Imagine 200,000 Former Opt-Out Parents Opting In to Support a Regents/Commissioner Initiative? Participation Reduces Resistance, Ownership Builds Trust

I was serving on a Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) team; the state designated the lowest performing schools in the state that were getting worse. A decade earlier the school had been praised because of achievement working with immigrant students; a former principal had written a book about the achievements of the school. A decade later the school was stumbling. The SURR team pointed out a number of practices that clearly were not working. We asked the school why these practices existed; the answer: because we’ve always done it that way. The core education philosophy was Newton’s First Law of Motion: Inertia. (An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force).

Organizations resist change – external efforts to change long embedded policies and practices are viewed with suspicion, are viewed as punishment regardless of the efficacy of the new idea.

In fact, the larger the organization the more adept they are at deflecting change; whether externally imposed or the result of a new leader.

The organization is like a lump of silly putty, they can stick your finger into the putty and make a deep indentation, slowly but surely the lump returns to its former configuration.

I was sitting at a School Leadership Team (SLT) meeting. The teachers and parents had a suggestion (I forget the actual suggestion), the principal demurred, “It’ll never work,” after a while the principal agreed to go along, “I’ll go along if you we can agree on a way of assessing whether this idea works.”

Later I asked the principal whether he actually thought the staff could make the idea work, “Of course they will, they own the idea.”

Two rules of personal and organizational change:

* Change is perceived as punishment
* Participation reduces resistance

For the John King years teachers were told again and again that they had to change the way they were teaching, that the state was going to change the way teachers were assessed, one change after another imposed on teachers and teachers pushed back. A classic example of change perceived as punishment.

The governor, the Regents and the new commissioner are scrambling to win back teachers and parents. Three-quarters of the school districts in the state have been granted waivers from meeting the 11/15 deadline for negotiating a new teacher evaluation plan; the commissioner and the governor agree that the Common Core needs some changes, the tests will be shorter, more test items will be released, a number of small changes, an attempt to mollify alienated parents and teachers.

These will not be successful unless the Regents and the commissioner make changes in their procedures.

Virtually every school board meeting around the state offers the public an opportunity to walk up to a microphone and speak for a few minutes. School board meetings can routinely be viewed on local TV stations: except the Board of Regents meetings.

The opening session is webcast – the committee meetings, while open to the public are not webcast. There is no provision at any meeting for the public to make comments. After a policy is adopted it is sent out for public comment, and, at its discretion, the commissioner/Regents can alter the policy reflecting the public comment. The process is clunky and drags out over months.

The entire Regents meeting, the full meetings of the Board and the committee meetings should be webcast and archived.

Transparency is essential. The debates that take place in the committee meetings are the heart and core of the meetings, the members engage in a back-and-forth dialogue about the issue at hand. The public must have the opportunity to observe the creating of policy, not just the result of the deliberations.

The public must be given an opportunity to speak at Regents Meetings.

The Regents must devise a mechanism for members of the public both at the meeting and around the state to have an opportunity to participate in the meeting. At the special meeting to debate and eventually hire the new commissioner the Regent members participated through video conference. Questions can be emailed or tweeted; the public can view the meeting from designated sites around the state.

The Regents meeting must address problems/solutions not fluff and self-adulation.

At a typical Regent meeting a panel from a highly successful school and/or program will describe a program with the usual Power Point. A principal from a school that served English language learners proudly displayed wonderful data – why was this particular school successful when the vast majority of schools are not successful in meeting the needs of English language learners? I have no idea. The Department showed a Power Point, a Roadmap to College for ELLs, was there anything in the Roadmap new?

The Regents agenda is set by the commissioner and the chancellor – should the public have input into the agenda?

Participation reduces resistance: if the public, parents, teachers and voters across the state felt that the Regents reflected their concerns the agenda of the Regents would become the agenda of parents and teachers.

Imagine the impact of the 200,000 Opt-Out parents opting in to support a policy imitative of the Regents?

Chancellor Tisch Will Not Seek Another Term: Some Suggestions – How To Begin to Win Back Parents and Teachers

If you used the word “Regent” a decade ago I would have said one of the five exams a student needs to graduate high school in New York State. The “Board” of Regents, with origins in the late 18th century, met monthly and anonymously in Albany; the members were college professors, retired superintendents, former legislators and business leaders, who had enough political clout to be “elected” (in reality, selected) by the Speaker of the Assembly.

No newspaper stories, no blogs, no one paid much attention to the meetings and the policy determinations.

A test: who was the chancellor prior to Merryl Tisch?

The major chore of the Board was to select a commissioner, who usually was a senior, well-regarded superintendent, who ran the State Education Department.

The board is a policy board and the policy items usually originated with the commissioner.

In 2009 Merryl Tisch, who had been a board member for a dozen years, was selected by her colleagues as chancellor.

Commissioner Mills “retired,” and the Chancellor Tisch chose a new path, instead of selecting a state superintendent the board selected David Steiner, the Dean of the School of Education at Hunter College and before that the leader of the National Academy of the Arts.

The “dirty little secret,” a secret that everyone suspected, the scores on the state reading/math tests, that had been inching up every year, had been “pushed long” by the exiting commissioner.

Tisch and Steiner asked David Koretz, a Harvard professor to examine testing practices, and, yes, the testing practices that were in place allowed the scores to incrementally increase each year.

Test practices were corrected, and the scores dipped.

I was optimistic, the Tisch-Steiner team signaled a new, more open board that might actually address the major issue, the elephant in the room: a funding formula based on local property tax revenue that guaranteed that the richest districts would get richer and the poorer district poorer. It was a national disgrace.

To my disappointment the commissioner resigned, John King was appointed without a search and the chancellor did not address the funding catastrophe, instead moved down the Race to the Top, Common Core, testing and teacher evaluation tied to student growth scores path.

There is no question in my mind that the chancellor’s goal is to improve opportunities for the most disadvantaged, to drive the members of the board to adopt policies to improve futures for every child in the state. The chancellor, which had been an anonymous position, was changed into the chancellor as the driver of education policy across the state; every meeting is covered by the media. At Regents’ meetings the chancellor is frequently the kid in the class who calls out loud, who interrupts the speaker to ask a challenging question, who pushes, who cross-examines the speaker, whether a State Ed staffer or the commissioner.

To me she has been an enigma – a brilliant leader, passionately concerned about education, a champion of the disempowered, a champion of the poorest communities and the children without the power to change their own paths, a leader who somehow wandered down the wrong road.

While the state constitution designates the Board of Regents as the organization that sets policy for education in state more and more policy is set by the second floor of the Capital building – the offices of the executive – the governor. The “education governor” is now trying to repair his torn education legacy.

The NY Daily News report on a new poll,

In the poll’s education section, the Common Core curriculum got boos from respondents who believe the strict standards have made schools worse. By a 2-1 margin, voters gave Common Core a thumbs down, with 40% of those surveyed saying public education has gotten worse. Another 21% said Common Core standards have made little impact.

A year ago John King was pushed out as commissioner – the Cuomo Education Commission was reconstituted with a specific agenda, any district can receive a waiver from the new teacher evaluation plan, a teacher appeal process has been put in place, the commissioner is exploring the efficacy of the use of growth scores in assessing teachers and the governor has selected a superintendent as his chief education advisor – a superintendent who had been a sharp critic of the Cuomo policies.

The Speaker of the Assembly dumped the two most senior members of the board and chancellor chose not to seek another term.

Two Regents (Tisch and Anthony Bottar – Syracuse) terms expire and next year three Regents terms expire.

Geoff Decker, at Chalkbeat does an excellent job of tracking the rapid changes here.

The Governor selected a new deputy for education who moves from a critic of the policies of the governor and the Regents to the chief educational advisor to the governor.

Hochman has been critical of state education policies in the past. Last year, he said the Common Core has become too tied to a “culture of testing” and questioned whether it would need to be revamped.

“The whole accountability, ‘gotcha’ culture is so out of control that we need a fresh start,” Hochman told The Journal News in September of last year. “The standards are OK, but every problem is connected to the Common Core. New York needs to take a bold stance so we can focus on educating kids.”

With 200,000 parents opting out of state tests, with an angry teaching force, with nose diving polling numbers the governor is bailing the sinking ship of state.

Although Chancellor Tisch will not be seeking another term she does have five months to begin to turn around the leviathan – the education system in New York State

A few suggestions:

Reduce or eliminate the impact of Value-Added Measures (VAM) on teacher evaluation.

Whether or not the use of student growth scores are a valid, stable and reliable tool to assess teacher performance the impact has been to alienate teachers and parents and to overemphasize annual school testing. The state should begin to explore an inspectorate system, the school and teacher evaluation system used in almost all other nations. (Read about the Inspectorate System here)

Reduce the length of state tests, release more test items and release the scores earlier

While the changes I suggest are relatively minor they address the complaints of parents and teachers and are achievable for the next testing cycle. The state should begin the move to adaptive testing; the data is immediately available to teachers and parents and helps guide instruction tailored to the needs of each individual child.

Fully examine and adjust the Common Core and Engage NY Curriculum Modules

The standards are not well-written, all policies should be regularly reviewed in a transparent process, the complaints about the Common Core, for example, the inappropriateness of the early childhood standards, should be explored. The Curriculum Modules should have been constructed from the bottom up and should be constantly expanded to reflect the brilliance of teachers around the state.

Increase the role of teachers in the Common Core/Curriculum Module revision process

A no brainer: ”Participation Reduces Resistance.”

Continue to advocate changing the federal testing requirements for English language learners and Students with Disabilities.

With Arne Duncan almost out the door hopefully Secretary-Designee King will accept the New York State request to alter the cruel testing requirements now in place for English language learners and Students with disabilities.

Robert Frost mulls over “The Road Not Taken,” we have taken the wrong road – time to correct our error.

Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa: Has the President and the NYS Board of Regents Accepted Responsibility for Years of Failed Education Decisions? Has Fear of Parent Electoral Anger Motivated the Electeds? Or, Just Hoping We Go Away If Tempted With Sweet Words?

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, colloquial translation, “My Bad.”

In the summer of 2008 I sat in the audience at the AFT Convention just after the nomination of Barack Obama and watched a 12-minute Obama campaign video – it was odd, it failed to address core educational issues.

Two years later I sat with a room full of principals and watched David Coleman perform his lengthy rollout of the Common Core – a detailed analysis of the Martin Luther King “A Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” interesting, and, once again, odd. At the end of the performance, Coleman answered a few questions from a group of teachers – one asked, “How does this differ from what we’re already doing …?”Coleman snapped, “…compared to other nations (PISA Scores) we’re not doing well at all.” Not exactly the way to gain buy-in from teachers

The President was at a Town Hill meeting and a teacher in the audience asked why he was supporting high stakes testing and punitive teacher evaluation – Obama challenged the teacher – you admit there are teachers in your school who shouldn’t be teaching, was bullying a teacher building teacher support?

The Association for Better New York (ABY) sponsors a breakfast every spring, a high profile speaker, an audience filled with the movers and shakers in New York City/State. Randi Weingarten was the speaker, with NYS Commissioner John King in the audience; Randi called for a moratorium on Common Core testing – to no avail – King and most of the members of the Board of Regents endorsed immediate Common Core testing, no moratorium, and cut scores that resulted in two-thirds of test takers scoring “below proficient.”

For seven years the President was wedded to the Duncan mantra: choice, which means charter schools, the full implementation of the Common Core, high stakes testing tied to teacher evaluation based on pupil growth scores (Value Added Measures, aka VAM). In spite of teacher and parent angst, in spite of millions of hits on the Diane Ravitch blog, the Duncan playbook was the Obama playbook, until it wasn’t.

The New York Times reports,

Faced with mounting and bipartisan opposition to increased and often high-stakes testing in the nation’s public schools, the Obama administration declared Saturday that the push had gone too far, acknowledged its own role in the proliferation of tests, and urged schools to step back and make exams less onerous and more purposeful.

Specifically, the administration called for a cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests. It called on Congress to “reduce over-testing” as it reauthorizes the federal legislation governing the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools.

“I still have no question that we need to check at least once a year to make sure our kids are on track or identify areas where they need support,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, … “But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking from instruction.”

“It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves,” he continued. “At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it.”

Why has it taken seven years for the President to realize they were on the wrong side of history? Why did the announcement come a few weeks after Duncan’s resignation?

Unfortunately the decision-makers today are lawyers and economists, not historians.

George Santayana, the early 20th century philosopher wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Harold Howe, a former United States Secretary of Education muses, ” … sometimes the unforeseen effects, of concepts for change like ‘restructuring’ schools, ‘systemic’ approaches to changes in schools, and the pros and cons of ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ prescriptions for what to teach and how to teach it. My own sense of this new vocabulary about school reform is that to some extent it has assumed the same role as the prayer book of the Episcopal Church — by repeating the words you are supposed to be improving yourself and the world around you.”

Almost twenty years ago David Tyack and Larry Cuban wrote “Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform,” (Read a superb summary/review here). The authors peruse the seemingly endless school reform initiatives over the last century and conclude that, regardless of the quality of the reform the initiative must have the support of teachers and parents; change, or reform, only, grows from the inside. In other words, reforms driven from the top down, unless accepted in classrooms will wither; new ideas may be planted from above, they must be fertilized and cared for in the classrooms and in the homes.

A few days ago the leader of the Board of Regents acknowledged the intense criticism of the newest iteration of the teacher evaluation law in New York State.

Newsday reports,

One of New York’s top school policymakers called Monday for potentially revamping a controversial law that allows student scores on Common Core tests to count for as much as half of teachers’ and principals’ job evaluations.

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, told about 500 school board members attending a state convention in Manhattan that the toughened law, pushed through the legislature in April by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, is “full of problems.”

The chancellor said lawmakers should “reopen” a section of the law that increases to about 50 percent the maximum weight that local school districts can assign to so-called “growth” scores in judging teachers’ classroom performance. Such scores are based on student performance on English language arts and math assessments, and are generated by a complex formula that many analysts consider statistically unstable.

The New York State Commissioner of Education has begun a review of the Common Core and the Curriculum Modules, the widely criticized units that drive instruction across the state. If you want to comment on the modules click here:

If you want to comment on the Common Core click here to go to the State Ed Facebook page:

Does this mean that sanity is beginning to return to the school system in New York State; or, to schools across the nation, or, is all this pomp and circumstance a trompe d’oeille, a facade to lull us into complacency?

This is considerable cynicism.

We’ll see over the weeks and months ahead. In New York State the Governor and State legislature are leaning on the Board of Regents and the Commissioner – make parents happy, or, at least happier. Stem the Opt Out tide; erode the 200,000 parents who are potentially ready to vote for change at the polls.

I believe the tidal wave of parent anger will be difficult to assuage: Obama, Duncan, Cuomo and the wave of so-called reformers may have created a hydra ( … It possessed many heads … and, each time one was lost, it was replaced by two more. It had poisonous breath and blood so virulent that even its scent was deadly) and those heads keep growing and spewing electoral poison.

Success Academy Charter School Staff Diversity: Why is the Staff Overwhelming White? Tone Deaf? By Choice? A Diverse Workforce is Essential in the 21st Century.

The NY Daily News reports,

More than 1,000 city charter school teachers will rally for change Wednesday in Manhattan’s Foley Square, officials from a pro-charter school group said Friday.

Families for Excellent Schools’ CEO Jeremiah Kittredge said, “Great teachers change children’s lives every day, … Teachers will stand united to demand an end to this education inequality.”

Families for Excellent Schools is the very deep pocketed advocacy organization that pays for the TV ads, trashes Mayor de Blasio and the teachers union, and, refuses to disclose the source of their millions.

Most of the charter school teachers will come from 34-school Success Academy Charter network led by Eva Moskowitz.

As you look out over the crowd you’ll notice one striking factor – the teachers are overwhelming white. Charter schools proudly proclaim that their hands aren’t tied by union rules or other regulations, in fact, state law give them wide discretion in hiring, they can hire non-certified teachers. It is strange that they choose to hire a less diverse teaching force.

A recent report tallies the diversity among teachers in the Success Academy schools,

The information below was obtained by the Teachers Diversity Committee (TDC) of NYC from Success Academy charter schools that responded to our request. The percentage of white teachers at each Success Academy School is listed below for the 2013-2014 school year:
SA Cobble Hill 82%
SA Crown Heights 57%
SA Fort Green 100%
SA Harlem I 73%
SA Harlem II 63%
SA Harlem III 61%
SA Harlem IV 56%
SA Harlem V 76%
SA Hell’s Kitchen 89%
SA Prospect Heights 91%
SA Upper West 82%
SA Williamsburg 71%
SA Bed-Stuy II 80%
SA Bronx I 74%
SA Bronx II 66%

In 2012 58.6% of teachers in the NYC public schools were white. Out of the 15 Success Academy Charter schools listed above, 13 out of 15 have a higher percentage of white teachers than was the city wide average for public schools in NYC.

The Success Academy did not respond to requests for comment from the Teachers Diversity Committee of NYC, the source of the report above.

Why is the Success Academy network not seeking a more diverse teacher workforce?

Perhaps they will argue they cannot find enough “qualified” teachers of color, an argument that would be pilloried in the public arena.

Perhaps they will argue, they follow the law and are color blind in hiring, they hire the “best and the brightest” regardless of color or ethnicity.

Perhaps they aren’t getting many applicants from prospective teachers of color.

The pedagogy in the Success Academy schools is rote, highly disciplined and punishment, suspensions, are commonplace, perhaps the pedagogical/discipline practices chase away teachers of color.

John Merrow on PBS reports on the high levels of suspensions in kindergarten in the Success Academy schools, that’s right, suspending five year olds, watch the brief U-Tube,

The data on the impact of suspensions is indisputable; students who are frequently suspended are far more likely to drop out of school and far more likely to end up in the prison system – the school to prison pipeline. Perhaps teachers of color choose not to participate in a system that might raise test scores for some while driving out others and beginning their path down the pipeline to prison.

Lingering but unsaid: does race matter? Does the race of the teacher impact student achievement? Should schools, at the K-12 or the college level seek teachers who can serve as mentors, as role models for students of color?

The literature supporting mentoring/role model relationships is vast, at the K – 12 and at college level.

A few weeks ago I was at a tailgate before a football game, as a car passed the window rolled down and someone yelled out the name of the teacher who was standing next to me. A few minutes later, the former student wrapped his former teacher in a bear hug and exclaimed to everyone how the teacher had changed his life. A decade earlier he had been a black student in an overwhelmingly white school with an almost all white staff – the black teacher had “saved” the black student. Yes, an anecdote, a white teacher may have played the same role; however, in my experience role models are extremely important for kids, and diverse teaching forces provide opportunities for role models and developing mentor-mentee relationships.

Race alone does not make for a more effective teaching force; however, a diverse teaching force is vital for the staff as well as for the student body.

Charter schools have a unique “advantage” over public schools as far as test scores are concerned – they can force out the low performers, either through expelling a student for disciplinary reasons or making the student so uncomfortable that the parent withdraws the student. Charter schools also do not enroll the same percentages of students with disabilities or English language learners, and the students with disabilities that they do enroll have lesser handicaps that allow them to score higher on the state tests. If we compare “apples to apples,” general ed students to general ed public schools do as well or better than charter schools in the same district. An interesting study would be the impact of the force out charter school kids on the receiving public schools.

Success Academy and many other charter schools use a “no excuses” system – rigid rules, pre-scripted lessons, 100% focus on preparing for the state tests. The data is not encouraging. What percentage of entering kindergarten kids graduate to middle school in the fifth grade? The erosion of students is far higher than in public schools. Do charter schools fill the empty seats, seats vacated by students who are forced out? The answer is a resounding “no.”

What the Success Academy has been is very successful at attracting philanthropy. The larger charter school networks attract significant dollars to lower class size, train teachers, and provide high quality classrooms well-stocked with supplies. What is the per capita difference? We don’t know – the amount and use of the philanthropic dollars is not public information.

Whether the Success Academy network is simply tone deaf or is actively not seeking teachers of color, the result is the same. Diversity of staffs, for all-minority or all-white or integrated schools is essential.

To be perfectly honest I view with suspicion the hiring practices of the Success network – after all some of those black teachers may be secret Black Panthers, or, may be troublemakers, they may ask hard questions, let’s just only hire “safe” teachers, teachers who will keep their mouths shut and do what they’re told.

Ultimately I fear the Success practices will exacerbate not assuage student achievement gaps, graduation rates and college retention.

The Cuomo Common Core Task Force: Can the “Adults in the Room” Create Policies to Improve Outcomes for All Students? Can Sensible Politics Trump Failed Politics?

The parents of over 200,000 students in Grades Three through Eight in New York State opted not to take the state exams in April, 2015. The Internet is ablaze with criticism of the Common Core and the state tests. The Long Island Opt Out Facebook page explains how to opt out of all state exams (“Refusal Letter”) and comment after comment challenges the state – from snarky to nasty to downright crude.

Hundreds of thousands of parents, concentrated in suburban school districts, angry, not tied to any political party are worrisome. Next fall the 150 members of the state Assembly and the 63 members of the state Senate are on the ballot. Can the Opt Out parents organize themselves and toss out an elected? Governor Cuomo’s favorability ratings have nose dived.

Cuomo’s favorability rating stands at 49 percent, down from 53 percent in late May. Forty-four percent of voters view Cuomo unfavorably, according to the poll. It is the first time since 2007 that Cuomo’s favorability numbers have dropped below 50 percent.

What is the Common Core and why has it become so toxic? On the face the core appears bland.

The Common Core website offers a simple definition,

The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade.

Were the prior standards not high quality? What makes the Common Core standards different from the prior set of standards?

Let’s take a look at a few First Grade Literacy standards,

* With prompting and support, read prose and poetry of appropriate complexity for grade

* Explain major differences between books that tell stories and books that give information, drawing on a wide reading of a range of text types.

* Identify words and phrases in stories or poems that suggest feelings or appeal to the senses.

Are these standards “age appropriate” for a six year old?

The six year old that I know might excitingly explain the “differences between books that tell stories and books that give information,” or, she might tell you she wants to draw a picture, or, she’s much more interested in talking about the latest cartoon she watched, or talk about dinosaurs.

If the child can’t or won’t exhibit the skills, the “learning goals,” is the kid, “below proficient?” No, she’s just being six years old.

The First Grade standards might not be age inappropriate and the critics might be right.

The legislature, feeling the heat, directed the Board of Regents to examine the Common Core Standards, and, Governor Cuomo decided that perhaps one way to bump up his rating was to re-establish the Cuomo Commission that had issued a report in January of 2014 after almost a year of hearings around the state. The Commission, now called a Task Force, and the original 25 members, pared to fifteen members,

Governor Cuomo: “The State’s learning standards must be strong, sensible and fair, and parents and teachers should be able to have faith in those standards. This Task Force will ensure that this becomes the reality.”

Richard Parson, the chairman of the Task Force opines, “By performing an in-depth review of everything from curriculum to testing, we can lay out exactly what needs to be done to fix the Common Core.”

The Task Force is directed to,

1. Review and reform the Common Core State Standards;

2. Review New York State’s curriculum guidance and resources;

3. Develop a process to ensure tests fit curricula and standards;

4. Examine the impact of the current moratorium on recording Common Core test scores on student records, and make a recommendation as to whether it should be extended;

5. Examine how the State and local districts can reduce both the quantity and duration of student tests, and develop a plan whereby districts include parents in reviewing local tests being administered to analyze those tests’ purpose and usefulness; and

6. Review the quality of the tests to ensure competence and professionalism from the private company creating and supplying the tests.

The reality: the Common Core State Standards belong to the Common Core organization and are copyrighted!!! Can they be changed? The answer is a little vague, An official from the organization that owns the copyright avers, ” … as a rule of thumb, states are encouraged to add no more than 15 percent to the standards. Otherwise … it would negate the “commonness” of the standards.” Can a state delete sections of the standards? Do these changes, adding, deleting or changing require the approval of the copyright holder? Or, does New York State have to rechristen the “new” set of standards?

How large is the staff of the Task Force? Will the Task Force work for a few months, a year, two years? Will the new Common Core standards or whatever they are called be piloted?

How will the new standards impact the state tests? It probably takes a year or so to create a new test based on new standards.

You undoubtedly noticed that in the presidential candidate debate, on both sides of the aisle, there was not a single question or comment regarding K to 12 education; any position on education garners supporters and egg throwers – candidates, not wanting to alienate any voters are choosing to avoid the topic altogether.

For Cuomo and the legislature the problem is recouping, how do they remove education from the front burner? How do you assuage the Opt Out parents, to the extent possible steer clear of the charter wars, win back teachers and their union, and get back to the old days when the only issue was more money for school districts?

The plan seems to be:

The new teacher evaluation law (3012-d), passed as part of the April 1st budget package was amended at the September Regents meeting triggering a new 30-day comment period (an appeal process was added), and, there is talk of another amendment at the October meeting. Without a completed plan many districts would apply for the 4-month waiver moving the due date for plans back to March 15th, allowing the Governor and the legislature to amend the process.

Whether the reason for the common core kerfuffle is faulty implementation or deeply flawed Common Core Standards, whether the fault lies at the feet of former Commissioner John King or Chancellor Merryl Tisch or the entire Board is irrelevant – how do you win back parents and teachers? The goal of the Task Force, a total overhaul of the standards, the testing program and the nonexistent state curriculum is quite an undertaking.

Back in my old school yard stickball days we’d call it a “do over.” A ball would hit a crack in the street and take a crazy bounce and the fielder would yell “do over!”

Easy to yell, not easy to accomplish.

For some the only acceptable result is US Attorney Preet Bharara leading Cuomo out of the Executive Mansion in handcuffs, and, considering the political climate, not impossible. For the Opt Out parents anything that results in a required exam is not acceptable.

For teachers a testing regimen that reflects the curriculum they are expected to teach and standards that they feel are within reach of the students they teach would be a major improvement.

For the legislature the specter of an angry Opt Out parent running against an incumbent Assembly member or Senator is a nightmare. For the Governor, continually declining favorability ratings as the teacher union and parents hammer away tarnishes ambitions.

There is a chance, an opportunity, for the adults in the room to repair an education landscape pockmarked by the craters of exploding policies put in place to satisfy a certain President or Secretary of Education or deep-pocketed funder.

Maybe the adults can “do over” a host of failed policies and return the state to creating policies that improve outcomes for all students.

The Future for Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz: Mayor, Governor or Secretary of Education?

If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.
William Tecumseh Sherman

Not exactly what Eva Moskowitz, the CEO of the Success Academy Charter Schools network announced on the steps of City Hall after her rally and recent TV ad campaign. Speculation has been rampant that Moskowitz will oppose de Blasio at the polls in 2017. Two years in advance of the election Eva announced she will not run, with a caveat, at this time.

The Success Academy Charter School network, founded in 2006, runs 34 schools scattered across the city. The network is richly funded through philanthropy and with the support of former Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, and, Eva created a powerful lobbying arm. The Moskowitz-Klein emails, obtained through a FOIL request that was vigorously opposed by the Bloomberg administration shows that Klein acquiesced to every request/demand from Moskowitz. From school co-locations to funding, one wonder who was the chancellor, Klein or Moskowitz?

Eva Moskowitz was elected to the City Council, a reformer from the Upper East Side of Manhattan. New York City is a strong mayor form of local government. The mayor and the speaker of the council control the flow of legislation and the flow of dollars. Council members chair committees and hold hearings, some council members are primarily concerned with the needs of their districts, and others use the hearing process as a bully pulpit for one issue or another or, use their seat to prepare for the next step up the electoral ladder. Moskowitz became chair of the education committee. The occasional committee hearings would usually focus on the issue of the moment, perhaps, school safety, or some other issue that was in the news; Moskowitz used her pulpit to attack the teacher contract. The usual desultory council hearings sparked the anger of the teacher union and Eva’s hearings catapulted her to the spotlight.

Eva ran for Manhattan Borough President in a multi-candidate Democratic primary election. The union supported a Scott Stringer, an Assembly member from the Upper West Side who had learned politics at the foot of Bella Abzug, the very progressive member of Congress.

When the dust settled Stringer was victorious, and, has moved on to the Comptroller and perhaps an opponent of de Blasio in 2017.

With her electoral defeat Moskowitz moved to the charter school arena. Both on the education and the political side Moskowitz has become the darling of the ed reformers and the political right. The results of the Success Academy schools on state tests are impressive. The NY Daily News reports on the latest round of state test,

City students made modest gains on math and reading exams in 2015, posting slightly better scores for the second year in a row as record numbers of kids boycotted the tests.

In 2015, 35.2% of city kids in grades three through eight met state math standards, up from 34.2% in 2014. Likewise, 30.4% of city kids passed reading tests, up from 28.4% last year.

The city’s black and Hispanic students made slight gains in 2015, but the achievement gap faced by those kids worsened as they failed to keep up with citywide improvements.

Citywide, the portion of black students who met math standards rose from 18.6% in 2014 to 19.1% in 2015. Hispanic students jumped in math from 23.1% to 23.7%.

The city’s 196 charter schools outperformed traditional public schools on 2015 math tests but posted worse scores on reading exams. The same situation existed in 2014.

Charter school pass rates in reading jumped from 28% in 2014 to 29.3% in 2015. Likewise, city charter school math proficiency rose from 43.9% to 44.2%.

Former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charter Schools posted some of the highest scores in the city, with 93% of students meeting math standards and 68% passing in reading.

Why are the Success Academy schools so successful? Diane Ravitch, based upon reports from Success Academy staffers paints a picture of a culture that encourages cheating, that is based solely on improving test scores, to the exclusion of the arts, high teacher turnover rates, policies that drive out low performers and “discipline problems” and recruits from among high “social capital” parents. The Success Academy scores are touted by the reformers, the criticism of her harsh treatment of kids and staffers has not gained traction and, agile use of the media has made her into an educational rock star on the right.

On the political side Moskowitz supporters have donated millions to both Cuomo and Republicans in the State Senate with results. A law requiring the NYC mayor to either co-locate charter schools or pay for private space, and, an increase in the cap.

Will Eva decide to run for Mayor next year?

All the political air is being eaten up by the presidential campaign – the race for the nomination running into the spring and the race for the White House in the summer and fall; he race for Gracie Mansion will not begin until after the November 2016 elections.

Moskowitz is a lifelong Democrat – can she defeat de Blasio in a Democratic primary election? Probably not.

A line of democrats, smelling blood, are investigating a run – from the current Comptroller Scott Stringer, the current Public Advocate, Letitia James to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and others. While the de Blasio polling might be poor putting together a campaign in a primary is difficult. Under the rules if a candidate does not reach 40% a runoff takes place among the top two contenders.

Eva’s chances would be much better to run in the November general election as a Bloomberg-type Republican. However, what are her positions on the non-education issues? Will her deep-pocketed supporters agree with her on the wide range of other issues? Her positions on social and economic issues may be indistinguishable from de Blasio?

Her meek “I’m not running” announcement buys her a year to stake out political ground, to create a persona beyond charter schools, and, a persona that is attractive to her hedge fund supporters. In the complex world of politics Eva’s hedge fund darlings may also be supporters of Hillary – if Hillary wins the White House would the hedge funders continue to support Eva?

Politics make for strange bed fellows (and via-versa) and Eva has a year to take the next step: Gracie Mansion, or, the Executive Mansion in Albany, or, with a Republican in the White House, Secretary of Education? The CEO of the Success Academy network is far too small a stage.

The Failure of Arne Duncan: How President Obama Placed Friendship Above Sound Education Policy and Stained His Legacy.

Presidents and Congresses look for sweeping solutions for the issues/problems confronting America; after World War 1 Europe spiraled into a depression and rampant inflation that slowly inched across the Atlantic. In October, 1929 the stock market crashed and our economy disintegrated. President Hoover, following the conservative economic views of the day, was aloof, the government did not intervene in the economy, the “invisible hand” would correct the economy, direct government intervention was both unnecessary and the wrong path.

… the nation was deep in the throes of the Depression. Confidence in the old institutions was shaken. Social changes that started with the Industrial Revolution had long ago passed the point of no return. The traditional sources of economic security: assets; labor; family; and charity, had all failed in one degree or another. Radical proposals for action were springing like weeds from the soil of the nation’s discontent. President Franklin Roosevelt would choose the social insurance approach as the “cornerstone” of his attempts to deal with the problem of economic security.

In 1935 the Social Security Law established a safety net for all Americans, upon passage of the law FDR opined,

“We can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.”
President Roosevelt upon signing Social Security Act.

Thirty years later President Lyndon Johnson, as an amendment to the Social Security Law passed the Medicare and Medicaid programs. “The Medicare program, providing hospital and medical insurance for Americans age 65 or older and Medicaid, a state and federally funded program that offers health coverage for certain low-income people.”

In the same year, Johnson, a former teacher, a mere three months after the bill was introduced passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The law states,

“In recognition of the special educational needs of low-income families and the impact that concentrations of low-income families have on the ability of local educational agencies to support adequate educational programs, the Congress hereby declares it to be the policy of the United States to provide financial assistance… to local educational agencies serving areas with concentrations of children from low-income families to expand and improve their educational programs by various means (including preschool programs) which contribute to meeting the special educational needs of educationally deprived children”

The “financial assistance,” provides billions of dollars to school districts with high percentages of low-income families; the dense law attempts to prevent school districts from supplanting tax levy funding, and, the actual impact of the law has from time to time been subject to question.

In 2002 President Bush, in partnership with Senator Edward Kennedy passed a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and renamed the law No Child Left Behind.

Under the NCLB law, states must test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. And they must report the results, for both the student population as a whole and for particular “subgroups” of students, including English-learners and students in special education, racial minorities, and children from low-income families.

States were required to bring all students to the “proficient level” on state tests by the 2013-14 school year, although each state got to decide, individually, just what “proficiency” should look like, and which tests to use.

Under the law, schools are kept on track toward their goals through a mechanism known as “adequate yearly progress” or AYP. If a school misses its state’s annual achievement targets for two years or more, either for all students or for a particular subgroup, it is identified as not “making AYP” and is subject to a cascade of increasingly serious sanctions:

Although the effectiveness of ESEA/NCLB is open to question it has strong support, billions of dollars are driven to schools and school districts across the nation. Every representative and senator will support legislation that provides dollars to his/her district.

The reauthorization both continued Title 1, thereby assuring the support of both sides of the aisle and imposed the testing/sanction sections.

Ted Kennedy, the iconic liberal democrat from Massachusetts was the prime sponsor of the bill. While the opposition mounted the bill garnered retained support, from the testing industry and a strange coalition of civil rights organizations that saw the subgroup data as essential to keeping the spotlight on the subgroups and reformers who supported using testing data for teacher accountability.

Arne Duncan was in a unique position, he had the total support of the President and a legislative path to sweeping education reforms did not appear to be possible.

Roosevelt passed legislation that protects seniors both on the income side and the healthcare side; while the far right might trash Social Security and Medicare the legislation is firmly in place. Lyndon Johnson took the next step: Title 1 of ESEA is also firmly embedded in school districts across the nation.

Duncan’s plan was brilliant and devious, and, he didn’t need Congress.

David Coleman, the prime author of the Common Core State Standards, using what is called New Criticism and Literary Textual Analysis wrote new standards under the auspices of the National Governor’s Association. The governors in 46 states adopted the standards and the testing industry created new CCSS tests. The very core of education was changed without the involvement of any legislative body.

Duncan dangled 4.4 billion dollars in a competitive grants, “Race to the Top,” the competitive grants required the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, the adoption of a teacher evaluation plan based on the growth scores on student tests scores and choice, aka, charter schools.

Teachers and parents pushed back, anger grew and President Obama steadfastly supported Duncan.

If you listen to Duncan, see three minute U-Tube, his policies on testing seem to be reasonable.

Duncan’s ideas can be reduced to creating competition among schools, a perverse educational Gresham’s Law, “good school will drive out bad schools.” Highly successful schools, charter or public will drive out, will close ineffective schools. Of course, online for-profit charter schools are fine, tossing out low performing or discipline problems ignored (“backfill”), and the large charter networks with deep philanthropy were praised.

In order to survive high poverty, low performing schools, will get better with the threat of charter schools. There is not a scintilla of evidence that the Milton Friedman approach to education would actually improve schools.

Link student test scores on the new Common Core tests to teacher performance; put the fear of the gods into teachers.

Arne Duncan will not go into history books as the FDR of education nor will he inherit the mantle of LBJ, state after state is backing away from the Common Core; the revolt against testing grows across the nation.

The lesson: no matter how close the friendship, no matter how loyal the friend: beware. Arne Duncan, your basketball buddy, an elite upbringing, jumped onboard the worst of the education reform ideas. As Linda Darling Hammond, Diane Ravitch, Pedro Noguera, renowned researcher after researcher questioned the Duncan agenda, Obama never strayed from supporting his friend.

John King, a Duncan acolyte will follow the Duncan agenda for the remaining year.

The failure of Arne Duncan will make a fascinating dissertation topic.