The Enigma of Race and Culture: Orlando Patterson, The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth

The current school wars can be roughly divided into two camps: the Obama/Duncan camp, raise both standards and teaching quality through testing and teacher assessment, close “failing schools,” (as defined by test scores), create choice and competition through the unlimited creation of charter schools and all policy decisions emanate from Washington and enforced through the use of carrots and sticks,
versus, for lack of a better title, the Network for Public Schools camp, until we address issues of poverty, racial segregation and inequality gains in student achievement will be limited.

Sociologists who study black America are also divided in camps: those who emphasize the role of institutional racism and economic circumstances are known as structuralists, while those who emphasize the importance of self-perpetuating norms and behaviors are known as culturalists.

Mainstream politicians are culturalists, you seldom lose an election by talking up the virtues of hard work and good conduct. But in many sociology departments structuralism holds sway.

The New School University sponsored a half-day conference, “All Minds Matter: the Crisis and Struggle of Boys and Adolescents of Color in Schools” To quote the introduction to the conference,

…our country has maintained a system of oppression of Afro-Americans through the use of the criminal justice system. Another means of subjugation, one could argue, resides in our inadequate educational systems that punish boys of color more than it educates them.

And, the following day Orlando Patterson, lectured on his just-released book, “The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth,”

… seeks to unravel a uniquely American paradox: the socioeconomic crisis, segregation, and social isolation of disadvantaged black youth, on the one hand, and their extraordinary integration and prominence in popular culture on the other. Despite school dropout rates over 40 percent, a third spending time in prison, chronic unemployment, and endemic violence, black youth are among the most vibrant creators of popular culture in the world

At the New School event one presenter, a clinical psychologist emphasized implicit teacher bias, and discussed how, through proper training, these “biases” can be reduced; he saw these attitudes as commonplace among teachers. Another panelist, from the Children’s Defense Fund bemoaned how we are failing to implement what we already know, the younger you are in experiencing poverty the less the chance of graduating high school, and emphasized the crucial role of childcare providers, who, for the most part are unlicensed and untrained.

Howard Steele, the co-director of the Center for Attachment Research and a leading expert in the field of attachment theory,

The most important tenet of attachment theory is that an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for the child’s successful social and emotional development, and in particular for learning how to effectively regulate their feelings.

And discussed the need for training of caregivers, and, by implication, the impact of dysfunctional families on developing disconnected youth.

David Banks, the founder of the Eagle Academy, regaled the audience with the successes of the Expanded Success Initiativ and challenged the larger educational community, “We know what works, why aren’t we doing it.”

Pedro Noguera, a professor at NYU with a long list of publications about youth of color, saw the “solutions” as piecemeal and challenged the new city administration to develop a strategy across city agencies, and mused: why not a neighborhood-based jobs program in addition to community schools? “Grit without opportunity is fruitless.”

At the end of the day, are racist, white power elites, consciously or unconsciously, responsible for the “school to prison” pipelines,? Are insensitive schools and teachers, by suspending and marginalizing youth of color crushing opportunities for academic achievement? Or, is there a “culture of poverty,” mores, customs and traditions that punish “acting white,” that idolizes violence and overbearing masculinity?

A day later Orlando Patterson explored many of the same themes in a his highly controversial exploration of race and culture

(Read a lengthy, and critical analysis of the “Cultural Matrix” from the current issue of the New Yorker here
A critique of Patterson (“The Caribbean Zola”) from the Harvard Magazine
Or, Is Patterson part of the “blaming the victim” crowd here )

Patterson discusses what he calls the paradox of black youth; on one hand socio-economic disconnection, historic rates of incarceration and high levels of violence and homicide, on the other hand the impact of black youth culture on music, sports, fashion and entertainment: social isolation and cultural dominance. There is no “culture of poverty,” but, poverty matters. Culture according to Patterson, is a set of rules, a shifting set of configurations. Within the inner city Patterson sees highly variegated cultures, the inner city middle class who choose to live in a racially comfortable neighborhood, the black proletariat, aka, the working poor and the disconnected, not working and not in school, depending on the city from 15-25% of inner city youth.

These complex cultures buffer from poverty; liberate and empower, and, contain violence and other destructive impulses. At the end of his lecture, and his 700-page tome Patterson, not surprisingly tells us that segregation matters, it creates isolation from social networks of mobility, isolation from the cultural capital of the middle class mainstream. Culture is not immutable; change is both possible and desirable.

The weakness of the presentation is the next steps, the actual policy recommendations: we should emulate Europe and move towards a welfare state, not exactly likely, work towards better parenting decisions, better decisions among teenagers, and, desegregation as a goal.

The commenters were challenging: Patrick Sharkey pointed to the recent historic reductions in crime rates, we know that “broken windows” and “stop and frisk” are not the reason, what is?

Niobe Way, in a depressing presentation sees all youth, black as well as white, becoming less and less connected as they move into their middle and late teens, higher rates of depression, a loss of “humanity,” again, why?

David Kirkland, an NYU professor, challenged Patterson, perhaps more accurately savaged Patterson. “Cultural Matrix” criminalizes black youth, hip hop helps black youth survive in a deeply racist society; the ideologies of oppression are the enemy, Kirkland sees Patterson as standing with the white power elites.

Patterson responded vigorously, the criminal element in the black inner city is real; they’re responsible for the extreme levels of violent crime, the 80%, the middle and working classes want the police to protect them, to rid neighborhoods of destructive elements, without the oppressive policing we see in Ferguson and elsewhere.

Guess Patterson and Kirkland didn’t sit next to each other at the post- meeting dinner.

The audience, half black and half white, mostly NYU students were also divided, with many Kirkland supporters. A young black woman asked a question which began with “… of course we live in a racist white world …,” although Patterson demurred I doubt he impacted.

The issues of race, gender and class are the subtext of every conversation, whether stated or implied, and topics that disturbing and avoided.

I was teaching a graduate education class; at the first session I asked the dozen or so students, in one sentence, tell us their educational philosophy, a little boring, “All student can learn,” “I can make a difference,” until we got to Mohammad, a black man, “All whites are racists, it all comes down to their ability to deal with it.”

It was a wonderful semester.

Scott Walker, Andrew Cuomo and Labor Unions: Will Cuomo Follow the Walker Path?

Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin decided to take on public employees and dismantle collective bargaining. In spite of a maximum effort by public employee unions, endless demonstrations, rallies, sit-ins, a recall election and a run for re-election Walker defeated the unions and is now a frontrunner in the run for the Republican presidential designation.

Sen. Rand Paul won this weekend’s Washington Times/CPAC presidential preference straw poll for the third time, but the real battle was going on beneath him, with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker easily distancing himself from the rest of the field…

Candidates are strategic: polling, focus groups, funders, oppositional research, nothing happens by accident. Walker decided that the road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue required stepping over the bodies of teachers and public employees, and, maybe, he’s right.

Cuomo is equally strategic, and cunning.

New York State, for decades, has been governed by “three men in a room,” the three power brokers, the Speaker of the Assembly, the Majority Leader of the Senate, and the Governor, traded this for that and agreed upon a budget; everyone got their “piece of the budget pie.”

Eliot Spitzer came into office with guns blazing; the “enemy” was the legislature, the same legislature that was needed to sign off on state budgets, needed to sign off on all legislation. Spitzer’s resignation in 2008, a prostitution scandal, with greeted with smiles by legislators, clearly schadenfreude. Lieutenant Governor Patterson assumed the gubernatorial role, and, although he had served for twenty years in the State Senate, and his father Basil served as an advisor to labor unions, Patterson followed the Spitzer path. I sat in the Assembly chamber as Patterson in his State of the State message attacked the Legislature and labor guests in the gallery. Patterson stood up to both houses, and instead of negotiating a last minute budget, used a new concept, executive orders, to fund the state on a month by month basis, bypassing the Legislature.

Gotham Gazette reports,

Governor David Paterson, with the help of good government groups and lawyers, used an untried executive authority to push through a spending plan to keep state government funded without the Legislature’s consent.

Scandal and bad press haunted Patterson and he didn’t run, Andrew Cuomo, the Attorney General, ran, and was elected easily. NYSUT, the union representing the teachers in New York State decided not to make any endorsement. Would Cuomo follow the confrontational Spitzer-Patterson path, or, work with unions in a collaborative relationship? The union decided to wait and see.

Cuomo came out of the box swinging, threatening, and as aggressive as Spitzer, with more finesse.

A marriage equality law that was muscled through the Senate, highly controversial anti- gun legislation, a property tax cap, a teacher evaluation plan and continuing the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

A rising star in the Republican Party, Westchester County Executive, Rob Astorino, was gaining momentum; the national polls pointed to Republican landslides. Cuomo had raised tens of millions while Astorino had trouble. Governor Christie, the New Jersey Governor and RNC chair decided not to fund the Astorino campaign and Cuomo snatched up millions from pro-charter school PACs depriving Astorino of the charter PAC dollars.

Not only did NYSUT not endorse Cuomo, locals around the state decided to endorse Zephyr Teachout, Cuomo’s opponent in the Democratic primary.

Cuomo defeated Teachout 2:1 in the primary and in spite of an enormous lead only ended up with 54% in the November general election. Teachers either voted for a third party candidate or stayed on the sidelines.

Cuomo not only wrote off teachers he decided to take the Scott Walker path, to vigorously challenge core union issues and threaten to use every political tool.

“I will not sign a budget that does not have an ethics plan as outlined in my proposal. Either pass my budget or shut down the government,” Cuomo said.

Legislators are angry that Cuomo is trying to weaken the body as a whole by using the tactic – they are also upset that he is not letting certain policies stand on their own merits.

Meanwhile, watchdogs like New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli have both said the strategy is fiscally irresponsible.

Thanks to court rulings, “These kinds of policy choices can be asserted into emergency appropriation bills,” DiNapoli told Alan Chartock on The Capitol Connection on Thursday. “The Legislature holding up the budget is really not a smart strategy.” DiNapoli went on to tell Chartock: “New York arguably has the strongest executive compared to any governor in any state in the union”

NYSUT and their members are fighting back, tweets, demonstrations, trips to Albany, local rallies, TV ads, all trying to erode Cuomo’s public support. Cuomo is fighting back, a report, a misleading report , and demanding harsh interventions in 187 schools.

There is a crisis of failing schools in New York State. In fact, more than 109,000 students are currently enrolled in New York’s 178 failing schools.

• In New York City, more than 50,000 students are currently enrolled in 91 failing schools.

• 77 of New York’s schools have been failing for a decade, with more than 250,000 students passing through these schools while state government has done nothing.
• Statewide, more than 9 out of 10 students in failing schools are minority or poor.

What the report fails to mention is that in 2012 over 70% of students passed the state tests, in 2013 and 2014 only about 35% passed the exams

A. The kids got significantly dumber
B. Teachers forgot how to teach
C. The state gave a new Common Core exam, an exam for which both students and teachers were not prepared.

The governor is not a fool; he is both punishing teachers and tip-toeing down the Scott Walker path. Cuomo’s problem, his miscalculation; he is not running as a Republican.

If suddenly Hillary decides not to run Cuomo could easily jump into the race, or if the democratic candidate loses in 2016 Cuomo could start preparing for a 2020 run, all extremely speculative.

Could Cuomo, or any democrat candidate, expect to get the presidential democratic nomination as an anti-teacher, anti-labor candidate? Cuomo has carved out a niche on the democratic spectrum, a social liberal and an economic conservative; however, can a Scott Walker-like anti-labor policies resonate on the democratic side of the aisle?

Will Cuomo seek a face-saving resolution of his battle with teachers, or, does he go for the jugular?

The public and behind-the-scenes give and take may define Cuomo for the remainder of his political career, and, to be honest, the endgame is shrouded in the mists.

Angry Andy’s Failing Schools & the Finger of Blame


Wonderful analysis

Originally posted on School Finance 101:

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office has released a report in which it identifies what it refers to in bold type on the cover as “Failing Schools.”

Report here:

Presumably, these are the very schools on which Angy Andy would like to impose death penalties – or so he has opined in the past.

The report identifies 17 districts in particular that are home to failing schools. The point of the report is to assert that the incompetent bureaucrats, high paid administrators and lazy teachers in these schools simply aren’t getting the job done and must be punished/relieved of their duties. Angry Andy has repeatedly vociferously asserted that he and his less rabid predecessors have poured obscene sums of funding into these districts for decades. Thus – it’s their fault – certainly not his, for why they stink!


I have addressed over and over again on this blog the plight…

View original 898 more words

Heastie/Skelos to the Governor: You’ve Failed, A Receivership Model for Economic Policies


Jim Malatras
Director of State Operations
State of New York
Executive Chamber
Albany, NY 12224

Dear Mr. Malatras,

Over the last few months you have communicated with the Chancellor of the Regents, the Commissioner and the Acting Commissioner of the State Department of Education, sharply criticizing policies, demanding responses and directing the Chancellor/Acting Commissioner to “investigate” removing schools from supervision of schools districts and turning them over to “receivers.”

We share your concern with the education of the children of the State of New York; however, we note that the schools that you designate as “failing” schools are also schools in low wealth, high poverty sections of the state. Your just-released report fails to indicate that the schools and school districts highlighted in the report also lead the state in “risk factors,” namely, poverty, unemployment, English language learner, students with disabilities, children in shelters and foster care, single parent households, parent incarcerated, crime data in school catchments areas and other factors.

The Gap Elimination Adjustment and the 2% Property Tax Cap inhibit the ability of school districts to effectively fund schools. The entire school funding system in New York State should be rethought, not slashed.

The purpose of this letter is not to argue the governor’s education policies; the purpose is to question the effectiveness of the governor in addressing the economic issues plaguing too many cities around the state.

The Annual New York State Poverty Report is discouraging,

[Using the following indicators:] child- hood poverty, the gender wage gap, racial economic disparities and living wages: New York has the fourth largest number of people living in poverty, behind only California, Texas and Florida … The gender income gap continues to grow and African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos experience poverty at more than double the rate of white New Yorkers.

Our cities continue to have very high levels of childhood poverty – several more than triple the national poverty rate: Syracuse (51.3%), Rochester (51.1%), Utica (48.5%), Binghamton (47.9%) and Buffalo (46.5%). Statewide, 22.1% of children under the age of 18 live in poverty – nearly a million (935,477) children! Across the state, 54% of children are eligible for free or reduced cost lunch (76% of children in New York City and 40% of children in the rest of the state).

Blaming cities, school districts and teachers for the failures of the governor are unacceptable.

Each year legislators listen to the State of the State message, a long list of promises and priorities, and each year we are disappointed.

The governor has failed to revive the urban and rural areas across the state, jobs continue to erode, childhood poverty numbers grow, tax revenue shrinks, and the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been invested have not reversed the economic and social disintegration of too many areas across the state. (See county by county poverty data here)

We no longer believe the governor’s policies will revive the state.

We are considering establishing “receiverships” for sections of the state, removing designated sections of the state and turning these areas over to “receivers,” organizations with turnaround experience in reviving cities and counties that will work closely with local stakeholders.

We increasingly believe that the answers are not on the second floor of the Capital, the answers are in the town halls across the state. Local elected leaders, community organizations, unions and faith-based organizations, working with “experts,” perhaps universities or other not-for-profits, can be more effective than state agencies directed by the governor.

As expeditiously as possible we are asking you to explore a process that will enable the state to relinquish economic development and other revenues to the local level and report your findings to us.

At the national level the Congress is increasingly uncomfortable with the Executive driving policy outside of the usual legislative process; an example is the Department of Education. At the state level we have lost confidence in the ability of the governor to drive economic recovery, and, blaming schools and teachers is absurd.

We look forward to exploring the empowerment of cities and counties.

Yours truly

Carl E. Heastie
Speaker of the Assembly

Dean Skelos
Majority Leader of the Senate

Should Low Performing Charter Schools Be Closed? Are Charter Schools in Violation of Federal Regulations and State Law? Creating an Even Playing Field

This year, by happenstance, an unusually large number of charter schools are up for renewal.

A little background: the law sets a cap on the number of charter schools, a cap for NYC and one for the remainder of the state, the NYC cap has about 25 slots left and over 100 slots for the rest of the state. There are three charter authorizers, SUNY, the Board of Regents and the NYC Department of Education. The charter is the equivalent of a permit to operate a school; the charter must be renewed every five years. In the fourth year the charter authorizer examines the school; in the original application the proposed school established goals; the authorizer examines the schools data in considerable detail and determines the length of the charter renewal; from another five years down to a low of 1.5 years.

In December charter renewal recommendations from NYC came before the Regents, usually pro forma. This time, Regent members had questions, lots of questions, and asked the Department to attend the January meeting and explain their renewal criteria.

There is no question that there are many charter schools that are struggling, with little hope of improvement. Single entrepreneur charter schools have no place to go for help; maybe they can purchase a professional development package, hire a consultant, change the principal, with no guarantee that results will change. If they struggle for the first five years, what will change in the ensuing years?

The Department and the State have also identified 94 struggling public schools in NYC, about a dozen are referred to as “out of time” schools, they have not shown any progress over a number of years. The Department is closely monitoring the schools, each school has a detailed plan, and many of the schools are receiving State Incentive Grant (SIG) dollars which bring outside resources into the school. Chancellor Farina says the schools need time.

The former administration crowed that they closed over 150 schools; I believe the Regents have closed something like seventeen charter schools.

At the February Regents meeting three schools from Buffalo were up for renewal and the recommendations were: one school, 3.5 years, another 4 years and the third the full 5 years. Regent Bennett, who represents Buffalo, objected, he claimed the Regents either extended for 3 or 5 years, nothing else (He’s wrong) and urged the Regents to extend all for five years. The committee chair, Regent Bottar, huddled with SED staff, and extended all for five years. Why should a Regent be permitted to over turn a decision based on an examination of data? As an aside, I am told Regent Bennett’s daughter teaches in a charter school in Buffalo.

Are we treating public and charter schools the same? Is there an equal playing field?

The law clearly gives the Board of Regents the power to revoke charters,

When a charter school’s outcome on student assessment measures
adopted by the board of regents falls below the level that would allow
the commissioner to revoke the registration of another public school,
and student achievement on such measures has not shown improvement over
the preceding three school years;

In the original charter application applicants agreed that percentages of Students with Disabilities, English language learners and Title 1 eligible children would at least match the percentages in the surrounding school district.

the charter school shall demonstrate good faith efforts to attract and retain a comparable or
greater enrollment of students with disabilities, English language
learners, and students who are eligible applicants for the free and
reduced price lunch program when compared to the enrollment figures for
such students in the school district in which the charter school is

And, if the charter school fails to “attract and retain” said students the Regents can revoke the charter, with a caveat,

Repeated failure to comply with the requirement to meet or exceed
enrollment and retention targets of students with disabilities, English
language learners, and students who are eligible applicants for the free
and reduced price lunch program pursuant to targets established by the
board of regents charter school demonstrates that it has made
extensive efforts to recruit and retain such students, including
outreach to parents and families in the surrounding communities, widely
publicizing the lottery for such school, and efforts to academically
support such students in such charter school, then the charter entity or
board of regents may retain such charter.

When it comes to student suspensions charter schools must meet the same criteria as public schools,

A charter school shall meet the same health and safety, civil
rights, and student assessment requirements applicable to other public

Charter school discipline policies routinely violate both state law and federal regulations. State law,

No pupil may be suspended for a period in excess of five
school days unless such pupil and the person in parental relation to
such pupil shall have had an opportunity for a fair hearing, upon
reasonable notice, at which such pupil shall have the right of
representation by counsel, with the right to question witnesses against
such pupil and to present witnesses and other evidence on his or her

The feds have released extensive guidance relating to discipline practices which charter schools routinely ignore.

Let’s take an in-depth look at charter schools versus public schools. The charts in the link below give the average percentages of English language learners, total special education (Students with Disabilities), special ed students in self-contained classrooms and students in temporary housing in public elementary and K-8 schools by Community School District

There are glaring differences in EVERY school district.

Now, why not compare “apples to apple,” let’s compare charter and traditional schools sharing the same buildings, which is generally referred to as co-location, once again glaring differences in % ELL, % IEPs, % High Needs Special Education (self-contained classes) and % in temporary housing.

The Department has created a tool called the peer index; it uses the index to compare schools with similar demographics for purposes of school assessment. The link below compares charter and traditional schools within Community School Districts, and, yes, once again in the vast percentages of charter schools serve significantly fewer percentages of high needs students

In realm of school suspensions Chalkbeat, the go-to site for school news reports,

New York City charter schools suspended students at almost three times the rate of traditional public schools during the 2011-12 school year, according to a Chalkbeat analysis, though some charter schools have since begun to reduce the use of suspensions for minor infractions.

Overall, charter schools suspended at least 11 percent of their students that year, while district schools suspended 4.2 percent of their students. The charter-school suspension rate is likely an underestimate because charter schools don’t have to report suspensions that students serve in school.

If we compare general ed students to general ed students in charter and traditional schools the traditional schools would far outpace the charter schools. The assessment of charter schools, whether conducted by the NYC Department or the State Department of Education is deeply flawed.

The charter review process, just as the State Diagnostic Tool, has to assess student progress taking into account the total percentage of students with disabilities, special education students in self-contained classes, students in temporary housing, English language learners and other “risk factors” To compare schools in affluent suburbs with students in high needs communities is unfair to all students and school staffs.

We must expect progress in all schools; our challenge is developing tools to measure progress. The primary purpose of measuring progress must not be to “rate” practitioners, the purpose must be to guide the school, to assist the school in developing and implementing appropriate interventions.

Unfortunately the modus operandi in too many charter schools is to limit the admission of high needs youngsters and to rid the school of low performing and “difficult” students.

The State Department (SED) acted vigorously in districts that were not assigning “undocumented” new arrivals to classes as they arrived, they ordered the districts to comply. The SED must act with the same vigor with charter schools.

The charter school program in New York State is fifteen years old, the SED has danced around the issue of two separate and unequal systems of schooling, the law is clear, the sanctions for not complying with the law is the revocation of the charter and the SED has to make it clear that revocation will result for charter schools failing to comply. To allow charter schools to skulk around the law with a “wink and a nod” is not acceptable.

The question of closing low performing schools, traditional and charter, is complex, we have not developed sophisticated tools; graduation rates and scores on state standardized tests are not adequate. There are times when school leadership and school staffs ate not up to the challenge – up to now the NYC Department and the SED has allowed charter schools to slide, they sidestepped the toxic politics.

It’s time to address the issue.

“All politics is local,” Will Governor Cuomo Listen to the Folks in the Provinces?

“All politics is local,” Tip O’Neill, Speaker of the House (1977-87)

Presidents, senators, speakers of the house, governors, political parties and the hordes who spin fight for the hearts and minds of the American people, well, at least the less than half of the American people who bother to vote.

The election cycle never ends.

Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration, response to the Russians in the Ukraine, fighting ISIS, and on and on, each side tries to “win” the intellectual and visceral fight, from Fox on the right, to CNN to MSNBC on the left; however, networks and cable stations no longer have the influence they once had.

Newspaper sales decline every year, cyberspace is the battlefield. Americans get their “news” from websites, from Facebook, and, increasingly from Twitter. Hashtags rule.

Slowly and inexorably the fight over education appears to be tilting against the Obama/Duncan/Cuomo agenda.

Rubin Diaz is the Borough President of the Bronx, an anachronistic elected position, with the demise of the Board of Estimate in 1990 the borough president has no vote and no control over legislation or budgets, the borough president is the cheerleader for their borough. Diaz is highly popular and dependent on the governor, the state legislature, the mayor and the council to fund projects. In his sixth State of the Borough address, a long list of job creation achievements, new housing and economic development projects, he added the line, “Children shouldn’t be defined by one test.” The line was greeted with applause from the hundreds in the audience.

Thirty-plus Republican members of the NYS Assembly introduce a bill to discontinue the Common Core,

Section 1 of the education law is amended by adding new section 115,
which shall discontinue implementation of the common core state

While the bill will not move in the Assembly, 106 members in the 150-seat Assembly are Democrats and the Assembly, similar to the House of Representatives, is driven by the majority party. The Republicans have seized upon a popular issue, especially in the suburban districts. The bill was widely applauded on blogs across the state.

Amy Paulin is an outspoken and widely popular Democratic member of the Assembly. When Regent Harry Phillips, after many terms of outstanding service announced he will not be seeking a new term Paulin and her colleagues in the judicial district (Westchester, Rockland, Duchess) organized public interviews for candidates for the vacancy. I believe fourteen candidates participated in the public interviews. In the past Regents were selected in backroom wheeling and dealing. A year ago Regent Jackson was dumped and replaced by Regent Finn, with no public input. With the change in Assembly leadership sunlight appears to spreading across the state.

Paulin authored a letter to Chancellor Tisch, following the pattern of Malatras letters to Tisch (Malatras is the Governor’s top policy advisor who penned two confrontational letters to the chancellor). The letter, with the signatures of five other Assembly members, (see entire letter below) trashes the governor’s proposal re changing the teacher evaluation law.

In his third term Mayor Bloomberg decided to confront teachers and their union, issue after issue, battles back and forth, and the public increasingly began to support teachers over the mayor, In May, 2013,Sol Stern in the City Journal reported,

New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents [to a Zogby poll] said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

Local politics is tilting toward teachers, in the waning years of the Bloomberg administration the public appears to be tilting against Cuomo’s education agenda. When electeds ask, “should I support the governor’s education agenda or ‘people’s agenda’?” more and more electeds are choosing to stand with their constituents.

Siena College polls reports, “By a 15-point margin, 49-34 percent, voters say implementation of Common Core standards should be stopped. Voters also say they trust the State Education Department (SED) and the Board of Regents to set education policy far more than they trust the Governor or Legislature.”

Five weeks down the road the state budget is due – the clock is ticking towards the April 1 deadline. While not reaching a budget is a possibility (Governor Patterson’s budget wasn’t concluded until the end of the legislative session in June). If a budget deal is not reached the governor, through executive orders, actually pushes through his budget piece by piece, however, for months the rhetoric is, “the governor has lost control.” It is likely that a budget deal will be reached, and, the governor’s education agenda will likely be part of the budget deal.

How can the governor reach a budget deal that includes a resolution to his many confrontational education initiatives?

Education is an obstacle to the elephants in the room: rent control and the property tax cap.

Both laws sunset at the end of the session, rent control, (the “Erstadt Law ” requires that laws dealing with rental apartments must be passed in Albany, not the City Council) must be renewed by the legislature or rent control will end in New York City. The Republican Senate will extract their “pound of flesh.” The property tax cap, the center of Cuomo policy, also requires the approval of the legislature, and is unpopular among local school boards and local governments; additionally mayoral control also sunsets at the end of the session.

Ideally, budget negotiations will resolve as many contentious issues as possible, narrowing the field for the end of session negotiations.

If the budget is completed by April 1 you can bet that teacher union leaders will not be on the stage. How do you reach a settlement, a settlement that will not make everyone happy, that will not lead to endless sparring?

An ambitious governor, a new speaker of the Assembly and a Senate majority leader with “Bharara” problem; let the games begin.

It’s Oscar night – my favorite movie clip – give it a look/listen:

Local State Reps Pen Critical Letter to NYS Education Chancellor Merryl Tisch
Pat Casey | Feb 18, 2015 |

In the wake of much criticism regarding the evaluation of teachers in New York State, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) penned the following letter, which was also signed by local representatives David Buchwald (D-White Plains), Thomas Abinanti (D-Greenburgh), Ellen Jaffe (D-Rockland), Steve Otis (D-Rye), and Kenneth Zebrowski (D-Rockland).

We believe that New York State’s Annual Professional Performance Review (“APPR”) process fails to accomplish the purposes for which it was developed, and provides unreliable data rather than accountability and transparency. While we believe that teachers and principals should be evaluated by trained administrators and held accountable for their performance, for the reasons set forth below we do not believe that the APPR, as currently constructed, is a reliable measure of teacher or principal performance. Nor do we believe that the APPR process contributes to the professional development of teachers or principals. And although Education Law Section 3012-c purports to expedite the process for termination of ineffective teachers and principals, it actually has the opposite effect.

1. The APPR “HEDI” scale is seriously flawed and makes it impossible for an evaluator to differentiate meaningfully among educators. A teacher receives scores on three subcomponents of the APPR: (i) student growth on state assessments (worth 20 points), (ii) locally selected measures of student growth (worth 20 points), and (iii) locally developed teacher practice measures, mostly classroom observations (worth 60 points). The composite score that a teacher must receive on the three subcomponents of the APPR in order to be deemed Effective is 75 out of a possible 100 points.

The scale doesn’t work because the percentage of available points required by the state for an Effective score on the first two subcomponents (45%) is much lower than the percentage of available points required for an Effective composite score (75%). Imagine a teacher who receives a 9 out of 20 points on the first two subcomponents, which deems her Effective. In order to achieve a composite score of Effective, she must receive 95% of the available points on the third subcomponent, which is negotiated by the school district.
With a very narrow point range to work with, i.e., 57 to 60 points, an administrator cannot meaningfully differentiate among effective teachers through the scoring of the third subcomponent, the locally developed teacher practice measure.

We urge you to recommend that the Commissioner fix these inconsistencies in the scoring ranges as part of the annual review process.

2. The APPR sets up for failure good teachers, good principals, and good schools. A teacher who earns a rating of Effective or Highly Effective may in a subsequent year earn an Ineffective rating because his new class of students did so well in the prior year that there is no room to demonstrate the amount of student growth required for a higher score. Even if his students do extremely well on standardized tests compared to similar students across the state, he may receive a poor APPR score.

A principal too can be penalized for setting high standards for his students. A principal may receive a score of “Developing” if the school does not offer more than five Regents as is required for a higher score. Many high performing school districts give their own, more rigorous exams in lieu of a Regents exam, and thus do not meet the threshold for a higher score. Another criterion for receiving a score of “Effective” or “Highly Effective” is the percent of students scoring 80% or more on the Algebra I Regents in ninth grade. In many districts throughout the state, the stronger students take the Algebra I Regents in eighth grade, and the weaker students take it in ninth grade. The scoring does not account for the students who took and passed the exam as eighth graders, thereby penalizing the principal.

3. The APPR is designed for less than 20% of all teachers. Only teachers of fourth through eighth grade ELA and math receive student growth ratings based solely on state standardized test scores. Teachers of other grades and content areas (more than 80%) must work with their principals to agree on student learning objectives (“SLOs”). If a teacher teaches a course that has a state-mandated assessment, such as a Regents exam, that teacher’s SLOs must include as evidence the results on those assessments. Teachers who teach other grades or non-regents subjects will have SLOs that may include test results from third-party vendors, district or BOCES developed assessments, or locally developed assessments—and the target outcomes are determined locally. Although SLOs are treated as if they are comparable in reliability to standardized test scores, they can’t be comparable simply because they are locally developed, with locally determined target outcomes. Even if one accepts—which we do not—the premise that results on ELA and math tests are a reliable indicator of student achievement or educator effectiveness, it is clear that it is unfair and unreliable to compare teachers whose ratings are based solely on state standardized test scores with teachers whose ratings are based on SLOs.

4. Most teachers do not receive appropriate professional development based on their APPR scores. A better designed APPR would require principals to work with all teachers, including those rated Effective or Highly Effective, on their professional development. It would require principals, as educational leaders in their buildings, to develop the most appropriate evaluation tools and the best professional development program for all teachers in their schools. New York is missing an opportunity to incentivize our best teachers to become leaders among their peers.

5. Education Law Section 3012-c makes the dismissal of ineffective teachers more difficult than under prior law. The APPR is supposed to enable administrators to identify those teachers who are ineffective, and to use the APPR ratings in an expedited 3020(a) proceeding. However, the use of the APPR in disciplinary proceedings requires two consecutive annual ratings of Ineffective, the development and implementation of a teacher improvement plan, and validation of those Ineffective ratings through at least three observations by an independent validator. The result is that ineffective tenured teachers will teach for at least two years before they can be removed from the classroom based on their APPR scores. Even worse, the law makes the termination of ineffective probationary teachers and principals more difficult than was the case under prior law.

New York State’s APPR process fails to accomplish the purposes for which it was developed because it provides a one-size-fits-all approach that does not adequately take into account differences in educator experience, class composition, subject and grade level taught or other factors. It is unreasonable to assume that the same standardized evaluation tool will fairly and reliably rate an experienced PE teacher in a rural middle school, a brand new fourth grade teacher in an urban school, a mid-career guidance counselor in a high-performing suburban school, and a principal of a BOCES career and technical education program. Because the tool is unreliable, the data it produces is also unreliable. Therefore, the proposed increased reliance on standardized testing would unfairly penalize, or fail to identify weaknesses in, teachers, principals, schools and school districts.

We believe that the Regents and the State Education Department must convene a group of superintendents, principals, teachers, school board members, and parents who can advise the legislature, based on their broad knowledge and expertise, how to improve Education Law Section 3012-c so that it will achieve the important goals of increasing educator accountability, encouraging professional development to develop great teachers and principals, and expediting the termination of ineffective teachers and principals.

Thank you for your consideration and for all that you do for the students of New York State.

School to Prison Pipeline: Are Suspensions a Reflection of the School Neighborhood? Will Fewer Suspensions Lead to More Disruptive Schools? Will Better School Leadership and Classroom Instruction Lead to More Orderly Schools? Musing on the Complexities of School Climate

The “Talking Transition” tent popped up on Canal Street shortly after the de Blasio victory in November, 2013, panel after panel of organizations discussing what they wanted to see from the new administration. I wandered down to listen to a discussion of school discipline, mainly the “school to prison pipeline” and sat next to high ranking Department official. A panelist was spouting statistics about the rising number of suspensions in kindergarten classes, I looked to my “neighbor,” who was punching in numbers on his phone, and he whispered, “She’s wrong.”

The tidal wave is in full bloom, suspensions are both “racist” and the cause for high dropout rates, low graduation rates and lives of despair with the stain of prison lasting for a lifetime.

A May 29, 2013 New York Times editorial agrees,

… the creation of a repressive environment in which young people are suspended, expelled or even arrested over minor misbehaviors — like talking back or disrupting class — that would once have been handled by the principal.

The policies have not made schools safer. However, by criminalizing routine disciplinary problems, they have damaged the lives of many children by making them more likely to drop out and entangling them, sometimes permanently, in the criminal justice system. The policies are also discriminatory: black and Hispanic children are shipped off to court more frequently than white students who commit similar infractions.

The New York City Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) fact sheet parses the data on student suspensions, race, and prison populations.

A report in The Nation calls for the de Blasio administration to address what they see as a major impediment to school progress, the hellacious impact of student discipline run wild,

The Department of Education has announced a School Climate Reform Commission

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña today announced a series of school climate and discipline reforms – developed in partnership with the NYPD and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice – that will ensure the safety and dignity of New York City’s students, and hasten the decline of crime in our schools. In addition to the coordination and collaboration across City agencies, the work of the City Council, other elected officials, and community stakeholders has been invaluable in this revision of the discipline code and continued movement towards progressive disciplinary approaches.

An op ed in the NY Daily News praises the commission as a good start, and urges the Department to move forward aggressively to find alternatives to the current discipline code.

Bob McManus in the NY Post is appalled,

… the administration’s enthusiastic embrace of public-education’s latest social-justice crusade — the dubious effort to retain dysfunctional, and sometimes dangerous, students in their classrooms at the expense of serious students.

Specifically, as Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced last week, there will be a sharp decrease in sanctions on disruptive students. It’s part of what one report terms an effort “to further rein in some of the most severe punishments while also keeping schools safe.

Will tougher scrutiny of suspensions, more effective training of school leaders and principals lead to the adoption of alternative procedures to discipline students,(i. e., restorative justice) higher graduation rates fewer dropouts, in other words, is reducing suspension the key to better outcomes for students of color?

Over the last two years suspensions have dropped sharply, the question is why?

Has the Department simply whispered to school leaders, “no,” we’re not going to approve suspensions; in fact, we’re going to “punish” you in your evaluation, your Principal Performance Review? On the hopeful side maybe school leaders and teachers are becoming more effective in dealing with disruptive students.

The guiding document is the Discipline Code (as amended September, 2013), the Code lists violations by the seriousness of the event and lists a range of escalating levels of “discipline” and guidance interventions; from a meeting with parents, a verbal reprimand, up the ladder to a principal suspense (1 to 5 days out of class and in school) to superintendent suspension (removal from school to an alternative learning site). Each “incident” must be entered in the Department OORS database and the database is tracked by the Department.

The sharp drops in school suspension are also mirrored in sharp drops in arrests of juveniles outside of schools. The NYS Juvenile Justice Task Force reports a decline in juvenile arrests in NYC of 39% since 2011. Of juveniles arrested in NYC 62% are Black, 36% Hispanic and 2% White. On the borough level in 2011, 2012 and 2013 arrests dropped in each year.

Bronx 2011: 3748, 2012: 2599, 2013: 2071
Manhattan: 2011: 1935, 2012: 1625, 2013: 1310
Kings: 2011: 3628, 2012: 3065, 2013: 2346
(See a wealth of data on the Task Force site).

The overall reductions in crime in NYC appear to be across the board, from murders to other crimes as well as juvenile arrests and school suspensions.

I strongly suspect that if we disaggregate the juvenile crime data by school district we would find a strong correlation between juvenile arrests and school suspensions; in other words schools reflect their communities.

In my experience the school leader not only guides the instructional program in the school, the school leader establishes a culture, a culture that includes teachers and students.

I was sitting at a campus council, the six principals in the school were meeting and discussing a range of issues, a major and intractable issue, “threats” and “intimidation,” a principal was complaining about the influence of the gangs. I suggested, “Why don’t you meet with the gang kids?” The principal snapped back, “Why would I want to do that?” Unkindly, I replied, “Because they run your building.”

In another school the principal told me he checks in with the gang kids every morning, “Anything going on that I should know about …?”

A principal proudly told me, she was totally committed to restorative justice, unfortunately the kids weren’t, and the school was chaotic.

Hopefully the City and the Department will allow data, and not political preconceptions, determine future policy decisions.