Can the New Commissioner and the Board of Regents Begin to Win Back the Public? A Few Suggestions.

Mary Ellen Elia begins a new, complex and intensely political job – the New York State Commissioner of Education. After John King “moved on” to the US Department of Ed in December Ken Wagner and Beth Berlyn have managed the Department, and did a superb job under difficult conditions.

To say the last few months have been contentious is polite. Two hundred thousand or so parents have opted their children out of state grades 3-8 exams, the governor is at war with teachers, the legislature is at war with the governor, Mayor de Blasio publicly trashed Governor Cuomo, a new and reviled teacher evaluation plan is being rolled out, the lowest performing schools and school districts in the state are moving to receivership, English language learners continue to struggle, the disparity in funding between school districts is disturbing, and I’ve just scratched the tip of the education iceberg.

Dysfunction is nothing new for New York State.

Edward J. Larson, in The Return of George Washington (2014) writes, “The state’s [New York State] delegation to the Continental Convention was so split, and its instructions were so indecisive that it abstained on the epic vote for independence- the only delegation to do so.”

A dozen years later the newly created United States of America were selecting their first president. Each state was selecting electors who would cast ballots to elect a president and a vice president. Alexander Hamilton and Governor Clinton were bitter enemies. “…after a brutal state convention and weeks of legislative gridlock, two battle-scarred parties held their ground and New York sat out the election.” Hamilton gloated, “I am not sorry, as the most we could hope for would be to balance accounts and do no harm.” New York State was the only state not to cast ballots for the first president.

New York State was so involved in internecine political battles that they did not participate in the most iconic elections in our history – the approval of the Declaration of Independence and the vote to elect George Washington. Not much has changed in two hundred and twenty-five years!!

Can a new commissioner begin the healing process? Or, is dysfunction too inbred into our DNA?

Elia faces a vital first task: winning back parents, teachers, school boards, superintendents and the legislature who have all lost confidence in the education establishment.

Her second task is working with an increasingly assertive Board of Regents. For decades the state education agenda was set by the commissioner and the chancellor. Under John King an extremely aggressive agenda mirroring the policies of Arne Duncan were pushed through the Board of Regents. A few members of the Regents voted “no,” others had questions and voted “yes” with reluctance while the majority were were on board for each and every vote. The election of four new members to the Board totally changed the direction of the Board. The discussion of teacher evaluation plan was driven by six members of the board – the four new members and two who have consistently questioned previous initiatives. The “new” faction includes five retired school superintendents and clearly intends to propose a Regents-driven agenda.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires annual exams in grades 3-8, and, the results were zip code driven. If you lived in a middle class district the chances are excellent that your kid did well on the exam and if you lived in a poor district the scores were low. Suddenly, the state moved to the Common Core exams, King steadfastly refused to phase in the exams and the state moved from 2/3 passing the tests to 2/3 failing the test. The Department tried to manipulate the language, instead of “failing” using “approaching proficiency,” without success. John King embarked on his “listening tour” and insisted on making it a “convincing tour.” After he was booed off the stage in Poughkeepsie the meetings were halted, King blamed outside agitators, the resistance grew into the opt-out movement.

Suggestions for the new commissioner and the board:

* Announce a broad-based committee to review, and, if necessary, recommend changes to the Common Core Standards.

While I find the secondary school English and Social Studies standards are appropriate there has been a steady criticism of the math standards and the standards for the earlier grades – appoint a task force: superintendents, principals, teachers, colleges, nothing should be written in stone. New York State should assess and, if necessary, revise core policies. Participation reduces resistance.

*Announce that next year the grade 3-8 state exams will be scored the same way the Regents exams are scored; using a standards-setting system that phases in the new standards over an extended number of years.

The Common Core Regents are being phased in over eight years (we are entering year three) with the standards-setting, aka, the curving of the scores, reflecting incremental changes. About the same percentage of kids will pass the Regents each year. The same process was used to phase in the single Regents diploma, passing scores were dropped to 55 and each year students had to pass an additional regent with a score of 65. Instead of the phase in taking four years the phase in took about ten years. The system took much longer than expected; however, the save-harmless protected the students and was viewed as reasonable around the state.

* Quietly announce that State Ed will grant hardship waivers without undue hassling.

We are about to experience the third teacher evaluation plan in the last four years, and, we expect revisions next year. The plan is incredibly dense and the State can ease the complexity by making available the algorithms that were successfully used in New York City. School districts cannot be expected to “go it alone,” mere mortals do not understand the system, principals and teachers don’t understand the system, and, the only purpose is to evaluate teachers and principals. The tool doesn’t even do a good job of assessing staff performance. The feds may, and I stress may, amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) over the next few months. What should a teacher evaluation plan look like? How should the State assess student progress across the state? Should progress look differently in high tax, high wealth versus low tax, low wealth districts? The commissioner and the board should begin to explore a new plan that emanates from the field, from superintendents and teachers, not from anonymous members of the governor’s team.

* Move the format of the Regents meetings to a more open and inclusive platform

Currently only the formal parts of the monthly Regents Meetings are webcast, the “meat” of the meetings is the committees, which are not webcast. The entire meeting should be available to the public, as was the Education Learning Summit. The current system does not allow for public input except for the comment period after the Regents have proposed changes to regulations. The Commissioner should propose to the Regents changes to open the meetings to public scrutiny and allow brief public comment at some point during the monthly meetings. Transparency builds credibility.

* Use the July Regents Retreat to set an agenda for the Board.

Commissioner King set the agenda and the Board responded. Although the Board of Regents is a policy board the policy was set by the Chief Executive Officer, the CEO who is the commissioner. The broad outlines of policy should be set by Board not the CEO; the commissioner should recommend systems to implement the policies. The Board has tended to steer clear of contentious issues – a prime example is the way education is funded in New York State. The funding system in New York State is property tax driven and guarantees a wealth disparity, the system is established by the governor and the legislature. The Regents, if they choose, can make substantive recommendations to the legislative and executive branches.

Should the state adopt a system of assessing student progress that incorporates “risk load factors”?

The recent Report from the Center for New York City Affairs suggests a totally different method of viewing schools,

Chronic absenteeism correlates with deep poverty–high rates of homelessness, child abuse reports, male unemployment, and low levels of parental education. In fact, the report states, chronic absenteeism is a much better index of poverty than the traditional measure of the number of children eligible for free lunch. Moreover, it’s very hard for schools to escape the pull of poverty: only a handful of schools with above-average rates of chronic absenteeism had above-average pass rates on their standardized tests for math and reading–and most scored far below, the report states.

The report identifies 18 “risk factors” that are associated with chronic absenteeism, both in the school building and in the surrounding neighborhood. Schools with a very high “risk load” are likely to suffer from poor attendance. Some of the school factors are: students in temporary housing; student suspensions; the perception of safety; and principal, teachers and student turnover. The neighborhood factors include: male unemployment, presence of public housing or a homeless shelter in a school’s attendance zone, adult levels of education, and involvement with the Administration for Children’s Services.

Should the state continue to simply use test scores to assess and stigmatize schools or move on to more useful and meaningful data sets?

How should the state assess the progress of English language learners and Students with Disabilities?

While the feds have denied the request of the state exempt or delay the testing of students referenced supra the state should begin to consider the issue. Who are the students who fail to graduate in four years? Do the non-graduates include inordinate numbers of ELLs and SWDs? If so, should we offer alternative pathways for these cohorts of students?

The Commissioner and the Board can continue to joust with a public who has lost confidence or begin to set an agenda that will both win back the public and set a saner path for students across the state.

Perhaps the Commissioner and the Board can set an example for the political establishment.

Should Teachers of Immigrant Children Be Assessed Using the NYSESLAT Student Assessment Test?

The Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, Lau v Nichols (1974), school districts across the nation were directed to address the issue of the “inability to speak and understand the English language,” the court wrote,

Where inability to speak and understand the English language excludes national origin-minority group children from effective participation in the educational program offered by a school district, the district must take affirmative steps to rectify the language deficiency in order to open its instructional program to these students.

Any ability grouping or tracking system employed by the school system to deal with the special language skill needs of national origin-minority group children must be designed to meet such language skill needs as soon as possible and must not operate as an educational dead end or permanent track …

Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes, or results in racial discrimination.

After a few years hassling with advocates New York State created Part 154 of state regulations , a dense set of regulations setting forth identification procedures, number of minutes of specialized instruction per week and employing teachers with appropriate certification – Part 154 was a compliance document.

For decades educating English language learners was a New York City-only problem, and, the city closely monitored the schools across the city.

The “issue” was not without political disagreements. Were bilingual classes segregating and dead ends? Were English language learner (ESL) classes more effective than bilingual classes? Were bilingual classes essential to retain student cultural identity, or, were bilingual classes simply job opportunities for bilingual teachers? Politicians, advocates, school boards lined up on one side or another, researchers supported and opposed one approach or another, the arguments, at times, were vociferous, and, disagreements exist today.

Over the last decade new immigrants entered cities across the state, from the “Big Five” to mid-size cities on Long Island (Brentwood, Hempstead) as well as upstate. The education of new immigrants was no longer a New York City only issue.

The regulations, Part 154, were essentially unchanged for thirty years as the “practitioners” disagreed over how the regulations should be changed, finally, in 2014, the state revised the regulations. Among the changes: prohibiting “pull-out” models and requiring more bilingual classes, a model that requires hiring more teachers, as well as, a new Common Core aligned assessment test, a new NYSESLAT test. (NYSELAT = New York State English Language Learner Assessment Test). (Peruse links to the new NYSESLAT test and associated documents here and many resources for teachers from the Engage NY site here ).

The new Part 154 regulations present another political issue: the regs require the creation of bilingual classes and the state funding formula does not provide additional dollars. Last year as the new regs were rolled out a member of the Regents, reflecting the worries of school districts raised the question of the costs, another unfunded mandate, ex-Commissioner King responded, “The districts can cut Advanced Placement Classes …,” not exactly the most politic of replies.

In the fall of 2014 undocumented minors began to arrive, mostly on Long Island, and, some school districts were not assigning students to classes, claiming the students could not document their addresses, or lacked a birth certificate, or lacked a legal parent or guardian. Students were refused registration or assigned to sit in auditorium for weeks at a time. In December the Department issued emergency regulations directing school districts to admit the students,

o Clear and uniform requirements, which comply with federal and State laws and guidance on the enrollment of students, particularly for unaccompanied minors and undocumented youths;

o Enrollment requirements whereby districts must accept additional forms of proof beyond the highly restrictive forms listed in the enrollment instructions/materials of school districts under review to date.

Reluctantly school districts admitted the students, although in some instances the result was sharp increases in class size and a scramble to hire properly licensed bilingual teachers.

English language learners is a compliance word, all new students whose home language is not English must take the LAB-R within ten days of registration and all student identified are required to receive specialized instruction and are tested each spring using the NYSESLAT, students are tested each spring until they “score out” on the NYSESLAT or receive 3.0 or higher on the state ELA exam, or, pass the English Regents – the testing process is time -consuming, teachers are removed from their normal instructional duties to test each and every ELL student.

The new Part 154 also introduced the new Common Core-aligned NYSELSAT exam – the exam covers reading, writing, speaking and listening and is untimed; it can take hours to administer the test to each student. (Read an interesting critique of the exam here) and a superb scholarly article that is highly critical of the test here)

To further complicate the issue the term “English language learner” incorporates a wide range of students:

* Unaccompanied minors who are living with relatives or strangers and may face serious social and emotional issues.

* Students with interrupted education (SIFE), arrivals may have not been in school for years, or, perhaps, have never attended school in their native country.

* Students who are illiterate in their native language.

*Students whose native language is an indigenous language. (Students from Central America who do not speak or understand Spanish or students from West Africa who speak tribal languages)

* Students who suffered from traumatic conditions in their native country.

Unfortunately in most schools and school districts Part 154 simply means compliance, does the student have a properly licensed teacher, is the student receiving the appropriate minutes of specialized instruction per week. The instruction might be in a bilingual class, or, in an integrated classroom with two teachers, one of whom possess a bilingual, ESL license or extension, or in a self-contained ESL classroom. In their second year in the country students must take the state exams, regardless of their lack of English skills. The feds recently denied the state request to delay the exam for two years after admittance to the program.

Graduation data for ELLs is poor, and “college and career readiness” data very poor. Of course the state “judges” ELLs using the same metrics at all other students. After a student “scores out” of an ELL program school districts are required to provide “transitional” supports.

Some ELL students “score out” in a few years, others, called “ever-Ls” never score out. To expect that new immigrants will achieve at grade level after a year is ludicrous, researchers agree that the average student takes 5 -7 years to master English yet we “punish” schools and teachers.

See Graduation rate data by district and by school here.

Too many schools and school districts are crippled by limited budgets, internal bickering on school boards and gubernatorial politics that see charters and receivership as an “answer” to complex problems.

New immigrant students with limited English skills must take state exams; the result, lower scores for the schools and districts. The students are faced with the dual task of learning English and learning content.

The state intends to use the new NYSESLAT exam, which assesses student progress in learning English, to assess the teachers of these students. The decision ignores the wide diversity among students who are learning English. Emergent learners of English learn at different rates. A student who is illiterate in his/her native language will take a substantially longer period of time to learn English than a student who was in school at grade level in his native nation.

As Regent Brown stated at the last Regents Meeting, “We should not use test designed to assess students to assess teachers.”

To use the NYSESLAT to assess teachers, to “punish” teachers who choose to teach immigrant students will only discourage teachers from teaching the neediest students

Shouldn’t An Open Dialogue Have Preceded the Extension of Mayoral Control? Mayoral Control Without Public Input Is Autocratic Control.

In the final days and hours of the legislative session e-mails and faxes clogged the e-mailboxes of every legislator. The phones never stopped ringing and lobbyists prowled the halls of the legislative office building (LOB). For the Democrats in the Assembly extending and improving rent control laws and stopping the education tax credit and charter school expansion efforts. For the Republicans in the Senate extending the property tax cap, which was due to expire next year, an election year; and, for Mayor de Blasio, the extension of mayoral control which was due to expire today.

Geoff Decker at Chalkbeat reported on Senate leader Flangan’s problem with the extension of mayoral control,

As the legislature prepared to vote on a bill that includes a host of education and housing issues Thursday evening, including the mayoral control extension, Senator John Flanagan offered the most expansive explanation yet for why Republicans stood in the way of giving de Blasio more time. He personally backed mayoral control, he said, but the city’s spending on education had not received enough scrutiny.

Perhaps the reason is simpler; there was no voter, no constituent pressures, to include mayoral control beyond the minimum of one year. If mayoral control was well down the list for the Democrats why should the Republicans accede to the Mayor of New York City? If the third “man in the room,” the Governor, also seemed unconcerned, pushing mayoral control into next year was the easiest way to move it off the table.

While newspaper editorials and the elites all saw the extension as crucial absent was any grassroots support.

Even one of the Mayor’s strongest supporters, the leader of the NYC teacher union, only agreed with mayoral control with caveats.

In a rare break with Mayor de Blasio, United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said Thursday he doesn’t support mayoral control of the schools in its current form.

Mulgrew, speaking after an event with the mayor in which they both touted career and technical education, said the union doesn’t think the mayor should have primary authority over the Panel for Educational Policy, which he does now.

But he said he likes “the idea of mayoral control.”

The 2003 mayoral control law (Read law here) has been extended twice with only minor tinkering.

The law established a thirteen member board,

Such board of education shall consist of thirteen appointed members: one member to be appointed by each borough president of the city of New York; and eight members to be appointed by the mayor of the city of New York. The chancellor shall serve as an ex-officio non-voting member of the city board. The city board shall elect its own chairperson from among its voting members. All thirteen appointed members shall serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority.

In other words the mayor appoints the majority of the board and can fire them as he sees fit. When two members of the Bloomberg-appointed Board voted against the chancellor early in his term he fired the members. The eight members appointed by the mayor have raised their hands regardless of the opposition in the audience, regardless of the issues; the hottest issues have been charter school co-locations. Ironically, a few weeks before the Albany votes the Board failed to approve the placement of an Eva Moskowitz elementary charter school in Hudde Junior High School; due to the absence of Board members and the organized opposition of Hudde parents. Of course next moth the decision may be reversed, or, another board member replaced.

One of the intended, or, to be kind, unintended consequences of mayoral control has been to exclude parents and communities from the process. The prior board, one member appointed by each borough president and two by the mayor was highly politicized, and, the 32 elected community school boards ranged from grossly inept and corrupt to highly competent and engaged. Regrettably, the poorest school districts ended up with the least capable and most corrupt school boards. The political power structures in communities dominated the school board elections. The law did change in the late nineties and all supervisory appointments were made by the chancellor, with the advice, not consent of school boards.

The school board in the district in which I served as the union leader encouraged school and district-based leadership teams, school-based budgeting and provided continuous, extensive training of school teams.

The current Community Education Councils (CEC) are toothless. Seats on councils are frequently unfilled and at the meetings there are more council members than members of the community present.

The many iterations of organizational structures, from Regions to Empowerment to Networks excluded communities, except if the leader had skills from the “old days,” although that were discouraged. Where did a parent go with a question? Call 311 and you were referred back to the person who originally failed to answer your question. Frequently Asked Questions were web-based in communities in which parents had limited access and limited skills in accessing the sites.

School programs either emanated from Tweed or the Network. It was the rare school in which school-based leadership teams felt invested in school programs.

The current 92 Renewal Schools, in year one, the year just completed, were supposed to develop school plans. The program has stumbled, Patrick Wall, in Chalkbeat chronicles the efforts of Brooklyn Generation High School, a Renewal School on the South Shore High School campus, to deal with the mixed messages from the city and the state.

The system feels adrift and mayoral control lacks a rudder.

How many public forums were held to seek public input on mayoral control?

How much outreach from the offices of the chancellor or the mayor?

How many legislators attended community forums?

I would hope that next year the office of the mayor, legislators, perhaps the local members of the Board of Regents will sponsor a series of community forums to seek input.

Should the appointed members of the Board serve fixed terms?

Should the Board expand to include members appointed by others, the Speaker of the City Council? The Comptroller?

Should all Board meetings be webcast?

Should the Community Education Councils be re-structured? Should the CECs be granted additional authority? Should they play a role in setting actual district policies? An advisory role in the selection of principals? Or the superintendent?

Should superintendents be required to hold open meetings with parent leaders monthly?

Should the Department conduct locally-based in-depth training programs for school leadership teams?

We know the most effective schools have strong school cultures: parents, teachers and school leaders working from the bottom up with the support from the district and the chancellor; building distributive leadership structures; both encouraging school communities to design local initiatives and holding them accountable for the results of their efforts.

Perhaps, create a default structure for schools not yet capable of designing their own strategies; a limited Chancellor’s District.

And, the core issue: we must “measure” schools from where they are, taking into account the obstacles, the “risk load factors” that schools face.

I’ve been in schools in which Regents scores are extremely high or reading and math scores well into the highly proficient range with mediocre instruction: the kids came to school with impressive skills with strong family supports and other schools with dynamite teachers and school leaders that appear to have mediocre results if we only measure by test scores.

Principals tell me over the last few months superintendents have held principal meetings in schools and teams of principals have observed lessons and, in facilitated meetings, critiqued the lessons. The purpose: so that principal grading of lessons will be consistent across the system. While a consistent view of a lesson is important the key is the post-observation conference. Written observation reports do not improve instruction – the on-going school leader-teacher dialogue, hopefully not just at a post observation conferences, improves practice. Do school leaders have the skills to engage teachers in discussions about practice and do the discussions lead to improvements in practice, and, how do we know it?

In too many schools triage management is the norm, the crisis of the moment, is the rule; teacher observation an annoying compliance chore, and both teachers and school leaders think “if we only had better kids.” A hint: parents send you the best kids they have.

Mayoral control should not be a synonym for autocratic leadership.

An acquaintance had scheduled a meeting with a principal at the beginning of the second period; they arrived early and asked the school secretary if it was possible to meet earlier. The secretary said, “No.”

The guest asked, “Is he observing a class?” The secretary, “No.”

The guest, “Is he meeting with teachers or parents?” The secretary, “No.”

The guest, a little brusquely, “Can’t you disturb him?” The secretary, “No.”

The guest, a little rudely, “Why not?” The secretary, “He’s teaching.”

The principal taught a gym class first period to allow teachers to meet and plan at the beginning of the school day.

Instruction was at the core of the school.

My friend Jonathan always reminds us, “The answers are in the room,” staffs may need a little encouragement, a little prodding, a little help from the school or district leadership, you can’t beat teachers or principals into “getting better.”

Some schools/districts should be required to post the same quote that Dante saw on the gate of Hell, “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate”, or “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here, ” I would prefer schools that can post others,

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.”
― John Dewey

“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.”
― Jacques Barzun,

Or, one of my favorites,

“People cited violation of the First Amendment when a New Jersey schoolteacher asserted that evolution and the Big Bang are not scientific and that Noah’s ark carried dinosaurs. This case is not about the need to separate church and state; it’s about the need to separate ignorant, scientifically illiterate people from the ranks of teachers.”
― Neil deGrasse Tyson

Do the New York City Renewal School/Out of Time School Polices Include Encouraging Cheating by Principals?

Unfortunately a core principle of the Department of Education Renewal Schools initiative seems to be: cheat.

The dozen years of Bloomberg educational policy centered on the creation of small schools and the closing of low performing schools: the result – an increase in graduation rates.

The increase in graduation rates during the Bloomberg year depended on questionable practices: credit recovery and “scrubbing” of Regents examination papers, and, sadly, the current Farina administration appears to be following the Bloomberg playbook.

Carl Campanile in the March, 2015 New York Post, reported widespread highly questionable practices at John Dewey High School, a Renewal School in Brooklyn,

Investigators are probing accusations of a massive grade-fixing scheme by educators desperate to boost the graduation rate at Dewey, The Post has learned.

Multiple sources claim Dewey is cutting corners by passing kids with the help of a shady “credit recovery” program that students sarcastically call “Easy Pass.”

In today’s New York Post Susan Edelman reports the changing of improper changing of Regents scores at Automotive High School, an “out-of-time: school.

How do you fix a failing high school? Change the grades.

Under pressure to boost student achievement, the state-designated “out of time” Automotive HS in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, has resorted to rigging Regents exam scores.

“Credit recovery” is a process by which kids who fail courses can pass the class through an expedited process; a decade or so ago a handful of schools created alternative methods of “recovering” credits. If a student attended the course regularly and failed the course the student could exhibit mastery through the creation of detailed projects, the student is granted the “lost” or “recovered” credit. I worked with a school support organization that assisted schools: a student worked with a teacher, spend 24 hours of seat time researching and writing a 12-15 page term paper to exhibit mastery.

Over time credit recovery deteriorated into credit mills. Students who never attended courses spent a handful of hours and were granted a credit. How commonplace? We’ll never know; however, virtually every school created some iteration of credit recovery, and many were educational charades,

On the verge of an investigation by the State Department of Education the city conducted their own audit and adopted more stringent guidelines. (see commissioner’s reg here)

The Department February, 2012 audit report here.

The Department press release here.

The Department High School Academic Policy Reference Guide – “credit recovery” pages 37-38

The Reference Guide requires:

Only students who have attended at least two-thirds of the class time of the original failed course are eligible to earn credit through targeted credit recovery.

Students may earn no more than a total of three core academic credits through targeted credit recovery throughout high school.

Students can only earn credit through targeted credit recovery during the semester or summer immediately ollowing the one in which they failed the original course

Intensive instruction in the applicable subject area under the direction or supervision of a teacher certified in the subject area in which the student is making up credit.

A school-based panel, which must include the principal, a teacher certified in the subject area for which the student needs to make up credit, and a guidance director or other administrator must approve a student’s participation in a make-up credit program.

To receive credit, the student must successfully complete the make-up credit program and demonstrate mastery of the learning outcomes for the subject, including passing the Regents exam, if the Regents exam is required for graduation.

These regulations are routinely ignored, with a “wink and a nod” from the Department.

During the Bloomberg administration the creation of hundreds of small schools led to teachers scoring papers of students that they taught. In the days of large high schools teachers scored many, many hundreds of papers each June. In my school we re-scored papers with grades of 62-64, sometimes we “found” an additional point or two and sometimes not, we always had two teachers re-read the papers and if they disagreed a third teacher would read the papers. In those days schools were not in danger of closing and the re-reading and “scrubbing” of papers just seemed like a reasonable policy.

During the Bloomberg years with the danger of school closings grading papers of your own students in a school closing climate; the temptation to “lean over backwards” is great.

The State Department of Education issued strict regulations – teachers could not mark papers of their own students and no re-grading of papers, no scrubbing.

Principals and other administrative staff in a school or district do not have the authority to set aside the scores arrived at by the teacher scoring committee and rescore student exam papers or to change any cores assigned through the procedures described in this manual and in the scoring materials provided by the Department. Any principal or administrator found to have done so, except in the circumstances described below, will be in violation of Department policy regarding the scoring of State exams. Teachers and administrators who violate Department policy with respect to scoring State exams may be subject to disciplinary action in accordance with Sections 3020 and 3020-a of Education Law or to action against their certification pursuant to Part 83 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education.

Two “out-of-time” high schools, Boys and Girls and Automotive are far beyond the “tipping point.” Boys and Girls has spent the year discharging students to other programs or just cleansing their register – the school currently reports a register of 478 with a graduation 2015 class of 95 students – more than 20% of students are absent each day – the September, 2015 entering class is miniscule.

Automotive reports a register of 350 students, a daily absence rate of 20% and only 43 students graduated this year. Again, a miniscule anticipated September, 2015 entering class, as the school data continued to erode the chancellor continued to praise the principal.

The Department is scrambling to address the wide range of issues confronting the Renewal and Out-of-Time schools. In many instances school and district leadership are faulty. In the scores of Schools Under Regents Review (SURR) the state pointed to “lack of effective leadership at the school and/or district levels” as the most distressing flaw. In too many instances I see school leaders without the requisite skills. Sometime “nurturing” school leaders who are not demanding of students and others who are autocratic and not team-builders.

The Department had failed to effectively address the core issue: getting the kids to school.

In 2008, the Center for New York City Affairs published a widely discussed report revealing that one in every five elementary school students in the city—more than 90,000 children—were chronically absent from school, missing the equivalent of a month or more of their school year. The problem was particularly acute in high-poverty neighborhoods, where 40 percent or more of students were chronically absent in some buildings.

“It’s an astounding figure,” (de Blasio] said.
“If we can’t do better on absenteeism, then none of our other educational outcomes make sense.”

The Center for NYC Affairs report identifies “risk load factors” that impede academic progress, the factors are not excuses; they are impediments.

1. Students eligible for free lunch
2. Students known to be in temporary housing
3. Students eligible for welfare benefits from the Human Resources
4. Special education students
5. Black or Hispanic students
6. Principal turnover
7. Teacher turnover
8. Student turnover
9. Student suspensions
10. Safety score on the Learning Environment Survey
11. Engagement score on the Learning Environment Survey
12. Involvement with the Administration for Children’s Services
13. Poverty rate
14. Adult education levels
15. Professional employment
16. Male unemployment
17. Presence of public housing in a school’s catchment
18. Presence of a homeless shelter in a school’s catchment

Schools should be assessed taking into account the school and neighborhood risk load factors that schools confront. We differentiate among students, we should differentiate among schools.

“Cheating,” either a ‘wink and a nod” that allows shabby credit recovery or cutting corners to add points to Regents exams is a disservice to schools and students. Pushing kids “over the top” to pad data is not acceptable.

The new State Commissioner should direct the state inspector-general for testing to examine the clear violations condoned by the city.

A year and half into the new Farina administration we can point to one enormous success, the Universal Pre-K program, and, we struggle, along with staffs, to understand the direction of the remainder of the school system.

Staffs are confused, especially the Renewal Schools, inspectors from the city and state visit schools and criticize, parent involvement is absent, “districts” are shadows of the past, schools are adrift.

Turning to cheating to graduate kids is a sign of desperation.

Getting to Yes: New York State End of Session Negotiations Appear to Result in a “Framework.” Who’s Happy? Who’s Not?

ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — State leaders have reached a budget agreement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday.

The deal includes a framework for a four-year extension of rent regulations. It also provides for a one-year extension of mayoral control of New York City’s public schools. The 421a tax abatement program for real estate developers will also be extended for six months.

Capital Confidential Bog

We have a deal — or at least the framework of a deal.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders announced at an impromptu press conference Tuesday afternoon that they have struck a framework agreement on an omnibus end-of-session deal that includes a four-year extension of New York City’s rent laws, $250 million for non-public schools and a property tax rebate program worth $1.3 billion.

Minutes ago Governor Cuomo announced a “framework” for a budget agreement, the two news sites above announced different aspects of the settlement.

See Cuomo press conference here.

Over the next few hours and days more details will emerge, at first glance the tax credit for private, charter and parochial schools died and the expansion of the charter school cap “sort of” increased. Other issues were punted; mayoral control will be back next year.

Why was this year so contentious, so difficult and why was the “settlement” so limited?

First, a caveat: a settlement in concept,” or a “framework” has to be turned into legislative language and embedded in a series of bills, and “agreements in concept” have been known to fall part.

This year we saw new, more open, more consensus-building leadership in both parties. Carl Heastie on the Assembly side is completing his first legislative year as Speaker and John Flanagan only months into his job as Senate Majority Leader. Both have proven themselves to their conferences. The days of Shelly Silver and Dean Skelos are gone; the days of leaders “cracking the whip” are now days of listening to conference membership concerns.

The Assembly Democratic conference is heavily tilted toward New York City and the Senate Republican Conference tilted out of New York City, only three Republican Senators come from within the City.

Rent control, mayoral control and 421-a tax abatement are wholly New York City issues, the private, parochial, charter school tax credit a Republican issue due to the large number of dollars poured into their coffers from the charter school hedge funders.

Some laws are passed with expiration dates, called “sunset.” Both rent control and mayoral control expire at the end of the session. For the Democrats, rent control must be extended; it impacts 2.5 million renters in the city, mayoral control of schools is a de Blasio more than a conference issue. The four year rent control extension and the one year extension of mayoral control represent the importance of the issues to the Democrats; one critical, one, not so much.

Just Out – More Details:

The four-year extension of the rent laws would also include a four-year extension of the property tax cap. The two will now sunset together, rather than letting the tax cap lag for an extra year, the governor said. (To be clearer, the rent laws expired this year, while the tax cap, which was coupled with the rent laws in 2011, wouldn’t have expired until next year. The deal would mean they both end at the same time).

While the controversial EITC (tax credit) didn’t make it in, a $250 million fund for non-public schools for mandated services reimbursement would be made available.

The charter school cap would be reconfigured in order to add up to 50 new charter schools downstate and roughly 130 new charters upstate. SUNY or the state Education Department would be in charge of authorizing new charters.

More on the charter school cap from Chalkbeat here.

The state Education Department also would be required to give out more information to parents about things like teacher evaluations. The department would have to open up about test questions, growth patterns and other data, Cuomo said.

All negotiations require both sides to point to an issue that satisfies their constituencies. In this set the key item for out-of-New York City crowd was the extension of the property tax cap. The tax cap was due to expire next year, an election year, and there is little question the city law makers would have held the Republicans hostage in the same manner that the Republicans held the Democrats hostage this year.

The failure of EITC (tax credit) is a major victory for the teachers union and the many legislators that refused to fold in the conference; the $250 million for charter school “mandate relief,” I believe, is already in the budget: EITC’s demise is a major Heastie victory.

The “charter school cap reconfiguration” sounds like moving unused charter school slots upstate to New York City. “Opening up about test questions, growth patterns at other data,” needs more info.

In these types of deals everyone attempts to claim credit:

* The “three men in a room” all explaining to their conferences and the public supporters: their intransigence paid off.

* The governor, aloof during most of the negotiations, sweeps in to announce the framework, and, to the public appears to be the statesman who crafted the settlement

* The teacher union – the failure of the tax credit is a victory

* For de Blasio rent control is a victory, and, mayoral control a slap in the face.

Let me mention again, this is a framework; the thousands of pages of legislative language are the guts of the settlements. A few days from now, maybe a few weeks, someone will point to a paragraph, a sentence or a few words that got into the actual bill and will have an immense impact.

Negotiating contracts or negotiating legislation is an art form and a learned skill, a form of “Getting to Yes,” the award winning book that espouses four principles: 1) separate the people from the problem; 2) focus on interests rather than positions; 3) generate a variety of options before settling on an agreement; and 4) insist that the agreement be based on objective criteria.

In the education arena the power of the Opt-Out parents will not be assuaged by the minor points in the agreement, the movement will continue to gain traction across the state, unless, the new commissioner decides to address the testing issue, put the issue at the top of her agenda,

She arrives officially in two weeks.

The World of the Regents Are Changing – Message from the Legislature: “You’re in Charge – You’re the Experts – Do What’s Best for the Families and Staffs.”

Democracy can be contentious, awkward, frustrating and, at times, dizzying.

The fifty-four members of the Constitutional Convention, slaveholders and abolitionists, Northerners and Southerners, from large and small states, plantation owners and farmers, highly educated and not, argued, debated, reviled, left and returned, and, during the steamy months of the summer of 1787 wrote our constitution.

The Federalist and the Anti-Federalists (the “pros” and the “cons”) campaigned in the fall and winter across the thirteen colonies as voters grappled with the proposed new system of government. Madison, Hamilton and John Jay wrote eighty plus op ed essays that were published in the newspapers of the day urging support of the new constitution (Read Federalist # 10: “The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection,” here). [An aside: can you imagine the NY Post or the NY Daily News publishing an essay such as Federalist # 10? Or, our citizenry reading it? Can it be reduced to 140 characters?].

Albany is in the midst of end-of-session angst, the threatening, rambunctious infighting that may or may not produce legislation on a range of seemingly intractable issues: rent control, school tax credits, mayoral control, teacher evaluation and charter schools.

Getting to the endgame is not pretty.

19th century German Chancellor Bismarck often quoted comment is an apt description: “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.”

The Board of Regents, although constitutionally the education policy-making body in the state, has never viewed itself as a “political body.” The Regents Room is a throwback to a former century, or two. In the center of the room is a long table, the seventeen members of the Regents sit at the table, in seniority order, the Chancellor at the head of the table, flanked by the commissioner, alongside the table are three rows of seats for staff, press and guests. Hanging on the walls are paintings of former chancellors, all men, all white, and considering the Board was chartered in 1794, dressed in garb appropriate to their era.

The Board members are “elected” for five year terms by a joint meeting of the two houses of the state legislature, and, considering the current large majority of Democrats in the Assembly, the selection reflects the majority.

To be selected as a regent was an honorific, an honor for service rendered. The members were business men, lawyers, college professors, “pillars of the community,” who trekked to Albany monthly to discuss and approve a recommendation of the commissioner. Commissioners, chosen by the board, had worked their way up through the ranks, commissioners were chosen from among the ranks of state superintendents.

With the exception of Saul Cohen, former President of Queens College, the Regents rubber stamped, approved decisions, most of which has already been made by the commissioner and the chancellor. Cohen, who served a member from 1994-2010, was frequently an outspoken critic of Board actions, a lone voice.

With the election of Betty Rosa, followed by Kathleen Cashin the nature of the discussions began to change. Rosa and Cashin, both New York City superintendents with long and highly successful service began to ask the “hard questions,” and actually publicly voted against the policies of the new commissioner. King, only in his late thirties, possessed impressive degrees; however, his experience was limited to charter schools. Increasingly King, with the support of the Board, pushed the Arne Duncan agenda. While Board members may have felt uncomfortable only Rosa and Cashin actually challenged King at open Regents meetings.

The quiescent Board increasingly became the center of attention.

Newspaper coverage, blog posts, op eds and editorials and a rising uneasiness among parents that rose and rose and bubbled to a boiling cauldron. The Regents were oblivious, after all, they weren’t politicians (said with a sneer); they were “policy-makers.”

Of course when Regent Bennett cudgeled his colleagues to extend the length of charter renewals in Buffalo, over the recommendation of the commissioner, that wasn’t “politics,” in fact, it was the “good, old boy” politics that characterized the Regents.

In March the legislature acted: the two must senior members of the Regents were dumped and four new Regents selected, three former superintendents, a college professor/school nurse, all women, and, three women of color.

Regents Rosa and Cashin now had four allies.

In the waning days of the budget process the governor forced changes in the education law: extending new teacher probation from three to four years, setting in process a “school receivership,” a la Massachusetts, the poorest performing schools or school districts could be handed over to a “receiver” under provisions of the new law, and, yet another change in the teacher-principal evaluation law, the third in four years.

At the May Board meeting the acting commissioner presented a 56-page draft of recommendations for the implementation of the law, with considerable pushback, almost entirely from the six, to use Diane Ravich’s encomium: the “dissidents.”

The “dissident six” circulated a set of Guidelines to their colleagues, asked them to sign on, and, at the June Meeting offered the Guidelines as a substitute for the revised draft from the acting commissioner.

A three-hour, at times heated, at times uncomfortable discussion ensued, many of the Guidelines had been included in the new draft; however, a key portion was not changed, the percentage of student test scores to be used in computing the new Matrix.

The “six” forced their colleagues to vote publicly on all the items and, at the “official” Board meeting at the end of the session, once again, a recorded formal vote.

The Regents moved from policy-makers, above the fray, a comfortable group of seventeen “wise men” (and women) who succumbed to the policy directives of the commissioner and the chancellor to seventeen representatives of the legislature and the public.

A legislator told me: “Education policy should be left to the experts, the Regents, that’s why we select them.”

Regent Tisch: “When education policy becomes part of the budget process we have neither education nor policy.”

Regent Brown: “Tests created to assess student growth should not be used to assess teacher quality.”

A new commissioner will arrive in a few weeks, a new commissioner and a new set of rules. No longer will the commissioner solely drive policy; no longer will the Board debate and meekly approve initiatives of the commissioner; the Regents and the commissioner, of necessary, will become active partners. The Regents are no longer immune from the world of politics, immune from the voices in communities around the state.

The governor has clearly been spanked by the public; his approval ratings diving, no doubt, to an abiding anger over his meddling in education. Teacher-principal evaluation was not broken. “Receiverships” will be an albatross for the governor; no one thinks the new law is workable.

The legislature sent a clear message: education is the domain of the Regents and the commissioner, we expect them to listen to parents and teachers, we expect them to be transparent, we understand the enormous complexities of the world of education, and we will select Regents in whom we have confidence.

Regents meetings should be an exchange of ideas, differences in opinions, at times conflicts, and the process may be uncomfortable, democracy is uncomfortable. I am hopeful that a new commissioner and a far more activist Board, supported by the legislature, will begin to address the core problems confronting students and their families, teachers and the state.

Cuomo for President: Is There a “Scott Walker” Democratic Path to the White House?

Are you thinking: Is he crazed? How can he ever think that Andrew Cuomo could be a viable candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency?

Read on…

Scott Walker was a rather anonymous Republican governor of a blue state, Wisconsin. Walker took on the public employee unions; he supported legislation to remove collective bargaining rights for almost all public employees (except the police); demonstrations, sit-ins, civil disobedience, support from unions across the nation, all to no avail. The unions began a recall campaign, recall the legislators and the governor, once again a vicious battle, and once again a campaign that failed. Not only did the recall campaign not succeed Walker was re-elected. Walter next began an assault on private unions who had not been overly involved in the fight stripping public employees of collective bargaining. After another tendentious battle the legislature voted to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state. Walker is beginning a campaign to eliminate tenure in the state universities, and, Walker is at the top of the pile of Republicans running to become the Republican candidate for president. To the public, Walker is viewed as “tough and no nonsense.”(Walker, Rubio and Bush are currently considered finalists – Reading polling data here)

The NY Times magazine chronicles the involvement of member of the Iron Workers Union.

The anonymous governor of Wisconsin has become a real live competitor for the White House. He was underestimated until it was too late.

Martin Niemöller, a Protestant pastor, was an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

Niemöller’s famous quote is especially relevant:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Andrew Cuomo, once a dyed-in-the-wool liberal Democrat from New York is adjusting the Scott Walker playbook to game plan a presidential run from the Democratic side of the aisle.

Yes, there are obstacles that may be insurmountable, barring surprises Hillary will garner the 2016 Democratic nomination; however, surprises happen and the other Democratic contenders, Saunders, O’Malley and Chafee are polling in single digits. Than again, while Hillary appears to have an easy path to the nomination the actual November 2016 election is, at best, a toss-up.

Hillary losses would set the stage for Cuomo, either next year, or, four years later.

Obama’s path to the White House was unusual, and probably not replicable. An enormous number of new and young voters combined with traditional liberal voters, women, unions, minorities and blue-state voters.

The path to the Republican nomination is a battle on the far right: a combination of anti-abortion, Christian fundamentalists, anti-Obama, anti-immigrant, both militant foreign policy and isolationist, cut taxes, smaller government, etc., a combination which will select a Republican and may place the eventual Republican candidate outside of the mainstream of American voters.

Cuomo has carefully crafted a persona.

Socially liberal: Leading the marriage equality movement, supporting a women’s equity agenda, passing the anti-gun SAFE law, supporting raising the minimum wage; padding his credentials with the initiatives at the heart of the socially liberal Democratic agenda.

An Education Reformer: Attacking teacher unions as standing in the way of education “progress,” supporting charter schools, pushing hard for tax credits for private, parochial and charter schools, eroding tenure, ridding schools of “bad teachers,” etc.

An Economic Conservative: Year after year of balanced timely budgets, reducing taxes for the business side, a highly popular property tax cap, tax-free zones around the state, supporting both affordable housing and tax breaks for developers.

Controlling the Message: As the calendar ticks down to the June 17th legislature adjournment,the air waves are filled with pro-Cuomo TV ads supporting his policies on the Albany legislative agenda. Cuomo is the unique politician, he does not consistently place himself in the public spotlight, he carefully controls media access, and he rarely allows any interviews. Every media or public access is fully scripted and carefully controlled, no off- the- cuff comments, no interviews with reporters, no press conferences; the message is totally and completely scripted – word by word.

The Cuomo game-planners are building a candidate who straddles the center, attracting liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, appealing to both business interests and workers (although not their unions). With Republican contenders on the far right and Democratic progressives on the left Cuomo is betting that a middle of the road candidate can emerge. A “tough” Walker is the model for a “tough” Cuomo.

Bernie Saunders, the independent Senator from Vermont was on Face the Nation this morning, clearly popular on the Democratic left. The former Brooklynite, a James Madison High School graduate is extremely popular on the progressive left, yet, polls poorly as a presidential candidate.

I love Bernie, I knew many of his teachers; when I came to Madison as a teacher, the old-timers, refugees from the Great Depression and World War 2 veterans were an extraordinary group. Both brilliant, challenging, former, or not so former Socialists; Madison was a hotbed of the old far left Teachers Union (”
Reds at the Blackboard: Communism, Civil Rights, and the New York City Teachers Union“). and, maybe helped craft his thinking.

Could you ever see yourself supporting Cuomo for president?

The Republican right appears to support repealing the Thirteenth Amendment, legislation to re-institute peonage, denigrate the role of women, abolish unions, expel undocumented immigrants and on and on, an agenda of a former century. Maybe harsh, maybe not.

Yes, I would vote tomorrow to recall Cuomo as governor of New York (the NYS Constitution does not have a recall provision); on the other hand could I support Cuomo against a far right Republican?

Politics makes for strange bedfellows.