What Do the Opt Out Parents Want? How Are the Feds Going to React?

ELA done, math this week.

The Out Outs, who prefer to be called “refusals”, may have more refusals than last year. The Long Island Opt Out Facebook page is filled with negative comments about the test and points to mistakes that required corrections during the test to claims of ambiguous and age inappropriate questions.

Was the test a “good” test or a “bad” test? How do you judge the adequacy of a standardized test?

Test designers are called psychometricians, to design a test you have to know what to test, in other words: what are knowledge and /or skills that you are testing?

… standardized achievement tests.. create assessment tools that permit someone to make a valid inference about the knowledge and/or skills that a given student possesses in a particular content area. More precisely, that inference is to be norm-referenced so that a student’s relative knowledge and/or skills can be compared with those possessed by a … sample of students of the same age or grade level.

After the test is designed there is a process called “standard-setting,” a team of educators reviews each element of the test and assigns a performance level. i. e., whether the item is level one (below proficient), level two (approaching proficiency), level 3 (proficient) and level 4 (above proficient); tests have items with a range of proficiency levels.

While setting standards appropriately is critical to making sound student and policy level decisions, it is equally important that the content of the test and its difficulty level be appropriate for the decisions to be made based on test results. We cannot expect a test that does not cover the appropriate content or is not at the appropriate level of difficulty to lead to the appropriate decisions regardless of how the process of standard setting is carried out.

Last week’s test was sharply criticized by Leonie Haimson, the author of Class Size Matters.

Clearly there were many problems with this year’s NY state ELA exams.  

These included overly long, dense and grade-inappropriate reading passages with numerous typos, abstruse vocabulary and confusing questions; commercial product placements; reading passages drawn from Pearson test prep materials; missing or mislabeled pages in test booklets: and children taking up to four to five hours per day to finish the exams — which violates the law that limits state testing to 1% of total instructional time.

A little review: the State moved to tests that reflected the new Common Core State Standards and the scores dropped across the State – from a 2/3 “proficient” or “above proficient” to 2/3 “approaching proficient” or “below proficient:” from 2/3 passing to 2/3 failing.

I have no problem with the Common Core State Standards – can you object to the Common Core Anchor Standards in Literature ?

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

A test is created that assesses the level at which the student has acquired the requisite skills.

One would hope that the instruction in the classroom would reflect the skills on the test, in other words, “test prep” is not necessary if classroom instruction mirrors the elements within the standards.

The problem: There was no phase-in, there was inadequate professional development, and teachers were just pushed off the end of the diving board and left to struggle.  Instead of moving to the higher standards one grade at a time the overly ambitious John King created the debacle.

A fair question: Do the tests current reflect the standards and are the proficiency levels at appropriate levels of difficulty?

We’ll have to wait until a report is issued in the fall, or later, a technical report assesses the quality of the test. Fred Smith, a testing expert has written detailed analyzes of prior exams. Read Fred’s doubts about the current tests here and sharp criticism of last year’s tests here.

The attacks on the tests are unabated.

The attacks are emotional, they are visceral. While the tests have no impact on students the low scores have created the anger – kids moved from passing to failing – the impact was emotional. On the other hand the impact on teachers and schools is significant. While there is a 4-year moratorium on the use of student tests to assess teachers the wound is still festering.

What do the opt outs want?  What would it take to bring Opt Out parents back to taking exams?

Gary Stern in an editorial in LoHud muses over what it would take to lure parents back.

Perhaps “better” tests.  Tests that are more “age appropriate.” First, I don’t know how to define “better” tests, and, second, if scores continue to define 2/3 of kids as failing, parents will not return to the testing world.

One approach is to move away for pen and pencil tests to performance tasks; however performance tasks require a sea change in instructional focus.

The Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE) is working with a number of school districts to develop and implement a performance tasks approach to student assessment. Coincidentally Stanford is offering a free online MOOC, “Designing for Deeper Learning: How to Develop Performance Tasks,” and, it starts tomorrow!! Sign up now here.

What the feds do may impact the testing kerfuffle in New York State. Some argue that the feds, under the new ESSA law had no authority to intervene in a state, others that the feds have the authority to withhold funds from the state and the state determines the impact at the local level. Of course, in an election year will the feds want to intervene?  And, after November, a new president and a totally new ball game.

While the tests end on Thursday the anger will continue to seethe. The Board of Regents has a complex task in a highly charged political and emotional environment.

 

 

 

Opts Outs and the Tenth Amendment: Will the States and Localities Make Better Education Decisions Than the Federal Government?

“Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.” (Articles of Confederation)

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” (Tenth Amendment to the Constitution).

In April of 1787 fifty-four Americans, plantation owners and small farmers, slave-holders and abolitionists, large states and small states began their slog to Philadelphia and the Constitutional Convention. The fledgling nation was struggling, the form of government, a loose, a very loose confederation of the thirteen former colonies had no common currency, no banking system, no army and couldn’t even pay the troops that fought and won the war for independence.  For most the trip with not with enthusiasm, previous efforts to amend the Articles of Confederation had stumbled badly; however, Hamilton, Madison and Washington had a plan, not to amend the Articles, to create a new document, a Constitution.

After a contentious summer, the factions carved out a founding document that divided powers and responsibilities among the executive and legislative branches and the states. The new constitution was silent on slavery. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison called the constitution “a covenant with death” and an “agreement with Hell.” (See Paul Finkelstein, Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson, 2001).

For the next seventy years the nation grappled with the issue of slavery seen through the lens of states’ rights versus federalism, concluding in the civil war.

The pendulum swung to the concept of federalism as the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments ended slavery, made slaves citizens and granted them the right to vote.

14th Amendment, Section 1:

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.

With the end of Reconstruction the former confederate state replaced slavery with peonage, the passage of the Jim Crow laws, statutes supported time and time again by the Supreme Court.

The pendulum had swung to the states.

It wasn’t until 1967, almost a hundred years after the Civil War that the Supreme Court overturned a Virginia law that had made interracial marriage a crime.  The judge in the lower court ruled, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents…. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

In a unanimous decision Justice Warren overturned the decision and ruled the Virginia law unconstitutional,

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law … There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy.

In the arena of education states have vigorously defended their 10th Amendment rights including their right to racially segregate schools.  Brown v Board of Education (1954) may have ended outright, legal segregation; however, the laws in the fifty states and 16,000 school districts have embedded sharp disparities: in courses of study, graduation requirements, in funding of schools, in requirements for teachers, the assessment of student and teachers, all left to the discretion of the states; that is, until the Obama administration decided to challenge the independence of the states in making education decisions.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are actually national standards created by the National Governors Association (NGA) and adopted by 46 states. The feds dangled $4.4 billion in competitive grants if states adopted the CCSS, a student test-score based teacher evaluation system, charter schools, aka choice and joined one of the two national testing consortia – Smarter Balance or PARCC.

The Executive Branch had managed to abrogate the Tenth Amendment and set the national education agenda.

Six years later the Obama education agenda is in tatters.

States are increasingly reclaiming the authority to make educational decisions.

The impact of CCSS is waning, the testing consortia have fewer and fewer customers, and parents around the nation are rejecting the core of the Obama plan – annual testing.

Even Tom Kane of Harvard, an avid supporter of the Obama policies, agrees the “proxy war” has curtailed the power of the feds “(For state leadership the common core is a boon“).

Over the past few years, the Common Core State Standards have been embroiled in a proxy war over the role of the federal government in education. To those most protective of state and local prerogatives, “common” became a synonym for “federal.” Perhaps now that the Every Student Succeeds Act has settled that fight by curtailing the federal role, and the Common Core State Standards are now just the state standards, policymakers can recognize that the common standards and assessments are not antithetical to states’ rights after all.

Kane’s argument, we lost the “war,” now let’s get on with it, is foolish, testing is being rejected by parents, teachers and state legislatures in increasing numbers.

An Education Week article (“Common Core: Is Its Achievement Impact Starting to Dissipate?) reports,

According to this year’s Brown Center Report on American Education, 4th and 8th grade students in states that adopted the Common Core State Standards outperformed their peers on the National Assessment of Educational Progress between 2009 and 2013. But between 2013 and 2015, students in non-adoption states made larger gains than those in common-core states.

Not only is the impact of the Common Core waning, the very heart and core of the initiative, testing, is under vigorous assault.

Jim Popham, the past president of the American Education Research Association, by implication, chides Kane and the testing crowd (“The Fatal Flaw of Education Assessment

America’s students are not being educated as well these days as they should be. A key reason for this calamity is that we currently use the wrong tests to make our most important educational decisions. The effectiveness of both teachers and schools is now evaluated largely using students’ scores on annually administered standardized tests, but most of these tests are simply unsuitable for this intended purpose.

What’s most dismaying about this widespread misuse of educational tests is that many educators, most policymakers, and almost all parents of school-age children do not realize how these tests contribute to diminished educational quality.

The opt out parents are an example of the Wisdom of Crowds (“The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations,” 2004) “… the aggregation of information in groups, resulting in decisions that … are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group.”

The Obama administration felt that states were shortchanging children, and, imposed a range of policy decisions, Common Core, accelerated testing, teacher evaluation, etc.,  that have been rejected many parents and teachers.

The President chose the wrong battle.

The disparities in funding may be just as horrendous as the criminalization of interracial marriages. In New York State (” … 100 wealthiest districts [in NYS] spent on average more than $28,000 in state and local funding per kid in 2012, the 100 poorest districts in the state spent closer to $20,000 per student”) as well as too many other states and school districts; the poorest children receive the least funding and the richest children the highest amount of dollars – school taxes based on property values.  The schools in inner city Detroit are falling apart while suburban schools area well-funded. The disparity in funding between the wealthiest and the poorest districts is $250,000 per class.

The newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act returns wide discretion to the states; the opt out movement is part of the swing of the pendulum away from Washington. Will the states and localities, the opt out parents, influence/create better decisions?  Will students of color, English language learners and students with disabilities be at the center of creating more targeted policies or will state simply satisfy the anger of white, suburban parents? Will the new President be a federalist or a states’ rights/smaller government aficionado?

Which way will the pendulum swing?

Who Are the Opt Out Parents? Why Has The Movement Accelerated So Quickly? What is the Future and the Impact?

This week kids in grades three through eight in New York State will begin taking federally mandated tests that are used to assess school progress, or, lack thereof. The results can be used to transform, redesign or close schools and layoff teachers, or, reward schools and teachers with additional dollars.  Many parents will opt to have their kids skip the tests.

In the years ahead sociologists, political scientists and doctoral candidates will explore the phenomenon of opt out parents.

The parents of one in five students opted their children out of taking state tests last year; tests that were routinely administered for a dozen years.

Tests are deeply embedded in history; Chinese Imperial examinations  originated in the Han Dynasty and the system spread to other Asian nations.

…  the exams were based on knowledge of the classics and literary style, not technical expertise, successful candidates were generalists who shared a common language and culture, one shared even by those who failed. This common culture helped to unify the empire and the ideal of achievement by merit gave legitimacy to imperial rule.

While the Imperial exams ended in 1905 the respect for education and an exam system is alive and well. Stuyvesant High School, an elite high school in New York City that requires a rigorous entrance examination, is overwhelmingly Asian. The school is 72% Asian and less than 1% Black.

No one opt outs of the bar exam.

The passage of the New York Bar Exam is required to practice law in New York State – in 2015 79% of test takers passed, the lowest percent in a decade. The Bar Exam has been frequently criticized,

For too long the unregulated monopoly of the testing industry has masqueraded as the self-appointed guardian of professional standards.

Many argue that a student’s GPA is a far better indicator of knowledge than the score on a bar exam; however, the bar exam remains the essential credential required for the practice of law.

Prior to the 2002 No Child Left Behind law all students in grade 4 and 8 took English and Math exams, the city also gave exams as did school districts.

The state exams school scores were published in major newspapers and schools with declining scores faced close scrutiny. In the late eighties the Board of Education began to close low performing schools and create replacement small high schools. The staffs in the closed schools could apply for positions in the successor schools or choose to be excessed to a cluster of schools of their choice.

For a decade every student in grade 4 through 8 took the required English and Math tests, I never knew that there was the possibility of opting out. If the participation rate in the school and in sub-groups in the school were lower than 95% the school faced undefined sanctions.

Teachers have been arguing that the annual testing regimen is simply unnecessary.

Standardized tests are unnecessary because they rarely show what we don’t already know. Ask any teacher and she can tell you which students can read and write.

On the other hand the civil rights community avers that annual testing, especially of the poorest children, children of color and children with disabilities is essential. Wade Henderson, the President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights testified at a congressional hearing on the reauthorization of ESEA,

Federal investments are unlikely to result in meaningful gains unless they are accompanied by unequivocal demands for higher achievement, higher graduation rates, and substantial closing of achievement gaps … … This is why it is so important that ESEA continue to include strong requirements for assessments and accountability … Accountability is a core civil rights principle …

…high quality, statewide annual assessments are needed. It is imperative that parents, teachers, school leaders, public officials and the public have objective, unbiased information on how their students are performing. ESEA must continue to require annual, statewide, assessments for all students (in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school) that are aligned with, and measure each student’s progress toward meeting the state’s college and career readiness standards.

The civil rights community strongly supports the continuation of annual tests and the newly passed ESSA law continues annual testing.

With the administration of the 2015 round of testing the opt out movement exploded across New York State as well as in other states: what changed?

Who are the opt outs?

The parents choosing to opt out are in suburban, white, higher achieving schools as well a small number of white, higher income, higher achieving schools in New York City.

What triggered the opt out wave?

The NYS Commissioner of Education John King imposed Common Core state exams, the seventy plus percent proficiency scores on the previous tests nosedived to thirty plus percent proficiency rates.  2/3 of students “passing” suddenly became 2/3 of children “failing.” As parent outrage bubbled over King decided to go on a listening tour – first stop: Poughkeepsie. The raucous meeting  was a disaster (Watch highlights here) and the commissioner canceled his listening tour and blamed outside agitators.

Why the passion and the anger?

An Afro-American commissioner who was in his thirties, who sent his children to a private school was telling parents that their kids were failures; was telling parents that superintendents, principals and teachers, who they liked and trusted were failing their children.  I believe parents felt disrespected, their parenting skills were being challenged.  The pent-up anger exploded.

Did the frustration over the perceived failures of government trigger the anger? Why should dysfunctional politicians in Washington or Albany tell us how to run our schools? Why should they be able to brand our children as failures? And, by the way, will these tests prevent our kids from getting into the college of their choice? Just as many in the electorate blame Wall Street and the banks for the economic ills of the nation was the vast testing industry manipulating policy to enrich themselves?

How does the Opt Out movement impact politics?

The opt out parents are not Republicans or Democrats – they are simply anti-testing, and, testing is beyond the ability of local or state electeds to impact. A frustrated state elected official asked me, “Is there a bill number? How do I satisfy these parents?” The governor, after aggressively interfering in education has backed away, the Democratic leader of the Assembly has passed the baton to new members of the Board of Regents.

So far, opting out has had no consequences, the feds have ignored the fact that schools in New York State are below the required 95% participation rate.

Will the opt out movement continue to build momentum, or fade away?  Will the feds accept competency-based testing (CBE) as “annual testing”? While the exams are required will the opt outs make the exams de facto voluntary?

The test results will be available in July, numbers of opt outs probably in June.

Can Career and Technical High Schools (fka Vocational High Schools) Reduce the Achievement/Opportunity Gap and Better Prepare Students for the World Beyond High School?

For decades New York City was proud of comprehensive high schools, large high schools that offered a Regents college-bound diploma plus a vocational diploma for kids interested in the trades, a commercial diploma for girls, including an alternate week work-study program and a general or local diploma for kids who wanted to go directly to work. The economy absorbed kids into unskilled and semi-skilled jobs; many were union jobs that were a pathway to the middle class. In the eighties the world began to change, automation and jobs going overseas changed the nature of the job scene; jobs required a higher level of skills.

The Board of Regents took a highly controversial action – they ended the multiple diplomas – all students would have to earn a Regents diploma, passing five Regents examinations and pass the requisite courses. Kids in vocational schools would have to earn a Regents diploma plus 10-12 credits in their vocational field of study.

The single Regents diploma would be phased in over an extended period of time.

Most of the vocational high schools closed, kids were unable to pass Regents exams; tracking had sent low ability kids into the vocational schools. Beginning in the nineties and accelerating in the 2000’s all but a handful of the comprehensive high school also closed – branded as “drop-out factories.” The Board/Department began to create small theme-based high schools to replace the closed schools.

On March 30th the Manhattan Institute hosted a conference to herald the release of a report entitled, “The New CTE: New York City as Laboratory for America.” Since 2008 the NYC Department of Education has opened fifty small Career and Technical Education (CTE) schools, formerly known as vocational high schools. The authors, Tamar Jacoby and Shawn Dougherty write,

Some fifty of the city’s roughly 400 high schools are dedicated exclusively to CTE. Nearly 75 others maintain 220 additional CTE programs – effectively schools within schools … early evidence suggests that the new CTE is producing results in New York. Occupational course offerings are largely aligned with the industries in the metro area … Class sizes tend to be smaller ,,, young people who attend CTE schools have better attendance rates and are more likely to graduate…. a larger share of schools with CTE classes score at, or above, “proficient” on English and math tests.

The report does not gloat- the report points to implementing tenets of the CTE movement.

* Prepare students for college and careers, allowing young people to keep their options open.

* Engage business and industry

* Build a bridge from secondary to post-secondary or training

* Create opportunities for students to work

* Embrace industry-recognized occupational credentials.

And, the report points to two substantial obstacles,

* More students need work experience:  in spite of the tens of thousands of students in CTE only about 1500 have been placed in internships, the connections between industry and school must have stronger bonds, and, both the schools and industries have to clarify the standards that define an internship.

* A new process for state approval of CTE teachers and industry credentials: The state approval model is a “gatekeeper” model based on traditional areas, there is “no box in the taxonomy for an emerging industry or occupation.” The process is overly lengthy and laborious.

In the question and answer section the abysmal community college graduation rates were referenced: only 19% in two years and 39% in six years plus mountains of debt. Is a Regents diploma a necessary requirement for an occupational credential?  Is the new community college model, ASAP at CUNY a step in the right direction?

The keynote speaker was former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who gave an unusual speech. In spite the significant drops in murder rates across the nation – from 20,000 murders a year to 14,000 murders a year nationally the murder rate in Chicago continues to increase – two murders a day. In a recent report 17 -24 year olds identified themselves as disconnected from work and the disconnected youth, according to Duncan, are more likely to pick up a gun.

Duncan proffered CTE programs must be aligned: to the community, to post-secondary institutions, to the business community and to middle schools. All programs must be accountable, and accountability means data, some iteration of multiple methods of measuring the effectiveness of schools and programs, if we expect the feds and/or states to support CTE programs we must have evidence to show the impact of the programs.

One of the questions asked: In the era of “disruptive innovation,” can we predict the industries five or ten years in the future?  Are we preparing students for transitory jobs?  Should CTE be preparing students to acquire skills rather than preparing for specific jobs?

A guest asked whether unions are an obstacle? Didn’t they see these programs as intruding on union turf? Kathryn Wilde, the President and CEO of the Partnership for New York City replied by praising the UFT and the Central Labor Council, the other members of the panel, a CTE principal and Department Executive Director of the Office of Multiple Pathways chimed in, the unions, especially the UFT were partners in developing the CTE programs across the city.

The world of education has certainly changed since Michael Bloomberg moved on.

Carl Heastie’s Board: The Speaker Will “Own” the Successes, or Lack thereof, of His Board of Regents

Presidents, governors and mayors all see themselves as taking on major public issues and solving the problems. For President Obama the issue was health care, the vehicle was the Affordable Care Act (ACA), seven years later the ACA has been branded as “Obamacare” and the Republican-dominated House of Representatives have voted to repeal the law over fifty times.

In 2001 the new-elected mayor, Michael Bloomberg made the reorganization of the education bureaucracy in New York City his top priority. A school board appointed by the borough presidents and the mayor was converted into a mayoral agency – the mayor chose a majority of the central board (Panel for Education Priorities) and replaced elected local school boards with substantial power with virtually powerless Community Education Councils (CEC). For his first two terms Bloomberg made sweeping changes and two large bumps in pay under teacher contracts (2005 and 2007). By his third term Bloomberg was under assault, by the teachers union, parent advocates, and community organizations; his popularity ratings tanked. Sol Stern in City Journal wrote,

Sixty-four percent of respondents rated school performance as either fair or poor, with only 27 percent proclaiming it excellent or good; 69 percent said that students in the city’s schools weren’t ready for the twenty-first-century economy. New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents 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.

The decision to brand himself as an education mayor was a disaster.

Bloomberg’s successor has dismantled many of his signature programs.

In 2014 Governor Cuomo seized the education governor crown. In the arcane budget process (items having nothing to do with the budget are appended to the budget) Cuomo, who favored teacher evaluation by student test scores associated with high stakes testing  also added pro-charter school laws, forcing New York City to either provide space for charter schools in public school buildings or pay the rent for private space.

200,000 kids opted out of State tests, the opt out movement grew across the state, the state teachers union (NYSUT) bombarded the governor with critical TV and radio ads .  The governor’s popularity ratings headed south, especially over education.

The survey also found that 64 percent of New Yorkers feel that Common Core standards have either worsened education in the state or done nothing to improve it.

In September of this year the governor appointed a task force, in December the task force report including twenty recommendations that backed away from the most controversial of the governor’s initiatives – teacher evaluation: a four year moratorium.

As the governor backs away from education the new “power behind the education throne” is Carl Heastie, the Speaker of the Assembly.

Last year Heastie chose not to appoint the two most senior members of the Board and this year made it clear he’d was looking for new leadership.

Heastie has appointed nine of the 17-member Board of Regents – the Heastie appointees supported Betty Rosa and Andrew Brown as the new Chancellor and Vice Chancellor.

Rosa’s election was mauled by the New York Post and the New York Daily News as well as the Buffalo News,

It doesn’t augur well for excellence when the new chancellor of the state Board of Regents all but encourages parents to opt out of state assessments. It doesn’t even augur well for orderliness.

Next week the State testing begins and whether we like it or not, unless the Board can change the conversation, the metrics by which the Board of Regents, will be “judged” are opt outs, test scores and graduations rates.

The Heastie Board has several hundred years of experience working in the education trenches, working with the unions, with parents, with school boards, with local elected officials; they have the skills to bring together the stakeholders across the state.

Chancellor Rosa and Vice Chancellor Brown, along with both the new and the current Board have the experience to move away from the Cuomo agenda and create a new path. Move the dialogue away from test results and numbers of opt out to reducing the opportunity gap (a better term than achievement gap) for the “left behind:” ELLs, students with disabilities, the poorest and students of color.

Their success will be Heastie’s success, or, Heastie will own their lack of success.

Chancellor Betty Rosa: A New Leadership Amidst Swirling Conflicts

A historic day in Albany – Betty Rosa was elected as Chancellor of the Board of Regents.

Dr. Rosa’s election was greeted with scathing editorials in the New York Post (“New Regents chancellor will be the latest sore for public schools“) and the New York Daily News (“Chancellor Rosa opts out“)  and  Carol Burris, in the Washington Post, chides her predecessor and predicts that Rosa will make dramatic positive changes in the direction of the board and actually lists ten changes she expects.

Betty is stepping off the diving board into a pool of both snapping alligators and adoring fans.

Dr. Rosa faces a range of hotly debated issues – issues that are beyond the powers of the chancellor: annual grades 3-8 tests are required by law, all English language learners with more than year in the country must be tested and almost all students with disabilities must be tested. The feds are currently writing regulations to clarify the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (Read process here) and while the new law does give states far more authority the feds have by no means disappeared (See a fed “Dear Colleague” clarification letter here). The feds will be inviting a handful of states to explore alternative assessments, and Dr. Rosa would love to be one of the states.

Over the last few months Regent Judith Johnson, on the board only since last April and a former superintendent has asked the same question of her colleagues and the commissioner: what is your theory of change? Or, to put more succinctly, why are we taking a specific action?  Have we explored the unintended consequences?

So far, nods of agreement, and little discussion.

Twenty-five years ago, after lengthy discussions the board voted to move to a single regents diploma and eliminate the 9th grade level  Regents Competency Exams and limit the local diploma to a  “safety net” for students with disabilities. The phase-in took years with many bumps in the road. A majority of students in New York State were graduating with a local diploma that did not prepare them for college or work. The board weathered outcries from school districts and parents, adjusted and lengthened the phase-in.

The board now seems to be chipping away at the regents diploma.

A dozen years ago the board changed the English Regents from a two-day, 3-hour a day exam to a one-day, 3-hour exam – passing rates increased by 20%. Were the students 20% “smarter” or was the 2-day exam a flawed exam?

The exam with the lowest passing rate – in the 60% range – the Global Studies Regents. A few years ago the regents reduced the scope of the exam from two years of work (9th and 10th grades) to the 10th grade only – to go into effect with the June, 2018 exam. (Take a crack at the January, 2016 Global Studies Regents exam here).

The commissioner and board never explored important questions: why were kids doing so poorly on the exam?  Is it the scope of the work?  The reading/writing skills required on the exam?  The basic structure of the exam?

On Monday, after lengthy and at time contentious discussion the K-12 committee passed two resolutions: first to consider the CDOS credential in lieu of one regents examination and second to increase the appeal procedure that generates re-scoring of a regents exam from grades of 62-64 to grades of 60-64.

A CDOS (Career Development and Occupational Studies) credential is a career plan intended for students with disabilities,

The student must have successfully completed at least 216 hours of CTE coursework and/or work-based learning experiences (of which at least 54 hours must be in work-based learning experiences)

To expect that a school can use the CDOS credential as a replacement for the Global Studies Regents is overreaching.

The re-scoring resolution is based on an assumption: the original grading was inaccurate and the new grading, the re-scoring will result in a higher grade. From a statistical approach one would expect that of the inaccurate grades half would grant the students too many points and half too few. Why don’t we “rescore” all grades between 60 and 70?  We can increase and reduce scores if our goal is to have the most accurate scoring, or, is our goal only to increase scores?

Again, what is our “theory of change”?  Or, are the regents only interesting in increasing graduation rates?

What are the unintended consequences of the board actions?

Only 40% of our high school graduates are college and career ready (grades of 80 or above on the English Regents and 75 or above on the Algebra 1 Regents), meaning, the 60% who are not “college ready” must take non-credit remediation courses in college; even more disturbing: only 14% of Black students, 18% of Hispanic students, 6% of ELLs and 5% of students with disabilities graduate high school college ready. Staggering percentages of these students do not complete community college within six years and they leave with significant debt and without a college degree or certificate. (See “Completion Versus Readiness” power point here).

We can identify students in elementary school grades who are likely to either not graduate high school or barely graduate – are we targeting these specific students?

To once again quote Regent Johnson: what is our theory of change

Betty Rosa, aside from her service as a superintendent that included some of the poorest zip codes in the nation is a Harvard PhD and a deep thinker.  While the editorial boards have pilloried her and written her off before her term begins they are in for a surprise.  The core issues are not opt out versus opt ins, the issue is not untimed tests or the number of questions, the deeper question begins with a theory of change, how can the board, led by Betty, move to a system that graduates kids with the skills to enter the middle class?

With a board, half of whom have lived and breathed education for their entire professional lives and other board members who add other perspectives there is every chance that the regents can move beyond the dueling and petty bickering so admired by “if it bleeds it leads” journalism.

The board  has to choose a path, not determined by politics but determined by evidence.

I’m optimistic.

Adieu Chancellor Tisch: Some Thoughts

 

Resolution 1078

NOLAN

LEG. RESO. – Honoring Dr. Merryl M. Tisch for her many years of distinguished service to the New York State Board of Regents

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The magisterial New York State Assembly Chamber “designed in a Moorish Gothic” is a truly impressive room; a high vaulted ceiling with stained glass windows allowing the light to be cast across the room. From September through June the 150 members gather to debate and pass bills and resolutions. On Thursday a resolution flashed across the screen honoring Dr. Merryl Tisch, the Chancellor of the Board of Regents and Monday, March 21st will be her last meeting; her term expires at the end of March.

Member after member rose to extol the tenure of the Chancellor, a tenure that has been characterized by both sweeping changes in the role of the board and controversy.

Tisch has served on the board for twenty years and was elected by her colleagues as chancellor in 2009.

Commissioner Mills left under a cloud and the Tisch board selected David Steiner as commissioner. Traditionally commissioners had been selected from among the senior superintendents in the state. Steiner was Dean of the School of Education at Hunter College. Almost unnoticed the board selected as deputy commissioner a young scholar with no experience in public schools, John King.  The leaders of education in the State of New York with no experience running a school district.

Tisch and Steiner jumped headfirst into the swirling pool of education reform trumpeted by the White House. An application for the Race to the Top dollars and the crafting of a teacher evaluation plan were launched.

At an ABNY breakfast attended by the educational glitterati keynote speaker Randi Weingarten urged John King, who replaced Steiner after his precipitous resignation, to delay the implementation of the teacher evaluation plan – a moratorium.

Tisch and King rejected the suggestion – the move to the full implementation of the Common Core, testing and test result-based teacher evaluation moved forward.

The Common Core and the teacher evaluation plans were increasingly resisted by active parents and the teacher union.

A  NY Times appraisal of Tisch’s tenure begins, “She tried to do too much, too fast.”

The article goes on,

If she could take one thing back, Dr. Tisch said, it would be having rolled out the standards and the teacher evaluation system at the same time, “because I think the debate over how to evaluate a teacher contaminated the more important work.”

Dr. Tisch said she believed that the anger about the standards was stoked by the state teachers’ union, which fought the evaluation system, and noted that most of those who opted out came from wealthier suburban districts.

Last year the legislature dumped longtime allies of the chancellor and selected four new members who were clearly critical of the teacher evaluation system. The troubles of Assembly Speaker Shelton Silver, a friend of Tisch since childhood changed the chemistry in the legislature as the new speaker wanted to ameliorate the conflicts with parents and teachers.

In retrospect there is no evidence that the Common Core is an “answer” to struggling schools populated by students of color. The academic community has increasingly chided testing associated with the standards.

The Washington Post writes,

More than 100 education researchers in California have joined in a call for an end to high-stakes testing, saying that there is no “compelling” evidence to support the idea that the Common Core State Standards will improve the quality of education for children or close the achievement gap, and that Common Core assessments lack “validity, reliability and fairness.”

The dense teacher evaluation algorithms have been sharply criticized by most experts in the world of statistics.

Yes, rolling out both the Common Core, Common Core testing and teacher evaluation at the same time doomed the initiatives from the start, a larger question is whether jumping on board the White House driven reforms would ever achieve the anticipated goals. At the time it might have made sense to be the “first in the nation” to adopt the Obama education plan, in retrospect, a mistake.

In my view Tisch fell victim to the same wave that has vaulted Donald Trump to the top of the presidential primaries. The anger, the disgust with all politics, the “snarkiness,” has rolled over the reforms coming from the Board of Regents. The anger of the opt-outs, the anger of the mass of voters is intertwined.

Other actions of the chancellor have gone underreported.

Tisch made every attempt to thwart the plundering of schools by an Orthodox School Board in East Ramapo. She forced reluctant school boards to register undocumented minors and provide an appropriate education, in spite of substantial local opposition.  The chancellor has visited scores of schools, frequently accompanied by a Regents member who was a former superintendent.  She has acknowledged the glowing jewels in the system, i. e. the Internationals Network of schools that serve new immigrants with wonderful results. After years of delays the regulations impacting English language learners were promulgated.

Regents meetings are usually one speaker after another, one power point after another with comments only from the members of the board. Merryl frequently interrupts a speaker with an incisive question. Whether the commissioner, a state ed staffer or a guest Tisch “cuts to the core;” she asked the crucial question, a question that commonly resulted in the speaker stumbling.  (I loved it!!)

Critics of Tisch are legion, and clearly she made decisions that in retrospect required more thought and more buy-in. Chancellors are selected by their colleagues; however, the governor and the legislature have enormous power; for the last two years major education policy was set by the governor.  The major current policy initiatives are the twenty “recommendations” of the Cuomo Task Force. The board may be the constitutional body to devise education policy – in the “real world” the governor is the major player.

As March draws to a close the legislature and the governor will agree upon a budget. Over the last decade budgets have eroded funding to the State Education Department, a subtle way of expressing disagreement with the policies of the board.  The legislature doesn’t need angry voters and the governor wants to both take credit for successes and avoid negative electoral consequences.

Merry Tisch fell victim to a generalized dissatisfaction that is sweeping the nation.

I read an Internet cry, “We want a president who will make America great again,” which received a response, “Do you mean when basketball stars were white?”  Race, gender, class and generational conflict have spilled over – Merryl Tisch fell victim to the anger.

The next leader of the Regents faces a daunting task.