Feds Release ESSA Alternate Assessment Pilot Regulations: Will New York State Apply? Will Parents, Teachers and School Districts Choose to Participate?

The feds have posted the regulations for the ESSA Alternative Assessment pilot. The competitive pilot allows seven state pilots and encourages states to apply as consortia. The regulations (Read full text here) sets an April 2nd filing date and the regulations sets forth specific requirements. The pilot is three years, possibility for a fourth year, with the goal the moving the pilot to the statewide assessment tool.

I know there is enthusiasm among many parents in the state, especially among the opt-out parents, moving from an examination-based accountability system to a project-based system, at first glance, is attractive.

I have heard: “Instead of a test at the end of the year students can submit a portfolio and a project.”

Unfortunately the application is far more specific.

Generate results, including annual summative determinations …. that are valid, reliable, and comparable for all students and for each subgroup of students;

  Provide for the participation of all students, including children with disabilities and English learners;  

 As a significant portion of the innovative assessment system in each required grade and subject in which both an innovative and statewide assessment are administered, items or performance tasks from the statewide assessment system that, at a minimum, have been previously pilot tested or field tested for use in the statewide assessment system.

 Align with the challenging State academic content standards … including the depth and breadth of such standards, for the grade in which a student is enrolled;

 The regulations are 45-pages long and includes the specificity noted in the sections above.

What do the terms “valid, reliable and comparable for all students” mean?

If you move to a system in which teachers grade/evaluate or assess student work: how do you assess inter-rater reliability? How do you assure the teachers/raters in Buffalo, Rochester, New York City, Scarsdale and Great Neck grade/assess projects/portfolios at the same level?

Vermont moved to a portfolio system in the early nineties and asked the Rand Corporation to assess the program, Daniel Koretz, now a professor at Harvard conducted the study.

“For a variety of reasons, such as the variability of tasks used, it may be unrealistic to expect a portfolio program to reach as high a level of reliability as a standardized performance-assessment program” … the report states. “However, the reliabilities obtained in Vermont in 1992 are sufficiently low to limit severely the uses to which the results can be put.”

 On the positive side, the study also found no evidence that teachers assigned higher or lower scores to their own students than did other raters.

 In the ensuing years technology has improved the rater reliability issue; in many schools in New York City regents essays are scanned and teachers grade anonymous papers, the LEA or the SED can review and monitor reliability, although with 700 school districts in the state, a complex process.

A number of states currently have alternative assessments waivers under No Child Left Behind, New Hampshire is in its fourth year and each year the state has added two school districts to a performance task system.

What are performance tasks?

A complicated question: SCALE, Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity, has developed a data bank of tasks,

SCALE provides task and resource materials to schools and districts that have committed to adopting performance-based assessment as part of a multiple measures system for evaluating student learning.

 Check out the SCALE performance assessment resource bank here.

What does the New Hampshire alternative assessment look like?

The principles,

  • common performance tasks that have high technical quality,
  • locally designed performance tasks with guidelines for ensuring high technical quality,
  • regional scoring sessions and local district peer review audits to ensure sound accountability systems and high inter-rater reliability,
  • a web-based bank of local and common performance tasks, and
  • a regional support network for districts and schools.

The New Hampshire pilot has changed the face of teaching and learning, teaching in a performance task system is very different from teaching in a current classroom.

I suggest accessing the New Hampshire site here.

The state works with a consultancy, 2Revolutions, that has played a major role in the training of staffs, much more than training, working with teachers and schools to change cultures, to change the face of teaching and learning in a process that totally engages all the stakeholders.

Are the parents, teachers and school leaders willing to jump off the diving board, to walk into a new world, to move away from rigid testing accountability to performance tasks, to move to a student-centered, highly individualized classroom?

The fed proposal requires consultation with all stakeholders, in a limited period of time.

How will participants be selected? Do you consult with stakeholders, submit the application, and choose actual participants after the application has been approved? Or, work with high opt-out districts in the application creation process? Do you choose a subset of schools within districts, for example, the PROSE schools in New York City? Or, do you expand the Internationals Network for new immigrant arrivals? And. all these decisions within a ten week window.

Another core issue: funding. The fed regs do not come with any additional dollars; the governor/legislature will have to add funds to the budget in a restrictive funding year, or, State Ed will have to find funding from external grants.

Daniel Koretz, the current Harvard scholar who wrote the 1992 Rand Report criticizing the Vermont Portfolio Project has a new book, The Testing Charade, Pretending to Make Schools Better (2017); although he is not anti-testing he does skewer the current use of testing – Read review here.

Can you sever testing from accountability and simply use testing a tool to guide instruction?

A weighty nuanced discussion that would normally take many months is squeezed into a narrow time frame; the folks in Albany have an extremely difficult task.


How Do You Choose a New Chancellor for the NYC School System …? Is a Jesus-Moses-Muhammad-Gandhi-like Chancellor Waiting in the Wings?

The New York Yankees decided to have an open procedure in the search for a new manager. The candidates were publicly announced and met the press immediately after the interview. The media debated the candidates and the decision was widely applauded. The New York Mets held their interviews in-house, no announcements of candidates and announced the new manager with fanfare, again, a popular choice.

 At a press conference, de Blasio said he has already begun a national search to replace Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who formally announced her retirement on Thursday. He emphasized that he is not looking for someone to shake things up but rather wants someone who will follow through on the course that he and Fariña set out. He also committed to hiring an educator, an important criteria for the mayor when he chose Fariña that set him apart from the previous administration.

 The mayor said he plans to select a new chancellor in the next few months ….  He gave little information about the search process, saying only that it will be an internal, quiet decision.

 If the plan is to hire “someone who will follow through on the course that [de Blasio] and Fariña set out,” why a nationwide search, select from among the deputy chancellors, Dorita Gibson, Phil Weinberg, or from among the members of the Board of Regents who were highly effective superintendents, Regents Chin, Cashin, Rosa or Young? In the 90’s three chancellor’s, Cortines, Green and Crew, from across the nation stumbled.

Unspecified insiders paint a different picture of the mayor/chancellor relationship, the NY Daily News reports,

… behind the door … insiders have said de Blasio has been growing impatient with Farina’s inability to communicate his education agenda to the public.

“De Blasio thinks the schools are doing great,” said one Education Department official who requested anonymous. “He can’t understand why he gets negative coverage and pushback over things like school safety.”

Farina, in a self-assessment, looking over her four years mused,

“The thing I’m proudest of is the fact that we have brought back dignity to teaching, joy to learning, and trust to the system,” Fariña said.

 The speculation was that Carmen would stay a year or two, and de Blasio would select the “big name,” the new leader; Carmen surprised the sages.

Why wasn’t “the message” getting out? If you look at the pieces of data emerging from schools: higher graduation rates, jumps in test scores, Universal Pre-K, 3 for All;  De Blasio can’t understand the negative coverage from the Post, the Daily News, the Wall Street Journal, the Manhattan Institute and a host of blog sites.

 Marshall McLuhan is famous for the phrase, “the medium is the message,” and the LcLuhan website explains,

… the message of a newscast are not the news stories themselves, but a change in the public attitude towards crime, or the creation of a climate of fear. A McLuhan message always tells us to look beyond the obvious and seek the non-obvious changes or effects that are enabled, enhanced, accelerated or extended by the new thing.

The same can be said for de Blasio himself, in spite of historically low homicide rates, improvements in quality of life, a thriving economy, the negative side, homelessness, lack of affordable housing, transit woes dominate the news.

De Blasio, in person, has an electric personality, charming, engaged, a wonderful public speaker. I was at an annual Christmas season community event a few weeks ago. The hundreds in the diverse crowd were local folks with their kids to see the Christmas lights turned on: Scott Stringer, the Comptroller, Trish James, the Public Advocate and the Mayor spoke, de Blasio charmed the crowd. In September I attended a community Town Hall, de Blasio interacting with a community, hosted by the City Counsel member. For a few hours de Blasio answered questions, knowledgeable, accessible, and seemingly caring about each and every story or complaint.

Yet the press hammers away, at press availability de Blasio is uncomfortable, snarky, why are they asking me about the “bad stuff” and not the “good stuff?”

Charming in person and not able to enunciate a message across the city.

Cuomo, on the other hand, only meets with the public and the press at carefully controlled events with questions limited to the single topic. I can’t remember an open press conference.  Cuomo reads speeches, issues press releases, stands on a stage surrounded by acolytes to announce this or that; the other end of the spectrum from de Blasio.

Aloof in person, effectively sends a message: I am in charge, I am the your leader.

Trump meets the nation through tweets, and campaign rallies, he is at the center, whether you like him or not he is the center of attention, he is the imperial and imperious president.,

We have moved from the era of the presser, from print media to the era of social media, an era of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, podcasts, websites; the New York Times has more online subscribers than hard print purchasers.

The number one “quality” of a new Chancellor should be the ability to communicate, to carry the message.

The substance might be less important than the message.

The current Farina education menu is a la carte. There are dozens, maybe scores, of “new initiatives,” the administration has tossed dollars and “programs” at criticism and perceived “problems.”  On the left hand column the “problem,” in the middle column the programmatic response, on the right side the cost, check off and move on to the next issue.  The old Board of Education was once described as a mass of silly putty, you could stick your finger in and change the shape with ease; however, slowly but surely the lump regained its amorphous shape.

I occasionally call a teacher in a Renewal School to catch up on what’s happening in her school: lots of meetings, lots people floating through, lots of data collection, and lots of confusion.

Me: “Do they ask for feedback, do they ask you for suggestions, do they follow through on teacher ideas?”

Teacher: “Not really, we’re polite, we listen, we try and implement the instructional changes, the new programs seem to be in conflict with other programs, it’s frustrating and depressing.”

I speak with a principal: “A cluster of schools, mine included, was getting significant dollars from a grant, the superintendent asked for ideas, we carefully researched, eventually the program was announced, none of our ideas made the cut, the programs were disconnected, it was chaotic, every program wanted a piece of our kids.”

On the state level the Rosa/Elia team has learned the lesson.

Former Commissioner John King “declared” change after change, call them reform after reform, with most of the Regents rubber stamping, and, defending each and every “reform.” Whether or not the reforms had merit faded as opposition to King increased. King became the message, not the value or lack thereof of the reforms.

Chancellor Rosa and Commissioner Elia have “included” the immediate world. Task forces, work groups, gatherings all over the state, at times a seemingly tedious and overly lengthy process resulting in this initiative or that initiative.  The message: we want to involve you, all of you, we will listen, and you’re “in the tent.”

The move from the Common Core to the Next Generation Standards garnered thousands of online comments, endless meetings across the state; I attended a meeting in Brooklyn with over 100 teachers interacting with city and state staffers. I attended a meeting at the union with a few Regents members and a number of math teachers who served on one of the task forces.

The Next Generation Standards were adopted with minimal opposition. Are they “better” than the Common Core standards? I have no idea, the message was clear: everyone will have their opportunity to participate in the change process.

In New York City the Panel for Educational Priorities (PEP), the central board meetings are poorly attended, the Community Education Councils (CEC), the local school boards, have numerous unfilled slots and, once again, the people on the stage outnumber the people in the audience.

The message is clear, you don’t really count, we’re doing what we think is the right path.

Carmen was the right person at the right time, replacing an administration that thrived on chaos and confrontation. Some of the Bloomberg/Klein initiatives had disastrous consequences (Open Market transfers allowing teachers to hop from school to school setting up a steady drain of teachers away from the lowest achieving schools) to others that made perfect sense (a longer school day, time for professional development and sharply higher wages) and to some that are debatable (school closing and new school creation). Eventually the public came to the conclusion, polling data confirms,  we trust teachers more than the mayor to create education policy.

The Farina policies lack coherence; for example, there is no New York City curriculum. Carmen likes programs devised by Lucy Calkins and Lucy West, and some superintendents force principals to use the programs, others abhor the programs. The answer to why there is no curriculum has been “we’re working on it.”  Increasingly curriculum is seen to be at the core of improved outcomes.

David Steiner, former New York State Chancellor, writes, ,

An education system without an effective instructional core is like a car without a working engine: It can’t fulfill its function. No matter how much energy and money we spend working on systemic issues – school choice, funding, assessments, accountability, and the like – not one of these policies educates children. That is done only through curriculum and teachers: the material we teach and how effectively we teach it.

Why has it taken four years to address the school diversity issue? The controversy around school segregation began with a research paper from The Civil Right Project at UCLA,

New York has the most segregated schools in the country: in 2009, black and Latino students in the state had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools (less than 10% white enrollment), the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools. Heavily impacting these state rankings is New York City, home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation.

The Farina administration tarried, the pressure to create a school integration plan in New York came from two members of the City Council and a number of advocacy organizations, Carmen finally created a plan that has been criticized by the advocates and electeds.

To make matters more complex, a recent research paper from the Metro Center at NYU, “Separate But Unequal: Comparing Achievement in New York City’s Most and Least Diverse Schools,” finds only modest differences and makes a range of other policy recommendations.

Analysis of 2015-16 achievement data suggests that there is a modest benefit for vulnerable students attending the City’s most diverse schools. Third and eighth grade students attending the most diverse schools modestly outperformed students attending the City’s least diverse schools on state standardized tests in both English and math.

In addition, students attending the most diverse high schools were slightly more likely to graduate on-time than their peers attending the least diverse schools (68.8 percent versus 66.5 percent)

The report includes recommendations for stimulating diversity, expanding opportunity, and interrupting segregation in New York City schools, including challenging “opportunity monopolies,” such as specialized high schools, that only provide privileges to certain groups of students. The researchers also recommend recruiting and retaining teachers of color and hiring from the beginning culturally competent educators.

Did you know the Department has an Office of Equity and Access?  Once again the Department has spun out initiative after initiative, press release after press release, with considerable backslapping. Will the meetings of the newly appointed School Diversity Group be live streamed? Will there be a website for public comments?

Do principals, teachers, advocates and New Yorkers in general, have an opportunity to participate in the policy creation process?  Sadly, no, the gulf between those who work in schools and those who lead the school system is wide. The gulf between advocates and school district leadership continues to be disturbing; it is often confrontational rather than cooperative and collegial.

The chancellor proudly announces she has visited 400 schools; however, her visits are preceded by schools scrambling to put on the right face, new bulletin boards, tighter discipline, etc. The team spends an hour or so and moves on and the school breathes a sigh of relief.

The union contract contains a consultation requirement,

The community or high school superintendent shall meet and consult once a month during the school year with representatives of the Union on matters of educational policy and development and on other matters of mutual concern.

 In my union representative days my district had a different spin, the superintendent met monthly with all the school union reps in addition to the principals and parent leaders, Prior to the Albany legislative session the superintendent hosted a meeting of all the electeds, the District Leadership Team and all the parents associations to discuss district budgetary needs.

The teacher union reps were part of the leadership process – the message from the district to the teacher leaders – we respect and welcome your views, your participation. We created active and participatory school and district leadership teams, the school teams created bylaws with specific conflict resolution guidelines. The district leadership team, the superintendent, principals and teachers, responded to intra-school conflicts.

The district created a diversity plan; over a thousand Afro-American students from overcrowded schools were bused to underutilized all-white schools at the other end of the district. It only occurred because the entire community was included in every step of the process.

In a prior post I suggested that the new chancellor, a Jesus-Moses-Mohammad-Gandhi-like person, might be difficult to identify;  I’m not a fan of the candidates on the Eva Moskowitz list, New York City has a unique culture; I am a fan of including key stakeholders (unions, etc.) on a search team, and I hope the process does not drag on for months.

The Department has always been a paramilitary organization, the general, aka, chancellor, makes a decision, superintendents and principals salute and the orders trickle down to classroom teachers, the soldiers, who nod politely, close their doors and do what they think is best.  Occasionally a superintendent or a principal, or, an island of schools creates truly collaborative worlds; they are the exception and struggle to survive.

We need a chancellor, a leader, who can communicate, who is respected; would principals, teachers, parents and advocates agree with the reflections of the current chancellor? “The thing I’m proudest of is the fact that we have brought back dignity to teaching, joy to learning, and trust to the system.”

When you think of the Department do the words “dignity,” “joy” and “trust” resonate?

 I hope the mayor can find this incredible personage who can change the Department of Education from a reactive organization to a creative organization, from an organization attempting to pacify critics to an organization that truly finds a path to include diverse views, to an organization whose message is “you are part of the process,” whose outcomes lead to better outcomes for students and families.

Rule # 1 of personal and organization change: participation reduces resistance.

Flash: News Sources Report That Chancellor Carmen Farina Will Be Leaving “Early Next Year.”

Flash: Numerous news sources report that Chancellor Carmen Farina will be leaving “early next year” and the national search is underway.

I expect that parents and advocates will call for a search committee that includes a range of stakeholders. In selecting City University presidents the CUNY Board of Trustees creates an advisory committee consisting of alumni, faculty and students; the advisory group signs confidentiality agreements and participates in the process, the final decision is made by the Trustees.

The selection of a replacement chancellor will be made by the Panel for Education Priorities (PEP), the New York City Central Board of Education, remember, the system is a mayoral control system, and the mayor appoints a majority of the PEP.  The real world: the mayor will pick the chancellor.

Four years ago the mayor carried out quick and secretive interviews and rapidly selected Farina, a former community superintendent in the mayor’s home district who served as deputy chancellor under Joel Klein.

The speculation is rampant.

The easiest path is to select from within, promote one of the deputy chancellors or select from a former high level department staffer.

Four members of the Board of Regents are former New York City superintendents: Betty Rosa, the current leader of the Board of Regents as well as Judy Chin, Lester Young and Kathleen Cashin; all were highly regarded.

Former deputy Chancellors Eric Nadelstern is now at Columbia Teachers College and Shael Suransky is the President of Bank Street College.

Former chancellor Rudy Crew is the President of Medgar Evers College, part of the City University, although he might be more interested in the CUNY Chancellor position, the current chancellor has announced he is leaving at the end of the academic year.

Richard Buery, the Deputy Mayor for Special Projects has announced he is leaving the administration; however, Buery would require a waiver from the Board of Regents.

If you just checked on resumes the creator of the Chancellor’s District in New York City, who followed up as superintendent in Cleveland and Chicago was courted by de Blasio four years ago, unfortunately Barbara Byrd Bennett is currently in federal prison.

Josh Starr was a high ranking official under Joel Klein, the superintendent in Stamford, Connecticut and Montgomery County in Maryland.

Identity politics plays a role; electeds and advocacy organizations will lobby for a person of color, the union seeks a chancellor with whom they feel “comfortable.” Those on the right will seek a chancellor more favorable to charter schools and stricter discipline. Those across the spectrum continue to be suspicious of charter schools, favor moving away from testing, lower class size, more community schools, fewer screened programs and definitely aggressively moving to more school integration.

In the nineteenth century the line for patronage jobs would be around the block. Today lobbyists, think tanks and self-described reformers will be peppering the new gal/guy with their latest silver bullet.

Eric Nadelstern would argue that repairing struggling schools doesn’t work, close schools and grant schools, school leaders and staffs, wide discretion in policy-making at the school level.

Other say: fold up the ATR pool, send all ATRs back to schools, they would argue there is no evidence that current Open Market system has improved educational outcomes.

Superintendent after superintendent chancellor after chancellor: what has changed?

Regents Cashin and Rosa were highly successful superintendents, only to see gains wane after they left. Nadelstern proudly points to significantly higher achievement in the small school that replaced the large dysfunctional high schools, only to see small high schools that are also Renewal Schools struggle and end up on the closing list.

Do “reforms” depend on the value of the reform/idea or the ability of the person driving the reform?

The poorest neighborhoods have the lowest achieving schools; hundreds of screened schools collect up the higher achieving students, and, play a major role in keeping higher income families in the city.  Should “measure” schools by achievement or growth?

In an era of “if it bleeds it leads” journalism and politics every action is scrutinized and will be excoriated by one side the other, and, the sides are many.

Joel Klein moved from massive reorganization to reorganization, from reform to reform, closed and created hundreds of schools and eventually was chased out by his original benefactor Mayor Bloomberg. Klein was followed by Cathy Black (we hardly got to know you) and the amiable Dennis Walcott.

Aside from surrounding yourself with highly competent senior staff, having a vision, and being extremely adept at dealing with the media, the electeds, the many advocates, the think tanks and especially the unions, the next chancellor must bend to the will of the mayor as well as being to point to “victories.”

Over the next month or so the mayor will select this Moses-Jesus-Mohammad-Ghandi-like figure, and, I wish her/him luck.

BTW, does a scepter and orb come with the job?

The 2018 Legislative Year: Are You Ready? Are You a Citizen Lobbyist? Do You Complain or Act?

If you’re reading this you probably also have steady streams of anti-Trump comments in your e-mailbox, twitter feed and Facebook page; I have a simple direct response: complaining without taking action is fruitless:

  • Did you contribute to Doug Jones in Alabama? Are you contributing to Democratic Party candidates? Contributing to the Democratic National Committee (DNC)?  Contribute whatever you can afford – $10 multiplied by a million contributors is a great deal of money and whether we like it or not dollars drive elections. If you want to make changes “our” folks have to win seats in city halls, state legislatures and the Congress, and, of course, the White House.
  • Call your elected officials, calls to electeds matter – even if they’re totally on your side they need constituents behind them.  If your elected is on the “wrong side,” even more important. Place the phone numbers on your refrigerator door!
  • Attend rallies and demonstrations – keeping a movement alive is enhanced by realizing you are not alone, you are a part of a movement, a nationwide movement.

Let’s take a look at the political calendar for 2018.

On January 3rd the New York City Council will select a Speaker, the leader of the Council. The voters are the fifty-one members of the Council. The City Council is embedded in the New York City Charter. New York is a “strong mayor” system; the mayor appoints all the deputy mayors and department heads. The key role of the Council is approving the budget and the Council has considerable influence over land use. There were eight candidates, all men (the last two Speakers were women, Christine Quinn and Melissa Mark-Viverito), both from Manhattan.  The Speaker appoints committee chairs, hires council staff, influences land use decisions and is the gatekeeper for legislation:  it is a powerful position and, needless to say, must work with the mayor. Apparently Corey Johnson, a Council member from Chelsea has wrapped up the votes; of course, to quote the great Yogi Berra, “It’s never over until the fat lady sings” (Can we still use that reference?).

Also on January 3rd Governor Cuomo will deliver his State of the State in Albany; the speech will lay out the Governor’s agenda for the legislative session and begin the path to an April 1st budget.

Will any education issues be included in the State of the State?

Cuomo has changed the nature of the relationship between the legislature and the governor. For decades the speech took place in the Assembly chamber: the audience, the members of both houses and invited guests. Cuomo moved the speech to the massive convention center space, guests invited by the governor. The speech became a campaign address with all the bells and whistles.

The governor is running for a third term; while there are rumblings of opponents(s) in a possible primary, or, the Working Families Party not endorsing Cuomo, they are only rumblings. There are no strong candidates on the Republican side, the Republican candidate must raise twenty million or so, a heavy lift, it appears to be a futile task.

Cuomo is not popular with teachers; or, to be perfectly honest, is not loved by many. A query: do you endorse Cuomo, stay on the sidelines, or even consider endorsing an opponent in a primary?  Endorsing a Cuomo opponent, and losing, alienating the governor will have dire political consequences: difficult choices, especially when the governor controls the budgetary process and a Republican governor will pursue Trump policies. The proverbial “rock and a hard place.”

The only fly in the ointment is the upcoming trial of Joe Prococo , Cuomo’s former alter ego who controlled and guarded the path to the governor;  Mario pere called Prococo “my third son.” Will the Prococo trial “splash” onto Cuomo?

The Albany legislative session is divided into two sections, from the convening in January to the April 1 budget deadline. The legislative session always starts slowly (see the legislative calendar) and picks up steam as the April 1st deadline approaches. This is a terrible budget year, the federal budget and the new tax bill law will have a negative impact on New York State.  New York State has a 2% cap on local school district budget increases (excluding the Big Five) and with meager or no increases in state funding local school districts will have to cut back on services, perhaps layoffs.

The budget process begins with a proposed budget by the governor, one-house budgets from the democratically-controlled Assembly and the republican-controlled Senate. The Senate has three factions; the Republicans led by Long Island State Senator John Flanagan, the Democrats led by Andrea Stuart-Cousins and the eight member Independent Coalition (IDC) led by Jeff Klein that caucuses with the Republicans.

The Senate lineup was:

23 Democratic members, one of whom Simcha Felder, caucuses with the Republicans

32 Republicans

8 IDC members

Due to a few senators jumping to other jobs the governor will set a date for an election to fill vacant seats in the Senate and the Assembly, or, he can leave them vacant until after the budget deadline, or, wait until the 2018 November election

The budget process: “three men in a room,” Governor Cuomo, Carl Heastie, the Democratic Speaker of the Assembly, John Flanagan the Republican leader with Jeff Klein, the IDC leader, just outside the door and Andrea Stuart-Cousins, down the hall.

Ultimately the process favors the governor, after extensive litigation  the state’s highest court sustained the budgetary powers of governors,

When it comes to appropriations bills, the Senate and Assembly can only reduce the spending the governor has proposed or eliminate it entirely. Legislators cannot change the conditions on how the governor wants that money spent. They can add spending, but the governor has the power to line-item veto those additions.

 Additionally Cuomo has expanded his powers by adding items to the budget that appear to have nothing to do with the budget, for example, in 2015, lengthening the teacher probationary period.

The Trump budget will impact significantly on the state budget,

In a conference call with reporters …  Gov. Andrew Cuomo wouldn’t venture when asked what his plans are for increasing education spending in the coming budget proposal.

But Cuomo indicated the budget will be a challenging one nonetheless, given the $4.6 billion deficit and, when spending is capped at 2 percent, a $1.7 billion hole to climb out of before the budget is approved.

The governor just vetoed legislation passed last session that would have provided additional dollars to support CUNY and SUNY, the veto will have a substantial negative impact,

 In November, an election year, the governor and the entire state legislature will be on the ballot, no one wants to run in a year when the budget knife is slicing away dollars. The Democrats will blame the Republicans and the Republicans will blame the Democrats. The Democrats trying to use Trump hostility to gain seats in the Senate and gain a majority, of course, Jeff Klein and his IDC colleagues would still be the deciding votes.(See IDC list of bills in the upcoming session)

The second part of the legislative session, after the approval of the budget, the incumbents will be the building up their reputation, trying to pass popular legislation without impacting the budget.

The moratorium on using student test scores to evaluate teacher will expire in 2019, the governor/legislature could address this year or push it forward into a non-election year, and, everything is part of the electoral process. (“reward your friends and punish your enemies”).  Heavy choices ahead: Do you risk alienating the governor? How can you not alienate the governor and remain independent? What deals can be made in the dark corners of the “smoke-filled” rooms? (you know what I mean)?

The Democrats in New York State as well as across the country will be gearing up to battle Republicans, both for control of the state legislatures as well as Congressional seats, while the election is almost a year away candidates are already on the campaign trail. The Congressional party primaries are scheduled for June 26th, less than a week after the end of the Albany legislative session.

There are more women and young activists candidates challenging Republicans:

See Kate Browning for Congress in Eastern Suffolk (Check out website)

See Gareth Rhodes for Congress in Columbia and Ulster Counties (Check website) BTW, Gareth is a CCNY graduate.

Let’s not forget, with each increasing month the race for the White House in 2020 will gather steam, and Andrew Cuomo is in the candidate mix.

2018 will be a busy political year, followed by the only year in the four-year election cycle without any elections (a few for judges); however, the presidential race will charging forward.

Are you ready?

In whose district do I live:  http://www.mygovnyc.org/

Who is my City Council member: https://council.nyc.gov/districts/

My  Assembly member: http://nyassembly.gov/mem/

My Senate member: https://www.nysenate.gov/find-my-senator

My House of Representatives member:  http://www.ny.gov/new-york-state-congressional-delegation

Let’s get started, let’s move Facebook posts to advocacy and join the movement.

Do New York State High School Graduation Requirements Prepare Students for College and/or Work? Are We Graduating Under-Prepared Students? or, Are The Requirements Ill- Suited to the Current World?

Tuesday morning in Albany was chilly with a few inches of snow, a group of parents were picketing in front of the Department of Education building carrying “Diploma for All” signs; not the first time, they had picketed before, parents of children with disabilities who could not reach the safety net threshold for a high school diploma. It was a little odd, there were no agenda items dealing with diploma requirements.

The parents filled up a meeting room later in the day, and, voila, minutes before the meeting started an item appeared on the agenda, a change in high school graduation requirements:  an additional pathway that would allow students with disabilities to graduate with a local diploma without having to pass any regents. (See proposal here)

Monica Disare, from Chalkbeat tweeted,

Very important Regents item on graduation today. It was not posted until about 5 minutes before the meeting and it looks like the Regents are about to vote.

It appears state officials are saying students with disabilities would be able to graduate with a local diploma by passing no Regents exams and instead earning a CDOS. But this is big deal and we haven’t had a chance to ask questions yet, so I will keep updating as we go.

The Regents passed the proposal with very little discussion followed by applause from the “Diploma for All” parents in the audience.

Chalkbeat and the New York Times followed up with articles, read here  and here.

A little history: for decades New York State had a dual diploma system, the Regents diploma, requiring passing five Regents examinations and a local diploma, requiring passing Regents Competency Tests (RCTs) in English, Math and Writing; the tests are low skilled, perhaps at the Eighth Grade level. Of students in the state who earned a diploma about 75% earned the local diploma, aka, the RCT diploma. After years of debate, in the mid-nineties, the Regents moved to phase in a single diploma, the Regents diploma and phase out the RCT test and RCT diploma.

The phase-in of the all Regents diploma involved reducing the passing grade to 55 and slowly increase the number of Regents requiring a grade of 65, the phase-in took about ten years.

There was a concern: would the single diploma result in reducing graduation rates?

The Regents also created a safety net for students with disabilities, dropping the Regents passing score to 55, the two-day, six hour English Regents was reduced to a one day three-hour exam (passing rates increased by 20%), the Global Studies Regents covering the Ninth and Tenth Grade curriculum was reduced to only cover the Tenth Grade (to be implemented in June, 2019), the 4 + 1 option was adopted, an additional Pathway to graduation.

The Regents also introduced scale scores for the new Common Core-based Regents exams, assuring passing rates similar to previous years; without scale scores pass rates would dropped precipitously mirroring the drop in Grades 3-8 scores when the Common Core test were implemented.

Check out a detailed explanation of the wide range of diploma options available to students in the state.

August 2017: Diploma Requirements Video Series – Information on the credit and assessment requirements to earn a New York State Regents or local diploma.

June 2017: UPDATED Guidance on New York Diploma Requirements  – New Guidance!

February 2017: Diploma Requirements including Multiple Pathways

February 2017: Summary Diploma/Credential Requirements
This chart includes information on the required units of credit and examinations for a Regents diploma, a Regents diploma with advanced designation, a local diploma the CDOS Commencement Credential and the Skills and Achievement Commencement Credential.

The changes have resulted in incremental increases in graduation rates, The New York Times reported in February,

The New York State Education Department said … that the high school graduation rate hit a new high of 79.4 percent in 2016, an increase of 1.3 points from 2015 and more than 12 points from a decade ago. But changes to graduation requirements in 2016 made it hard to know whether schools were doing better or students were simply clearing a lower bar.

Among other changes, the Board of Regents, the body that governs the state’s education system, made it possible for students with disabilities to graduate by passing two Regents exams, rather than five [the new change would not require students with disabilities to pass any Regents exams] if they showed proficiency in the other subjects through coursework. The Education Department said that 418 students statewide benefited from that change alone, which nudged the graduation rate up by 0.2 percent.

Additionally, the Regents allowed more students to appeal to their districts to graduate despite falling slightly short on one or two Regents exams. The Regents also let students graduate by passing four Regents exams and earning a credential showing that they have the skills for entry-level employment.[CDOS] The Education Department said it could not say how many students had benefited from those changes.

The most recent change will result in another jump in graduations rates; however, will students be “college and career ready?”  To put it another way, will high school graduates be able to succeed in college?

The community college completion rates are distressing. For the entering 2014 class in CUNY community colleges only 6.1% earned an associate degree after two years. Staggering numbers of students entering the CUNY system require remediation. According to the New York Times,

… about 80 percent of freshman entering community college in the CUNY system require remediation in reading, writing, math, or some combination of those subjects. Students of color are twice as likely to be assessed as needing remediation as white students. But at the end of one year, only half of all students in remediation have advanced out of those classes. The need for remediation is a chronic problem at community colleges around the country as students graduate from high school without the skills they need for college.

As the Board of Regents nibbles away at the graduation requirements, allowing more students at the edges to graduate are the Regents helping them to move on to college or graduating students who are less able to succeed in college?

The Board of Regents and the State Education Department not only regulate K-12 schools; all colleges in the state require program approval as well as the professions. The Office of the Professions  licenses sixty professions and close to a million practitioners ranging from acupuncture, dentistry, medicine, nursing, psychology to public accounting, social workers and veterinary medicine. The Office sets licensing standards for the colleges and institutions that provide training as well as the examinations required for each profession.

The Commissioner and the Chancellor have vigorously supported high entry standards for prospective teachers, are they proposing easing standards to earn a New York State High School diploma? Are they proposing easing the standards for the other professions?

High school graduation exit testing requirements vary widely from state to state, from the SAT and the ACT to PARCC and Smarter Balance tests, the feds require test in English, Math and Science, the new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act requires a 67% graduation rate for all high schools. (Check out detailed federal guidance here)

Over the next few months I expect the folks in Albany will take a deep dive into the question of high school graduation requirements; it is always worthwhile to reflect on current policies before jumping to the “new thing,” the preferred choice of the so-called reformers.

Homework: Read “Has the high school diploma lost all meaning?” and be ready to discuss the article and the suggestion below:

… rethink the high school diploma. Base it on demonstrated competency rather than time in school or Carnegie units compiled. Or consider, …, instituting a multiple-tier system in which college-bound students receive, say, “academic” diplomas, and those who are career-bound get “applied” diplomas that signal more practical things, like responsibility, reliability, or on-the-job skills. This would not be tracking by a different name; both options would have a whole lot in common, and every student would have the option to choose either at any time.

What say you?

Do Teacher Expectations of Student Performance Impact Student Outcomes? Is There a “Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations?”

At first look it was a nice school, the kids wore uniforms, the hallways were orderly, kids work displayed on bulletin boards, the classrooms were inviting, the kids busily involved, something was disturbing me. The work seemed, I’m searching for words, too easy, and I asked the principal.

“We teach at the grade proficiency of the students, not their actual grade. Our children enter school way behind and we want to build self esteem, we don’t want to discourage our scholars.”

I asked her whether, in fact, the kids were making progress at a rate that would bring them up to grade level, she sighed, “It’s a challenge.”

Was a dedicated, caring Afro-American principal exhibiting, “the soft bigotry of low expectations?”

We know, and have known for decades that children from lower socio-economic groups enter schools with a staggering vocabulary gap.

In recent years there has been growing concern about the “vocabulary gap” widening between children from different socioeconomic groups. By age three, it is believed that children growing up in poor neighborhoods or from lower-income families may hear up to 30 million fewer words than their more privileged counterparts.

Anne Fernald is a psychology professor at Stanford University who has discovered that the language gap between rich and poor children emerges during infancy. 

…  five-year-old children of lower socioeconomic status (SES) score two years behind on standardized language development tests by the time they enter school. In fact, a March 2013 study by Fernald and colleagues titled, “SES Differences in Language processing Skill and Vocabulary Are Evident at 18 Months,” reported that signs of the vocabulary gap are evident before a child is even two-years-old.

Unfortunately, inequities that present themselves in early life can create a ripple effect throughout a person’s life. According to researchers, most of the high school achievement gap between poor, middle-income and wealthy students is already visible by kindergarten and the children who have weak pre-literacy and numeracy skills in kindergarten are, on average, the same children with weak vocabulary and math skills in seventh grade.

Fernald goes on to explain that the income related gaps are due to parenting styles and home learning environments and makes a range of suggestions on how changing these behaviors would have positive outcomes.

Unsaid, but implied, is that ‘high poverty” parents are not “good parents,” and, by implication, that these parents should adopt middle class “parenting styles” and “home learning environments,” in other words, “become whiter.”

A New Republic essay, “Why Do Rich Kids Do Better Than Poor Kids in School? It’s Not the “Word Gap.” challenges the “word gap” message,

…  the “word gap” sends a message to poor parents and parents of color that there is something wrong with their parenting if it is different from the practices of affluent, white parents.

 It unfairly takes the onus off of schools and teachers to provide sophisticated learning opportunities in which their students can excel and places the blame for failure squarely on parents’ shoulders.

 As a result, poor parents and parents of color are viewed as less capable because of what they do not know, just like their children.

 Lisa Delpit, author of  “Silenced Dialogues:   Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children,”  suggests that the progressive education that is commonplace in schools across the nation puts poor, non-white children at a disadvantage, and calls for an education that recognizes cultural differences,

Deliberately unstructured teaching strategies like “whole language,” “open classrooms,” and “process, not product” were putting poor, non-white children at an even greater disadvantage in school and beyond, Delpit argued. Instead, she suggested teachers should explicitly “decode” white, middle-class culture for their low-income students, teaching them Standard English almost as if it were a foreign language, for example, and introducing math concepts through problems with cultural resonance for disadvantaged kids, such as calculating the probability that the police will stop-and-frisk a black male, as compared to a white male.

 In the world of sociology,  “oppositional culture” theory explores how “historically oppressed groups” develop an antagonism towards the dominant group and their values, a theory that is highly controversial.

The oppositional culture explanation for racial disparities in school performance posits that individuals from historically oppressed groups (involuntary minorities) signify their antagonism toward the dominant group by resisting school goals. In contrast, individuals from the dominant group and groups that migrated freely to the host country (immigrant minorities) maintain optimistic views of their chances for educational and occupational …

 Gershenson and Papageorge in “The Power of Teacher Expectations: How Racial Bias Hinders Student Expectationtake a deep dive into the matching teacher expectations to student achievement, with a troubling conclusion,

Our analysis supports the conventional wisdom that teacher expectations matter. College completion rates are systematically higher for students whose teachers had higher expectations for them. More troublingly, we also find that white teachers, who comprise the vast majority of American educators, have far lower expectations for black students than they do for similarly situated white students. This evidence suggests that to raise student attainment, particularly among students of color, elevating teacher expectations, eliminating racial bias, and hiring a more diverse teaching force are worthy goals.

Intellectual and policy arguments in teacher rooms, in my view, are fruitless. When I ran meetings the only rule was “we can only discuss what the people at the meeting can change; we must fight for changes in the larger arena through our unions and political activism, we can impact policy. Elections matter!!!

 My suggestions:

At the policy level,

  • Expand early childhood education: New York City has a Universal Pre-K for four-year olds and is phasing in 3 for All; the quality of classroom instruction must be closely monitored.
  • Although controversial I advocate for twelve-month schooling from pre-K through the First Grade. All education requires a firm foundation and getting kids off to the best start possible is essential; rather than remediating through the Twelfth Grade, pumping the money in the earliest grades will garner results in the upper grades.

At the school level,

  • Upgrading curriculum and classroom instruction is the core issue; “easier” curriculum, which is commonplace, is foolhardy; culturally relevant curriculum is tricky. The afro-centric schools of the 90s were not successful; however, agreeing upon a curriculum across schools and school districts and states is a heavy lift. Standards, Common Core State Standards or the revised New York State Standards are not a curriculum.
  • Creating schools with rich, instruction-driven, participatory school cultures is essential. Too many school leaders simply do not have the skills to both lead and develop a distributive leadership culture.

School leaders and teachers must always reflect on their practice. We cannot “blame” students, or parents, or society, we can change our practice. To use a sports analogy, we practice, guided practice, and, we change or adjust our game plan. If the lesson doesn’t work blaming the students is not going to produce better results. High expectations alone will not result in better outcomes, we must couple high expectations with lessons and curriculum that impacts the lives of our students.

Why Have New York City Homicides (1990: 2262) Declined So Precipitously (2016: 335)? Can Small Schools Connecting with Students Be at the Core?

(This is an amended version of an October 27th post, The homicide numbers for 2017 will be under 300 – a truly incredible reduction and while the reasons are many and complex I believe schools deserve credit)

At the height of the crack epidemic (1990) there were 2262 homicides in New York City; in 2016 there were 335 homicides – incredible. (Check out NYC crime data here).

While homicide rates continue at high level in city after city the rates in New York City continue to decline, probably below 300 for 2017.

What are we doing right?

See top 30 city homicide rates here.

Not only are homicide rates high the rates are breaking records in a number of cities.

In spite of the spotlight homicide rates in Chicago continue to spike: The Atlantic takes a deep dive into the persistently high homicide rates.

Criminologists, sociologists, psychologists, electeds have all parsed the reams of data to attempt to provide an answer: why has the homicide rate in New York City continued to decline, to decline precipitously while in other cities the rates have been persistently high or increasing?

Broken Windows” Policing and “Stop and “Frisk”

The eight years of Giuliani and the twelve years of Bloomberg were years of what critics called “harsh” policing. Arresting turnstile jumpers and public intoxicators, “stop and frisk” widely used in communities of color targeting young men of color, policies that both administrations claim reduced homicide rates.

A 2000 National Bureau of Economic Research study reports,

Many attribute New York’s crime reduction to specific “get-tough” policies carried out by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s administration. The most prominent of his policy changes was the aggressive policing of lower-level crimes, a policy which has been dubbed the “broken windows” approach to law enforcement. In this view, small disorders lead to larger ones and perhaps even to crime.

 In Carrots, Sticks and Broken Windows (NBER Working Paper No. 9061), co-authors Hope Corman and Naci Mocan find that the “broken windows” approach does not deter as much crime as some advocates argue, but it does have an effect

 Skeptics believe that it was the economic boom of the 1990s – a “carrot” that encourages people to remain on the straight-and-narrow – that brought about the drop in crime rates in New York City and the nation.

 The contribution of such deterrence measures (the “stick”) offers more explanation for the decline in New York City crime than the improvement in the economy, the authors conclude.

 So, “broken windows” had an impact; although not as much as claimed by the proponents.

However, Mayor de Blasio ended “stop and frisk” and arrests for low level misdemeanors have ended, homicides continue to spiral downward, and, at a faster rate.

 The Impact of Legalized Abortion

 A far more controversial theory comes from the “freakonomics” guys called the Donohue-Leavitt Hypothesis  that proffers that the Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision, the legal accessibility of abortions, resulted in sharp decreases in a generation of potential victims and perpetrators.  Males from poor dysfunctional households who were not born could not be victims or perps therefore resulting in sharp decreases in serious crime rates. The hypothesis has been vigorously debated.


 Gentrification is defined as “… the renovation of a deteriorating urban neighborhood by means of the influx of more affluent residents.” The process in New York City has been accelerating; Bedford-Stuyvesant, Harlem, Williamsburg, Washington Heights and other neighborhoods have seen the steady flow of middle class families into the neighborhoods pushing the poorer residents into existing “ghetto” neighborhoods.  New York State Juvenile Justice Task Force data shows that juvenile perpetrators are increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer neighborhoods. The concentration of potential victims and perpetrators into smaller geographic areas make it easier to police neighborhoods.

Some would argue that while gentrification pushes the poor out of neighborhoods and increases racial and economic segregation; a positive byproduct could be the reduction of crime.

Small High Schools

 Disconnected youth is defined as youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not working and not in school. Higher crime/arrest rates, higher controlled substance involvement, high pregnancy rates, a long list of negative metrics, and, cities and states around the nation are struggling to create programs to engage youth.

detailed report, “One in Seven: Disconnected  Youth in the 25 Largest Metropolitan Areas” parses the data, Boston and Minneapolis have the lowest percentages, Phoenix the highest; however, there is no correlation that I could discern between serious crime and disconnected youth by city. New York City is 17th out of the 25 Metro areas; however, much lower homicide rates.

While I could not find crime rates among disconnected youth by city we do know that victims and perpetrators are more likely not to be in school and not working.

New York City has done a commendable job of keeping school-age kids engaged in the school system.

I proffer that keeping 16 to 21 year olds engaged in school plays a role in reducing homicide rates

Beginning in the late eighties, increasing in the nineties and sharply accelerating under Bloomberg the Board and successor Department of Education closed large high schools and replaced them with small high schools. There are currently about 400 small high schools and programs by and large located in the former large high school buildings. The school registers are about 400 students. An MDRP study finds,

… small schools tended to have common traits, including a rigorous curriculum, often built around themes like conservation and law, and highly personalized relationships between students and teachers.

The schools have also formed partnerships with community groups and businesses to offer hands-on learning experiences.

The predecessor large high schools commonly had registers of over 2000 kids, and, sadly, many had high absentee rates, large class sizes and the absence of services.

I served as the teacher union representative on numerous Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams; too many schools has passed the tipping point; they had become dropout mills with large percentages of disengaged students characterized by long term absentees, cutting classes, high failure rates in classes and on Regents exams

After the 1975 fiscal crisis the school system was an afterthought, the Koch administration had little interest in schools, the decentralized school system, with exceptions, was dominated by venal politicians and patronage. Schools were starved for resources and the most disadvantaged schools suffered.

The Bloomberg administration, for his first two terms, plowed dollars into schools, (2003-2011) sharp increases in teacher salaries and a concentration on closing large dysfunctional schools and creating small schools.

While you can argue that increasing graduations rates were due to credit recovery and other management tools, the more “personalized relationships between students and teachers” cannot be disputed.  The small high schools “connected” with students.

When school leaders and teachers know the name of every kid, engage with the kids on a daily basis, kids feel part of a community.

Kids who were not surviving in small high schools, students who were “overage age and under-credited” have another chance – transfer high schools. There are fifty transfer high schools scattered around the city. A hearing in Brooklyn held by the New York State Department of Education asking for public comment around the ESSA plan and the mandated 67% graduation rate, endangering transfer high schools;  student after student, parent after parent testified how the transfer high school had saved their lives.

Only about half of the students in transfer high school graduate, a cohort, who did not succeed in small high schools, who do not succeed in a transfer school have another chance, the Pathways to Graduation program, targeting students from 17 – 21 years of age Pathways prepares students for the high school equivalency examination, formerly the GED, now the TASC exam – once again, a program built on personalized relationships between students and teachers.

I proffer that students in the New York City school system are less likely to be disconnected. Students who struggle with academics, students from single parent or dysfunctional households, students living in gang-infested neighborhoods are “connected” with their school staffs.

The culture of these programs connects students to staffs, builds communities, acts as an alternative to the streets, and, in my opinion, plays a role in reducing homicide rates.

Smaller schools, smaller class size, schools with flexible programming, student advisory classes addressing social and emotional needs, students not left to be won over by the streets, meaning fewer disconnected youth, means fewer kids likely to be victims or perpetrators.

Smarter policing not harsher policing, more job opportunities, higher wages, all play roles;  the impact of schools have been ignored in parsing the reasons for declining homicide rates.

I allowed kids to pick their own seats in my high school classroom. On day one a student picked the seat right in front of my desk. He was small for his age, too much acne, and the other kids used unkind language, today we’d call bullying.

One day he apologized before the class began.

“I’m sorry – I didn’t do my homework, I was practicing with my band.”

Offhandedly, I replied, “Is the band any good?”

The student, hesitantly, replied, “Yes.”

Me: “Do you have a cassette?”

The kid beamed, “Sure”

I gave the cassette to my son who has a friend who books acts, he said they weren’t bad, they should book performances at open mike venues and try and build up a following. I passed the info along to the kid.

Years later I was walking down a street and someone shouted, “Mr. G”

It was the same student.

Me: “Did you’re band make it …?”

Kid: Smiling, “We weren’t good enough, I was the sound guy, and I became a sound technician, make good money, thanks for the advice.”

We do our job and impact lives; usually we never know the impact we have.