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


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.

Why Did the Republican-Controlled Senate Confirm John King As Secretary of Education?

John King, the former Education Commissioner in New York State, was dumped by Governor Cuomo who also enabled him to move on to the Senior Advisor to Secretary of Education Duncan, and, when Secretary Duncan resigned after seven years President Obama appointed King as Acting Secretary, and, with the support of the Republican majority nominated him as Secretary of Education.

The Senate confirmed King: 49 – 40. (See roll call here)

The “No” votes were 39 Republicans and one Democrat – Kristen Gillibrand from New York State. The “Yes” votes were all Democrats and seven senior Republicans.

Eleven Senators failed to vote: the three presidential candidates (Sanders, Cruz and Rubio), the two Ohio Senators, campaigning for the Tuesday primary.

In this toxic partisan political climate how were the two parties able to work together to confirm King?

In the House the Tea Party rules; if the forty plus Tea Party Republicans oppose a bill it will not come to the floor. A Speaker who requires Democratic votes to pass a bill simply would not survive. While the Republicans hold an overwhelming majority the emergence of the Tea Party voting bloc divides the House into three factions, the “traditional” Republicans, the Tea Party faction and the Democrats. The Tea Party Republicans may only represent forty of the 435 members; they control the flow of legislation.

The Senate has a far different culture.  The rules of the Senate require sixty votes for a bill to move to the floor, the opposition party, today the Democrats, can prevent a vote on any bill. While the Republicans are a majority, and control the flow of legislation and control the ultimate vote on the floor the rules allow the Democrats to prevent bills from coming to the floor. The cloture rule requires sixty votes and the Senate currently is composed of 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats and two Independents (Sanders and King of Maine) who caucus with the Democrats.

The Senate is a highly collegial body – the Republicans and the Democrats need each other for the institution to function – relationships matter. The leadership – McConnell on the Republican side and Reid on the Democratic side may jab at each other, members work together to pass legislation.

Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, a Republican and a Democrat decided that they were going to lead the way to re-authorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, aka No Child Left Behind, they were able to use both powers of persuasion and the collegial nature of the Senate to craft a bill that satisfied the needs of members from both sides of the aisle.

The confirmation of King was a continuation of the Alexander-Murray collaboration. How often do you see the two Republican leaders of the Senate, McConnell and Cornyn joining Democrats to approve a bill, or, in this case, a confirmation? The answer is never, or, let’s says never except in the case of the confirmation of John King. Lamar Alexander convinced the Republican leadership, and, a few other colleagues that he “needed” their votes. The McConnell message to the Republican troops – yes, you can vote “No” on the confirmation – we have enough votes to satisfy Lamar.

On the Democratic side only Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior Senator from New York voted “No;” a tribute to the power of the opt out parents. Over 200,000 parents opted their children out of the federally required state tests, these parents were Republicans and Democrats, and the action was a political action not affiliated with a political party. The opt outs in New York have become a political movement and Gillebrand responded to the cries of the opt outs. Grass roots politics works!!

Gillibrand responded to a bubbling anger, anger, so far, not directed at a particular candidate in any particular election. Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York, withdrew his harsh teacher evaluation plan and supported a list off “recommendations” adopted by the Board of Regents in an attempt to mollify the opt outs. Gillibrand, a smart politician, listening to the crowd, voted “No” on the King confirmation.

Why was Gillibrand the only dissenting Democrat?

Simply put – national politics.

Afro-American voters are the key for a Democratic victory in November, and, a key to a Clinton nomination. A “No” on King could discourage Afro-American Democratic voters from voting in the Democratic column.

Over the next few months a negotiated rule-making process (Read the very interesting process here) will result in the promulgation of the regulations implementing the new ESSA statute. The new Secretary of Education, John King will decide on the final rules.

Lamar Alexander and presidential politics allowed the Senate to confirm King.

Alexander secured his place in history and his Republican colleagues, after voting to approve the original ESSA bill were able to continue to express displeasure with the president by voting against his appointee.

Hamilton (Federalist # 9) and Madison (Federalist # 10) both grappled with the issue of factions. Madison wrote,

AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction

Today our three branches of government appear to be faltering as “violence of faction” impedes the ability to govern, in this single instance the factions were satisfied and the system worked.

The Eva Moskowitz Saga: Will the Public Tolerate Zero Tolerance? Will Eva Move to the National Scene?

Eva Moskowitz was a member of the New York City Council from the Upper East Side of Manhattan – probably the highest income electoral district in the nation. New York has a “strong mayor” system of local governance – the fifty-one members of the council elect a speaker, who, along with the mayor, runs the city. The council members, overwhelmingly Democratic, rarely have contested votes, the speaker controls the membership. Each council member gets a few millions to distribute to district projects and use the office as a bully pulpit to advocate for their next job on the elective ladder.

Eva was appointed as chair of the Education Committee, and, surprisingly and unfathomably, used her position to attack the UFT contract. The union negotiates with both the mayor and the chancellor; the City Council has no role in negotiations. Committee meeting after committee meeting she criticized some element of the collective bargaining agreement. At the end of her term, she was term limited and ran for the open position of Borough President of Manhattan. In a nine-way race Moskowitz was defeated by Scott Stringer, an Upper West Side member of the New York State Assembly; needless to say the union was heavily involved and supported Stringer (I was at the victory party for Stringer!!)

Eva, defeated at the polls, jumped from the City Council to the world of charter schools with the total support of Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Klein; deep pocketed supporters began to rapidly build the Success Academy network of charter schools.

Eva’s access to Klein was unparalleled, a NY Daily News FOIL request, vigorously fought by the city, unearthed an amazing exchange (Read NY Daily News article here  and a detailed analysis of the hundreds of emails here) of e-correspondence.

Klein and Eva were soul mates, anything she wanted in a school she received, they discussed politics on the local and national level, and the emails had the feel of two lovers or a doting father figure.

With the exit of Bloomberg and Klein the city was led by a mayor far less amenable to charter schools and Eva immediately went on the attack. Governor Cuomo, her newest “best friend” passed legislation forcing New York City to either provide space in a public school or pay the rent for leased space. The rumors began to spread – was Eva the candidate to run against de Blasio in 2017?  Ambition was not lacking and on the steps of City Hall Eva denied she was running for mayor – three years before the election, (Read previous blog post here) with plenty of time to change her mind.

In the world of politics rises and falls can be unanticipated and precipitous. While accusations that the Success Academy Network forced out low performing students the charges never gained traction. In the fall the press unearthed a principal of a Success Academy school who maintained a “Got-To Go” list – low performing students who were targeted for moving out. The Success Schools are tightly run, the instruction is carefully scripted, and you see the same leadership style and instructional strategies in schools across the network; the criticism that excellent tests results were more “addition by subtraction,” forcing out low performers, began to gain traction.

In January a group of parents filed a federal complaint accusing the Success Network of discriminating against children with disabilities, a charge vigorously denied by Moskowitz.

On February 12th the NY Times published a highly unusual article; it included a video clip entitled, “A Momentary Lapse or Abusive Teaching?”

In the video, a first-grade class sits cross-legged in a circle on a brightly colored rug. One of the girls has been asked to explain to the class how she solved a math problem, but she has gotten confused.

 She begins to count: “One… two…” Then she pauses and looks at the teacher.

The teacher takes the girl’s paper and rips it in half. “Go to the calm-down chair and sit,” she orders the girl, her voice rising sharply.

“There’s nothing that infuriates me more than when you don’t do what’s on your paper,” she says, as the girl retreats.

The teacher was not an inexperienced novice; the teacher was a “model teacher” who demonstrated effective practice to other teachers.

The video exposed the instructional philosophy of the network – what is referred to as zero tolerance – defined as a negative reinforcement to extinguish undesirable behaviors.

Kathleen De Cataldo, Executive Director of the New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children sees zero tolerance policies as a first step in the “school to prison” pipeline,

School policies and disciplinary practices that discourage students from remaining in the classroom often lead to schools, directly or indirectly, “pushing” students out of schools. “Pushout” policies and practices include zero tolerance and ineffective misbehavior prevention and intervention policies, as well as leads to student disengagement from school.

Elizabeth Green, the editor of Chalkbeat and the author of “Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works” takes a much more nuanced approach to “no excuses;” Green summarizes attitudes,

On one side of that debate: educators and parents who argue that the no-excuses approach is not only defensible, but the only way to solve racial and class inequities in schools and beyond … the strong academic results of “no excuses” schools prove that the model only needs evolving, not fundamental change.

On the other side: An equally passionate group arguing that no-excuses practices are systematically abusive and a form of institutional racism, undermining any academic gains they may enable. These critics are not just speculators. They include people who have taught and still do teach at no-excuses schools.

And goes on to parse both sides in detail. The lengthy article details the charter school chains that espouse and defend a no excuses approach and counters the critics.

Green concludes.

Ultimately, I think that critics inside no-excuses schools are right that the no-excuses approach to teaching needs radical overhaul. The behavior first, learning second formula prescribed by broken-windows theory — and for that matter, by most American schools — can successfully build compliant, attentive students, at least in the short term. But it cannot produce students who think creatively, reason independently, and analyze critically.

Whether you refer to the schools as zero tolerance or “broken windows” or “behavior first” you don’t find such schools in middle class white environs. The issue of race hovers over the debate – is there something about students of color that requires a harsher approach, and, the crucial question, does the philosophy or policy prepare students for college and beyond or a method to identify a “talented tenth,” discard the majority for the benefit of a minority that can survive the outwardly abusive instructional/disciplinary practices?

The defenders of Moskowitz are hard to find, and, avid supporters may be beginning to have doubts. When Moskowitz refused to sign a standard contract with the city that allows the city to inspect pre-k programs for health and safety issues no one came to her defense and the state commissioner found no problem with the practice. Members of the Board of Regents openly asked whether the commissioner had the power to intervene and there is little question that legislation viewed as increasing transparency and fairness will be introduced – see bills already introduced here, here and here.

In December the Cuomo Task Force report tamped down the rhetoric and clearly the Governor is looking to repair frayed relations with public school parents and teacher unions. Whether the deep-pocketed funders continue to pour millions into Success is now open to question.

And for Eva…. maybe a high profile role in the Trump or Cruz presidential campaigns.

Dear New Members of the Board of Regents …

Dear Mr. Reyes, Ms. Mead and 5th Judicial District Selectee,

Tuesday will be an exciting day, you will be gathered in the historic Assembly chamber, listening to speeches by your local electeds and get a little nervous as the roll call begins. The Republicans probably won’t show up, don’t take it personally, they usually boycott the vote. The Democratic leaders will be rounding up members to vote, which may take a while, eventually enough of the chamber will fill with members to vote (half of 150 Assembly + 63 Senate members) to elect you as members of the Board of Regents – an institution with origins in the late 18th century.

Regent Mead will join her first meeting on March 21st to vote for the new Chancellor and Vice Chancellor – quite a first meeting!

The Regents on one hand are the constitutional body vested with the authority to devise education policy for the state and on the other hand their powers are constrained by federal law and a powerful governor.

The meetings begin Monday mornings in the ornate Regents Room with a webcast presentation by the Commissioner and/or her staff.  At the February Meeting Deputy Ira Schwartz gave a detailed, very detailed explanation of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (Watch Power Point here).  The US Department of Education is in the process of drafting regulations and a number of crucial questions are still up in the air. The law continues the annual testing of students in grades three to eight, the testing of English language learners after one year in the country and the testing of 99% of students with disabilities. No changes in the new law. In December a high ranking US Department of Education official authored a scathing letter warning states that high opt outs could/would/might result in the loss of federal dollars. The opt out schools in New York State are primarily high wealth districts with limited federal dollars.  If the feds “punish” New York State with a loss of federal dollars the low wealth, high poverty schools that did not opt out will receive fewer dollars (Read sections of the letter here ). A decision ultimately made the Commissioner/Regents.

Welcome to the Board of Regents.

After the full meeting the members move upstairs to the committee meeting. The Chancellor assigns both the committee chairs and members of each committee. I would suggest that new members attend all of the committee meetings, while only members can vote, votes rarely occur.

The P-12 Committee usually convenes first: a presentation by the Commissioner and/or staff members, occasionally presentations by a district specific to a particular program. At the February Meeting the Commissioner gave a detailed account of the beginning of the implementation of the Governor’s Task Force Report. Over the last two years the Governor, as part of the budget process, passed laws setting education policy. Yes, the constitution does task the Regents, and yes, the agenda has been set from the second floor of the Capital, the executive offices. In September the Governor appointed a Task Force that reported in December and the Regents adopted the Report, a Report with twenty highly specific recommendations.

I suggest you read the Report here.

The Commissioner has begun the process to implement the recommendations, see the Power Point accompanying the presentation, Revision and Implementation of the New ELA and Mathematics Standards  The Commissioner made it clear that the state has to fund the range of “recommendations.” Over the last ten years the state  budget process has been steadily reducing the budget of the State Department of Education, a not so subtle way of expressing dissatisfaction with the Department and Regents policies. For four years, ending in June, 2015 the state had $770 million from the Race to the Top grant – now SED must function with a curtailed budget and without the Race to the Top dollars. If the state budget, which will be decided by the end of March, does not provide additional dollars SED will have a difficult time implementing many of the proposed recommendations.

The feds will be inviting seven states to participate in pilot programs to explore alternatives to standardized tests – will New York State, the highest opt out state – be “invited” by the feds?

Welcome to the Board of Regents

As the day progresses one committee follows another: Higher Education, Cultural Education, State Aid, Adult Career and Continuing Education Services and Professional Practices. Did you know the State Education Department licenses and regulates over 600,000 “professionals” in New York State?

A few days before the Regents meeting a thick, very thick packet of materials will appear – you have now become the “expert” on scores of issues confronting the 700 school districts, 4400 schools, all the libraries and museums in the state as well as the hundreds of thousands of professionals across the state.

Welcome to the Board of Regents.

Losing a Generation: The Tragedy of Society Failing Young Males of Color

Over the last few weeks the cyber airwaves have been clogged with commentary over the lack of diversity in the Oscars. There were no nominees of color among the major categories. At the awards ceremony, Chris Rock, the host (selected as host many months ago) directed his monologue at the lack of the diversity issue as did many of the winners. Vice President Biden, to a standing ovation, called for the end to on-campus sexual assaults; there were shout-outs to the LGBT community.  While these are all worthy causes, for me, the issue that continues to hang over us is the loss of generations of young men of color.

The numbers are both staggering and depressing.

* Only 52% of Afro-American males graduate high school in four years compared to 78% of white males.

* From 1978 to 2009 black males of color teen employment rate dropped from 58.1% to 14%

* In 2010 black men were more than six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated in prison or jails

* Black males are have staggeringly high rates of school suspension compared with all other students

(Boosting the Life Chances of Young Men of Color, MRDC, June 2014)

The list can go on and one – entering school in pre-k already far behind in vocabulary and basic literacy and numeracy skills, continuing to fall behind, discipline problems mount, chronic absenteeism, the lure of the streets wins the battle.

Two years ago President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper with the release of a major report, “Economic Costs of Youth Disadvantage, and High-Return Opportunities for Change.”

new report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers explores the barriers that disadvantaged youth face, particularly young men of color, and quantifies the enormous costs this poses to the U.S. economy. In particular, this report focuses on the significant disparities in education, exposure to the criminal justice system, and employment that persist between young men of color and other Americans.

The New York City Young Men’s Initiative (YMI) is a multi-faceted program to engage young men of color across of wide spectrum: from mentoring at all levels,  the Department of Education Expanded Success Initiative  targeted to specific schools to mentoring at the college level.

The Board of Regents, under the leadership of Regent Young has established a Work Group to Improve Outcomes for Young Men of Color. Two large meetings, one on Brooklyn and one in Rochester, a glittering roster of attendees leading to specific requests for funding in the state budget as well as targeted recommendations to school districts (Click here for a Power Point of the Report)

Unfortunately schools and teachers have taken the blame for the alienation of black males. The “school to prison” pipeline, defined as harsh school discipline policies leading to a continuing diminution of academic success, and eventually troubles with the law and arrests is commonplace. There is no question that punitive discipline practices are counterproductive; instead of ridding the students of negative behaviors these policies, for example zero tolerance and frequent out of school suspension, exacerbate alienation. The recent video of a Success Academy teacher verbally assaulting a third grader, headlined “A Momentary Lapse or Abusive Teaching,” may be the norm in the Eva Moskowitz network and students who react negatively are pushed out. It is not the norm in public schools. There are no zero tolerance public schools in New York City, no out-of-school suspensions and suspensions across the city are sharply down.

At the February Regent Meeting the leader of the NYS Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children harshly condemned school discipline and suspense procedures and called for restorative justice and positive behavior approaches.(See Power Point). While there is nothing inherently wrong with these practices they are time-consuming and expensive, and, they occur after the action that precipitated the intervention.

The secret sauce is teachers, schools leaders and governmental policies that address the source of the alienation.

Students who live in high poverty neighborhoods commonly are victims of trauma.

A traumatic event is a sudden and unexpected occurrence that causes intense fear and may involve a threat of physical harm or actual physical harm. A traumatic experience may have a profound effect on the physical health, mental health, and development of the student.

The death of a parent or close relative, frequent housing dislocation, the illness of a parent or close relative, watching or being the victim of violent acts, situations that  are all too commonplace.

* Preschool students may lose recently acquired developmental milestones and may increase behaviors such as bedwetting, thumbsucking, and regress to simpler speech.

*  Elementary students may show signs of distress through somatic complaints such as stomachaches, headaches, and pains. These students may have a change in behavior, such as increase irritability, aggression, and anger. Their behaviors may be inconsistent. These students may show a change in school performance and have impaired attention and concentration and more school absences. Late elementary students may excessively talk and ask persistent questions about the event.

* Middle and high school students exposed to a traumatic event feel self-conscious about their emotional responses to the event. They often experience feelings of shame and guilt about the traumatic event and may express fantasies about revenge and retribution. A traumatic event for adolescents may foster a radical shift in the way these students think about the world. Some of these adolescents may begin to engage in self-destructive or accident-prone behaviors, and reckless behaviors. There may be a shift in their interpersonal relationships with family members, teachers, and classmates. These students may show a change in their school performance, attendance, and behavior.

Schools alone cannot be expected to deal with children to whom trauma is a natural occurrence. Currently city social service agencies function in silos: housing, health, social services, police, etc., rarely interact in a coordinated fashion to assist families, and, schools are at the bottom of the chain. Community schools may be a sensible approach and the governor has announced $100 million in the state budget for community schools.

(Read more on the impact of trauma on children here)

A core question; are teachers and school leaders properly prepared to work with students who attend schools with the disability of poverty?

David Kirkland, in his widely acclaimed book,  “A Search Past Silence: The Literacy of Young Black Men,”  New York: Teachers College Press, 2013, is critical of traditional definitions of literacy,

There is a fatal assumption made when literacy is regarded as a possession, usually owned by schools and the dominant group. In making such assumptions, we disregard the linkages between language and discourse, between discrimination and racism… The mechanisms of society, including schooling, become ways of enforcing the perspectives of the privileged.

Kirkland argues that we must reach students where they are and not require them to meet us, to accept a broader, a much broader definition of literacy. (Watch an 80-minute lecture by Kirkland here – riveting!)

We have not done a good job of recruiting prospective teachers, training them and most importantly supporting them on the job. The new national Commission on the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) standards will substantially raise the bar for entrance into teacher education programs. Unfortunately at the state level the four new exam requirements (edTPA, EAS, ALST and Content) may actually discourage rather than assure better prepared teachers. College programs should be clinically-based, as much time in school classrooms as possible, with residency programs preferable, and, in-service teachers need constant support on the job.

The support on the job, what we call professional development, is, to be polite, inadequate. To their credit the Department of Education require principals to include common planning time in teacher schedules, and, there is general agreement that teachers can benefit from working in teams; however, common planning time meetings commonly mean developing lesson plans or term calendars or curriculum maps with little actual student-centered discussion and no understanding of the power and shortcomings of teams.

A fascinating New York Times essay,  ‘What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team,” explores the strengths and weaknesses of teams.

New research reveals surprising truths about why some groups thrive and others falter.

Too often professional development means sitting in an auditorium listening to a sage spout words of wisdom as the Power Point twirls across the screen. Common planning time means bearing a colleague who dominates the discussion with complaints instead of an exchange of ideas. The Google article is lengthy and valuable.

If a lesson is not going well speaking slower and louder is not going to make the students learn more, or, to use the Success Academy paradigm, shaming students rarely leads to better outcomes. Failing to understand that, you, the teacher, have to change your lesson if you expect different outcomes, is distressing.

A kid sat right by my desk, he was small for his age, acned, and constantly the butt of “inappropriate” comments, today we would call it bullying.  One day he apologized for not doing his homework, which was usually barely adequate. “I was practicing.”  I asked him what he was practicing; he played in a garage band, heavy metal music, which to me sounds like loud, unpleasant noises.  I asked him if he had a cassette of the music: his usual dour eyes glowed, “Really? He asked.”  I passed the cassette on to a friend who told me the kids had some talent and suggested some open mike clubs. I passed on the info, the kid who was really excited.

He came to class every day, always with his homework and was much more engaged.

For the next couple of years I received Christmas Cards with very nice complements and an occasional notice about an upcoming performance in a club.

I didn’t love his music, I didn’t even like his music; however, it was his music. I showed an interest in him when everyone else bullied or ignored him. I was doing what, hopefully, we all do … I was showing an interest in a student and he reached out and engaged in class.

The governmental leaders must do their job fighting the corrosive impact of poverty and we have to constantly hone our teaching skills.


The Regents/Commissioner Agenda: Grappling with the Future of Education in New York State

The Board of Regents meets monthly beginning on a Monday morning with a webcast full board meeting in the historic Regents Room, lined with portraits of former chancellors dating into the 19th century.  The February 24th meeting began with detailed description of the new federal law, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  (Read the federal description here and the State Ed Power Point explanation here  and watch the archived webcast here which included many questions and many unresolved issues).

The Board moves to a series of committee meetings with presentations by the commissioner and her staff, education leaders from around the state and other invited guests. (The committee meetings are not webcast)The presentations sometimes relate to a topic for discussion that will evolve into policy and at other times an informational topic. Policy issues move to votes, a period for public comment, back to the committee and, if approved by the committee on to the full board for a vote.

On Monday the P-12 Committee spent the morning listening to a lengthy presentation, “Revision and Implementation of the New ELA and Mathematics Standards,” (Watch Power Point here) by the commissioner. The survey posted by State Ed garnered thousands of comments about the Common Core and pointed to a number of specific areas that practitioners thought required revisions. The state will convene stakeholder meetings, just about every constituency imaginable (including Content Advisory Panels and Standards Review Committees), and move towards a revision of the Common Core. At the end of the process, about three years, the next generation of state tests will reflect the revisions; a caveat, someone must provide the dollars to fund the process: BTW, the Common Core will be renamed Aim High NY.

Make sure you click on and watch the Power Point above; the areas for suggested revision are specific.

The P-12 Committee moved into a discussion of Academic Intervention Services/AIS. School districts are required to identify and provide targeted services to a cohort of students; the state determines the targeted students.  Should the targeted group be defined as all students who score below proficient on state tests (below 3.0)?  Or, all students who score below 2.5?  Should school districts be permitted to use multiple measures to identify AIS students?  Two educators, one from upstate and one from New York City described the local processes – a lively discussion ensued, especially among the Regents who were former superintendents, (Watch Power Point here). The commissioner will return to the board with a specific recommendation that will move through the comment period to adoption of recommendations binding on school districts. The sharp decline in scores under the Common Core tests doubled the pool of AIS eligible students potentially sharply increasing the cost to the district and/or reducing the student per capita spending.

In the next session the Regents received an update on creating formal policy regarding increasing the numbers of students in “least restrictive environments” that will be forthcoming in the fall.  Some school district prefer to place students with disabilities in self-contained classrooms, others prefer to place students in integrative, co-teaching classes. The discussions, as they emerge later in the year, should be lively.

The approval of a number of charter schools, usually pro-forma resulted in animated discussion around the New York Times video of a “model teacher” berating a third grade child who could not answer a question. Success Academy charter schools are authorized by SUNY, not the Board of Regents; do the Regents have any authority to investigate the pedagogy in schools that they do not authorize?  Clearly, the Regents were quite upset and four Regents refused to vote on the approval of the charter schools on the agenda.

The NYS Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children presented a policy paper (Read here) and a Power Point, “Promoting School Justice Partnerships to Keep Youth in School and Out of Court” which began with the statements:

Myth: There is really no evidence that the “school to prison pipeline” really exist.

Bottom Line: Suspension often is the first step in a chain of events leading to short and long term consequences, i. e., incarceration.

Are the Regents and the Commissioner moving in the right direction? 

Correlation does not equal causation.

The discussion around AIS service and suspension are typical of “parachute” answers – solutions dropped in from the heavens.

Schools typically purchase an AIS program, we’re talking remediation, for example Read 180.  Schools monitor the implementation of the program, not the basic level of the instruction and the emotional needs of the student. Are the dollars and time spent on the AIS program more effective than the classroom instruction? Would the use of the funding and time be better spent in counseling and attending to the basic physical/emotional needs of the child?  And, the overall question: do AIS services improve student outcomes?

Are suspensions the first step leading to incarceration or are the basic behaviors of the child preceding the act that led to the suspension event the first step to criminal acts?

The core of education is the teacher and the curriculum.

There are no magic bullets; we aren’t hiding large numbers of wonderful teachers in some cave or some secret sauce that improves math skills.

We don’t do a good job of recruiting prospective teachers, we could prepare teachers a lot better and we can certainly support new teacher much better. Teaching is the only profession with such high attrition rates.

We know that trauma has adverse impacts on children, the research is overwhelming (Read some of the research findings here), yet the powers above pour dollars into remediation rather than the health and social services that address the underlying reasons for difficulties in school.

Yes, the teacher is the core, the building block of our entire education system. The fatally flawed teacher evaluation system (APPR) neither measured teacher effectiveness nor discriminated among teachers.

Getting better as a teacher is a career-long trek.

For example, a recent research is troubling, and hopefully will result in teacher introspection.

New research shows that black and white teachers give very different evaluations of behavior of black students. When a black student has a black teacher that teacher is much, much less likely to see behavioral problems than when the same black student has a white teacher.

New research by Adam Wright, “Teachers’ Perceptions of Students’ Disruptive Behavior: The Effect of Racial Congruence and Consequences for School Suspension,” documents that black teachers have much less negative views of black student behavior than do white teachers.

Are white teachers less able to “relate” to students of color?  Can teaching be described by the Danielson Frameworks or is culturally responsive pedagogy essential to be an effective teacher?

Looking for that magical fairy dust that can be sprinkled over the students who are not progressing in literacy and numeracy is a chimera. The better question is why that school a few blocks away with the same kids is doing so much better?  There are high and low suspension schools; once again, why?  I don’t object to restorative justice practices, they are time consuming and can be expensive. Collaborative and demanding school leaders, a team approach, schools in which teachers, together, strategize about kids, are more likely to achieve better academic outcomes and fewer suspensions.

The answers are blowing in the wind, we have to catch them.