The First Day: Stressful or Welcoming? The Crucial Importance of School Leadership – Setting the Tone for the School Year

Do you wake in a cold sweats? Are you nervous, grouchy,? Are your hands clammy? Yes, you got it – that beginning of school teacher anxiety. – sort of a teacher PTSD – pre-traumatic school opening stress disorder.

You want to squeeze out those last few moments of summer. Your principal is already sending e-missives, this meeting, that meeting, your class list, your amended class list, your stomach twists. Will the kids like you? Will you like your kids? You start making lists, they go on and on.

The summer is the time to decompress, to reflect on the past year, what worked? what didn’t?  Summer is the time for lounging on a beach, hiking on a far away path, to recharge the batteries and read those books you promised yourself you would read.

Your principal is your boss, theoretically, the instructional leader, the role model, and hopefully sets a tone for the school, for the kids and for the staff.

I’ve known outstanding school leaders and superintendents, some mediocre and too many wanting in leadership skills.

It was the first day of school and the first day of a teacher strike. The principal was new to the school, most of us had not met him. We were picking up our picket signs, beginning to walk back and forth and hand out flyers as passerbys gave us a thumbs up, or, mumbled, “disgusting.”

The school door opened and a lunchroom worker emerged pushing a cart with a large coffee urn. Steaming coffee, paper cups, she turned to the union rep, “Complements of the principal.”   A simple and highly meaningful gesture.


Thomas Jefferson High School was being phased out and four new, small replacement schools were beginning. The auditorium was full, the remaining Jefferson staff and the new staff for the opening small schools, it was awkward.

The superintendent walked out onto the stage.

The auditorium suddenly became quiet, really quiet.

She pointed to a woman sitting on aisle and asked her to stand.

She asked, “Are you wearing a Boy’s and Girl’s Football jacket?” Boy’s and Girl’s was the sports opponent of Jefferson.

The woman nodded.

The superintendent, “We don’t wear Boys and Girls Football jackets in Thomas Jefferson High School.”

There was a silence, one of those piercing silences, someone began to applaud, the entire audience broke into applause.

The superintendent: “Thomas Jefferson is not disappearing, we are moving toward four small schools on the Thomas Jefferson campus, The same colors, the same traditions, and we still kick Boy’s and Grit’s behinds.”

A standing ovation.


Who wants to drag to another school to hear the superintendent rattle on about some nonsense; you’d rather be setting up your room, choosing textbooks, the really important work.

The superintendent appeared and began to speak, He talked about change and risk-taking: how if we wanted kids to be more successful we had to explore changing our practices, we had to take risks.

He explained he had a hobby, he wrote songs and played a guitar.

“I wrote a song, it’s about kids and teaching, I  don’t know if it’s any good, I’m nervous, I’m going to play, you guys be the judge.”

He picked up a guitar, introduced two students who played in the school band to back him up, and sang the song.  He modeled what he hoped teachers would do – take a risk.

Unfortunately transformative leaders are too few. Every school of education has a leadership program. Teachers read about leadership, participate in discussions, serve an internship, almost always in their own school, and earn a certificate.  Do they possess the leadership skills? In fact, can leadership skills be taught? No matter how many golf lessons I take I’ll always be a lousy golfer.

Malcolm Gladwell,  in “Complexity and the 10,000 hour rule,” wrote,

 No one succeeds at a high level without innate talent, I wrote: “achievement is talent plus preparation.” But the ten-thousand-hour research reminds us that “the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.”

Others aver that the 10,000  hours research is flawed,

The best explanation of the domain dependency is probably found in Frans Johansson‘s book “The Click Moment.”

In it, Johansson argues that deliberate practice is only a predictor of success in fields that have super stable structures. For example, in tennis, chess, and classical music, the rules never change, so you can study up to become the best. 

  • In games, practice made for a 26% difference
  • In music, it was a 21% difference
  • In sports, an 18% difference
  • In education, a 4% difference
  • In professions, just a 1% difference

In education, are the skills required to be successful innate or learned?

The New York City Leadership Program, reviled by teachers, was the prior administration’s concept, pluck candidates from outside of education, from the classroom, an intense training, albeit after school hours, not full time, and serve an internship. Teachers complained about young principals;; oft times younger than the staff, who, in the eyes of staffs, were ineffective, lacking leadership skills.

Rather than look to schools of education to examine leadership training I would look to the military. The consequences of ineffective leadership in schools is low achieving schools, in the military the consequences of ineffective leadership is putting lives at risk.

A British training manual entitled “Officer Qualities” explains,

Most officers lead a complex technical life with many highly specialized duties to perform. The duties are responsibilities as an individual and as a highly trained responsible member of an exacting profession. In addition an officer must lead his men. An officer does not exist for his individual personal value, but for his ability to show the way and make his men want to follow. This is indeed the core of the officer’s existence and without it, no hope exists of grappling with the tasks of command….

Clearly people are not born with the same characteristics, and some from their earliest years have felt the power to show others the way, and to influence their minds.  We call them born leaders and they are just that, born with strong, independent assertive minds ….But this is not to say that the characteristics  of effective leadership cannot be taught and acquired ….

In all of the words spoken and written about leadership one fundamental point continually emerges, namely, that for most part the skills and qualities of leadership are not normally acquired instantly. The training of a leader, … takes many years.

The entire manual (seven pages) should be required for every supervision training/preparation program..

The Leadership Academy in New York City has been abandoned by the current leadership and  currently requires at least seven years as a teacher as a perquisite for a leadership position.

During my union reps days I always told principals and superintendents that their meetings should mirror the kind of instruction they expected in a teacher’s classroom.  Too many were incapable of engaging facilities in meaningful dialogues, they led through the promulgation of edicts and emails.

The title of principal is just that, a title, the title does not come with a scepter and orb, the title must be earned every day through the respect of the staff, and the kids.

We have created a compliance model, data points and check lists “measure” principals and schools. Data points are important; however, the data point does not define effective school leadership.

A state auditor was checking out a school: why didn’t the school have an after school program? The principal explained, many of his kids pick up younger siblings at the elementary school a block away, they wouldn’t stay after school. He had created a “lunch and learn” program, using the after school dollars to pay teachers to give up lunch and tutor groups of three kids – he had collected the data – the classroom room teachers thought it was very effective. The auditor: “lunch and learn” was not on the list – the school was debited..

Lesson: No good deed shall go unpunished.

I was invited to attend a school leadership team meeting. Something was being debated, the teachers favored it, the principal didn’t think it would work. The principal said, “I don’t think the idea is workable, you guys do, come up with a way to assess the effectiveness and let’s do it – show me I’m wrong.”

Until we recruit, train and support the “right kind” of school leader teachers will continue to move from school to school. continue to leave teaching: one of the most impactful problems is teacher retention (not “bad” teachers), and, a key to retention is school leaders who are viewed by superintendents, teachers and students as true leaders.

When you walk through the doors Tuesday morning will you be greeted by the aroma of fresh coffee, bagels, and appropriate accoutrements?   And, principals, remember, in the Army, the officers eat after the troops.


What is News? How Do We Decide What News to Accept and What to Reject? Should News Be “Created?”  Why are George Orwell and Hannah Arndt Required Reading.

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Thomas Jefferson

A calamitous hurricane has inundated Houston, Paul Klugman writes “Fascism, American Style,” Nick Kristoff pens, “There Once Was a Nation With an Unstable Leader,” comparing Trump to the Roman Emperor Caligula, who was killed by the Praetorian guard. North Korea flirts with nuclear annihilation, the Supreme Court has veered to the right and we fear years of court decisions turning back the clock; and, principals reported to work in New York City today.

A week ago, in spite of  swirling eddies of impending doom the New York City Chancellor (what the leader of the school system in New York City is called – formerly the Superintendent of Schools) made her annual state of the schools speech, a speech laying out initiatives for the upcoming year. The head of the City University of New York (CUNY)  also laid out his plans for the college year. The sponsor, the online, City and State news daily news accumulator also moderated a number of panels.

Farina, explained four new initiatives, the CUNY chancellor a striking change that could dramatically increase community college completion rates, all unreported by the attending media.

During the panels the moderator asked Betty Rosa, the leader of the Board of Regents, her views of Daniel Loeb, the billionaire hedge funder and Chair of the Eva Moskowitz Success Academy board: Loeb compared the leader of the Democrats in the State Senate, an Afro-American woman to the Klu Klux Klan: Rosa sharply criticized the Loeb comment and called upon Eva to remove him from the Success Board. When the moderator asked about the SUNY proposal for “instant” certification of prospective teachers Rosa and Elia sharply criticized the plan.

City and State released a summary of the event: “ELIA, FARIÑA AND MILLIKEN ADDRESS EQUITY AND ESSA AT ON EDUCATION,” here

Watch a U-Tube of the Farina and Milliken presentations here

Listen to a podcast of the Rosa/Elia fireside chat here

In spite of a packed room, and the leaders of the city and state schools attending and making major speeches, the meeting was ignored by the print media, and, Chalkbeat, the online education site, focused on the Rosa/Elia comments, “State ed officials rip into ‘insulting’ SUNY charter proposal and ‘outrageous’ Success Academy chair.”

I was chatting with a news site editor a few years ago, “I remind my reporters, there are two kinds of stories, ‘if it leads it bleeds’  and ‘cute kids and little puppies’.” I was aghast, the editor laughed, “You get the stories you want, we need screen views, “Clicks,” you click on the most outrageous or the cutest stories and ignore just plain boring news stories.

Investigative reporters look for “scandalous” stories, stories that will attract page views, investigations border on advocacy, the line between news, editorial and op ed are blurred. Are Twitter and Facebook news sites?  How many of us receive our news from Daily Kos or Breitbart? Are presidential tweets news? Should news sites report the tweets or comment on the accuracy of the tweet?

Governor Cuomo rarely, very rarely, holds a press conference, he releases news statements, he makes brief announcements, he controls the press, and, the press seems content with the arrangement. Mayor de Blasio has an antagonistic relationship with the media, who reports on the antagonism, not the news. President Trump is at war with the press, he portrays the press as the enemy.

Where do you get your news? newspapers, online newspapers, web sites, online news accumulators, Facebook, etc.,?   How do you know what to believe and what to reject?

Every morning I sift through my inbox …. what to delete and what to read? and, what to comment on …. what to retweet, what to share ….

Perhaps we should reread classics that are particularly relevant today, George Orwell’s “1984,” shot to the top of the Amazon list shortly after inauguration (Read NY Times  “Why 1984 is a Must Read“) and  Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism” (1951) Read why Arndt is essential reading here.

I respect and admire journalists in this combative climate, and I caution us all to sift carefully, Big Brother is watching us.

The Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR): Why is Bad Policy So Difficult to Abandon?

It’s embarrassing when leaders of school systems, or cities, or states adopt egregious policies based on false premises. The former governor of Kansas was convinced that if you drastically cut taxes the state economy with grow and create jobs.

Gov. Sam Brownback’s leadership of Kansas came to be synonymous with a single, unyielding philosophy: Cut taxes, cut the size of government, and the state will thrive.

But this week, Mr. Brownback’s deeply conservative state turned on him and his austere approach. Fed up with gaping budget shortfalls, inadequate education funding and insufficient revenue, the Republican-controlled Legislature capped months of turmoil by overriding the governor’s veto of a bill that would undo some of his tax cuts and raise $1.2 billion over two years.

At the end of July President Trump nominated Brownback as “Religious Ambassador at large,” removing him from Kansas politics.

A dozen years ago Dan Weisberg, at that time the head of Human Resources at the Department of Education under the Bloomberg/Klein administration negotiated a section of the teacher union contract: excess teachers would no longer be placed in vacancies in schools, they would be placed in a pool from which teachers could selected by principals to fill vacant positions, and, those not selected would continue to receive full benefits and serve as the equivalent of substitute teachers.. Joel Klein, the leader of the school system immediately began to trash the ATRs, they were “bad,” teachers, were under investigation, etc., and tried to get the state legislature to change the “last in, first out” seniority rules, rules that had been in place for decades.

The New York Post and other conservative sites supported Klein and the canard that ATRs, if they weren’t selected by principals must be bad teachers became “sticky.” The number of ATRs grew and grew.

As Bloomberg/Klein closed schools, they closed about 150 schools, the ATR pool grew to about 1500 teachers.

According to Chalkbeat, the education news website the ATR pool costs about 150 million dollars a year. The Weisberg “innovation” has cost the city, using the Chalkbeat numbers 1.5 to 2 billion dollars.

The current de Blasio/Farina administration announced a plan to sharply reduce the pool. Buyouts were offered to ATRs, and, the controversial part, ATRs will be assigned to vacancies in schools that occur after October 15th, and will be evaluated and rated as all other teachers. If they receive effective or highly effective ratings they will be permanently assigned to the school. ATRs will be observed the same way as all other teachers at the school, a combination of formal and informal, four to six times a year, and if performance is poor, observed by an outside assessor. As all other teachers their rating will fall under the matrix system, a combination of supervisory observations and measurements of student learning (MOSL). If a teacher receives two ineffective ratings under the new law (sec 3012 d) the Department can prefer charges and the burden of proof is on the teacher.

The lengthy process of the past is gone, the new system that combines observations and student learning is supported by the unions and the school districts.

The current ATR pool, about 800 should be reduced by half in the first year and virtually eliminated by the second year.

The New York Post continues to hammer away. (See story here ). Yes, the pool has teachers accused of “misconduct,” the question: why weren’t the accusations pursued? The answer: the Department lawyers say, not enough evidence, in the past, a speedy investigation, a letter of reprimand or charges, today: the easy way, assigned to the ATR pool permanently. A “conviction” without a trial, a stain that effectively bars a teacher from the classroom.  ATR pool teachers become modern day Hester Prynne, wearing the ATR stain as a Scarlet Letter.

And by the way, do principals do a good job of selecting new teachers?  About 40% leave within five years and in high need schools the percentage is much higher. I have sat on numerous hiring committees, sadly principals, and teachers who sit on these committees are untrained. The questions are inane, (“Why do you want to become a teacher?”  “What are your views on restorative justice practices?”) I urged hiring teams to require the candidate bring a lesson plan and the interview focus on the implementation of the plan. New teachers should be matched with an experienced teacher, school should build teams by grade and subject; and, the elephant in the room, are there long lists of highly effective teachers wafting to be hired?  Experienced teachers in the ATR pool can be a valuable school resource.

Randy Asher, the former principal of Brooklyn Tech, an enormously complicated very large high school was tapped to phase out the ATR system: an excellent choice.

What is the “misconduct” that resulted in a teacher being moved to the pool: the most frequent misconduct is insubordination, aka, an argument with the principal.  The “easy way out,” dump the teacher into the ATR pool instead of the principal and the superintendent resolving the incident.

The transition from ATR to full time classroom teacher is not automatic: teachers who have been in the pool for a number of years will need intensive professional development to prepare them to take the reins of classroom.

“Easy way outs” are always the wrong way out, avoiding responsibility is not a policy. The Bloomberg/Klein/Weisberg approach was bad from day one and based on seriously flawed premises: firing “bad” teachers instead of building the capacity of all staff, from superintendents to principals to teachers.

Superintendents leading/facilitating collaborative school climates with rich curricula as a bedrock leads to more effective learning environments.

Ridding the school system of bad policies based on faulty premises is difficult, the bad policies stick around, no one wants to admit that the policy was seriously flawed. Instead of panning the Farina administration, the administration should be lauded for hiring an experienced educator to phase out the pool is long overdue.

Is Education Reform Dying or Thriving in New York City?

A week ago Eliza Shapiro posted a lengthy, well-researched article in
Politico, “,How New York Stopped Being the Nation’s Education Reform Capital.”  My question: who are the reformers and who defines reform?

Shapiro tells us,

[Reformers] sought to make New York City — the nation’s largest school district — into the central urban laboratory for education reform. They hoped to overhaul how schools evaluate teachers, and to weaken the grip of the powerful teachers’ union by loosening tenure laws. If they could accomplish those foundational reforms — in a deep blue state, no less — then perhaps New York could serve as a beacon for similar efforts across the country.

In the last three years, education reformers have made little progress in transforming the city’s public schools. Efforts to change teacher evaluations and tenure here have sputtered and stalled. Dreams of political domination have receded as policy disappointments have multiplied.

The Bloomberg/Klein and policy think tank reforms have waned; however, perhaps less controversial and more impactful reforms are in progress.

“The rollback of education reform in New York has been the most dramatic in the country,” said Michael Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Interviews with three dozen current and former New York state and city education officials, charter school leaders, teachers’ union brass and education researchers revealed how inconsistent policies, poor implementation and shifting national politics compromised reform efforts here.

While the Duncan/Bloomberg/Klein reform efforts have fallen by the wayside reform has continued, a slower more consensus -driven reform.

Larry Cuban and David Tyack in “Tinkering Towards Utopia,” a must-read for anyone involved in education policy tracks education reform efforts over time and concludes that if reform is to become “sticky,” to actually change teaching and learning, the reforms must include teachers and parents.  The road to reform is littered with policies that have been rejected in the classrooms across the nation. The vast literature on personal and organizational change tells us, “participation reduces resistance” and “change is perceived as punishment.” The reforms of the last decade, imposed from above, were doomed, regardless of their value.

The first problem: was the system broken? The reformers worked under the assumption that the system was dysfunctional and all that came before them must be cast aside, or, to be more cynical, trashed the system to defend the sweeping changes they proposed.

I’m not going to defend all aspects of the New York City school system, dozens of high schools were dropout mills, too many teachers were provisionally certified because they couldn’t pass the required pre-service tests, the elected school boards in the poorest districts were rife with cronyism; however, the system was far from broken. A fascinating massive study of college graduates , released in January, 2017, is informative,

The most comprehensive study of college graduates yet conducted, based on millions of anonymous tax filings and financial-aid records. Published Wednesday, the study tracked students from nearly every college in the country (including those who failed to graduate), measuring their earnings years after they left campus.

At City College, in Manhattan, 76 percent of students who enrolled in the late 1990s and came from families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution have ended up in the top three-fifths of the distribution. These students entered college poor. They left on their way to the middle class and often the upper middle class.

Not only CCNY,

Three CUNY colleges are among the top 10 in the country in enrolling low-income students and graduating them into solid careers. Six more CUNY baccalaureate colleges are in the top 10 percent of the 918 U.S. colleges included in the study.

The CUNY students are almost all graduates of New York City public high schools. As a member of the board of the CCNY Alumni Association I am on the CCNY campus frequently, the student body is extremely diverse, and, impressive.

The so-called reformers, for the most part, did not come from within the system and were not traditional educators. They were lawyers, economists, Teach for America grads, who honestly believed they held the holy grail.

Sadly, they didn’t, and, the system continued swing from reform to reform.

In the late sixties David Rogers, a sociologist, wrote, “110 Livingston Street,”

This is a rigorous sociological examination of “”bureaucratic pathology within the school system.”” Rogers, who chooses New York City as a “”strategic case”” of a national sickness in public education, conducted this study for the Center for Urban Education. Here he presents a full history: unofficial blocking of desegregation, inefficiency, fragmentation of functions, failure.

The next reform, decentralization, created a fragmented school system, the middle class districts thrived, dedicated school board members, innovative programs, deep community involvement while the poorest districts were saw rapacious local leaders who fought for power and jobs, and, the local electeds who benefited from the system allowed the poorest kids in the poorest districts to suffer.

In my view the reforms of the Bloomberg years, with exceptions, were ill-conceived and harmful. For example, the creation of the Absent Teacher Reserve, at a cost of 150 million a year, was just senseless. Reformers were fixated on ridding the system of “bad teachers,” without any definition of “bad,” and succeeded in going to war with all teachers and many parents.

I an not going to recount and assess the reform policies, I am going to argue that reform is not dead, reform is now a process that has not garnered headlines but has moved the school system in a far better direction.

The Universal Pre kindergarten and the new “3K for All” are dramatic reforms that over the years will have an immense impact on improving outcomes.

Under the radar, the fifty or so transfer high schools, schools for “overage/under credited” students, about 2500 students citywide, serve students who would have been dropouts, the transfer schools graduate about half their students, while a 50% graduation rate is below the ESSA requirements the state, acknowledging the value of these schools has a separate metric for assessing the schools.

Under Bloomberg almost 3% of teachers received unsatisfactory ratings based solely on supervisory observations and about 40% of probationary teachers had their probation extended. Did this policy improve the quality of teaching? We have no idea. Under the current administration, working with Albany, teachers are now assessed by a complex combination of supervisory observations and measures of student learning, the system, referred to as the matrix, is supported by the union, in spite of some member discomfit.

Even further under the radar about 10% of all schools have chosen to participate in a UFT-Department of Education collaboration, using the acronym PROSE, (See detailed description here)

PROSE stands for Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence, and the opportunities for redesign at the heart of this program are predicated on the UFT’s core belief that the solutions for schools are to be found within school communities, in the expertise of those who practice our profession.

Schools range from staggered teacher/student schedules to teacher peer assessment, all collaboratively agreed to by the school leadership and the school staff. For me, taking ownership of your practice is the most essential reform.

Bloomberg administration, with the support of the union reinvigorated Career and Technical high schools, formerly known as vocational high schools. A Manhattan Institute report, “New CTE: A New York City Laboratory in America,”

The March, 2016, points to substantial reforms, beginning with Bloomberg and continuing under the de Blasio mayoralty,

  • The number of New York City high schools dedicated exclusively to CTE has tripled since 2004 to almost 50; some 75 other schools maintain CTE programs; 40 percent of high school students take at least one CTE course, and nearly 10 percent attend a dedicated CTE school.

 City Journal, a Manhattan Institute publication, in June, 2017 continues to track the CTE movement in New York City,

Encouragingly, policymakers have begun to offer programs to train students for such good jobs—and the early results are promising. In 2008, a task force commissioned by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg recommended overhauling and expanding the city’s career and technical training. Among the suggestions that the city adopted was a push to instill in high school technical programs “a strong academic foundation in literacy and numeracy” to prepare for today’s job market. The city also reformed vocational schooling to include apprenticeships, intern programs, and other work-related learning, seeking to ensure that students who don’t go on to college have some kind of certification or path to further training. Based on the task-force recommendations, the city has opened 25 new career and technical schools since 2010 and added vocational training to many others. New York now runs 50 schools entirely dedicated to career education and another 75 career academies within larger general-education schools, serving some 26,000 students in New York City.

Reform is far from dead in New York City, the “new” reform has continued meritorious initiatives and curtailed the foolish and harmful initiatives. The striking difference is that the union, parents and electeds are not only on board they are an integral party of the reform process.

I know there are cynics, all progress is manipulated, the school system is “bad,” the only answers are returning to the “good old days,” or, trashing everything and enlarging “choice;” the parachuting experts from the ivory towers of think tanks and universities who have “all the answers.”  A friend of mine begins each professional development session with “the answers are in the room.”

New York City is bubbling over with thoughtful, effective schools and programs, most of which bubbled up from staffs, the International High Schools Network, fifteen schools that serve English Language Learners who are new arrivals, Manhattan Comprehensive Day and Night High School, with highly flexible hours and total wraparound services, and on and on, the issue, how do we scale up success?  The International High School Network grew from one school to fifteen in the city and another fifteen or more across the nation.

With a mayor, a chancellor, a union president and a Board of Regents pretty much on the same page I am hopeful that progress will continue. Splashy reforms runoff into sewers, reforms that grow from classroom seeds embed and flower. City As School was one of the first alternative high schools;  I congratulated the founding principal; I thought the school  was a brilliant idea, he replied, “Speak to me two or three principals down the road, if you feel the same way I did my job.” Half a century later the school is still thriving. Good people, good ideas, hard work will create a better and better school system.

Eva, Andrew and NYS Politics: Why is Eva Moskowitz, the Success Academy Network CEO so politically influential?

A quick review: The charter school law in New York State passed in December, 1998 at a lame duck session of the legislature called by Governor Pakati – two items on the agenda, the charter school bill and a raise, BTW, the last raise legislators received!  The law  established a quota on the number of charter schools, currently New York City  is about 25 schools below the quota, the quota for the remainder of the state is about 150 schools below the quota. Supporters of charter schools range from Milton Freedman acolytes, the anti-teacher union cabal, and, recently, Republicans feasting on charter school political action dollars. The Republicans have very few charter schools in their districts.

Under the law the Charter School Institute, part of the State University (SUNY) and the Board of Regents are charter school authorizers. The Charter School Institute maintains a detailed website – Check out here. Check out the Charter School Office of the New York State Education Department here. While the organizations, SUNY and the NYSED must comply with the law they have differing standards re approving charter school applications and renewals.

Charter Schools receive authorizations for five years, and, in the fifth year the authorizer reviews the performance of the school, The SUNY Charter School Institute extends the charter for an additional five years, or, rarely, closes the charter school. The NYSED Charter School Office can recommend to the Regents reauthorizing charters from two to a full five years, or, fail to renew and close the charter. See the just released “NYSED Protocols for Charter School Site Visits: 2017-18.

In the Spring, 2017 the SUNY Charter School Institute submitted ten requests for the extension of charters that were years away from renewal to the Board of Regents, the schools were all in the Eva Moskowitz run Success Academy Network, The Regents returned the requests to SUNY with the following comments,

Renewals to Charters Authorized by the Trustees of the State University of New York 
Your Committee recommends that the Board of Regents return the proposed charters [ten Success Academy Charter Schools with two, three and four years remaining before expiration of the charter] to the Trustees of the State University of New York for reconsideration with the following comment and recommendation:

Approving the renewal of any charter school years before the expiration of the charter does not allow timely review of the school’s educational and fiscal soundness, community support, legal compliance, or means by which the school will meet or exceed enrollment and retention targets for students with disabilities, English language learners and students who are eligible applicants for the free and reduced price lunch program. The charters should be abandoned, and the schools should be directed to resubmit the application no earlier than one year prior to the expiration of the charter term.

Under the law the extensions will go into effect after 90 days if SUNY chooses not to withdraw the renewal requests.

Why would the Charter School Institute even consider extending charters years ahead of time?  Remember the song: “Whatever Eva wants …?

Additionally, the Charter School Committee of SUNY released draft regulations: SUNY will approve plans submitted by charter networks for teacher certification in SUNY-authorized charter schools without the formal teacher certification required for all other teachers in the state.  Public comment forms open from 7/26 for 45 days here. The SUNY Charter School Institute indicated the change was necessary due to the difficulty in recruiting certified teachers; no evidence was presented to support the claim. The regulation appears to grant charter school networks wide discretion in approving prospective charter school teacher candidates.

Commissioner Elia and the Chancellor Rosa expressed  “concerns” over the plan,

“The Board of Regents and State Education Department are focused on ensuring that strong and effective teachers with the proper training, experience and credentials are educating New York’s children in every public school – including charter schools,” …. “Our review of SUNY’s teacher certification proposal is cause for concern in maintaining this expectation.”

On July 17th Ed in the Apple submitted comments to the Charter School Institute urging the Institute to withdraw the proposal and seek other avenues to recruit teachers. (Read here).

The SUNY Board of Trustees is comprised of 18 members, 15 of whom are appointed by the Governor, with consent of the NYS Senate.

The Board of Trustees is the governing body of the State University of New York.  The Charter Schools Committee is a subcommittee of the Board of Trustees that oversees SUNY authorized charter schools. Consisting of four members [three lawyers and a businessman], the Committee “approves or denies charter applications, revisions and renewals, administers a statewide charter school grant program, and sets SUNY charter school policies and standards.”

The SUNY Board belongs to the governor.

The Regents are responsible for “the general supervision of all educational activities within the State. The Regents are organized into standing committees, subcommittees and work groups whose members and chairs are appointed by the Chancellor.”

The Board comprises 17 members elected by a joint meeting of both houses of the State Legislature for 5 year terms [actually by the Democratic majority]: 1 from each of the State’s 13 judicial districts and 4 members who serve at large. Regents are unsalaried and are reimbursed only for travel and related expenses in connection with their official duties.

The governor has no statutory authority over the Regents.

Why does Eva Moskowitz have so much clout?  Why is the governor supporting policies clearing benefiting Moskowitz?

The 2018 Gubernatorial Election:

Three years ago Cuomo had to fight off attacks from the left in his own party to win the primary and fight off a popular, if underfunded Republican candidate. Cuomo received 54% of the vote; however, if you look at a map the pink/red (Republican) districts far outnumber the blue (Democratic) districts – the deciding factor was 80% plus majorities for Cuomo in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx (See map here). A better funded Republican could have even narrowed the gap, and, the charter school political action dollars are a key: who controls the charter school PAC dollars and how can Cuomo prevents the dollars from flowing to a Republican candidate?  Think Eva.

The 2020 Presidential Election (Not Bernie, Not Hillary)

Friends say I’m crazy,  Cuomo isn’t “presidential material,” I demur. Cuomo is hard to place on the political spectrum. He led the “fight for 15.” actively fighting Trump on immigrant issues, pro-environment, not pro decriminalization of marihuana,  did not push the “Dreamer” bill, he does not easily fall into a place on the spectrum. After a solid win in 2018 he can burnish credentials for a 2020 run for the White House. Andrew will not “leave the plane on the runway” – See Mario anecdote here.

Attacks from the Left

Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor and a political neophyte received 34% of the vote in the 2014 September Democratic gubernatorial primary; the left wing of the Democratic Party was clearly unhappy with Cuomo in 2014 and there are rumblings of challenges next year. Cynthia Nixon, a popular actor and activist, and, a very strong public school parent/activist is considering running. Will the Sanders voters support a political neophyte? Will the Working Families Party deny Cuomo an endorsement?

Will the teachers union remain on the sidelines?

In 2014 NYSUT, the NYS teachers union did not make an endorsement, and, a few Long Island locals endorsed Teachout in the primary. Yes, Cuomo leans toward charter schools; however, he provided the largest increase in state education dollars, shows no interest in reviving the reviled APPR test-scored based teacher evaluation plan and appears to be in sync with the Regents in implementing the 2015 Cuomo Commission recommendations.(Read here). NYSUT has a new leadership that has had a brief and fractious relationship with the governor, members don’t love him, on the other hand staying on the sidelines is like kissing your sister, satisfying for neither party.

Can any Democrat afford to “stay on the sidelines” or vote for a third party?

Yes, Cuomo tilts, or leans, or outright supports charter schools, can any democrat afford to not vote, perhaps to facilitate the election of a Republican?  Then again, Pataki, a Republican preceded Cuomo and served for three terms (twelve years). A current-day Republican governor would not only be pro charter, s/he would also be pro voucher, anti-tenure and also support sharp restrictions on increases in property taxes. Rationally, Democrats would appear to have no place to go but support Cuomo, voters are not rational. How many democrats voted for Jill Stein instead of Hillary?  Did the Stein voters tip the scales for Trump?

I know too many teachers who are lifelong democrats who simply say they cannot “pull the lever,” excuse me, “bubble in the box” for Cuomo.

Cuomo’s flirtation with Eva may end badly; yes. he may prevent charter dollars from flowing to an Republican opponent, on the other hand, he may have alienated many “irrational” democratic voters.

Brief affairs frequently don’t end well.

Read a lengthy article in Politico musing over the end of education reform in New York and the role of Cuomo here

Is “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy” an Evidence-Based Intervention Within the ESSA Law?

Information lead to knowledge, knowledge lead to wisdom/Wisdom lead to understanding, once you have all that/You start demanding justice/Justice is what love look like in public/I ain’t just writing for it, I’m out here fighting for it – Talib Kweli

The dog days of summer are upon us; hot and humid with daily depressing news from the nation’s capital. If you’re teaching summer school, or, you’re a principal, you’re about to flee for a few weeks of vacation before Labor Day. The only bit of upcoming education news will be the state test scores; last year we saw a sharp jump, attributed by most to the movement to untimed tests; sages are predicting flat scores.(“Experts predict less of an increase in state test scores this year, credit elimination of time limits for spike last year)”

I spent the last week trudging through the ESSA draft plan that has been passed on to the governor for review (required by the law) and will be voted at the September Regents meeting and submitted to the US Department of Education.

A very quick review: within the regulations set by the law the state must determine how to identify low performing schools and lay out interventions to remedy the school inadequacies. Under NCLB the only metric was ELA and Math scores on the state tests; the draft plan weighs test scores, usually referred to proficiency as well as growth, referred to as progress. From my point of view fairer; however the state must still identify the lowest performing schools. The intervention side is far more difficult; after all, the state has been identifying low performing schools for decades, remember SURR – Schools Under Registration Review. I served as the teacher union member on many teams – we spent four days in a school, reviewed reams of data, observed every classroom, interviewed everyone we could find and wrote a “findings and recommendations” report based on a 21-topic template. The number one finding was always, “lack of support at the district and school level.”  Very little changed after our visit and report.

The feds currently require “evidence-based” interventions and describes what they mean in detail (See the regulations here)

New York State as a matter of long-standing policy does not require specific curricula, those decisions are made at the local level; however, Engage NY (Check out the site here) , the state website provides extremely detailed curriculum modules that have become the script in most schools across the state.

The 75-page summary of the draft ESSA plan (Read here) is artfully presented, tedious, repetitive and seems to want to satisfy everyone – more a political document than an actionable plan. I’m not being overly critical, to satisfy diverse constituencies you frequently come up with plans that all sides support and are also internally unworkable. A camel: an animal designed by a committee.

As I read and reread the plan one phrase popped up again and again: culturally responsive pedagogy or teaching or practices. The plan does have a glossary that defines the term:

“Cultural Responsiveness: Acknowledges the presence of culturally diverse students and the need for students to find relevant connections among themselves and the subject matter and the tasks teachers ask them to perform”

I’m still unclear: in designing a lesson we all try to tap into the student’s world, we try to develop a connection, we try to motivate and engage the student. On the other hand Algebra or Chemistry or Physics are academic disciplines, perhaps in an English classroom we can choose literature that makes connections with students, or, make sure we include a diverse array of personages in history lessons; for example, Frederick Douglas or WEB Du Bois, or James Baldwin. On the other hand hopefully we’re not throwing Shakespeare off the train.

The term originated with Gloria Ladson-Billings,

Culturally relevant teaching is a term created by Gloria Ladson-Billings (1994) to describe “a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes.”1 Participating in culturally relevant teaching essentially means that teachers create a bridge between students’ home and school lives, while still meeting the expectations of the district and state curricular requirements. Culturally relevant teaching utilizes the backgrounds, knowledge, and experiences of the students to inform the teacher’s lessons and methodology.

Ladson-Billings contends that culturally relevant pedagogy has three criteria:

  • Students must experience academic success.
  • Students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence.
  • Students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order

I’m not sure if I know what “cultural competence” means and I’m less sure that the role of a teacher is to teach students to “challenge the status quo of the current social order.”

I do think that Socratic Dialogues are a challenging pedagogical methodology, I favor encouraging students to develop a thesis, back up the thesis with research and defend the thesis to the class.

Lisa Delpit, Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom (1995). is a book commonly assigned in education preparation courses, An Education Week article relates an interview with Delpit,

”   it’s also more complicated than just teaching more and covering more basic skills, Delpit goes on to say in her writings. You also have to recognize, acknowledge, and value the cultural strengths a child brings to school. Teachers who say, “I don’t see color in my classroom,” are doing the opposite, according to Delpit. “What does it say to our children if we cannot discuss a visible aspect of them? It says there’s something wrong with them,” she says.

If you really want to know how best to teach urban children, Delpit maintains, then you must ask them and their parents. You also must ask the teachers who know them best because they come from the same cultural groups.

Delpit maintains that teachers who come from the same “cultural groups” (code for race and ethnicity?) have special knowledge, and, by implication, might be more effective teachers.

Before we get too far down the road let’s examine that question of “evidence.”  The best place to look is the US Department of Education “What Works Clearinghouse.”

Morgan Polikoff, an education professor and University of Southern California and a frequent writer and blogger opines,

… the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) is chock full of programs that don’t seem to “work,” at least according to its own evidence standards, and I don’t think anyone believes the WWC has had its desired impact. (The former director of IES himself has joked that it might more properly be called the What Doesn’t Work Clearinghouse).

[I] … half-joke on Twitter that maybe states or the feds should change their approach toward evidence. Rather than (or in addition to) encouraging schools and districts to do good things, they should start discouraging them from doing things we know or believe to be harmful.

Does culturally responsive pedagogy lead to better outcomes for kids? I don’t know. Would I use socially conscious rappers  to motivate lessons and encourage dialogues – absolutely.

Check out a “socially conscious” rapper:

Back in the early nineties the New York City Board of Education introduced the Children of the Rainbow curriculum, out of the 443 pages three pages dealt with teaching about “gays and lesbians” – the firestorm that erupted led to the firing of Chancellor Joseph Fernandez.  – Has the world changed in twenty-five years?  Could the term “culturally responsive pedagogy” create a firestorm?

Some aver the term is meaningless and detrimental to the education of the neediest students and argue for highly specific approaches, for example, ED Hirsch’s Core Knowledge and point to solid research result  See The NYC Core Knowledge Early Literacy Pilot here.

What do you think?

Suspensions: A Rational Response to Inappropriate Student Behaviors or a Continuation of the Dehumanization of Children of Color: A Research Literature Review.

Thanks for all the comments, online and offline, about my last blog (Why Do We Suspend Students from School? Do Suspensions Result in Improved Outcomes? Read here), it clearly sparked interest.

The term “suspension,” envisions a removal from school, perhaps to a alternative site, or, simply stay home for a specified length of time. The vast majority of suspensions are in-school suspensions; in New York State all suspensions are removal from class to an alternative site, either in the school or another education facility.

Each school district must have a readily accessible discipline code, a set of regulations that describe in detail behavior expectations and consequences.

Teachers commonly have a “time out” area for a student whose behavior is “disruptive of the education process,” if the disruptive behavior continues the Code describes progressive discipline steps,

The first step is  removal from  classroom by a teacher,

“A student who engages in behavior that is substantially disruptive of the education process, or, substantially interferes with a teacher’s authority over the classroom may be removed from the classroom consistent with the disciplinary options set forth in the Code. All removed students must be permitted to attend classes that are taught by teachers other than the teacher requesting the removal (e. g., music, art or science)”

The next step up the ladder is a Principal Suspension.

“In addition to the above a principal has the authority to suspend a student for 1 to 5 days for behavior that presents a clear and present danger of physical injury to the student or other students or school personnel, or, prevents the orderly operation of classes or other school activities consistent with the disciplinary options set forth in the Code. Reasonable  effort must be made to address inappropriate student behavior through supports and interventions prior to imposing a Principal’s suspension.”

“Suspended students must be provided with instruction, including homework and class work at tan alternative educational site within the school”

The next step, the most controversial step are Superintendent Suspensions,

“A superintendent’s suspension may result in a period of suspension that exceeds five school days and may be sought for behavior for which a superintendent’s suspension is authorized by the Discipline Code.

A student who receives a superintendent’s suspension must be provided with the opportunity for a hearing at which the student has the opportunity to present evidence and witnesses on his/her behalf and to question the school’s witnesses [note: the student may be represented by counsel]”

The Code specifically urges school to couple supports with disciplinary actions..

“When a student engages in inappropriate behavior the school is expected to couple supports and interventions with disciplinary actions with the express purpose of holding student’s accountable and simultaneously helping students learn from their mistakes. The disciplinary responses which follow provide a range of options to be used to best meet each student’s individual needs. While student misbehavior must be handled on a case-by-case basis schools are expected first to implement primary (non-removal) disciplinary consequences to address student misconduct whenever possible and appropriate before imposing a more stringent disciplinary response.”

The Code lists page after page, in minute detail, inappropriate student behaviors: Level 4, “Aggressive or Injurious/harmful behavior,” and Level 5, “Seriously Dangerous  or Violent Behavior.”  The Code lists “Student Supports and Accountability Responses to be Used in Tandem,” and two columns: “Supports and Interventions” and “Range of Possible Disciplinary Actions.”

Increasingly schools are using restorative justice practices to address discipline issues

Read the entire 41-page Revised (April. 2017) Discipline Code here

In New York City the number of suspensions has dropped sharply.

The Discipline Code and the suspension procedures on the surface appear to be rational responses to inappropriate student behaviors.

Are we deluding ourselves?

Critics of suspension paint a different picture, an abusive system that is an extension of slavery. Khalil Gibran Mohammad, the author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern Urban America (2011) recounts how the abolition of slavery, the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were nullified in the South as a system of peonage and incarceration replaced slavery.

 Legislators turned to the newly constitutionally protected power of the state to criminalize nearly every aspect of black freedom, from employment and land ownership to voting and everyday forms of self-defense and self-pride.

What abolition took away, the modern criminal-justice system restored: a racialized system built in the South to economically exploit, socially contain, and politically control the black population in the name of law and order.

The Supreme Court, in decision after decision confirmed the passage of Jim Crow laws; Lawrence Goldstone, “Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court – 1865 – 1903” (2011), writes,

by the dawn of the twentieth century the United States had become the nation of Jim Crow law, quasi slavery, and precisely the same two-tiered of justice that existed in the slave era.”

Thanks to Professor Fergus, at NYU, for pointing me in the direction of a wealth of school suspension research.  The Equity Project at Indiana University explores core issues in a paper, “Are Kids Worse? Myths and Facts About Racial Differences in Behavior: A Summary of the Literature” (2014).

There has been a substantial amount of research exploring connections between race, poverty, student behavior and suspension/expulsion. The purpose of this paper is to summarize this research. Does poverty explain the Black-White discipline gap? To what extent are racial differences in suspension and expulsion due to different rates of misbehavior or disruption among students of different races?

After an in depth exploration of reams of research studies the authors conclude,

the data are consistent: there is simply no good evidence that racial differences in discipline are due to differences in rates or types of misbehavior by students of different races.

I urge you to click and review the findings here.

If you want delve more deeply into the research check out the links below:

Can “De-Biasing” Strategies Help to Reduce Racial Disparities in School Discipline?

Discipline Disparities: Myths and Facts

New and Developing Research on Disparities in Discipline: The Discipline-Disparity Research to Practice Collaborative.

How Educators can Eradicate Disparities in School Discipline: A Briefing Paper on School-Based Interventions

Gregory and Fergus in the journal, “The Future of Children,” Fall, 2017 examine the question if how social and emotional learning, for both students and teachers, impact student discipline and muse over the impact of “power, privilege and cultural differences”

 Anne Gregory and Edward Fergus review federal and state mandates to cut down on
punishments that remove students from school, and they show how some districts are
embracing Social Emotional Learnong in their efforts to do so. Yet even in these districts, large disparities in discipline persist. The authors suggest two reasons current discipline reforms that embrace SEL practices may hold limited promise for reducing discipline disparities.

The first is that prevailing “colorblind” notions of SEL don’t consider power, privilege, and
cultural difference—thus ignoring how individual beliefs and structural biases can lead
educators to react harshly to behaviors that fall outside a white cultural frame of reference. The second is that most SEL models are centered on students, but not on the adults who interact with them. Yet research shows that educators’ own social and emotional competencies strongly influence students’ motivation to learn and the school climate in general.

The first day of class and the prospective trickled into my graduate education class; I asked them an inane ice breaker question: sometime like “In one brief sentence, what’s your education philosophy?” Muhammad was the only black student in the class, he was a scientist who was an adult convert to Islam; he answered first: “All whites are racists, the question is how they deal with their racism.”

A moment of silence, I changed the assignment, I asked the next student, “Agree with Mohammad?”

“Absolutely, I struggle with my racism every day, I’m a middle class white from the suburbs, how can I relate to my inner city students.”

The next student almost jumped out of her skin, “You’re the racist, how can you point fingers at us if you’ve never met us, you’re disgraceful … I treat everyone equally whether white, black or green, to treat individuals differently is racist.”

The discussions for the remainder of the term were spirited and rich – were minds changed?  Should minds have been changed?  I don’t know – I know we explored an emotionally charged issues – we thought deeply.

In New City City there many campuses, building with three, four or more high schools. Schools in the same building with kids from the same neighborhoods with the same academic abilities, one school has high levels of suspensions the school on an adjacent floor has few suspensions. The only differences are the school leaders and staffs.

Student suspension and discipline procedures and policies is a complex, emotional topic.