Mayoral Control, Appointed or Elected Boards of Education: Are Urban School Districts Governable?

About 4 AM next Friday morning one of houses of the state legislature will adjourn closing out the session; with cries of they have to return over the summer to complete this issue or that issue. Extremely unlikely.

The bills will come across the legislators desks at a rapid pace, with most voted before they are read. A few are high profile: closing loopholes in the campaign finance law, legalizing fantasy sports gambling, a constitutional amendment to deprive convicted legislators of their pensions, and, mayoral control of New York City schools, the vast majority of the bills are far, far under the radar.

The Assembly bill extends mayoral control for three years; the Senate bill extends mayoral control for one year and creates an Inspector, appointed by the governor with the consent of the Senate with sweeping powers. If no action is taken the system reverts to a seven-member board appointed by the borough presidents and the mayor.

The governor supports a three year extension and the power elites support continuing mayoral control. Merryl Tisch in an op ed in the NY Daily News supports extending mayoral control.

Tisch posits,

Mayoral control has not worked perfectly under either Mayor Michael Bloomberg or Mayor de Blasio, but it has worked far better than what we had before. New York City has seen consistent, significant increases in graduation rates, greater accountability across the system and the introduction of robust school choice — giving students from every neighborhood greater opportunity for a quality education. Critically, unlike the system that preceded mayoral control, we now know who is in charge. The voters ultimately can hold the CEO of the city accountable for how well our children learn.

Famously, when someone criticized a Bloomberg educational policy he responded, “Don’t vote for me next time.”

Although the mayoral control debate will end in a few days it has been characterized by an absence of debate.

Has “robust school choice” given “students from every neighborhood greater opportunity for quality education” or further segregated the school system by race, class and income?

The Bloomberg administration created scores of “screened” schools, schools that only accepts kids with high test scores, creating “have” and “have not” schools. Were these schools created to “provide school choice” or to win over middle class parents and garner potential voters?

Numbers of school suspensions have dropped dramatically: are our kids better behaved, do our teachers have been peace-making skills or did the chancellor simply tighten the faucet on approving suspensions?

Under a mayoral control system every announcement, every initiative is accompanied by a carefully crafted press release. I’m sure that the “mayor’s person” is sitting at the table vetting the political impact of every decision.

The previous seven-member appointed board has been vilified as being too political, I have to smile. The borough president appointee fought for projects for their borough while the mayor fights for projects for the entire city, or, his/her voting base.

Under the current mayoral control system the Community Educational Councils (CEC) are toothless and superintendents carry the Tweed policy torch. While under the prior elected school board system the poorest districts had the least effective boards there were highly effective boards that responded to local communities.

District 2 in Manhattan under the leadership of an innovative superintendent had an extensive and effective professional development program that impacted classroom instruction. District 22 in Brooklyn bused over 1,000 Afro-American kids for integration purposes, no court order, it was simply the right thing to do; they also implemented school-based budgeting with empowered school and district leadership teams. A superintendent in the poorest district in Brooklyn, appointed by the chancellor unified a fractious district and improved student outcomes.

Does the current mayoral-guided system build sustainability or will the next and the next school district leader impose their view of education policy?

Unfortunately educational policy appears to be the flavor of the week.

Transparency and open debate must guide all change processes. Participation reduces resistance.

Teachers and parents increasingly came to despise Bloomberg/Klein mayoral control hubris – if you don’t like the policy, don’t vote for me.  So far the de Blasio/Farina interregnum has had a kinder and gentler face. While Bloomberg/Klein treated teachers like replaceable widgets deBlasio/Farina have constantly praised the workforce.

The larger issue is creating a process that has highly competent leadership at the top and local leaders with the ability and support to make the right decisions at the school level.

Next week a decision will be made; probably to continue mayoral control, maybe with a blue ribbon commission to review the current iteration.

Parents, teachers and school leaders voice must be part of any school governance process.

The Fox in the Hen House: The Flanagan/Cuomo Mayoral Control Bill

A friend responded to my latest post, “The ‘big ugly’ is really going to get ugly.”

As reported by Politico and the New York Daily News, on Friday night the Republican leadership of the Senate filed a bill,

The bill requires:

* extending mayoral control for one year

* An inspector, appointed by the governor, would provide the mayor and city schools chancellor “oversight, guidance and technical assistance.”

* The inspector would attend all Panel for Educational Policy meetings, including executive sessions, and can appeal any PEP decision to the State Education Department commissioner, MaryEllen Elia.(“The city board, mayor and chancellor shall fully cooperate with requests for information made by the inspector,”)

* The bill would allow the inspector to have oversight over the PEP’s handling of charter school co-locations.

* The city would also be required to report a long list of new information to the state annually, including statistics about teachers, principals, admissions, student demographics, school overcrowding, expenditures, etc.,

* The bill also includes a new provision that PEP members cannot be lobbyists or clients of lobbyists.

Read full text of the bill:

In other words, a “fox in the hen house.”

The key player is the Speaker of the Assembly, Carl Heastie.

If the Assembly takes no action the city reverts to the previous system, a central board made up of seven members, one appointed by each borough president and two by the mayor, and, a procedure to elect community school boards, or, Heastie can make a deal with the Republicans and the governor, or, Heastie can go on the attack.

Understand, the major players have no interest in mayoral control, the governor is a political hermaphrodite, and he switches sides to fit the situation.  He sidles up to Senate leader Flanagan to weaken de Blasio, Flanagan cuddles with the governor hoping to put the Republicans in a position to seize the New York City mayoralty in 2017.

Are politicians so duplicitous that you would make deals with the opposition party?

In 1999, with the support of the Democratic members in the Assembly outside of New York City; a law was passed that ended the 33-year old commuter tax .

ALBANY, May 17— The State Legislature brushed aside Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s protests today and rescinded a 33-year-old tax on commuters in the state who work in New York City, unabashedly using its power to try to influence an upcoming suburban election.

The measure, which Gov. George E. Pataki said he would sign, carves at least $210 million — and as much as $360 million — from the city treasury. It was approved after legislative leaders from both major parties, acting with surprising dispatch in a year when the Capitol has seemed mired in partisanship, decided that a tax cut could bolster their respective candidates in a May 25 special election for a State Senate seat northwest of New York City.

The Democratic majority in the Assembly had turned fractious after the Speaker, Sheldon Silver of Manhattan, unexpectedly voiced support for the measure last week, but Mr. Silver pushed it through tonight, 92 to 49. The Speaker spent the day inviting lawmakers into his office to insure their votes; some referred to it as courting, others as arm-twisting.

Silver was willing to deprive the city of a quarter of a billion dollars a year, albeit the city had a Republican mayor, to perhaps prevail in a special election, or, who knows what other deals were consummated in that “smoke-filled” room.

How vigorously will the speaker, with only a year under his belt, battle Flanagan and Cuomo?

If de Blasio continues to stumble a Democrat might take a run at him in the September, 2017 primary, even if he wins de Blasio would be vulnerable in November to a popular, well-funded Republican – think Eva Moskowitz.

I am not disparaging the members of the legislature; the members that I know are extremely hard-working pursuing legislation within their area of specialty and interest. Linda Rosenthal (Upper West Side) fights for tenant rights and a range of other bills. She recently passed a law that makes women’s personal health products tax-free.  Jeff Dinowitz (Bronx) chairs the Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee  and fights for consumer protections.

Mayoral control is purely politics at the leadership level.

In 2009 the legislature extended mayoral control for seven years; a parent commission  held extensive hearing and produced a range of suggested changes in the law, the legislature had no interest.

I suspect the various interests will seek a face-saving compromise – maybe a blue-ribbon commission to convene and come up with a report by March 1, 2017 and a year extension.

Of course that “event” on November 8th 2016 could impact

Payback is a Bitch: de Blasio, Cuomo the Senate Republicans and Mayoral Control

Payback is a bitch!!

The New York State legislature is due to adjourn on June 16th – two more weeks till the end of the session – commonly referred to as the “big ugly.”  The 150 members of the Assembly, the 63 members of the Senate and the Governor all wheeling and dealing to bring their favorite bills to votes.

One of the few major outstanding issues is mayoral control of schools in New York City.

A little history: after two contentious teacher strikes (1967 and 1968), inner city riots around the country and the assassination of Martin Luther King, the mayor of NYC, John Lindsay was desperately seeking a way to pacify the bubbling racially-based anger across the city. The “answer” was decentralizing the school system. The decentralization law created a seven-member central board, one appointed by each borough president and two by the mayor, and thirty (later increased to 32) community school districts with elected boards and wide-ranging power over budget, curriculum and the appointment of school and district leadership.

A handful of districts thrived, the poorest districts became patronage pits for the local electeds; scandal after scandal and extremely low student achievement. The legislature that created the patronage system had no interest in ending it and the mayor, Ed Koch, effectively manipulated the system; claiming credit for successes and trashing it over perceived failures.

In 2002 newly elected mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he favored legislation to repeal the decentralization system and create a mayoral control system. A school board, the majority appointed by the mayor and community councils with extremely limited authority. Mayoral control was supported across the political landscape as well as supported by the unions.

The legislature passed and renewed the law a number of times without opposition – except from Sol Stern. In the City Journal, Stern sharply criticized Bloomberg, who Stern felt was skillfully manipulating school data to burnish his own reputation. Stern presaged what became an all-out assault on Bloomberg’s education policies in his final term.

Last year the legislature, at least the Republican-controlled Senate balked and mayoral control was only extended for one year.

In the spirit of his predecessor de Blasio has spun out presser after presser announcing educational initiative after initiative, Among de Blasio’s first achievements was to negotiate a contract with the teacher union, who had been without a contract, and a raise, for five years. Universal Pre Kindergarten was funded in Albany, a major achievement.

de Blasio; however, has not been skillful in using his school achievements to burnish his own reputation.

The local tabloids, the Post and the Daily News, pro-Bloomberg, have challenged de Blasio’s school initiatives, and, de Blasio’s forays into state politics have backfired badly.

de Blasio decided to challenge the Republican majority in the Senate, who held a slim majority. With the support of the Working Families Party and the unions the mayor raised dollars (now under scrutiny by the US Attorney) and supported six upstate Democrats. When the smoke cleared the dems only won one race and alienated the Republican leadership in Albany.

Additionally there is only one perch on the top of the progressive pulpit, and, Governor Cuomo sits in that nest. Cuomo has, at every opportunity, slapped down perceived progressive challenges from de Blasio.

What does all this backroom politics have to do with mayoral control? Everything

Cathy Nolan, the chair of the Assembly Education Committee supports and extension of mayoral control, with caveats,

A group of parent representatives from our district came to Albany recently to share their concerns about education and the effects of mayoral control. I came away from this meeting with a clear sense that parents are frustrated and angered by the DOE’s inability to really listen to them.

The Mayor convinced everyone including myself that his system of parent advocates and small academies would initiate a new era in New York City’s Education. Parents would have a voice in how their children were educated. We voted to give the Mayor control but from where I sit good intentions are not enough.

In the Senate Republican leader John Flanagan, quixotically mused,

“Let me be clear: I don’t think anyone has said we should throw mayoral control out the window”  ….  “The governor said three years, the Assembly said seven years, and to an extent, we’re essentially agnostic”

The “message” to the mayor from Flanagan was clear – stay in the five boroughs; you’re the mayor of New York City not New York State.

The “message” from Cuomo was clear – there is only one progressive in New York State, and he’s in Albany.

You might say, “Isn’t this petty, why can’t they just run the state and do what is best for the people?”

A few dirty little secrets:

The 1787 Constitutional Convention was a secret meeting, no press, the only notes we have are from James Madison who restricted access until after the death of all the participants. The key compromise was the Three/Fifth Compromise – although slavery is not explicitly mentioned,

The issue of how to count slaves split the delegates into two groups. The northerners regarded slaves as property who should receive no representation. Southerners demanded that Blacks be counted with whites. The compromise clearly reflected the strength of the pro-slavery forces at the convention. The “Three-fifths Compromise” allowed a state to count three fifths of each Black person in determining political representation in the House.

A blatantly racist “deal” is at the core of our constitution – note the last three words.

Representatives and Direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their representative Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of Free Persons, including those bound to service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed and three fifths of all other Persons

Abraham Lincoln was determined to pass the Thirteen Amendment,

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Lincoln “… used high pressure arm-twisting, political patronage, and outright lies to accomplish his goal:” the passage of the amendment – it passed by two votes. Does the passage of the iconic amendment outlawing slavery justify the use of “political patronage (offering lucrative jobs for votes) and outright lies”?

James Madison, in Federalist Paper 51 wrote,

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition …  But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.

Politics is a reflection of human nature, the rough and tumble of politics mirrors the real world. We are not angels, so the media, the other branches of government and the public are the controls. Politics is messy, 19th century German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck quipped, “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.”

Mayor de Blasio is ambitious, perhaps too ambitious, only time will tell. His ambition was countered by the ambition of the governor and the Republican leadership. Threatening to refuse to renew mayoral leadership, or add restrictions to the law, or only extending for one year is simply making him pay for his ambition. If the Democrats seize control of the Senate in the November elections the last laugh will come from Gracie Mansion.

The powers in Albany, who may see themselves as modern day feudal lords who require oaths of fealty from mayors and electeds have the power to punish. Those lowly lesser nobles have been known to rise up … heads have been lost.

Payback may be a bitch, but for whom?

Killing the Zombies: Why the “Bad Teacher” Canard Refuses to Die

Who is Clay Christensen and what is disruptive innovation in education?

Christensen is a professor in the Harvard Business School and the intellectual force behind the current education reform movement. The professor proffers that education has been basically unchanged for decades, a traditional classroom model, very little has changed including little improvement in achievement. Christensen acolytes argue that the traditional model must be “disrupted.”  A wide range of examples: placing schools in competition; public, private, charter, parochial and home-schooling through a voucher system. Traditional instruction must be replaced by an iteration of personalized learning in the form of computer-based learning and, impediments to removing “bad” teacher removed.

The “disruptors’ include the political leadership, from the White House to state capitals.  The $4.4 billion in competitive state grants, the Race to the Top (RttT), is a prime example. The lure of federal dollars to disrupt the traditional systems; RttT required the creation and expansion of charter schools as well as creating a student test score-based teacher evaluation system.

The New Teacher Project (TNTP), an advocacy organization, a “disrupter” organization, conducted a survey of school districts and a report – The Widget Effect. The findings:

Effective teachers are the key to student success, yet our school systems treat all teachers as interchangeable parts, not professionals. Excellence goes unrecognized and poor performance goes unaddressed. This indifference to performance disrespects teachers and gambles with students’ lives.

The 2009 report, surveyed fifteen schools districts across four states points to the absence formalized evaluation systems resulting in virtually all teachers rated satisfactory with few classroom observations.  For the TNTP there was no sorting of teachers by ability, no one is fired and no one is identified as being an exemplary teacher.

In districts that use binary evaluation ratings (generally “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory”), more than 99% of teachers receive the satisfactory rating, Districts that use a broader range of rating options do little better; in their districts, 94% of teachers receive one of the top two ratings and less than 1% are rated unsatisfactory.

Since the release of the report the reformers, the “disruptors,’ have been successful, enormously successful, in convincing, coercing, luring states into highly structured teacher evaluation systems; to identify the high performers (merit pay) and prune away the low performers.

As part of their winning Race to the Top proposal New York State designed a multiple measures teacher evaluation system: 60% of a teacher score would be supervisory observations based on a rubric selected by the school district (Danielson, Marzano, Marshall and others), 20% based on a student growth data (VAM) on state grades 3-8 test scores and 20% on a locally negotiated metric – which could be test scores or other measures of student learning (MOSL). The data is pumped into a dense, extremely dense mathematical algorithm and all teachers receive a score that translates in a letter grade on the HEDI spectrum: Highly Effective, Effective, Developing and Ineffective. The teacher evaluation plan, called the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) has been amended a number of times – the current plan prohibits the use of student test scores for four years, is called the “matrix.”

The inclusion of a value-added measurement, the student test score algorithm has been sharply criticized by a range of scholars as well as teacher organizations, and, a state court, in a non-precedent setting decision, found the use “arbitrary and capricious.”

Millions of dollars to create a multiple measures teacher evaluation plan and the result: 1% of teachers are ineffective – the same as the Widget Effect report.

In 2009 The New Teacher Project bemoaned that only 1% of teachers were rated “unsatisfactory” and seven years later the New York State APPR plan found, you guessed it: once again, only 1%.of teachers rated “ineffective.”

Millions of dollars to create a teacher evaluation system, a host of “experts,” the application of dense mathematical formulations and the percentage of teachers rated ineffective is unchanged.

This couldn’t possibly be right!! … so say the disruptors.

In a recently released report, The Widget Effect Revisited: Teacher Evaluation Reforms and the Distribution of Teacher Effectiveness  (February, 2016), the authors conducted surveys of  newly designed teacher evaluation plans across a number of states and interviewed principals.

On the new plans, “… less than 3% of teachers were rated below Proficient”

The raters, the principals, also reported,

“…evaluators perceive more than three times as many teachers in their school as below Proficient than they rate as such.”

In lengthy interviews the principals expressed the reasons for not rating more teachers as below Proficient.

* Time constraints (“It takes too much time away from running a school”)

* Teacher potential and motivation (“Fear of the discouraging of teachers”)

* Personal discomfort (“I have a difficult time telling teachers they’re failing”)

* Racial tensions (“Very difficult for a White principal to rate Black teachers poorly”)

* Quality of replacements (“I can’t find adequate replacements”)

* Voluntary departures (“I rate them Proficient and they leave – a deal is made”

* Burdensome dismissal processes (“The process is too complex and time consuming”)

Is the “problem” too many “below Proficient” teachers or “below Proficient” principals?

What the authors failed to investigate, admittedly not the purpose of the study,

* Inter-rater reliability: do the raters from school to school use the same rubrics, and, are they competent to assess teacher performance?

* The bell-curve conundrum: is the lowest rated teacher in the school “below Proficient” when compared with all other teachers in the district?  In other words, is it “arbitrary and capacious” to establish a system that guarantees that the lowest performer in a school must be below Proficient? After all, they may be more proficient than teachers in other schools in the district.

A second baseman on a major league team may be the “least proficient” among major leaguers and in the top 1% of all second baseman across colleges and minor leagues.

I know the idea is disquieting – perhaps only 1% of teachers actually are ineffective.

Prospective teachers must be accepted by a college and meet standards set by the Council on Accreditation of Teacher Preparation (CAEP), teachers must pass a number of nationally recognized pre-service exams, pass interviews by principals/hiring committees, teach a demonstration lesson and serve a probationary period as an at-will employee.  It should not be surprising that very few teachers who survive the rigorous pre-screening end up as “below Proficient.”

Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman coined the term zombie idea: a zombie idea is “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 disruptor “bad teacher” solution to increasing student achievement is an example of a zombie idea – in spite of reams of evidence the idea refuses to die.

What is so depressing is when compared to teacher attrition the “bad” teacher argument pales – in the lowest achieving, highest poverty schools about half of all teachers leave within five years, and, we have a pretty good idea of why they leave: the way they’re treated.

Susan Moore Johnson, at the Next Generation of Teachers Project at Harvard examines the issue of teacher attrition in the highest poverty schools in detail.  Yes, teachers commonly leave to wealthier, whiter schools; however, they are not fleeing the students, they are fleeing the working conditions.

If we know how to make significant differences (“Improve working conditions in the poorest school”), if we’ve identified the core problem (“Teacher morale and treatment”), why don’t we address the solution?

Those zombies are tough to kill off.

How Can the State Education Department Increase High School Graduation Rates? (Hint: Listen to and Support Teachers and School Leaders)

The single metric that gets commissioners/superintendents/governors/mayor hired and fired are high school graduation rates. We used to say the grades 3-8 test scores; however, the opt out movement has cast so much doubt on the test scores that the single metric is graduation rates.

The most recent release of graduation rates show incremental progress.

The overall graduation rate for the 2011 cohort increased to 78.1 percent, up 1.7 percentage points.

A cohort is defined as all students entering a school in the 9th grade – students remain in the cohort unless they transfer to another school – the 2011 cohort graduated in 2015. Unfortunately students drop out of school before they graduate degrading the graduation rate

… nearly seven percent of students in the 2011 cohort—about 14,590 students—dropped out of high school. Of those who dropped out, 62 percent were Black or Hispanic; 64 percent came from economically disadvantaged homes; and 58 percent were male.

No surprise.

The state does not appear to have conducted any exit interviews – why are students failing to graduate?  Are they going to work?  Child care?  Or, moving elsewhere and the school fails to identify whether the student registered in a new school. Do Students with Disabilities (SWD) drop out of school due to frustration over the inability to pass courses and regent examinations? We simply don’t know.

The disparity between high needs and low needs, Edu speak for income inequality is staggering.

… only 68.4 percent of students from high need urban-suburban districts graduated on time in 2015, compared to more than 94 percent of students from low need districts.

The link of graduation rate to poverty-income inequality is overwhelming.

The five and six year cohort graduation rates increase the percentages by four and five percent and for ELLS much higher.

For ELLS, the five and six year graduation rates are significantly higher than the four year rate of 34 percent (cohort 2011). The five year graduation rate for ELLs is 44 percent (2010 cohort) and 50 percent (2009 cohort) respectively.

You can take a deep dive into data by school district or schools here:

The commissioner jumped to recommendations, changes in graduation requirements, in my view, without an adequate examination of the data, and, are troubling.

How many students, disaggregated by school and school district, pass all courses; however, fail to graduate because they cannot pass the five regents exams, and, which exams offer the greatest obstacle?

A crucial question and I don’t think we know.

The commissioner has made a number of suggestions to increase graduations rates.

Appeal/Re-Scoring of Failing Regents Exams

Under the current regulation, students may appeal a failing score on a Regents Exam if their score is within three points of passing (62-64) … [In certain limited circumstances]

The proposal would widen the range of scores by two points to include scores of 60 to 64, permitting students to appeal scores within five points of passing on up to two Regents Exams

Are we saying we want to assure that regents scores are accurate so we will are allowing students to appeal and re-score the exams?  From a statistical perspective among the mis-scored exams half will gain points and half will lose points – should we also re-score papers from 65-70 and reduce exams grades for paper that we mis-score and received too many points?

Maybe we should just drop the passing grade to 60 for all exams? Would raise graduation rates…

Substituting the CDOS Credential for One Regent Examination

 Department is proposing a new graduation pathway in Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS). Currently, only students with disabilities have the option to graduate with a CDOS commencement credential, which indicates that the graduate has the skills and preparation necessary for entry-level employment.

The credential was designed for students with disabilities that prevent them from earning a local diploma; students whose handicap is so severe that regents exams are inappropriate.

The requirements to earn the credential are rigorous: the student must successfully complete 216 hours of additional coursework and take part in work-based learning, demonstrate competency of the CDOS learning standards at the commencement level, and have an employability profile showing readiness for entry-level employment.

216 hours equal four additional courses.

The Department suggests creation of a CDOS pathway to graduation for all students.

These recommendations are not improving teaching and learning, they’re not doing anything inside a classroom. We are simply changing regulations to make it easier to graduate.

Why not simply change the rules and reduce the number of regents required to pass from five to four?  Perhaps require English and mathematics and any two others. Wouldn’t help students; however, would increase graduation rates.

We also know that the community college graduation rates among the poorest students is agonizingly low,

The most recent national data indicate that 13 percent of students in the lowest income quartile who started at a two-year college in 2003–04 completed an associate degree by spring 2009. An additional 9.4 percent earned a certificate, and 8.3 percent earned a bachelor’s degree.

Among students in the second lowest income quartile who started at a two-year college in 2003–04, 15.8 percent completed an associate degree by spring 2009. An additional 10.5 percent earned a certificate, and 10.8 percent earned a bachelor’s degree.

The kids who will benefit from the recommendations of the commissioner will join the staggering numbers of kids who both fail to graduate from community college and build up a ton of college debt.

What should we do?

While I disagree with Eric Nadelstern on most issues I totally agree with him on a core tenet,

Devolve responsibility, resources and authority to schools. Centralizing decision making simply lets principals and teachers off the hook for student performance.

The Internationals Network only accepts high school students with 4 years or less in the nation. The schools are public schools (fifteen in New York City) that are supported by the Internationals Network for Public Schools, a not-for-profit that has created and supported the schools. The data is startling:

4-Year NYC Graduation Rates

Public High Schools – 37%

Internationals – 65%

Six-Year Graduation Rates

Public High Schools – 50%

Internationals – 74%

Why hasn’t the State Ed Department encouraged the Internationals Network to expand into other areas in the state? What are the Internationals doing different? (Check out here:

About twenty-five years ago, Howard Friedman, a teacher at City-As-School High School started Manhattan Comprehensive Day and Night High School, “…a “one-of-a-kind public high school for non-traditional students ages seventeen to twenty-one. Students can attend either night or day classes while working full-time and attending to adult responsibilities.”  MCDNHS works with the Comprehensive Development, Inc, CDI, a not-for-profit that provides a wide range of services to students and two years beyond graduation – call it a community high school plus.

School leaders and teachers, supported by school district leaders, make the best educational decisions. State Education Departments and School Superintendents too often see themselves at the top of a paramilitary organization; while the troops may salute too little actual changes.

Commissioners and superintendents have to create fertile soil and water regularly. The sun and really dedicated and smart, people, those “in the trenches” really do have the “answers.”

Guest Blog: An Alternative to Tests for Measuring Student Growth That Can Also Facilitate Teacher Growth

(Marc Korashan is a frequent commenter on this blog. Marc instructs first and second year NYC Teaching Fellows at a local college,  taught seriously at-risk youth in public schools and worked as a teacher union organizer.)

An Alternative to Tests for Measuring Student Growth That Can Also Facilitate Teacher Growth

Ed asks a number of important questions in his column, “VAM, the Lederman Decision and the Misuse of Statistical Tools.” that have been neglected in the teacher evaluation debate. “If a particular teacher over a number of years consistently receives high scores … what is that particular teacher doing? What instructional practices is the teacher utilizing? Can these practices be isolated and taught to prospective teachers in college teacher preparation programs [or] in school and district-based professional development? Or, are these practices unique to the individual teacher?”

In almost every school there is a teacher whom every parent wants their child to have.  S/he is recognized as getting the best out of their students from year to year; creating a classroom where students thrive and making school a positive experience for her/his students.  Administrators have to fend off parent requests for their child to be assigned or transferred to that class, and that teacher is often given the opportunity to select students for next year’s class (making her/his success a self-fulfilling prophecy as s/he rarely selects the known “problem students” and those students with the least parental support at home have no one to lobby for their placement in her/his class).

The Lederman decision makes it clear that the VAM algorithms don’t work when evaluating these teachers.  The results are “arbitrary and capricious” precisely because of the instability and unreliability of individual scores and the grade level ceilings on the tests that mitigate against growth measures for students who continually excel, If, however we use these teachers as a starting point, we can begin to look for the classroom management and teaching practices that are working in that school in that community.

It is possible to talk about teaching techniques, “what that teacher is doing,” (I do this regularly in my work with first and second year NYC Teaching Fellows), but this conversation must be grounded in both research and tailored to the individual style of each teacher.  I have been privileged to work with teachers who are naturally gifted at doing the two things that any “great” teacher must be able to do; convincing each student that you care about her or him and have their best interests at heart.  If students believe that (even, and maybe especially, the seriously emotionally disturbed students that I worked with), then one can talk about how to use the techniques the research has validated.

Techniques like Functional Behavioral Analysis to understand what needs a student’s inappropriate behaviors are serving can be taught.  Developing Positive Behavioral Interventions for that student so s/he can meet those needs without being disruptive requires a teacher who really likes and wants to understand that student and can get beyond a list in a textbook of things that worked for other students to create something unique.

This is the dilemma at the heart of any discussion of “good” teaching and “measuring teacher performance.”  We teach in a system that creates groups, classes, grades, schools, but we teach individuals.  The original intent for annual student evaluations was to look at how districts and schools were using Title One funds; data was analyzed on a school and district level.  The tests were never designed, and I can argue can never be adequately designed, to reliably and validly measure individual student performance.  Nor do rubrics (that are too often turned into checklists) like Danielson’s really look at the decisions that teachers made to meet the needs of the students in front of them, in that community, in that class, on that day.

If we want to develop a system that measures student performance and growth over time or a system that looks at what teachers are contributing to student progress, then we have to do two things.  We need to invest time and effort into building “growth portfolio” practices linked to standards.  The standards define what students are expected to know and be able to do and we can set up portfolios where students submit work that demonstrates their accomplishments including a brief description of why the student thinks a given piece of work meets the standards and what the student is working on to improve her/his performance.

This kind of portfolio can be started for students in first grade and continue through their graduation from high school.  It could even be used in lieu of Regents to deem students to have achieved meaningful mastery in subjects like English, or Math.  To be both valid and reliable teachers need to have time to meet and discuss what kind of content the portfolio needs to have and to develop analytic rubrics for evaluating the quality of the content.  Rubrics have to be shared with students, preferably in lessons where they apply them to grading exemplars across a range of quality levels.  The system also has to allow for students to add to or redefine the descriptions within the rubric so that they, the students, have some real ownership in the process and their education.

The second thing that needs to happen is to support these practices with meaningful in-service professional development on the standards, at how the standards are written and whether they can be made more meaningful and transparent for students, and on how to write and rewrite rubrics that will effectively measure student growth.  Teachers will need time in their work days to meet and have these discussions and, to the extent that these practices are new, teachers will need time to learn and practice with them and schools will need to have staff developers who can facilitate this work and teach the basic skills.

This kind of process will provide better outcomes than the current reliance on standardized and norm referenced tests.  As it will take place in individual schools, the portfolios, rubrics and the entire process will reflect the needs of the communities that schools are located in.  Different communities may emphasize different skills in earlier grades, but all schools and communities will ultimately be holding students accountable for meeting the agreed upon standards, be they Common Core or Pittsburgh or some new iteration yet to be designed.  Employers will be certain that students with earned degrees will have the skills embodied in those standards.

This kind of model will make it easier to talk about the expected outcomes for students; make it possible to see how teachers are trying to get to those outcomes and allow for more discussion among teachers within a school about what is and isn’t working.

In the end teaching is a craft, a mixture of art and science that cannot be completely captured in a rubric or reduced to set of principles or a recipe.  Teaching comes, first and foremost, from the desire to reach out and connect with students, a desire to share one’s enthusiasm for a subject or love of learning, and only secondarily is it about the more mundane topics of how to manage classrooms and how to plan lessons.  Those are important skills for teachers to learn, but they must be learned by each individual teacher in ways that reflect her/his personality.  The practices are not unique, but they are effective only when students see them as a genuine reflection of the teacher’s personality and her/his concern for the students.

VAM, the Lederman Decision and the Misuse of Statistical Tools. “Gut versus Actual Evidence.”

What if the educators making important decisions about schools and colleges are acting too much on their guts and not enough based on actual evidence? (Review of Howard Wainer, “Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies,” 2011)

Back in my union rep days I occasionally represented members in interest arbitrations, claims of violations of the agreement. The Board fired a paraprofessional claiming he had assisted students; cheating thorough the erasure of incorrect answers and using expert testimony explaining how software was used to analyze the erasures. I scrambled to find my own expert. I worried that the technical evidence would be too dense; however, the arbitrator had a background in math and economics and not only understood the testimony he asked numerous questions of the expert witnesses.

A few months later: I won the case; I was ecstatic, the inappropriate use of the erasure analysis software would be barred.

While the arbitrator found the use of the software was not “persuasive;” he sustained our case writing the Board failed to reach their burden of proof. It was a victory, a narrow victory that did not resolve the question of the misuse of the software.

A couple of years ago Sheri Lederman, a teacher on Long Island received an “ineffective” rating on the Value-Added Measurement (VAM) side of the teacher evaluation metric. The appellants introduced evidence from numerous experts all challenging the use of VAM to assess individual teachers.

In a narrowly worded decision a New York State Supreme Court judge overturned the “ineffective” rating of the teacher ruling that use of Value Added Measurement for the appellant in the instant case was “arbitrary and capricious,” No precedent was set.,

Read the Lederman filing here:

Read an excellent analysis here:

In 2010 the New Teacher Project (TNTP), an advocacy organization firmly embedded in the (de)form side of the aisle issued a report – a survey of school districts across a number of states, the findings,

  • All teachers are rated good or great. Less than 1 percent of teachers receive unsatisfactory ratings, making it impossible to identify truly exceptional teachers.
  • Professional development is inadequate. Almost 3 in 4 teachers did not receive any specific feedback on improving their performance in their last evaluation.
  • Novice teachers are neglected. Low expectations for beginning teachers translate into benign neglect in the classroom and a toothless tenure process.
  • Poor performance goes unaddressed. Half of the districts studied have not dismissed a single tenured teacher for poor performance in the past five years.

Six years later New York State is working on Teacher Evaluation 4.0, and, we are in the first year of a four year moratorium on the use of grade 3-8 standardized test scores to assess teachers.

Value-Added Models also referred to as Growth Scores; attempts to compare teachers from around state teaching similar students. A dense mathematical algorithm incorporates a variety of variables and generates a numerical score for each teacher. For example, a fourth grade teacher is compared to other fourth grade teachers across the state taking into account percentages of students she teaches who are Title 1 eligible, students with IEPs, English Language Learners, by gender and perhaps other variables. The criticism is the use of the formula to assess individual teachers: the experts aver the scores are “unreliable,” large errors of measurement,  i. e., plus or minus five or ten or fifteen percent, and the scores are “unstable,” teacher scores vary widely from year to year.

The use of value-added measurements to assess individual teachers has been pilloried by experts.

The New York State Learning Summit  brought together experts from across the country – they were sharply critical of the use of VAM to assess individual teachers.

Howard Wainer, a statistician with decades of experiences and published articles has been a harsh critic of the misuse of statistical tools,

Ideas whose worth diminishes with data and thought are too frequently offered as the only way to do things. Promulgators of these ideas either did not look for data to test their ideas, or worse, actively avoided considering evidence that might discredit them.

The issue is not the mathematical model; the issue is how the model is used. If a particular teacher over a number of years consistently receives high scores it is worthwhile to ask: what is that particular teacher doing? What instructional practices is the teacher utilizing? Can these practices be isolated and taught to prospective teachers in college teacher preparation programs? In school and district-based professional development? Or, are these practices unique to the individual teacher?  Is there a “teaching gene,” an innate quality that resonates with students?

Sadly, VAM has been misused in spite of the evidence that discredits the use of the tool to assess individual teachers

Six years after the Widget Report, a report that bemoaned that only 1 percent of teachers were rated unsatisfactory, six years into the use of student achievement data using dense mathematical prestidigitation we find that 1 percent of teachers are found “ineffective.”

Millions of dollars and endless conflicts and the percentage of teachers found unsatisfactory remain at 1 percent!

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result

In New York State we are in year one of a four-year moratorium on the use of grade 3-8 student test scores to evaluate teachers.

How should management evaluate teacher competence?

“One size fits all” fits no one.

The state should explore a menu of choices to fit the many differences among the 700 school districts in the state.