The Paradox of Choice: Can New York City Continue Expanding Public/Charter School Choice and Move to Integrate Schools?

Four years ago the Civil Rights Project  at UCLA issued a report,

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.

How is it possible? New York City and State are progressive, the first state to pass a Marriage Equality law, the strictest gun control laws in the nation, a far left progressive mayor, a governor who has just been dipped in the baptismal pool of progressivism, perhaps,  not voluntarily, by Preacher Cynthia.

Who is the villain? Who segregated schools in a progressive city? It must be that evil “gentrification;” those millennials paying thousands of dollars in rents or millions buying apartments in high rise building replacing older rent controlled buildings; chasing people of color into tighter and tighter ghettoes.

Of course millennial dollars are creating jobs and paying taxes that pay for the city services we all enjoy.

The Center for New York City Affairs report, “The Paradox of Choice,” (read the report here  and watch the presentation and panel here) challenges the notion.

The researchers, Nicole Mader and others uncovered fascinating datasets. The creation of numerous programmatic choices in schools across the city have played major roles in the increasing the segregation of schools.

while most kindergartners continue to attend their zoned schools, it’s a surprisingly narrow and shrinking majority. Only 60 percent of New York City kindergartners attended their zoned schools in the 2016-17 school year, the last year for which complete enrollment figures are available. That’s down from 72 percent in 2007-08. This explosion of school choice means that more than 27,000 kindergarten students leave their school zones every morning to attend charter schools, schools with gifted classes, dual language programs (with instruction in two languages), and traditional public schools for which they are not zoned.

 Blaming gentrification is simply shifting the blame; a tweet from NYAppleseed hits the nail on the head,

A careful and comprehensive review of data by The Center for NYC Affairs drives the death knell into the myth of school segregation in NYC being caused entirely by residential segregation (@ NYApppleseed)

The panelists, NYS Chancellor Betty Rosa, Department of Education Diversity Task Force chair Maya Wiley, also a New School professor, two other scholars and a parent association president who is also a District 3 school board member chatted. The elephant in the room: why were parents making choices to move their kids away from zoned schools?  For me, the answer is simple; parents are more concerned with the perceived well-being of their children than the issue of school integration. The packed auditorium, the entire panel, all were strong advocates for policies supporting school integration, clearly, 40% of parents, are not.

The PA president’s school is in the lower part of Harlem, a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood; however white parents are opting to send their children to other schools. The PA president praised his school, parent involvement, an excellent, caring staff, a range of programs; however, with only a few mouse clicks data dashboards for every school in the city are readily accessible.  The data for the PA president’s school (See dashboard here ) is mediocre, according to the data.

Schools are far more than charts and graphs, far more than scores on standardized tests, yes, parents should check schools in person; however, data tells a story.

Last fall Chalkbeat held a forum on the high school admission process, a presentation by the Department and a large panel: school leaders, teachers, parents and students. One parent bemoaned, “Why aren’t there more ‘good schools?’” I asked her to define a “good school,” she had trouble defining, I asked, “A school with kids like your daughter?” She agreed. Did she mean the same race as her daughter? Did she mean with good grades? Did she mean the range of courses? Defining a “good school” can be complex, or, easy,

I was at the Mets game a few days ago (No Mets comments, please), chatting with the guy sitting behind me, he wanted to get his son into a particular public school, “Took some investigation, a friend made some phone calls, we got him in.”

The Bloomberg/Klein administration created a wide range of special programs, part of the portfolio strategy, a marketplace approach. The unintended result: to further segregate schools, to create a swath of underutilized school buildings in the poorest sections of the city and overcrowded “whiter” schools, high demand schools and programs within schools. No, Betsy DeVos did not design the plan, school choice is alive and well in the Apple.

Of the 32 geographic school districts in New York City only three are involved in a rezoning process (District 3: Upper West Side, District 1: Lower East Side and District 15: Brownstone Brooklyn), and there is pushback within the three districts. The plans are versions of controlled choice  and blind choice school integration plans. Will the courts support or reject plans that reserve formerly white seats for Black youngsters?

Chancellor Carranza and Mayor de Blasio have implied that plans must originate from the school boards (called Community Education Councils); I don’t believe other school boards are engaged in discussing integration plans.

When the moderator asked the panelists whether they believed the city would move forward with a citywide integration initiative task force chair Wiley explained: the 40-members task force had to sort through public comment and recommend a plan/policy by December. Was Wiley hopeful? She called herself, a “possibilist.”

What started as a dispute involving two schools in the Upper West Side (PS 191 and PS 195) last year has become a citywide issue that could define the new chancellor: Will integration plans have to emanate from local schools boards (CECs) or will the chancellor create a citywide plan and back away from the current choice options? Will the mayor risk alienating the 40%, the predominately white parents taking advantage of public/charter school choice?

Remember, only 14.7% of kids in New York City schools are white: the breakdown is 45% Hispanic, 25% Black, and 15% Asian. How many schools have to integrated to satisfy the integration advocates?  Is the school integration-segregation controversy a lose-lose?

There is little discussion of what happens within integrated schools: Are the classes within the school heterogeneous? Are the staffs integrated? Are the parent associations integrated? And getting back to that parent who spoke of “more good schools,” why can’t more “selective” schools be located in communities of color?

And, never forget, every decision has political implications, in the city, and, across the country.


Chancellor Carranza’s Theory of Change: Create a New Research-Based Urban Education Paradigm or Implement Proven Education Programs?

The new chancellor has been skipping from school to school for a month: the obligatory meet and greet new chancellor tour; heavily scripted trips around the city, the Sherpas arranging carefully controlled media availability, meetings with community and political leaders, lots of pictures with kids and the smiling chancellor. I had an opportunity to tag along on one these tours in the past: you could sniff the aroma of fresh paint, the custodian touched up the school the day before the visit, the student work on the bulletin boards all dated the day before the visit, the obligatory walk-through the day before by the superintendent to make sure everyone was on their best behavior as the chancellor smiles and shakes hands his inbox piles up with folder after folder.

Inbox folders: Specialized HS Options, Diversity (Note: NEVER use the words integration, or, heavens forbid, segregation), Suspensions, Renewal Schools, Fair Student Funding formula, UFT contract negotiations, ATRs, Management structure, Political relationships, Media relationships and more.

Will the chancellor’s management style be to respond to criticism, or, create his own agenda? His predecessor responded to criticism by creating a “program,” with dollars and a press release attached and move on to the next issue. The one initiative that she created, Renewal Schools, has been subject to constant criticism.

Many school and school district leaders follow a triage management philosophy; running from school to school, from problem to problem pouring water on the flames; unfortunately, they sometimes pour from the wrong bucket, pouring gasoline on the problem

After a raucous meeting at an Upper West Side white parents spoke out against a school integration plan, the chancellor, at 1 am retweeted, 

,”WATCH: Wealthy white Manhattan parents angrily rant against plan to bring more black kids to their schools,”

The next day the mayor was asked to respond,

“I don’t think he at all intends to vilify anyone — he’s not that type of person,” said de Blasio. “This was his own personal voice … I might phrase it differently.”

At a school visit the next day the chancellor responded to reporters,

“The criticism of my predecessor Chancellor Fariña was that she didn’t do anything about this,” he said. “And here I am in my first month actually engaging in this conversation.”

“Let’s all take a breath,” Carranza said. “Let’s let communities come forward with what their solutions could be. Let’s give the space to our CECs to lead those conversations.”

The following day  the chancellor called the plan “very modest, quite frankly,” and a few days later,  “Nowhere in there (the District Three Middle School Integration Plan) are they talking about some of the very drastic things like busing or like rezoning or any of those things. I think it’s a modest conversation to be had.”

Welcome to the Big Apple.

A heartfelt comment tweeted out results in a few days of scrambling and back pedaling.

I was on a review team visiting a low performing middle school; we arrived at the school bright and early, the secretary apologized, the principal was busy assigning coverages for absent teachers. The principal walked into the meeting, somewhat disheveled, “Had to find teachers for coverages, we can never find enough substitutes.” The team leader began the meeting with a soft question, “How would you describe the qualities of an effective teacher?” The principal, replied immediately, “They come every day and blood doesn’t run out from under the door”

Triage management, advance planning is the crisis of the moment and the norm becomes constant triage: a description of the job of the NYC Chancellors of the past?

Does the new guy have a theory of action?  Guiding principles?

Marc Tucker, President of the National Center on Education and the Economy, in a paper entitled, “The Problem with the ‘What Works’ Approach to Education Research and the Case for Focusing on the Determinants of Highly Successful Education Systems” is sharply critical of focusing on programs, which he sees as commonplace, as the reason for mediocre student outcomes decade after decade. Tucker urges research leading to systemic change.

In my judgment … what the “proven program” research paradigm actually does is identify programs that produce marginal results in a dysfunctional system, when the real issue is how to fix the system, a problem that cannot be addressed with this paradigm.

 The underlying logic is simple. Start with the problem – say, a large proportion of students leave elementary school two or more years behind in reading. Come up with a theory about the cause of the problem and, to test the theory, use the theory to develop … a program. Administer the program with statistical controls … Then, put all the programs whose effect size crosses a certain threshold and meet certain criteria for research quality on a list of proven programs. Then stand back and watch the policymakers implement them in great numbers, replicating everywhere the results the researchers observed. Except, of course, they don’t. They never have, and when they do, we don’t see much improvement at scale.

 What researchers in the United States are doing is identifying programs that are at least making a little difference in a highly dysfunctional system. They tell you nothing whatsoever about how to build a highly effective system. They are a prescription for assembling a house of Band-Aids, when we could be building a great house.

 And that bring us to the main point, which is that effective schools, districts and states are not compilations of effective programs. They are effective systems. You may have a great way to teach reading, but, if you have lousy teachers, it won’t produce great reading results. You may have great teachers, but, if the school leader is a petty tyrant and does not support good teaching, the good teachers will either leave or give up while going through the motions of teaching.

Tucker concludes,

I am advocating for is a large program of research on the most successful education systems in the world, organized to help American states understand what combination of features of their systems account for their success, or, put another way, what the common principles are that underlie the different approaches they have taken. What is needed is a design orientation, which is to say that the purpose of this research should be to facilitate the redesign of our current state systems of education for high performance.

  Robert E. Slavin Director, Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University in “Using What Works [is the] Best Way Forward,” sharply disagrees with Tucker, he avers there are specific interventions that work.

 The only programs known from research that routinely add the equivalent of 20 or more PARCC points involve tutoring. This is particularly true when tutoring exists in a response-to-intervention format, in which students receive only the services they need. Tutoring is expensive. However, its costs can be greatly reduced by hiring high-quality paraprofessionals (teacher assistants), such as ones who have a B.A. Also, effective tutoring is likely to reduce special education costs in the long term. The Center for Research and Reform in Education (CRRE), which I lead, recently completed a research review and found that tutoring from high-quality paraprofessionals exercised substantially positive outcomes on student achievement, averaging the equivalent of 26 PARCC points for one-to-one tutoring in reading or math, and 14 points for one-to-small group tutoring. If continued with integrity and care across multiple years, a growing number of students would reach “proficient” each year … students eventually could advance far beyond those in Massachusetts and “top-performing” countries. And there would be additional benefits: the apprenticeship model of hiring and training high quality tutors could bring talented, eager, recent college graduates into the teaching profession.

 The most important problem in America’s schools is not our middling PISA scores. It is the persistent gaps in achievement according to social class and ethnicity. Middle-class, White, and Asian students do not present major achievement challenges for our country. It is African American, Hispanic, and Native American students, and disadvantaged students of all ethnicities, whose learning demands our full attention … My proposal goes to the heart of this problem.  There is nothing wrong with struggling learners that tutoring and other proven programs cannot substantially improve. 

Is Carranza the “firefighter” chancellor, responding to blazes, hopefully quelling the jibes of critics and the media? Or, as per Tucker, will be spend months analyzing and researching the system and move forward with sweeping systemic change? Or, as per Slavin, will he select well-researched programs, for example, tutors, and put the programs at the core of the teaching/learning process?

In the meantime those inbox folders continue to grow as advocates and critics lose patience, remember the new journalism mantra: if it bleeds, it leads.

My recommendation for Richard: exercise, meditation and lots of mariachi practice – you picked one stressful job!!


How Does Implicit Bias, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, Gender and Race Impact the Teaching and Learning Process?

My early morning infusion is a quick doppio from the neighborhood Starbucks and today a little research. Twenty customers, all white, most tapping away on a laptop or other device, fourteen had cups nearby, the others not. Needless to say no one was asking the non-drinkers to leave. For many, Starbucks is a virtual office, good WiFi, readily available beverages, and you can work away for hours. The Starbucks “incident,” the arrest of two black men can be described as an example of “implicit bias,”

Implicit bias,

Implicit bias is the automatic associations people have in their minds about groups of people, including stereotypes. It forms automatically and unintentionally, but results in attitudes, behaviors or actions that are prejudiced for or against a person or a group of people.

 Two black men, hanging out, must be “up for trouble.” Black men, regardless of their income or level of education can regale you with “incidents,” of being hassled for being black, experiences that white men never can imagine, they have the protective coating of white privilege.

What is white privilege? It’s the level of societal advantage that comes with being seen as the norm in America, automatically conferred irrespective of wealth, gender or other factors. It makes life smoother, but it’s something you would barely notice unless it were suddenly taken away — or unless it had never applied to you in the first place …. a set of unearned assets that a white person in America can count on cashing in each day but to which they remain largely oblivious.

A few years ago I was at a session at a conference, a session dealt with “culturally competent pedagogy,” a controversial term. One of the participants commented. “They’re going to teach us to be black.” Yes, controversial.

The teaching side of education is well-documented, there are a range of frameworks describing teaching behavior, Charlotte Danielson, Kim Marshall, Marzano and others,  all claim that teaching behaviors are scientifically documented. In New York State and many other states teacher performance is assessed by one of the frameworks.

The other side of the teaching/learning process is not well-documented with lots of speculation.  Does a rigid adherence to a set of frameworks guarantee learning? Does the gender, race or ethnicity of the teacher impact student learning? Should we alter teaching strategies based on the gender, race or ethnicity of the student?

I come from the days of the developmental lesson that begins with a motivation: an activity, or a statement, or a cartoon, a brief activity to seize the attention of the student, to engage the student. It didn’t always work, was it the inadequacy of my motivation or the alienation of the student?

I’ve met many teachers who aver, “I’m a really good teacher; some kids just don’t care.” Are they “really good teachers?” Are there kids who “really don’t care”? Is there a classroom triage: we teach the kids we can reach? For many of us those failures haunt us: what could we have done differently?

We’re encouraged to differentiate, to change/alter instructional strategies to match the needs of individual kids.

Over the last few decades a new theory has entered the world of education: the theory of culturally competent pedagogy: teaching strategies to match the culture of the students, In Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom, Lisa Delpit delves into the question of cultures,

A connecting theme throughout the book is how power imbalances and cultural conflicts within classrooms occur within a larger society that nurtures and maintains stereotypes. 

The culprit in these situations is not simply racism, though it certainly plays a part. It is the reluctance of people, especially those with power and privilege, “to perceive those different from themselves except through their own culturally clouded vision.” This inability is particularly destructive in classrooms where teachers view low-income and minority children as “other” and “see damaged and dangerous caricatures of the vulnerable and impressionable beings before them” 

New York State is in the process of establishing competencies for school leaders, The “Principal Preparation Project Advisory Team Preliminary Set of Consensus Recommendations,” uses the term “culture” a number of times.

 * Recognize, respect, and employ each student’s strengths, diversity, and culture  as assets for teaching and learning. Ensure that each student has equitable access to effective teachers, learning opportunities, academic and social support, and other resources necessary for success.

 * Confront and alter institutional biases of student marginalization, deficit-based schooling, and low expectations associated with race, class, culture and language, gender and sexual orientation, and disability or special status.

Promote the preparation of students to live productively in and contribute to the diverse cultural contexts of a global society.

What the numerous mentions of culture  fails to do is to define culture.

An NYU team takes a deep dive in the world of culturally responsive education, D’Andrea Montalbano, P., & Kirkland, D.E. (2017). “Culturally Responsive Education: A Primer for Policy and Practice,

The authors, citing numerous research studies endorses the impact of culturally responsive education (CRE) and explores the challenges,

… the challenge is how to solidify the theory of cultural responsiveness into concrete policies and practices that can support learning for all students. To this extent, its critical lens has been applied to curriculum, classroom design, instruction, home-school relationships, disciplinary policies, and school-wide initiatives to promote equity, social justice, community outreach, improvements to school climate, and academic achievement.

The authors acknowledge the gap between research and the classroom practice.

  Given all this rich scholarship, policymakers and practitioners alike are left with the obvious question: “What do we do with all this?” Assuming everyone accepts the general premises of the largely theoretical research and what quantitative data do exist, what is culturally responsive education? Is it a curriculum? A teacher training protocol or program? An accountability system? Can it be any or all of them? The scholars who helped shape and expand this philosophy differ in both specific and vague ways on such questions

 A principal friend (black) was in a school waiting in the office to meet with the principal, the dean (white) escorted two girls (black) into office aggressively chastising them, “Fighting is unacceptable, I’d suspend both of you, this isn’t the first time …wait for the principal, it’s up to her.”

My friend walked over to the two girls, who were glowering at each other,

“You girls like Carti – b?”

They were surprised, a teacher, even a black teacher knowing about the latest big voice in hip-hop.

He asked, “Do you know she doesn’t write her own songs, she buys songs.”

One of the girls knew, the other didn’t, my friend engaged the girls in conversation – the principal came out of her office and began to chastise the girls for fighting.

Both girls turned to the principal, “Everything’s cool,” and walked away continuing the discussion.

I asked my friend, “An example of culturally relevant education?”

My principal friend smiled: “Experience, knowing 12-year olds and the art of distraction, I’ve read a lot about CRE, I’m still not too sure what it is.”

Teaching is about connecting with your students, understanding the world of your students, “catching them” whereever they are and bringing them to where you want them to be.

Yes,  a Black or Latinx or an Asian teacher might  have an initial advantage, a leg up in relating to the student, might become that role model that changes lives, or on the other hand the “advantage” might fade, the teacher might not have the requisite teaching skills.

If culturally relevant education, whatever that is, can be translated into engaging students, so be it, I’m in; however, throwing around the “term of the moment” can just be another education trompe d’oeil.

Join Us: Separate and Unequal: A Comparison of Student Outcomes in New York City’s Most and Least Diverse Schools, presentation and panel discussion

Separate and Unequal: A Comparison of Student Outcomes in New York City’s Most and Least Diverse Schools

Thursday, April 19, 2018, 12:30 – 2:30 pm
North Academic Center Room 1/203

The City College of New York

160 Convent Avenue

Dr. David E. Kirkland, the Executive Director of The NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and The Transformation of Schools, will be on campus to discuss the Center’s latest publication, “Separate and Unequal: A Comparison of Student Outcomes in New York City’s Most and Least Diverse Schools.”

Research Paper Separate and Unequal: A Comparison of Student Outcomes in New York City’s Most and Least Diverse Schools

After the talk, Professor R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy (Black Studies / Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership), Professor Terri N. Watson (School of Education) and Nan Mead, the Manhattan member of the Board of Regents will participate in a panel followed by a Q & A. Discussion based on the report

Please share this with those who are out of town as we want to encourage as many guest to attend as possible.

Participants should go to Blue Jeans link prior to the scheduled meeting date to ensure that they will be able to join the session.

Once they are ready to join on the meeting date, they can click on the link below to enter the meeting.

Are Suspensions Violations of a Student’s Civil Rights or a Tool to Maintain Order and Discipline in Classrooms and Schools?

Do you order gelatin dessert or Jello? Do you ask the clerk for petroleum jelly or Vaseline?

In the field of advertising we call that Branding.

Sticky ideas (Mark Twain “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.”) are ideas that are embedded in the psyche. Chip and Dan Heath in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die  suggests,

Be a master of exclusion:  Less is more.  Ruthlessly prioritize and focus on the vital few.

Boil it down to simple + profound: Create messages that are both simple and profound.

Create engagement:  Use surprise, emotions, concrete images, and curiosity

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize economist and New York Times columnist defines a “zombie idea” as “a proposition that has been thoroughly refuted by analysis and evidence, and should be dead — but won’t stay dead because it serves a political purpose, appeals to prejudices, or both.”

The New Teacher Project (TNTP) report, The Widget Effect (2009) raised the issue of the specter of widespread “bad teachers,” that rapidly became a “sticky idea.”

President Obama: “If a teacher is given a chance or two chances or three chances but still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching. I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences.

Our research confirms what is by now common knowledge: tenured teachers are identified as ineffective and dismissed from employment with exceptional infrequency. While an important finding in its own right, we have come to understand that infrequent teacher dismissals are in fact just one symptom of a larger, more fundamental crisis—the inability of our schools to assess instructional performance accurately or to act on this information in meaningful ways.

 New York State uses a matrix to assess teachers, a combination of supervisory observations within a uniform framework and measures of student learning: the result – “ineffective” ratings are in the low single digits; the “bad teacher” meme is a “zombie ideas,” it’s thoroughly refuted by facts, yet refuses to die for political purposes.

 A year ago I explored the “suspension conundrum,” the conundrum has not resolved itself.

The suspension question has been branded, the negative impact of suspensions, suspensions as a “pipeline to prison,” has become another “sticky idea.”

A few premises:

* “Exclusionary” suspensions, meaning out-of-school suspensions are counterproductive, suspensions meaning a removal from class for a fixed period of time must be to an alternative educational setting in the school or in the district.

* “Proactive preventative approaches,” such as Restorative Justice, Positive Behavior Instructional Strategies (PBIS) should be in place in schools.

* Zero tolerance, frequent suspensions for minor offenses should be abandoned.

Let’s explore a few questions:

What is a suspension?

All schools have a set of rules and regulations, in New York City a Discipline Code that sets forth in detail expectations for student behavior and responses to an infringement of the rules. The New York City Code is extremely detailed. See the 41-page “Citywide Behavioral Expectations to Support Student Learning, Grades 6-12” here.

Suspensions in New York City mean a removal from class and an assignment to another setting, either in the same building (principal suspense: 1 to 5 days) or a superintendent suspension to another site with low class size and intensive counseling; the problem is after the period of suspension the kid is frequently returned to their original school, the same environment that precipitated the original suspendable action.

The very term “suspension” has different meanings in different localities; from a day or two with a counselor to days barred from entering the school building.

Who gets suspended?

 Undisputed: Afro-American males are suspended far more frequently than any other subgroup, and, it is essential to explore this unacceptable phenomenon.

What is the role of the feds in regard to suspension?

The Obama-Duncan US Department of Education, in January 2014 issued a “Dear Colleague” letter laying out strong sanctions to states/school district in which student suspensions appear to have a racially disparate impact.

… unexplained racial disparities in student discipline give rise to concerns that schools may be engaging in racial discrimination that violates the Federal civil rights laws. For instance, statistical evidence may indicate that groups of students have been subjected to different treatment or that a school policy or practice may have an adverse discriminatory impact. Indeed, the Departments’ investigations, which consider quantitative data as part of a wide array of evidence, have revealed racial discrimination in the administration of student discipline. For example, in our investigations we have found cases where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students. In short, racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem.

 The letter makes it clear that the USDE will respond both to formal complaints and statistical evidence; where suspensions evidence a disparate impact the Department will require the district to remedy the civil rights violation or face legal sanctions.

Additionally the USDE argued that suspensions didn’t work, that other paths must be employed to remedy violations of behavioral expectations,

The Department website contains a document (“Suspension 101”) laying out their case:

Suspension impacts everyone

  • In 2011-2012, 3.45 million students were suspended out-of-school.
    (Civil Rights Data Collection, 2011-2012)
  • Of the school districts with children participating in preschool programs, 6% reported suspending out of school at least one preschool child.
    (Civil Rights Data Collection, 2011-2012)
  • Students with disabilities and students of color are generally suspended and expelled at higher rates than their peers.
    (Civil Rights Data Collection,2011-2012)

Suspensions don’t work—for schools, teachers, or students

  • Evidence does not show that discipline practices that remove students from instruction—such as suspensions and expulsions—help to improve either student behavior or school climate.
    (Skiba, Shure, Middelberg & Baker, 2011)

Suspensions have negative consequences

  • Suspensions are associated with negative student outcomes such as lower academic performance, higher rates of dropout, failures to graduate on time, decreased academic engagement, and future disciplinary exclusion.
    (Achilles, McLaughlin, Croninger,2007; Arcia, 2006; Christle, Jolivette, & Nelson, 2005; Costenbader & Markson, 1998; Lee, Cornell, Gregory, & Fan, 2011; Raffaele-Mendez, 2003; Rodney et al., 1999; Skiba & Peterson, 1999)

There are effective alternatives to suspension

  • Evidence-based, multi-tiered behavioral frameworks, such as positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS), can help improve overall school climate and safety.
    (Bradshaw, C., Koth, C.W., Thornton, A., & Leaf, P.J., 2009)
  • Interventions, school-wide and individual, that use proactive, preventative approaches, address the underlying cause or purpose of the behavior, and reinforce positive behaviors, have been associated with increases in academic engagement, academic achievement, and reductions in suspensions and school dropouts.
    (American Psychological Association, 2008; Christle, Jolivette, & Nelson, 2005; Crone & Hawken, 2010; Liaupsin, Umbreit, Ferro, Urso, & Upreti, 2006; Luiselli, Putnam, Handler, & Feinberg, 2005; Putnam, Horner, & Algozzine, 2006; Skiba & Sprague, 2008; Theriot, Craun, & Dupper, 2010)

The feds fail to address appropriate actions for serious violations of school rules and the impacts.

A Core Question: Do suspensions work (or, not) and how do we know it?

I believe that we would all agree that “proactive preventative approaches” should precede suspensions and that all suspended students should continue to attend an educational setting.

All of the research cited above does not answer my question: As result of an intervention, including suspensions, does student behavior improve?  For example, of all students suspended what percent are suspended a second, third, etc., time and what is the academic impact of suspensions or lack of suspensions? In other words, are there instances in which a suspension improved student behavior and educational outcomes? (Hint: AERA is meeting in New York: an area for further research?) We know that serial suspensions lead to drop outs and worse.

“School is a pipeline to prison” is a “sticky idea,” widely held and widely repeated. The “research” supporting the assertion borders on advocacy research, research conducted by advocates of the original premise. In my experience principals will say “I suspended the kid because it was the only way to get the parent up to school;” which leads to an exploration of the characteristics of the suspended student. Can we “predict” suspensions based upon student characteristics? And intervene before unacceptable behaviors emerge? Would such actions stigmatize children from particular backgrounds?

Let’s move to the other side: from the student to the teacher side:

What are the characteristics of the teacher who initiated the suspension? Does the gender, race or experience of the teacher impact suspensions?

A widely quoted study finds significant differences based on the race of the teacher,

there is compelling evidence that when students have a teacher of the same race, they tend to learn more at school (see “The Race Connection,” research, Spring 2004). Those findings raise a parallel question: Does having a teacher of the same race make it more or less likely that students are subject to exclusionary school discipline?

 In this study, we analyze a unique set of student and teacher demographic and discipline data from North Carolina elementary schools to examine whether being matched to a same-race teacher affects the rate at which students receive detentions, are suspended, or are expelled.

 We find consistent evidence that North Carolina students are less likely to be removed from school as punishment when they and their teachers are the same race. This effect is driven almost entirely by black students, especially black boys, who are markedly less likely to be subjected to exclusionary discipline when taught by black teachers. There is little evidence of any benefit for white students of being matched with white teachers.

 While the study is limited to North Carolina it raises the question: should we “segregate” teachers?  Should we assign black teachers to classes with black males?

A Brown University study explores the question of implicit biases,

Black and white American cultures are still sufficiently different in that how teachers read behavior depends in part on the teacher’s race. New research shows that black and white teachers give very different evaluations of behavior of black students. When a black student has a black teacher that teacher is much, much less likely to see behavioral problems than when the same black student has a white teacher.

 What are the qualities of black teachers that results in “very different evaluations of black students?” Can these “qualities” be taught to all teachers?

Do suspensions improve outcomes for the remainder of the students in the class?

A recent study finds just the opposite, high suspension environments result in lower achievement for all students in the class.

The conservative Manhattan Institute, using New York City student and teacher surveys argues that school safety is a concern among students and teachers and implies that reductions in suspensions are making school less safe.

New York City, after a number of years of declining suspensions, highly touted by the Mayor and Chancellor, have seen a sharp spike in suspensions over the later half of 2017.

The research is conflicting: see a Meta-Analysis of Student Suspension Literature here

Is culturally responsive pedagogy a key to reducing implicit bias and suspensions?

 One brief definition,

Culturally responsive pedagogy is a student-centered approach to teaching in which the students’ unique cultural strengths are identified and nurtured to promote student achievement and a sense of well-being about the student’s cultural place in the world. 

 Needless to say a controversial topic that I will explore in the future; a brief taste, see how one staff developer suggests incorporating into lessons.

I have tried, and, struggled, to bring some common sense to the question of responding to unacceptable student behaviors; at one end of the spectrum the “pipeline to prison” folk and at the other the “schools are unsafe” crowd. Unfortunately the “solutions” from both ends of the spectrum are to my mind unacceptable.

“Branding” or “sticky  ideas” or “zombie ideas” may swing one side or another side, they do not address the age-old problem: classroom management.

Comments welcome.

The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) Scores Release: Are We Moving in the Right Direction? If Not, Why Not? Is It Time to Reconsider and Change Course?

On April 10th the 2017 NAEP scores will be released and parsed by school district leaders, researchers and the media: what does it all mean?

Keep in mind that NAEP – the National Assessment of Education Progress is the “gold standard,” the one dataset that is uniformly accepted and widely used to answer the Ed Koch question: “How am I doing?” State assessments and NAEP assessments are different – (See an explanation here), states use different assessments, some use PARCC, other SBAC, while other use state specific tests, New York State dumped Pearson a few years ago and uses Questar; you cannot compare state to state assessments, that’s why NAEP is so valuable and widely reported.

If we compare state 2015 NAEP scores New York State is way down the list – in the middle of the lower half (See chart here) and urban assessments (TUDA) New York City is better than LA, Philadelphia and Boston, well behind Miami-Dade and on a par with Chicago  (See chart here ) with flat scores over the last few releases.

The 2017 results will be “owned” by de Blasio and Farina in New York City – they have been at the helm since 2013 and also “owned” by Commissioner Elia in New York State – it’s fair to ask: have New York City and New York State improved under new leadership?  After all, New York State is at the top of the nation in per pupil expenditure although at the bottom of the nation in district-to-district equity in per pupil dollars.

Mike Petrilli, in a four-series in Education Next presents us with a NAEP primer parsing the results on the national stage; I recommend you take a look: to summarize,

  • There have been gains almost across the board since the 1990s. But progress is generally much larger in math than in reading
  • Most of the gains happened in the 1990s and early 2000s. The exception is reading, for which the 1990s were often flat, or even down. And progress in most categories has been very meager since the mid-2000s. Somewhere around 2007 or 2009, promising momentum petered out.
  • Progress in math has been especially remarkable. Black eighth graders gained twenty-three points from 1990 to 2015, Hispanic students gained twenty-four, and white students gained twenty-two. That’s roughly equivalent to two grade levels, and means that students are coming into high school much better prepared than they were two decades ago. That may help to explain at least some of the increase in America’s graduation rate, though it hasn’t yet translated into much progress in twelfth grade math achievement.
  • Children of color are reading much better in the early grades than before. Hispanic and black fourth graders students respectively gained twenty and twenty-one points from 1994 to 2015, while their white peers gained eight. As with the other trends, the most progress came in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Maybe it was because of improved reading instruction in the phonics/Reading First era, or maybe it reflected improved socioeconomic conditions for children of color in the 1990s. Either way, the gains for eighth graders were only half as large, and they all but evaporated by twelfth grade. In fact, there were marked declines for twelfth graders in the 10th percentile, perhaps because more low achievers were staying in school rather than dropping out.

The Brookings Institute (“What to look for in the 2017 NAEP release” also tries to give us a heads up on the NAEP release,

New NAEP scores invite explanations as to why scores are going up or down. These explanations are typically speculative and often serve to bolster political advocacy. Critics of Common Core, for example, have had a field day attributing the stagnancy of NAEP scores to the standards …

NAEP is better equipped to describe the current status of national achievement than to pinpoint how and why it got that way.  …. Yes, it’s true: The NAEP scores of states that have enthusiastically embraced Common Core have been dead in the water since 2009. But so have the scores of non-Common Core states.

 The failure of the early adopters of the Common Core states to show gains on NAEP is especially interesting – the entire Common Core movement was predicated on the premise that ratcheting up the standards would ratchet up “teaching and learning” and ultimately be reflected in test scores, and the one state-to-state/urban-school-district to urban-school-district measurement is NAEP.

Tom Loveless, at the Brooking Institute, in “Bush-Obama School Reform: Lessons Learned: Why Standards Produce Weak Reforms” (January, 2018) concludes,

Standards define what students will learn and when they will learn it, establishing common goals to guide an entire educational system’s reform efforts. The attractiveness of the idea rests on its simplicity. Education policies of both the Bush and Obama administrations were predicated on a belief in standards-based reform,

 The Bush-Obama record with standards is disappointing. Research suggests that standards—even clear, ambitious, and elegantly worded standards—are weak instruments for raising student achievement.

 Lesson #1: Political support matters and supportive coalitions may not last.

 Public support for standards reaches its apogee when standards are first considered—as an aspirational idea in its most general form, lacking curricular details, and shorn of accountability; in other words, a reform without substance or costs. Once standards are written, adopted, and begin to influence educational activities downstream (i. e., teachers), support declines.

 Lesson #2: Standards-based reform is top-down and mechanistic.

 Standards advocates portray education reform as an engineering problem …. The political and organizational contexts of schools and school systems are regarded as potential allies in implementing goals, overlooking that they also have the power to undermine the linkages between standards and the curriculum, instruction, and assessments that standards seek to forge.

 Lesson #3: Curriculum matters, but standards do not guarantee more effective curriculum.

 It was pointed out above that implementation of standards involves their impact on downstream educational activities—what happens in schools and classrooms. Improving curriculum is one of those downstream events.

 Lesson #4: Despite assurances that standards do not dictate how teachers should teach, standards can be used in efforts to change pedagogy.

  Early research on standards recognized that external standards faced a difficult task in changing how teachers teach “By involving teachers in setting standards, by restricting standard setting to student achievement and leaving pedagogical practices a matter for individual professional discretion … it may be possible to reap the perceived benefits of external standard setting and the perceived benefits of teacher empowerment.”

 Common Core sits in a public policy purgatory. We don’t know if it’s working; we don’t know when we will know if it’s working …. given the track record of standards-based reform, perhaps it’s time to consider an additional hypothesis: those standards simply don’t work.

Maybe we’ve been moving in the wrong direction; instead of the focus on standards and virtually ignoring curriculum, have we have been moving down a dead end street? Chiefs for Change thinks so and suggests,

A relatively nascent but powerful body of research suggests that content-rich, standards-aligned, and high-quality curricula exert a powerful influence on student achievement. There is also early evidence that switching to a high-quality curriculum may be a more cost-effective way to raise student achievement than several other school-level interventions

 This would come as no surprise to education leaders in high-performing countries around the world, most of which prescribe rigorous academic content that all students must learn and believe in the value of high-quality, content-rich curriculum – which emphasizes a specific body of knowledge that must be mastered, rather than the acquisition of skills that have been deemed independent from content ….  smart strategies can be used to ensure that high-quality standards are matched with high-quality instructional materials, leading to strong student outcomes – without trampling on local control of education. Moreover, their experiences reveal lessons that other state and district leaders can apply to similar reforms in their own contexts.

 These lessons include:

  1. Use incentives, not mandates, to maintain local autonomy;
  2. Emphasize evidence – and start small if a research basis hasn’t been developed;
  3. Leverage teacher expertise and teacher leaders in the work;
  4. Use the procurement process to expand use of the highest-quality curricula;
  5. Create professional learning focused on curricular content; and
  6. Messaging matters, and external partners and validators can help.

 These states and districts offer a powerful example for other policymakers who otherwise may overlook a promising reform strategy, hiding in plain sight: curriculum

Will the release of the NAEP scores result in a change in direction in New York State? Probably not.

The state is committed to its iteration of the Common Core – the state spent a year receiving input from stakeholders and did amend the standards, for lack of a better term the state utilizes a Common Core lite set of standards.

The state offers curriculum modules on the EngageNY site – some districts use the modules as a script, some purchase commercially available curricula and a few create their own at the school level. To the best of my knowledge there is no alignment: standards-based questions with curriculum and lessons not aligned to the standards; not exactly a good formula for increasing test scores on a standards-based test.

Will New York State move to content-based tests? Actually testing on what is taught – unlikely, the state seems committed to the current course, for example: the state skipped out on the opportunity to apply for an Alternative Assessment pilot.

While the state leads the nation in per capita pupil dollars the state also is at the top of the inequitable distribution of dollars list. The highest achieving, highest wealth districts spend the largest mount of dollars and the lowest achieving, lowest wealth districts the least amount of dollars. Is the governor or the legislature going to move towards correcting the inequity? Nary a whisper from Albany or a scintilla of discussion in the recent budget approval process.

Add to this that New York State is the most segregated state in the nation, and we have a “tale of two states,”

Recent improvements in high school graduation rates are probably more attributable to changes in graduation requirements than improvements in “teaching and learning.”

Sir Ken Robinson, renown scholar and frequent commenter on education bemoans the current emphasis on standards-based reform and testing; listen to a recent TED talk  (“Are Schools Killing Creativity?”), and, his answer to a simple question.

If you were the United States education secretary, what is the first thing you would do to change the American school system?

What is education for? In my view, it is to enable all students to understand the world around them and the talents within them so that they can become fulfilled individuals and active, compassionate citizens. The proper role of government is to create the best conditions for that to happen.

If I were secretary, I would encourage all schools to adopt a broad and balanced curriculum including languages, math, the arts, sciences, humanities and physical education, and develop non-statutory guidelines and resources to support them. I would roll back the current testing requirements in favor of more informative approaches to assessment. I would support the comprehensive development of early-years education. I would institute a “soup to nuts” review of the selection, training and support of teachers. I would introduce incentives for creative partnerships between schools, families, cultural organizations and the private sector.

In these and other ways, education can and must change — for all our sakes.

Michael Mulgrew: Tip-toeing between Cuomo and de Blasio, the Scylla and Charybdis of Education Politics in New York

Michael Mulgrew: Tip-toeing between Cuomo and de Blasio, the Scylla and Charybdis   of Education Politics in New York

New York City is a mayoral control city, meaning that the school leader, called the chancellor, is appointed by school board members (the Panel for Educational Priorities), a majority of whom are appointed by the mayor.  The chancellor is actually the deputy to the mayor for education. Chancellor Carranza’s tenure begins today – managing over 1800 schools, 1.1 million students and over 100,000 unionized employees. The chancellor’s chief of staff is Ursulina Ramirez who served in same role for the mayor in his previous elected office, Public Advocate. The agenda of the chancellor is the agenda of the mayor: both succeed or neither succeeds. Management models vary, from mayoral control (New York, Chicago, Boston, etc.) to Los Angeles, an elected board with millions spent on the elections to Houston, a divided nine-member board elected by geographic areas competing for resources; there is no right or wrong model.

The Mayor of New York City is an outspoken progressive who won a hotly contested 4-way primary election in 2013 and rolled to easy victories in the general elections in 2013 and 2017. Although de Blasio is firmly in the progressive camp the 51-member City Council is much further to the left. De Blasio is term limited, meaning he is building a national reputation for his next run for office, whatever it might be.

A hundred and twenty miles to the north is Albany, the state capital and the political home of Andrew Cuomo, running for his third term as governor. In spite a Republican-controlled Senate Cuomo signed one of the first Marriage Equality laws as well as the strictest gun control laws in the nation. No matter: he is being challenged from the left by Cynthia Nixon, an actor with a long resume of political activism.

De Blasio and Cuomo, both with progressive creds, are bitter enemies, each claiming the progressive mantle.

Tip-toeing between the two most powerful electeds in New York State is the leader of the New York City teacher union (UFT), Michael Mulgrew, who began his career as a carpenter and rather surprisingly became the fifth president of the UFT in 2009. Under constant attack from Mayor Bloomberg Mulgrew not only successfully thwarted the mayor’s attempts to erode the union’s contract, the public trusted the union more than the mayor. Sol Stern in the conservative City Journal reported,

… according to a poll of city voters … sixty-four percent of respondents rated school performance as either fair or poor, with only 27 percent proclaiming it excellent or good; 69 percent said that students in the city’s schools weren’t ready for the twenty-first-century economy. New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

 While the UFT did not endorse de Blasio in the primary Mulgrew has developed an excellent relationship with the mayor. After more than four years without a contract Mulgrew and de Blasio negotiated a contract with full back pay, de Blasio appointed Carmen Farina, a Department of Education lifer, created the 70,000 student pre-K for All program, and reaped constant praise on teachers. De Blasio and Mulgrew clearly like each other and de Blasio’s appearance at the UFT Delegate Assembly, a huge success – teachers like him.

The brand new de Blasio-Carranza administration faces negotiating a teacher contract; the current agreement expires on November 30th, although in New York State expired agreements remain in force until the successor agreement is agreed upon. One issue is paid maternity/child care leaves; teachers have to use sick days, there is no paid leave. Under Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) policies contracts must comply with “ability to pay” and “patterning bargaining.” Simply put: the union and the city will have to find dollars apart from the base salary increase or reduce the negotiated salary increase, which is unlikely.  Another major issue that applies only to the UFT is the Absent Teacher Reserve, 700 plus teachers who were excessed from closed schools, each year every closed school pumps more teachers into the pool: a bad Bloomberg policy and an expensive policy. If the ATRs are returned to schools can the dollars saved be used for a paid maternity/child care leave settlement?  Just speculating!  I imagine this week, while teachers are on spring break, the new chancellor will be meeting with all the players on the NYC education scene.

The union’s relationship with Cuomo is far more complicated.

The UFT is the largest local in NYSUT, the state teacher union organization. There are 700 school districts, 700 local teacher unions in the state. From New York City, to the other “Big Five” (Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Yonkers), to the high tax, high wealth suburban districts to the hundreds of low wealth rural districts that struggle to pay heating bills. The gap in funding among school districts in New York State is among the greatest in the nation.  That’s right: we lead the nation in racially segregated schools and the inequality of school funding.

NYSUT represents all the locals and lobbies for more education dollars for all schools, Cuomo added a section to the budget requiring districts to phase in a dollar by dollar accounting of all education expenditures: a first step to equalizing state education dollars?

Bruce Baker in his superb School Finance 101 blog  is concise,

            To be blunt, money does matter. Schools and districts with more money clearly have greater ability to provide higher-quality, broader, and deeper educational opportunities to the children they serve. Furthermore, in the absence of money, or in the aftermath of deep cuts to existing funding, schools are unable to do many of the things they need to do in order to maintain quality educational opportunities. Without funding, efficiency tradeoffs and innovations being broadly endorsed are suspect. One cannot tradeoff spending money on class size reductions against increasing teacher salaries to improve teacher quality if funding is not there for either – if class sizes are already large and teacher salaries non-competitive. While these are not the conditions faced by all districts, they are faced by many.

While good for New York City, equity in school funding could set school district against school district across the state and “wealthier” local teacher unions versus “poorer” local teacher unions.

NYSUT opposes the use of student data to assess teacher performance, the current matrix system that combines supervisory observations with measures of student learning is supported by UFT, the new system sharply reversed the Bloomberg era – over 3000 adverse rating.

NYSUT comes close to endorsing the opt-out movement, 20% of parents, heavily concentrated in the suburbs are the opt-out base, very few opt-out schools in NYC and the UFT position is: a parental choice.

The elephants will continue to trample the grass: Is Cuomo maneuvering for a 2020 presidential run, and, if so, how will he situate himself on progressive, educational and teacher union issues?

De Blasio is term-limited, what are his political aspirations?

Although de Blasio is on the left; the furthest left since La Guardia, not far enough to the left for his political rivals within the Democratic Party.

Cuomo has a progressive resume and continues to push toward more and more anti-gun measures and has forced the city to cough up millions for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and to repair the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), aka low-income housing, using the budgetary powers of the governor to pre-empt the powers of the NYC mayor.

There is a long history of political rivalry in New York; back in 1804 after tossing insults back and forth Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton “settled” their dispute on the Palisades. While dueling pistols are now museum pieces the modern equivalent is alive and well. Joe Prococo, Cuomo’s closest assistant, whose father Mario called my “third son,” is convicted of taking bribes while working as son Andrew’s closest confident, A strong supporter of de Blasio, Cynthia Nixon, is running against Cuomo in the September democratic primary. Cuomo forces de Blasio to budget hundreds of millions for MTA repairs even though the MTA is a state agency, and, also forces de Blasio to budget 250 million for NYCHA repairs overseen by an outside monitor.

In midst of the boulder throwing Mulgrew has to work with the two Megatrons, a daunting task.

Even within the union the political caucuses urge moving to the left, supporting or opposing this candidate or that candidate. The union meetings, the monthly Delegate Assemblies give Mulgrew and opportunity to “teach,” to float ideas, to interact with local school union leadership.

In my early days as a school district union leader a new superintendent, with a tough reputation was selected, some school union leaders argued we should picket his office on his first day, show him we’re as tough as he was reputed to be. I was fortunate, I was mentored by union leadership who spent a career in the foxholes of politics, dodging bullets and bombs from both sides. I realized I didn’t only represent the militants, I represented all the members. My day-to-day job was responding to their needs: getting a salary or health plan issue resolved, an emergency leave approved, getting a principal off a teacher’s back, and I needed a nod from the superintendent. We worked out a “mature” relationship, we “agreed to disagree” on issues, no surprises, always gave him a heads up if I was going to be publicly critical, and public acclaim for doing “the right thing,” and, not to slighted, we were both avid Mets fans.

On a much larger stage Mulgrew has navigated the political landscape, both praising and criticizing city and state leadership, and, teaching his membership, politics is a romance with good days and not so good days.

If he can get de Blasio and Cuomo to hug, I have a problem in the Middle East he can tackle next.