needed to pass legislation?

Hochul originally opposed approving driving licenses for the undocumented, and later recanted: who is the real Hochul?  Is she the conservative upstate democrat or the “flexible” democrat who moves across and within the fragmented Democratic Party? A Machiavellian with a velvet glove?

The Supreme Court (hopefully) Learns from the Wisdom of the American People

The framers of the Constitution never envisioned a Supreme Court that essentially makes policy. Article 1, the Legislative branch, is lengthy and detailed, the framers saw both houses of Congress as the democratic “playing field,” the powers of the Executive branch is briefer, and, Article 3, the Judiciary is far briefer, the section says judges will hold positions during “good behavior,” translates in as long as they choose to serve, and, outlines a long list of areas of possible disputes and a single line that today is the source of almost all cases that rise to the Supreme Court,  “In all the other Cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.”

Could Congress limit the scope of the powers of the Supreme Court? For another day …

Our legal system is based on “precedent,” applying previous decisions to current circumstances, while not mentioned in the Constitution it is the bedrock of the law, the term stare decisis, which is legal shorthand for respect for precedent and Latin for “to stand by things decided.”

The Court frequently reflected the body politic, the views of the masses, or, the political biases of the justices, Dred Scott v Sanford (1857) ruled slaves are property and neither the Congress nor states can treat them otherwise.

The Constitution of the United States recognises slaves as property, and pledges the Federal Government to protect it. And Congress cannot exercise any more authority over property of that description than it may constitutionally exercise over property of any other kind.

The decision made the war inevitable.

The Union victory in the war resulted in passage of three constitutional amendments,

The 13th Amendment ended slavery,

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. And Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The 14th Amendment granted and defined citizenship,

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

And the 15th Amendment the right to vote to all,

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude and The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 enforced the amendments,

  • All persons born in the United States were entitled to be citizens, without regard to race, color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude.
  • As citizens they have the right to enforce contracts, sue and be sued, give evidence in court, and inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property.
  • Persons who denied these rights to former slaves were guilty of misdemeanour and faced a fine not exceeding $1000 or imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both.
  • Authority to prosecute cases was given to the United States district attorneys, marshals and deputy marshals and the Supreme Court.

With the end of Reconstruction (1877) the Supreme Court began to erode the 13/14/15 Amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (Read Lawrence Goldstone, Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Civil Right by the Supreme Court, 1865-1903 (2011))

… the justices twisted the law to their own purposes …. But that’s what the Supreme Court justices do, grabbing hold of whatever precedent they need, “cherry-picking from a vast array of potential paths to fashion and re-fashion the law to suit.” So constitutional law has no principles, no meaning beyond whatever politics or prejudices the justices want to impose. And the courageous struggles that men and women waged more than a century ago to make a more perfect union were nothing more than shadow plays, flickering faintly in the darkness.

The erosion of the rights of the formerly enslaved, referred to as Jim Crow laws,  culminated in Plessy v Ferguson (1896), a Louisiana law that segregated railroad cars within the state. Plessy, who was 7/8 white and 1/8 Black was ordered to the leave the White car on the train and when he refused was ejected, the Court refused to address Plessy’s race, ”a matter for the state,” and accepted the “reasonableness” of the Louisiana regulation,

“… the state legislature is at liberty, to reference to established usages, customs and traditions of the people and with a view to their comfort and preservation of public peace and good order. Gauged by this standard, we cannot say that a law that authorizes or even requires the separation of the two races in public conveyances is unreasonable.”

Whether it was the concept of stare decisis or the  “…with reference to established usages, customs and traditions of the people and with a view to their comfort and preservation of public peace and good order it took sixty years before Brown v the Board of Education (1954) to unanimously rule that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional.

Recently the Court has become a more activist Court; not bound by precedent and expressly seeking issues it could address.

Citizens United (2010)reversed century-old campaign finance restrictions and enabled corporations and other outside groups to spend unlimited funds on elections. Restrictions on political contributions, the Court ruled, violated freedom of speech guarantees of the First Amendment; our democracy is being turned into an oligarchy by an activist Supreme Court, actions benefiting the wealthiest classes.

Are there any clear cut standards to guide the concept of stare decisis? A legal scholar writes,

… courts should defer to the views of elected officials when deciding whether a prior decision has generated significant reliance or rests on outdated facts, but only where those views are based on the superior fact-finding capabilities of the other branches. Courts should also give serious weight to the thoughtful and considered judgment of elected officials that a prior decision was egregiously wrong. But courts should not defer to the views of elected officials when deciding whether a prior decision is practically unworkable or a remnant of abandoned doctrine because these are quintessentially legal questions that judges are best equipped to answer.

In the fall of 2020 COVID was spreading across nation, a pandemic we had not seen since the Flu Epidemic of 1919 and we knew that COVID was extremely contagious.  Governor Cuomo, under emergency powers approved by the state legislature, placed in-person limits on attendance at public gatherings, including churches and synagogues. The action of the governor was challenged and under the “irreparable harm” doctrine, the Supreme Court intervened immediately, in an unsigned decision (probably Justice Barrett) the Court wrote,

… it has not been shown that granting the applications [overturning the governor’s restrictions] will harm the public. As noted, the State has not claimed that attendance at the applicants’ services has resulted in the spread of the disease. And the State has not shown that public health would be imperiled if less restrictive measures were imposed. Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.  Before allowing this to occur, we have a duty to conduct a serious examination of the need for such a drastic measure.

Justice Sotomayor, joined by Breyer and Kagan, dissents.

Unlike religious services, which “have every one of th[ose] risk factors,” bike repair shops and liquor stores generally do not feature customers gathering inside to sing and speak together for an hour or more at a time. (“Epidemiologists and physicians generally agree that religious services are among the riskiest activities”). Justices of this Court play a deadly game in second guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily.

In the Jacobson v Massachusetts (1905), a precedent quoted more than sixty times, the Court ruled that the City of Cambridge could require a small pox vaccination during an outbreak, the penalty was a fine, a decision the majority of the current Court choose to ignore.  (Read “The Supreme Court is a COVID Super Spreader,” blog here) “Rescuing” the freedom of religion was more important than saving lives.

A year later the Delta Variant is claiming victims, yes, there is a vaccine; however, too many Americans are choosing not to be vaccinated and a group of students at Indiana University, once again using the “irreparable harm” claim, raced to the federal courts.

The 7th Circuit of the Court of Appeals wasted no time, they didn’t close the door, the Court slammed the door. (Read full decision here)

The First Amendment means that a state cannot tell anyone what to read or write, but state university may demand that students read things they prefer not to read or write things the prefer not to write. A student must read what a professor assigns even if the student deems the books heretical, and must write exams or essays as required … A student told to analyze the role of nihilism in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed but who submits the essay about Iago’s motivations in Othello will flunk.

If conditions of higher education [ requires] following instructions about what to read and write, it hard to see a greater problem with medical conditions that help all students remain safe when learning. A university will have trouble operating when each student fears that everyone else may be spreading disease.

People who do not want to be vaccinated can go elsewhere.

The litigants raced to the Supreme Court, this time, a year later, Justice Barrett, without comment, rejected the appeal.(Read Scotus Blog discussion here)

Perhaps they were embarrassed, perhaps they fear a public backlash, the current Court stands at a precipice, in the upcoming session a number of toxic cases are on the agenda: challenges to Roe v Wade, NY’s restrictive gun control law among them, see docket here

The Court hears oral argument beginning the first Monday in October.

The Infrastructure Bills and Career Technical Education (CTE): Changing the Future for a Generation of Students

The bipartisan $1T Infrastructure (19 Republicans voted for the bill) and the $3.5T Democrats-only bills both passed the Senate (through a  process called reconciliation –  read a description of the reconciliation process here and here)

Senator Sanders called the bills the significant legislation since FDR’s New Deal.

How big is the infrastructure bill?   Read NY Times here and Brookings Institute here.

The Brooking Institute says “…the infrastructure bill puts America closer to another New Deal.”

 The arcane rules of the Congress will drag final passage into September, if the bills get that far.

The reconciliation process with take weeks and the Democrats have to hold together a razor thin majority in the House.

The bipartisan bill and $3.5 trillion budget plan, which would unlock an expansive legislative package that includes spending on health care, child care and education, has cleared the Senate. Liberal Democrats in the House have said they will not support the bipartisan infrastructure bill without passage of that far larger package.

I’m not going to get into the weeds; the progressives (“the Squad”) in the House could attempt to hold the infrastructure bill hostage until they are satisfied with the much larger budget proposal.

The $3.5T reconciliation bill is popular with voters (Read analysis here).

The bills will create many millions of jobs over the next decade and the vast majority of jobs will not require a college degree, these are traditional blue collar jobs.

Currently our high schools do not prepare students for blue collar jobs, high schools prepare student for college. While college graduates earn more money over a career than high school graduates the numbers are unclear for high school graduates with high skilled jobs. How much does your plumber or electrician charge per hour?

Over the years we have encouraged students to move from high school to college and have allowed vocational educations programs to fade away.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs and student apprenticeships are commonplace in Europe and sorely missing in our education system,

In contrast to the U.S., Germany has a highly effective work-based vocational training system that has won praise around the world. While university graduates in Germany also earn much higher salaries than workers who have attained less education, vocational education and training (VET) in Germany is a very common pathway to gain skills and embark on successful careers: 47.2 percent—nearly half—of the German population held a formal vocational qualification in 2016. Fully 1.3 million students in Germany enrolled in VET programs in 2017, compared with only 190,000 individuals who registered for apprenticeship programs in the U.S. in the same year. Less than 5 percent of young Americans currently train as apprentices, and most of them are in the construction sector.

Although New York State has hundreds CTE areas on paper the number of students who graduate with CTE endorsements is low and actual CTE diploma endorsements are left to the local school districts.  The state does not even list the number of high schools graduates with CTE endorsements on their website.

The actual approval process for CTE programs at the state level is onerous.

Changes in state regulations take months, frequently years; the state has a unique opportunity.

New York State is in the forefront creating P-TECH (Pathways in Technology), high schools that work with a community college and a major corporation – the goal is for students to graduate with a high school diploma, a community college degree and a job offer. The model has grown across the country.

New York State needs a Career and Technical Education model that replicates the European model; secondary schools can move to convert to CTE schools or CTE cohorts within existing schools.

Industries, unions, schools and State Departments of Education can collaborate and offer internships for students as they move through schools leading to work/study apprenticeships in a fifth year and a job.

For years I have encouraged the creation of Habitat for Humanity High Schools, a half day of academic, job-related academics, let’s call it career-related sustaining education, for example, using math in construction projects, “materials” embedded in science classes, and, the other half of the day working on a job site.

I’m not saying high school graduates should avoid college; I’m saying CTE secondary schools, community colleges and blue collar jobs lead to valuable and enriching careers.

Can We Create Student Assessments That Are Helpful to Teachers?

Every spring students in Grades 3-8 take statewide assessments in English and Mathematics. States employ testing companies to create tests that meet federal standards and rank schools and students by test performance; hundreds of millions of dollars expended, you could also have ranked schools by parent income and level of education in lieu of the testing; the results would be parallel.

For teachers the results are not useful; the results don’t appear in schools until late summer or early in the school year and are heralded or despaired; the test results have no impact on classroom instruction.  Schools with high rates of poverty, high rates of family unemployment, crime and homelessness, with high percentages of English language learners and Students with Disabilities are at the bottom of the lists. In spite of program after program, intervention after intervention little has changed.

The interventions are usually changes in programs purchased by the school, instruction is unchanged.

A couple of years ago I was invited by school leader in a highly collaborative school to sit in on a teacher meeting. The math teachers had finished grading the first Common Core Algebra 1 Regents and created an error matrix, the most common incorrect answers. The Algebra 1 teachers invited teachers from the seventh and sixth grades classes, the teachers reviewed the incorrect answers and their lesson plans: how could they change their lesson plans to address the incorrect answers? In other words, you can’t change output without changing input.

Unfortunately most schools are part of paramilitary organizations, the “generals” issue ukases and expect that everyone down the chain of command will salute and execute the order; in reality it’s more like a game of telephone, whispering messages in ears as the messages change from whisper to ear.

There are no magic bullets.

The Gates Foundation is, once again, expending millions to find the Algebra 1 “magic bullet.’ A new program, “Balance the Equation: A Grand Challenge for Algebra 1,” reminds me of the rollout of the Common Core,

Today, Algebra 1 serves as a gatekeeper, rather than a gateway, to future success. In the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s first ever U.S. education Grand Challenge, we sought to identify partners to design solutions to make Algebra 1 more accessible, relevant, and collaborative for students who are Black, Latino, English Learners, and/or experiencing poverty.

Most of the “partners” will “design solutions,” the solutions will be monetized and school districts will purchase, after a few years discard.

Why didn’t Gates make Bob Moses, the iconic civil rights leader’s, “The Algebra Project” widely available? For thirty years the project has successfully taught algebra to poor students of color?

It’s never about the program, it’s about the teachers.

Teachers must take ownership of their instruction in collaboration with schools and district leaders.

I was consulting in a school district and one school leader was unhappy with teacher assessment tool, the district leader said, “design your own with your staff and when you finish have the union leader conduct an election, if the staff approves, use it, call it the ‘essentials of effective teaching.’” The school took a few months, it was detailed, and, for me, unwieldy. I asked the district leader, “Are you going to make it available to other schools?” He shrugged, “It’s not about the product, it’s about the process, an entire school spent months totally engaged in discussing effective teaching.”

The teachers gained ownership of their practice.

The current assessment tools are counterproductive; instruction is geared to the test; the curriculum is the test. The Gates and the Chan Zuckerberg are funding a major research initiative,

  With a total of $200 million, the fund will support project proposals from teachers, researchers, parents or product developers on how assessment could be done better. Between now and 2023, the program will select about five research ideas to span three to five years with budgets of $20 million to $40 million.

Assessment for Good … announced it is seeking proposals for available funding for projects aimed at creative ways to assess students’ learning and “how learning environments support specific aspects of students’ emotional and identity development.” It is also calling on educators and other experts for information and ideas on how assessment could be done differently overall.

The California Consortium for Educational Excellence is taking a deep dive into student assessments, and emphasizes the “critical role of curriculum” and “learning progressions,” let’s measure what we’re actually teaching and also lets measure growth, not proficiency.

A panel of leading experts in an excellent U-Tube  

  (about an hour) discussing the role of curriculum and learning progressions in a balanced assessment system.

Scott Marion, the leader of the Center for Assessment writes,,

Educators understand that large-scale summative tests are far too distant from instruction, at the wrong grain size, and administered at the wrong time of year to make a difference in their daily practice.

No surprise here; and changing is a major hurtle. 

Ensuring all students have legitimate access to a high-quality curriculum would be a major step in advancing equitable learning opportunities, but curricula must be implemented with fidelity by novice as well as expert teachers.

State and district leaders should not stop at simply purchasing new curriculum materials. They must allocate considerable funding to support professional development associated with effectively instructing the curriculum. Perhaps not as eye-catching as some slick new tech tools, high-quality curriculum and associated professional development can provide the necessary foundation to advance learning.

The role of teachers in student assessment is crucial.

Teachers will gain insights into the curriculum’s learning expectations by designing and/or selecting end-of-unit assessment, formative probes, and other means of collecting evidence to support and document student learning.

Assessment efforts in Fall 2021 should prioritize collecting evidence related to students’ readiness to engage in the first few units of instruction rather than trying to document all the knowledge and skills students might need to know for the coming grade.

Marion suggests highly pragmatic state and district based approaches.

[There is a ] a research-based case for high-impact tutoring as one of the few proven ways to accelerate learning for all students. No matter which interventions are used, my interest is in helping school and district leaders think about assessment approaches to monitor the degree to which those interventions are working as intended, and to support continuous improvement efforts.

Most interventions should be tied closely to the intended curriculum, so students’ progress should be assessed using curriculum-embedded assessments. Information from curriculum-embedded assessments is especially important for school leaders responsible for supporting the day-to-day intervention work of teachers and students. However, district and state leaders also will need to aggregate results on the effectiveness of the interventions across student groups, schools, and districts. Interim assessments tied to specific clusters of state standards (rather than a broad sample of the content) should provide these leaders with data to evaluate the relative effectiveness of targeted interventions throughout the year, allowing them to highlight successful entities, as well as those needing additional support. 

New York City is moving in the right direction, the creation of a city-wide curriculum supported with substantial dollars.

I know I’ve gotten into the weeds, and change takes time; with a new mayor and maybe a new chancellor the future of education is hazy, at best. 

Scott Marion, at the Center for Assessment, is one of the most thoughtful researchers and writers (see his blog posts here) and there are piles of dollars to support creating changes in student assessments.

The current end-of-year assessments are not only a waste of time they impede effective instruction. Teaching a rich curriculum and assessing as we teach instead of teaching to an end-of-year test makes too much sense.

Should the NYS Department of Health Require COVID Vaccinations for Students 12 and Older?

Yes.  Children are already vaccinated for all other vaccine preventable diseases prior to entry into school.  SARS-CoV2 is just another vaccine preventable disease.  All children should be vaccinated when a vaccine is approved.

My last blog asked whether teachers and students should be vaccinated and the response was overwhelming, the response above characterizes the responses.

Mayor de Blasio skillfully stepped around the question for all city employees including teachers. Employees must be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. The NY Times article estimates 60% of school employees are vaccinated, I think the percent is higher for teachers and lower for other school workers, i. e., lunch room, school aides, etc.

The city is setting up in school vaccination for student twelve years of age or older in the Summer Rising program sites.

The question of mandatory vaccinations for students is far more complicated.

The vaccination requirements in New York State are established by the state Department of Health and have been place for decades; most states have similar requirements. The requirements are specific, see here

The Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vaccines are being used under Emergency Use Approval (EUA) pending full approval by the Federal Drug Administration, the vaccine manufacturers applied for approval several months ago and the expectation is full use approval in the fall.

Aside from urging parents to have their twelve and older children vaccinated the state DOH has to wait for full approval. A key player, so far under the radar is Howard Zucker, the NYS Commissioner of Health; the doctor and lawyer has a glowing resume and has been silent on the question of adding COVID vaccinations to the list.

The vaccine companies are working on vaccines for children from two to eleven years of age and an Emergency Use Authorization may be only a few months away (See here)

I suspect the city along with random testing will vaccinate at school sites.

The Delta variant has sharply increased COVID + in the city.

Without a citywide remote option how do schools respond to positive testing? Probably remote for the teacher and/or student; the mechanics will be complicated depending on the subjects the teacher teaches; the Department and the Union are working on the various scenarios.

Principals are mulling over their budgets and Central is attempting to put the special initiatives in place, trying to avoid the mistakes of Renewal .

The Single Shepard program, guidance counselors and social workers targeting families in the neediest school received glowing comments from teachers and school leaders; hopefully expanded.

Where are we?

Less than two months away from the first day of school, lots of work ahead, a chancellor and a union leader on the same page, an unexpected Delta variant surge one and huge unanswered question: will New York State move towards requiring student vaccinations?