Cuomo, “Fifty Shades of Grey” and Receivership: Whipping School Communities Does Not Create More Effective Schools, Working Together Really Does Work.

Is something going on with Jim Malatras and Meryl Tisch? Another billet doux, not quite a Valentine Day greeting.

Back in December Malatras, Cuomo’s policy wonk authored an accusatory letter demanding that the chancellor respond to nineteen questions (“Fifty Shades of Grey” ??), the chancellor, meekly, provided a 20-page letter pretty much accepting the flailings of the governor. (Read an earlier blog here)

Cuomo rolled the Malatras letter and the Tisch response into his annual State of the State message, the governor, reminds me a little of Christian Grey displaying his whips and chains and threatening what he sees as a submissive teacher workforce. Well, hasn’t quite worked out that way as the teacher union and their allies fight back, thousands upon thousands of tweets, rallies, TV and radio, and the public increasingly wonders why the governor is bullying their kid’s teacher.

Malatras latest letter asks Tisch to respond to the governor’s vague “receivership” concept,

One of New York State’s greatest failures has been the persistent state of our failing schools. As you know there are 178 failing schools in New York State [note: there are 4400 schools in the state] and 77 have been failing for a decade…

That is why the Governor adopted your recommendation note: [the Regents have never discussed this issue] and proposed a law based on the Massachusetts receivership model with an added provision that these schools become community schools with wraparound and other services…

A broad section of education stakeholders have supported the Massachusetts approach [note: who are they?], including the AFT President Randi Weingarten, who supports the model in the Lawrence School District…

[the governor would] like SED to further research the Massachusetts model by performing a comprehensive data and field analysis to see how and why the program is working and the specific measures that are making the model a success.

So, I asked Randi, is Malatras accurate? She replied,

I have been pretty clear – I don’t– we support what happened in Lawrence

This is what I said to Albany TU (Read entire article here)

“I’m not for receivership. The only place its working is in Lawrence, Mass., and that’s because there is collective bargaining and the leadership believes that teachers should have a voice, and, as such, collaboration among all partners exists. Instead of receivership, there’s the Chancellor’s District model that we rolled out in New York City, which provides a real strategy for turning around low-performing schools.”

Repeat: Weingarten does not support receivership, with the exception of Lawrence, which got off the a rocky start; however, the relationship between the receiver and the union in Lawrence has improved considerably, although the receivership route appear more based on the person selected as receiver than the model itself.

In 2010 Massachusetts won a Race to the Top grant and passed wide-ranging school reform legislation, (Read a description here). The law allowed the State Commissioner to place the lowest achieving school districts in the state into receivership, the state chooses a receiver who has wide ranging powers, including the right to abrogate collective bargaining agreements.

Since Malatras highlights Lawrence let’s take a look at the Lawrence model, called an “Open Architecture Model,”

In November 2011, the Lawrence Public Schools was placed into state receivership by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary & Secondary Education. Under receivership, the Commissioner of Elementary & Secondary Education appoints a receiver, who is vested with the powers of the school district superintendent and the local school committee. In addition to consolidated governing authority, the receiver also has the power to amend or suspend aspects of collective bargaining agreements in the district. No end date has been specified for receivership, though the Commissioner has stated that he expects the turnaround will take at least five years.

The goal of the turnaround is to create high-performing schools using the following strategies: 1) shifting more resources and autonomy to the school level; 2) creating a leaner, more responsive central office; 3) ensuring all schools have great leaders and teachers; 4) harnessing the talents of partner organizations; 5) expanding the school day and adding learning time for students; and 6) increasing student engagement through enrichment opportunities.

Under the open architecture model, the role of the district is to establish “thin walls and foundations” for some common standards across the district, while providing maximum “white space” for school design. In other words, the district establishes basic policies and flexible supports for schools, enabling educators to design and run a variety of school types within the system. This is in contrast to traditional school districts, where centralized policies dictate the nuts and bolts structure of all schools, central office support is one-size-fits-all, and there is little room to innovate at the school level.

In an August, 2014 the receiver, in a letter to all staff, reviewed the district accomplishments, philosophy and path forward, worthwhile reading.

I am not calling for the imposition of the Lawrence Model or for the imposition of any specific model, Randi referenced the NYC Chancellor’s District; “successes” are not determined by which reading or math program you use, success comes from creating a new district/school culture. Success comes from staff buy-in, school communities working together creating a synergy, a collective energy. The union was a partner in the Chancellor’s District; for a couple of years I worked as the union guy on the education side, all meetings were open to the union. I sat in on principal’s meetings, on all types of planning sessions; the union was an equal partner, and, the “sounding board” for the district leadership. Virtually every school had a teacher center, prospective teaching candidates were pre-screened to assure quality, and the Chancellor’s District leadership was highly visible and available. The Chancellor’s District was a highly proscriptive model, the Lawrence Model is school-based with different schools designing difference approaches within a common philosophy, a very different model and both worked in highly collaborative settings.

The community school wrap around services component acknowledges the challenges of working within neighborhoods with economic, social and emotional issues, however, the community school concept is complex, aside from Cincinnati we have very little experience.

A serious constraint is the definition of accountability, currently test scores and graduation rates. We have to broaden the definitions: reducing chronic absenteeism, reducing suspensions, increasing parent participation, reducing teacher mobility and the intelligent use of parent, student and teacher surveys. We have to incorporate the realities, schools with students in shelters, in foster care, in the social service system, parental incarceration, neighborhood crime statistics, percentages of student with disabilities and English language learners, all impact the academic data, and, a wider and more nuanced view of accountability gives a more accurate picture of a school community.

The Massachusetts receiver model gives the receiver the right to change any or all staff: principals and teachers, and abrogate any sections of the collective bargaining agreement, without any evidence that the outcomes will improve teaching and learning.

Let’s not forget that the legislature allowed State Ed to take over the Roosevelt School District, they assigned the superintendent who ran the district for years, without any improvements. Receivership removes the school district from the local educational authority and hands it over to a receiver and other not-for-profit organizations, without any evidence that the model will show improvement or create chaos.

In spite of the apparent successes in Lawrence, before we jump on the train, the Regents should convene the stakeholders, primarily the unions and seek agreements on what is necessary to move forward, what impediments have to be removed and what supports have to be added.

A perhaps apocalyptical quote from Lyndon Johnson describes the complexities of change,

“It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”
―Lyndon B. Johnson

Can NYC Chancellor Farina Turnaround the “Reform” Wave? Can Working With Parents and Teachers Trump “Test and Fire”??

We live in a generation of “big data,” as Ian Ayres shows us in “Super Crunchers: Why Thinking by the Numbers is the New Way to Be Smart” (2007) virtually every industry parses numbers to determine important organizational decisions. For decades education, for better or for worse, was run by the educational hierarchy, and can be characterized as more interested in maintaining the bureaucracy than in changing the bureaucracy.

The last decade has seen a tidal wave of change, the new breed of educational leadership now agrees, data drives decision-making, and, economists, sociologists and management gurus own the data. Robert Gordon, an economist, designed the current weighted students funding (called Fair Student Funding in NYC) formula change that moved from “average teacher salary” to “actual teacher salary” in determining school budgets, a change that critics charge disadvantages senior teachers by encouraging principals to staff schools with new, low salaried teachers: principals must decide, “should I hire a senior teacher or two new teachers?” William Ouchi, a management professor at UCLA published the “bible” of school management, “Making Schools Work” (2003), a book that revolutionized the structure of urban school systems, Ouchi argues that principals must be given wide discretion in running their own schools, and, be held accountable for results.

The Ouchi mantra drove the Bloomberg-Klein school system,

1. Every principal is an entrepreneur
2. Every school controls its own budget
3. Everyone is accountable for student performance and for budgets
4. Everyone delegates authority to those below
5. There is a burning focus on school achievement
6. Every school is a community of learners
7. Families have real choices among a variety of unique schools.

The former inhabitants of Tweed measured every aspect of school performance and reduced the metrics to letter “A” to “F” grades. The “everyone is accountable” and “everyone delegates authority to those below” meant that the folks at the bottom, the teachers, were on the “firing” line. In classrooms the focus moved away from instruction to managing test scores, credit accumulation and school grades.

The data focus drove policy decisions in New York City, in Chicago and in Los Angeles, in virtually every urban school system.

The focus on data also drives policy at the state level. At the February 9th NYS Regents Meeting Education Resources Strategies, a consulting entity, will present recommendations based on a paper, “Spinning Straw into Gold: How State Education Agencies Can Transform Their Data to Improve School Critical School Resources Decisions” (December, 2014). On the next to the last page, almost as an afterthought, the paper avers, “…stakeholder engagement is critical …from unions to parents diverse stakeholders have raised questions … [about] misuse of state-collected data … often stem from a misunderstandings about how the data will be used.” In New York State the parent-driven opt-out movement is blossoming all over the state, there will be over 1000,000 parents, maybe manh more, choosing to remove their students from the discredited state testing program; they fully understand the misuse of testing. Teachers and their unions are at war with the governor who wants to base all high-stakes decisions on test results, from hiring to firing, from remuneration to promotion.

What is absent is a discussion about teaching and learning: the role of school leaders and teachers at the point of contact, in classrooms.

Kate Taylor, in the New York Times writes about the changing attitude in the new leadership of the Department of Education. The appointment of Carmen Farina, a 71-year old with over forty years of experience in the school system is an anomaly. The primary source of high level leadership has been the Broad Academy, funded by the Eli Broad Foundation, a leadership preparation program deeply ensconced in world a “big data” who have paved the way for the young and data-driven, oftentimes lacking in actual teaching and school leadership.

Taylor describes an incident,

The new schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, walked in, saw a spreadsheet projected on the wall and cut off the official who was presenting the data. “I know a good quality school when I’m in the building,” she said, according to one participant in the meeting. “We’re going to do this,” she added, “based on the schools we know to be good.”

The Bloomberg-Klein crowd closed and created schools, public and private, at a dizzying pace, they “…either shut down or began to phase out 157 schools and opened 656 new, smaller schools” as well as opening 173 charter schools.

Farina has changed the entire vocabulary,

Instead of the previous administration’s technocratic, sometimes corporate language — full of terms like “accountability” and “competition” — her speeches are peppered with a new set of buzzwords, like “collaboration” and “trust.”

Teachers, their unions, advocacy organizations and communities, for the first time in a decade, are viewed as partners, valuable partners, who are engaged in the day-to-day process to improve schools; not without sharp criticisms from the supports of the former administration.

Eric Nadelstern, a visiting professor at Columbia University Teachers College and a former deputy chancellor under Mr. Klein, with whom Ms. Fariña clashed, said that Ms. Fariña was “an outstanding teacher” and “a great principal,” but that as chancellor she was relying on strategies that had proved unsuccessful over decades of efforts to transform urban the systemic approach to thinking about how to move the system from where it is to where it’s never been,” Mr. Nadelstern said. “And part of that really is defining learning outcomes so that the public knows how to hold you accountable.”

He went on: “What exactly are they focused on that you can measure and as a consequence manage by and hold them accountable by? I haven’t heard anything.”

In reality Farina has simply clarified lines of responsibility; the tools to assess schools and principals include a deep dive into school progress, measured by quantifiable numbers and the observations of the reviewer.

The Principal Practice Observation Tool details the expectations of the external review and is the core of the principal’s overall rating, the Principal Performance Review.

Additionally schools are periodically subject to Quality Reviews by either the superintendent or a trained reviewer: see the details of the QR process here.

Farina is bucking the national tide, the reform-y mantra: teachers resist change, do what you have to do to force change in the name of “civil rights” for all children. Teachers view “change” cloaked as “reform” as punishment and push back; the result has been teacher wars in city after city. The reform, actually (de)form emphasis on “accountability” through numbers based on test results has also spawned a rising tide of parent opposition. The opt-out movement, the refusal to allow their children to participate in state tests is massive.

By the end of the Bloomberg administration parents believed teachers more than the mayor in regard to educational decision-making. The claims of “progress,” coming from the (de)formers is questionable at best.

Farina invited the union to work as a partner, standing together; working to refurbish and revive struggling schools, as a partner she also criticized the lunacy of our governor.

She is a risk taker; however, there are no guarantees: will a real partnership between the union and the chancellor actually begin to budge the behemoth, the New York City School System, forward? Or, as Eric Nadelsten warns, Farina is actually recloaking failed strategies?

Farina, the Mayor and the union are bucking a rising tide, the tide of charter schools, eliminating tenure and data-based firings, the tide of “big data” driving decisions, decisions made by the wonks, not the grizzled educators who have fought the wars for decades.

Then again, the sports data-wonks churn out the numbers, numbers which can’t guarantee winners; frequently it’s the teamwork, the passions, the dedication to one’s craft, a leader who uplifts rather than tears down, Farina could just end up turning around the direction of our national education system.

Albany and The Art of Compromise: How Will the “Irreconcilable Differences” Be Resolved? (Or Maybe Not!)

Politics is the art of compromise, no matter the differences, the passions, the antagonisms, the vast majority of issues end in some kind of compromise. Electeds constantly have the proverbial “finger in the air,” testing the winds of public opinion. Yes, occasionally there are issues that require an “up or down” vote, issues that defy compromise: choice, death penalty and marriage equality are examples, and, yes, frequently the path is agonizingly slow.

Partisans on both sides drum up their troops: send emails, tweets with the proper hashtags, office visits, speaking out at public meetings, all try to tilt the final vote to their side of the street.

There are times when we wish Aztec Heart Sacrifice was an option.

Holding the still beating heart of your opponent over your head as you scream in victory is a fitting ending, although frowned upon by the officialdom.

Governor Cuomo, in his State of the State message outlined a litany of “reforms,” in reality political revenge against teacher unions that failed to support him, or, supported his opponent, and jumping on board the richly funded (de)form train.

The New York State fiscal year begins April 1, if the budget is not in place the state’s financial rating drops and the governor’s approval rating takes a hit. Legislators won’t get paid and in order for the state to continue to function “continuing resolutions” and “executive orders” drive the state budget process. The governor ends up incrementally getting what he could not get in the orderly budget process, although at a political cost.

The political calculus is at a very high level. The two legislative houses, the 150-seat Assembly dominated by the downstate Democrats and the 63-seat Senate led, by a hair, by primarily suburban Republicans have to negotiate settlements on hundreds of issues that are included in the budget.

Members in both houses are already deeply engaged in internal discussions about crafting compromises, trade-offs (“logrolling”) and drawing “lines in the sand” that may or may not be flexible.

A prime example: the property tax cap versus rent control.

The Cuomo “Opportunity Agenda” is a 500 plus page listing of hundreds of initiatives, the education section begins on page 218, not exactly at the top of the agenda.

Let’s take a look at some of the proposals:

“…the current teacher discipline system is broken … [its] costly and time consuming …physical and sexual abuse [accusations] teacher should be suspended without pay …”

Defending members who are accused of physical or sexual misconduct is not popular with the public, or for that matter, with legislators. In the last contract the UFT and the Department of Education negotiated changes in teacher discipline that only apply to teachers in New York City. Commissioner King called the provisions, “A model or the state,” The provisions are embedded in the collective bargaining agreement,

The parties agree that certain types of alleged misconduct are so serious that the employee should be suspended without pay pending the outcome of the disciplinary process. Serious misconduct shall be defined as actions that would constitute:

• the felony sale, possession, or use of marijuana, a controlled substance, or a precursor of a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia as defined in Article 220 or 221 of the Penal Law, or
• any crime involving physical abuse of a minor or student ….), or
• any felony committed either on school property or while in the performance of teaching duties, or
• any felony involving firearms as defined in Article 265 of the Penal Law.

A tenured pedagogue who has been charged under the criminal law or under §3020-a of the New York State Education Law with an act or acts constituting sexual misconduct (defined below) shall be suspended without pay upon a finding by a hearing officer of probable cause that sexual misconduct was committed.

A rebuttable presumption of probable cause shall exist where the Special Commissioner of Investigations (“SCI”) substantiates allegations of sexual misconduct, or a tenured pedagogue has been charged with criminal conduct based on act(s) of sexual misconduct.

The UFT has also entered into agreements with the Department to expedite hearing, since the agreement cases have averaged 105 days from the preferment of charges to the decision of the arbitrator.

The State Education Department (SED) does not have clean hands. For years the SED has hassled with arbitrators over the rates, length of hearings and other administrative matters, the “solution,” the SED decided, was slowing the payment of arbitrators, from 3-4 months to 18-24 months, and, eventually managed to change the law. Many arbitrators quit the panel and some refused to issue decisions until they were paid,

Nearly half of the state arbitrators assigned to hear cases of teacher misconduct in New York City have quit in the last few weeks [June, 2012], creating a potential backlog of cases in an already cluttered system,.
Ten of the 24 arbitrators who handle city cases have walked off the job, primarily because they have not been paid. Some arbitrators contracted by the state are owed at least two years’ back pay. State Education Department officials did not deny that the arbitrators are owed back pay.

There are a small number of teachers who have been awaiting decisions for a few years.

Additionally, cases are costly because school districts use outside counsel at hourly rates, depending upon the location, hundreds of dollars an hour is a standard rate. SED could force school districts to use state attorneys housed in BOCES centers and bill the school district, the cost would be substantially lower.

As of this date both sides are adamant, “fixing a broken system” on one side and “defending due process” on the other.

Another issue on the governor’s agenda is the recertification of teachers every five years.

“…recertify every five years much in the same way as attorneys …”

My lawyer friends smile, they can take “recertification” courses online [formally known as Continuing Legal Education], while on a cruise, at some fabulous resort, at worst, an annoyance, at best combining a vacation with some education. From the courts website:

Q] As an experienced attorney, what is my CLE requirement?
A] Experienced attorneys must complete a total of 24 accredited CLE credit hours during each biennial reporting cycle (the two-year period between your attorney registrations). At least 4 of these credit hours must be in the Ethics and Professionalism category. The remaining credit hours may be in any category of credit.

Q] What kinds of courses count toward my CLE requirement?
A] Experienced attorneys may earn CLE credit by attending CLE courses offered in the traditional live classroom format, or in nontraditional formats such as audiotapes, videoconferences, online, etc., so long as the CLE Board has accredited the provider to offer the course in the particular format, or the course is eligible for credit under New York’s Approved Jurisdiction policy.

If the “recertification” process is the same as “Continuing Legal Education,” this item does not, on the surface, appear to be an irreconcilable issue.

The Cuomo Opportunity Agenda also has a lengthy section on “Raising the Bar,” increasing the requirements for teacher candidates, requiring higher grade point averages in college to enter a teacher education program, evaluating teacher education programs based on the “grades” of graduates once they enter teaching, etc. However, just released research questions the need for any changes,

The academic capability of new teachers in New York City has risen over the past 15 years, new research shows. Between 1999 and 2010, the average SAT scores of New York City college students receiving their teaching certification increased by 18 percent, and the SAT scores of entering teachers in New York City improved by 49 percent, according to the study published in Educational Researcher.

The test score gains were particularly pronounced among teachers hired to work in high-poverty schools, which resulted in a substantial reduction of the academic ability gap of teachers hired at affluent versus high-poverty schools.

If we continue to “Raise the Bar” are we going to reduce the applicant pool? What is the correlation between SAT scores and effective teaching? What will be the impact on candidates who were English language learners or came up the ladder from community colleges? Will “Raising the Bar,” in effect bar minority teachers? After the first year of the new required teacher certifications exams applicants of color and Hispanic applicants have significantly lower pass rates (Read here)

Another Opportunity Agenda idea is to increase the probationary period from the current three to five years.

Under current law school districts have the ability to extend tenure, with the agreement of the teacher, and, in New York City the practice is not uncommon. The major problem is not granting tenure too early, the problem is teacher attrition. 31.1% of teachers who were hired in 2009-10 quit by year four. 16.6% of teachers in 2012-13 have quit. School districts, and, in New York City, schools, have total discretion who to hire. New York State colleges, up to last year were pumping out far more teachers (except in ESL, bilingual and some science areas) than could be absorbed. This year the registration in schools of education declined sharply. The extension of the probationary period could discourage applicants and have very significant “unintended consequences.”

On a range of other issues the governor and teachers/parents are miles apart.

Over the next two months the battle for hearts and minds will resonate around the state. Will the governor’s approval rating dive? Will legislators line up with Cuomo or his opponents? Will the print, electronic and cyber media tilt for or against? Bus and train loads of foot soldiers will trek up or down the Hudson to walk the corridors of the Legislative Office Building (LOB) as the emissaries of the “three men in a room” exchange ideas and memorandum and actual texts of proposed legislation.

For many any compromise is a loss, the equivalent of planting the flag on the top of Mount Suribachi must be the outcome.

I expect that the outcome will be a very complex combination that to some extent can be viewed as a partial victory for all sides; although I do envy the Aztecs.

Marshawn Lynch, Carl Heastie and the Media: Is the New Speaker As Tough as the Seattle Running Back?

Marshawn Lynch is the all-star running back for the almost two time Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Lynch grew up in Oakland, attended the University of California, Berkeley, and left after his junior year to play professional football, first in Buffalo, now in Seattle, and, ” … his teammates joke that he loves chain restaurants … [and] is also known for his frequent community involvement. In 2013 he was featured in Red Bull’s campaign ‘Athletes Give Back’ when he put together a very successful food drive for his home town.” However, he has always been reticent to speak to the media, The NFL fined him a number of times, at the required press availability at the Super Bowl Lynch showed up and answered every question with “I’m just here so I won’t get fined”

The room, full of media, asked him question again and again knowing full well that he would answer with his “I’m just here …” response. It was difficult to watch as Lynch repeated his “answer” time and time again.

The NFL is a $19 billion corporation that panders to media outlets who intensely “cover” pro football and pump up the viewership and revenues. It is commonplace to arrange for pool coverage, a small number of journalists interview and all the journalists share in the event through pool coverage, the NFL forced Lynch to confront a room full of media who chose to crucify him; to ask him questions over and over again, getting the same nonresponsive reply, the purpose: to play the charade again and again and watch Lynch squirm on national TV.

If Lynch had been a white player from an Ivy League school would the journalists have treated him the same way?

Carl Heastie is the newly elected speaker of the NYS Assembly, and, the first African-American leader. In his fifteen years as an Assembly member Heastie moved up the ladder, in 2008 he maneuvered himself into the position of leader of the Bronx Democratic Party and two years ago was appointed as chair of the Assembly Labor Committee. Most members of the Assembly lust for moments on TV or mentions in the press; the members love the publicity and the media loves the tidbits, the sound bites.

Carl Heastie never sought the spotlight of the media, in fact, he avoided the spotlight; he majored in mathematics and statistics at Stonybrook and earned an MBA at CUNY. No matter, in article after article the media wrote critical articles, mentioning his imperfections, and, always mentioning his penchant for silence; comparing him to the taciturn Silver.

The Assembly formally elected Heastie earlier today: Watch his 8-minute acceptance speech beginning at minute 25 here.

The NY Times reports on his first address to his Assembly colleagues,

“This will actually be the longest speech I’ve ever given,” [Heastie] said, before speaking for nearly eight minutes.

In his first moments as speaker, Mr. Heastie delivered a wide-ranging speech promising to fight for liberal ideals: raising the minimum wage, improving education, promoting women’s equality and reforming the criminal justice system. He promised, too, to try to raise the salary of Assembly members, a contentious point in the capital; the suggestion earned a roar of approval from his colleagues … Among the issues Mr. Heastie said must be addressed were “the way we regulate legislative outside income …

We have to make sure that tax money is spent carefully and transparently.”

“There must be accountability,” he added. “Never again can there be a question about the integrity of our members or this institution.”

Governor Cuomo in his State of the State and Mayor de Blasio in his State of the City each spoke for over an hour: Cuomo, the bully, threatening legislators and demeaning teachers and de Blasio using term “affordable housing” many, many times, and, oh yes, planning a five-borough ferry.

News story after news story emphasized Heastie’s worts, or perceived worts, comparing him to Silver over and over again. They could have emphasized his college major: mathematics and statistics, or, his MBA in finance from Baruch, the shining jewel in the CUNY crown.

I believe Heastie will be up to the challenge of dealing with a bullying, overbearing Cuomo. It was easy to leak negative story after negative story to the press about Silver; while Silver was a superb negotiator he was an unsympathetic figure, feared more than loved.

Can Cuomo attack or demean or threaten the first African-American speaker? Will trying to undermine Heastie unify the Assembly? Will Heastie standing up to Cuomo gain him wide public support?

Cuomo blithely warned the legislature that if they didn’t pass his ethics reform and his budget there would be no budget. If no budget is passed by April 1 the legislators will have their salary frozen; if Cuomo repeats the threat Heastie can simply tell his members, save up your dollars.

The governor who failed the bar exam four times may find the mathematician from the Bronx is a tough, popular and effective negotiator, and perhaps as tough as the Seattle running back, who, if given a chance would have won the Super Bowl.

Charter Schools and the Education Reform Agenda: Fabulous or Failures? Why Top Down Reform Will Fail and Bottom Up Teacher/Parent Driven Reform Will Succeed.

“As charter schools continue to expand, new research indicates liberal opponents are failing to make effective arguments aimed at curbing the education reform movement.”

In a peer-reviewed article in the Policy Studies Journal University of Michigan political scientist Sarah Reckhow finds,

“Conservatives outnumber liberals in this country, and only liberals tend to oppose charter schools. They are failing to persuade even fellow Democrats who are more moderate…. Those who want more regulation of charter schools will have to find more effective ways of persuading people because their base is small and their arguments are falling on deaf ears.”

The 2014 midterm elections were a Republican romp; Republicans strengthened their majority in the House and pummeled the Democrats to seize control of the Senate. The national education debate was not around charter schools, the debate centered around excessive testing, Common Core, and, generally, the expanded role of the federal government in the formation of education policy

Charter schools are popular among conservatives primarily, according to Reckhow, due to their anti-union bias, as well as among the large swaths of progressive Democrats. At a recent panel of former Clinton staffers one of the speakers, who had a high-ranking policy position in the Clinton White House, praised Clinton for his support of charter schools. Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) actively campaigns within the Democratic Party for the “reform” agenda: charter schools, weakening tenure, abolishing layoff by seniority and generally weakening the power of unions.

The consumers of charter schools, inner city parents of color, routinely flock to charter schools in lieu of the local public school.

What is particularly distressing is that the “evidence,” piles and piles of research, shows that charter schools are on a par with public schools, or have slightly better data, many stumble and fail, and this is in spite of their obvious advantages, few students with disabilities, fewer English language learners, high rates of “pushouts” and expulsions, and a recruiting system that favor parents with “social capital.”

Joshua Corwin, “Charter Schools: Fabulous or Failure,” takes a deep dive into the research findings,

Depending on whom you ask charter schools may be either an important solution to persistent educational inequality, or a misguided attack on public schools as Americans know them. Both sides are firmly entrenched in this debate, which remains one the more polarizing arguments in American education.

Corwin parses the studies that differ in their conclusions. Although not part of the Corwin’s article New York City is a good example, the large charter networks, Success, Harlem Children’s Zone, KIPP and Uncommon Schools perform reasonably well while the hundreds of single entrepreneur charter schools frequently underperform neighborhood public schools. The article concludes,

The answer then to the question of whether charter schools provide opportunities for students in struggling public schools appears to be “yes, but…”

The important word here is “opportunity.” For some students, attending certain charter schools may lead to significant improvements in their educational experiences. How those effects occur remains a matter for debate; explanations for charter successes and failures are as varied as the results themselves.

In the realm of cyberspace there are enumerable blogs critical of charters and the so-called “:reform” agenda, there are over 200 bloggers within in Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education churning out post after post and thousands upon thousands of tweets. Are the anti-charter school bloggers and tweeters talking to each other or impacting opinion in the public sphere?

One of the main arguments of the anti-charter school, anti-reform folks is that they are fighting against the corporatists, the “rich and powerful,” the Bill Gates, the Eli Broads, the donor community, who are funding the support of charter schools and the reform agenda. Reckhow in an earlier book, Follow the Money: How Foundation Dollars Change Public School Politics, examined the role of foundations in influencing education policy.

Jay Greene, a scholar on the conservative side, in a review of the book wrote,

Reckhow confirms that total foundation giving to K–12 education may exceed $1 billion … Reckhow shows that large foundations have recognized the need to focus on influencing how public monies are spent, and that they are now devoting a significantly larger share of their giving on policy advocacy … Reckhow extends this analysis by warning us that shifting to policy advocacy won’t necessarily result in policy success, especially on an enduring basis…

Without building authentic and lasting support among local constituencies, philanthropic dreams of policy change may be ephemeral … New York City may have been easier, faster, and cheaper for reform-oriented foundations to accomplish their goals, but that speed came at a price. The support for reform policies is so narrow in New York City that Reckhow doubts it will survive for long after Mayor Michael Bloomberg leaves office. [And, yes, many of the Bloomberg era policies are eroding]

If large foundations can build and control a national machinery to shape education policy nationwide, then they have no reason to worry about how broadly based support is for their preferred policies. As long as national elites favor their agenda, they hope that the national machine they are constructing can force policies from the very top all the way down to every classroom.

Reckhow’s implication is that this national reform machine is doomed to fail. Both state and local education authorities will resist the national reforms before they can be completed, or they will ignore and subvert policies that actually go into effect. Millions of teachers and thousands of schools cannot all be monitored and compelled from the top. Reckhow’s lesson is that enduring and successful reforms require a broad and deep base of support, which top-down reform efforts are failing to develop.

… there is an alternative to trying to convince the education establishment to buy into reform. Donors could mobilize the most important yet most ignored constituency of all: parents.

Reckhow thinks donors should court unions, community activists, and local leaders…

The top down reforms, i. e., the Common Core and testing is the subject of grassroots parent advocacy, the “opt-out” movement is spreading from state to state and the reauthorization of NCLB is seriously considering moving away from annual student testing. On the ground parent advocacy may be turning back the climate of testing that has dominated the education scene.

Twenty years ago, David Tyack and Larry Cuban wrote, “Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform, they were also sharply critical of top-down public school reform efforts,

“… we suggest that reformers take a broader view of the aims that should guide
public education and focus on ways to improve instruction from the inside out rather than top down … To bring about improvement at the heart of education – classroom instruction has proven to be the most difficult kind of reform … and it will result in the future more from internal changes created by knowledge and the expertise of teachers than from decisions of external policy makers”.

One of the most interesting experiments in “inside out” change began in New York City, the new teacher contract allows for wide latitude in changing provisions of the contract and management regulations. The project, called Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE), began with 63 schools and the application process for next year is underway, schools took on a wide range of projects,

Staff members of these schools created a range of plans, including staggering the school day to meet student needs, changing contractually required student-to-teacher ratios to allow for a combination of small group learning and larger lecture-style classes, and using portfolios of instructional strategies to help rate teachers. In close collaboration with their teachers, school leaders in PROSE schools will drive continuous innovation as they look to change some of the basic rules and regulations under which they have historically operated.

Critics of charter schools and the reform agenda are vociferous in their opposition and light on alternatives; except for more funding. Yes, poverty has a severe impact on families and children, however, to imply that poverty is an excuse for struggling schools is no salable. On the other side of the argument, to offer charter schools as a “fix,” to claim that teacher unions, tenure and seniority equals failing schools is equally foolish.

The American Federation of Teachers uses the term solutions-driven unionism and, I was taught when I come to the table always come to the table with solutions. I ran monthly meetings of union building reps, (in NYC called chapter leaders); my one “rule” was no one could bring up an issue that those at the table couldn’t resolve.

Inner city schools with similar students have widely differing results, school leadership and teachers can make differences. The differences may be small, they may be incremental, however, lower suspension rates, better attendance, and a rich engaging curriculum provides a platform for progress.

The large high school in which I taught “competed” with three neighboring schools for students one was a modern building with highly innovative “block scheduling” with an independent study option, another school included a highly selective screened program. The assistant principal in my school who was in charge of guidance services also led the student recruiting efforts. We hosted a lox and bagels breakfast for local middle school guidance counselors, produced a lovely folder advertising the school’s achievements, attended every middle school open house, every community organization; we lobbied elected officials for physical upgrades to the school building and entered every imaginable competition, we were activists and we successfully attracted families. A nearby school complained endlessly that we were “stealing their kids,” which, in a way, we were. One school, with no special circumstances, except their staff successfully retained neighborhood kids and attracted kids from surrounding neighborhoods thrived; the “complaining” school eventually was closed due to poor performance.

A colleague was waiting to meet with a principal, and began to pester the school secretary who kept on telling him the principal would not be available until the second period. “We have other schools to visit; can’t he meet with us now?”

The secretary responded, “No, he can’t meet with you, he’s teaching.”

The visitor, somewhat surprised, “He’s covering a class?”

Secretary, “No, he teaches gym every day first period so teachers can meet and plan.”

My colleague said he was embarrassed, the school leader and the teachers came up with a “fix,” an innovative way of allowing teachers to plan collaboratively…

I thought the PROSE program, as described above, would have many applicants, unfortunately too many schools abjure (“Don’t Move My Cheese”) change. For a dozen years under the Bloomberg/Klein regency teacher voice was diminished, in fact, outspoken teachers were punished.

Teacher, parent and student voice matters: fighting along with parents and students to improve a school and to improve society builds a school community, engages and produces students who are the kind of citizen that enable our city and our nation to prosper.

Presumptive Speaker Carl Heastie: Why the Speaker is a Really, Really Important Position and Why Heastie Can Become the Face of Progressivism in New York State

On Tuesday afternoon, February 10th, the New York State Assembly will probably select Carl Heastie, an Assembly member from the Bronx, as the Speaker.

Heastie has served in the Assembly since 2000 and is a graduate of the State University of New York at Stony Brook where he earned a Bachelor’s of Science in applied Mathematics and Statistics, which he followed up with an MBA in Finance from the Bernard M. Baruch College (CUNY).

Joe Lentol, a 40-year member from Brooklyn who chairs the Committee on Codes has withdrawn his candidacy and Cathy Nolan, a thirty-year member from Queens who chairs the Education Committee is still in the mix.

City and State parses the wheeling and dealing that has been going on behind the scenes.

Another factor is Wright’s recent announcement that he would run for the seat of Rep. Charles Rangel, a longtime ally who plans to retire in two years … Wright was in discussions with Heastie, the chair of the Bronx Democratic Party, about stepping aside to secure the support of his Assembly colleague and the Bronx delegation in his 2016 congressional bid.

A New York Post editorial advocates for a reform agenda,

The bigger problem is [Silver] used his office to ensure the New York state Assembly’s sorry distinction as the least deliberative body in the United States.

The fixes are clear.

It starts with transparency about [Assembly member] outside income. But it also means reforming the entire structure so that the Assembly can operate the way a legislature is supposed to in a democracy: with bills put forth and debated, committees moving legislation, legislators considering amendments and so on.

Instead, we have a top-down Assembly where the people’s elected representatives are merely rubber stamps for the deals their leaders have already worked out behind closed-doors with the governor.

The crucial question is does the next speaker have the cojones, the toughness, the thick skin, if necessary the ruthlessness, to stand up to the governor and the Senate majority leader.

Silver both ran the Democratic Conference with an iron fist and managed the conference’s incredibly diverse membership. Dairy farmers, inner city representatives from New York City, as well as Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo, representatives from high tax affluent suburbs, the Afro-American and Hispanic caucus, the thirty-six female members, and the long line of lobbyists and campaign contributors.

Over the next two years members will submit over 10,000 bills, some high profile, for example:

* legislation to extend rent control, which expires on 6/30/15
* whether to raise the charter school cap
* the Governor’s Education Reform agenda
* the Dreamer legislation

and others, the overwhelming percentage, reflects
the interests of the members,

see Assembly member Rosenthal’s hundred plus bills/laws.

see Assembly member Nolan’s dozen bills,

The Albany legislative bodies have been the subject of scathing criticism for years. An NYU Brennan Center Report quotes a 1948 description of the functioning of the body,

Someday a legislative leadership with a sense of humor will push through both houses resolutions called for the abolition of the bodies and the speedy execution of the members. If read in the usual mumbling tone by the clerk droning on in the usual uninquiring manner, the resolution will be adopted unanimously.

A few of the younger members have asked for “reforms,” in fact, self-serving reforms. Term limits for committee chairs, questioning the use of seniority for committee chairs, committee staff selected by the members not the leadership; of course, they oppose term limits for themselves and might not care if committee chairs didn’t receive additional remuneration.

Heastie will suddenly become a high profile leader, the highest ranking Afro-American elected official in the state who will have to establish himself, (“there’s a new sheriff in town”), he will have to immediately stand up to the governor.

I hope he says,

“I look forward to working with the governor, however:

“There’s no reason to increase the charter school caps. I intend to appoint a committee and hold hearings: Have charter schools improved education in public schools? Are charter schools more effective than public schools? Are there lessons to be learned for public schools from charter schools? Why aren’t we closing low achieving charter schools? What is the impact on public schools when you open charter schools?”

“Washington should not impose testing and teacher evaluation rules on New York State, educational decisions should be made by educators and elected officials in New York State; the Congress is considering making changes in No Child Left Behind, there is no reason for New York State to change any rules, let’s wait for Congress, and let’s urge the Regents to do everything within their power to reduce testing.”

“The funding disparity in New York State is distressing, the lowest wealth districts receive the lowest levels of funding, the current property tax capped system is unworkable, and we have to reform the entire system.”

The liberal wing of the Democratic Party has been adrift; the philosophic leader of party has been Zephyr Teachout, the loser in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Parents, teachers, trade unionists, seniors, civil rights organizations and advocates look to Mayor de Blasio; however, the mayor has been regularly diminished by the governor and trashed by the print media.

Heastie can be the new voice, the anti-Cuomo, a voice for the voiceless, from an anonymous Bronx legislator to a national figure.

Cuomo was able to effectively crush de Blasio, and continues to show the mayor who is in charge. Cuomo “stole” pre-kindergarten by torpedoing the de Blasio “tax the rich” plan and funding pre-k through the state budget; the mayor now is dependent on the governor to fund the program at the core of his mayoralty; the decision to close the subways and keeping the mayor out of the loop was also a sign of disrespect.

The governor will have a hard time slapping down the presumptive speaker – he needs the speaker, and, with a Moreland Commission indictment hanging in the air the last thing the governor needs is an open fight with the first Afro-American leader of the Assembly.

For Heastie there is no boot camp, no pre-season practice, it’s learning to swim by being pushed off the end of the diving board. He could replicate Silver, the taciturn leader who operates behind the scene, the eminence grise, powerful and barely visible, or, the face of the Assembly, reviving the moribund Assembly that has been led by handful of shady powerbrokers.

The editorial board of the New York Times agrees,

“… more independence for legislators is only one item on a long list of reforms, and yes, such openness would make the Capitol a lot noisier. Also, it might take longer to craft and implement legislation. But the vote to replace an authoritarian speaker is a rare opportunity to breathe fresh air into a very stale place, and to begin reforming New York’s very broken system of government.”

Lyndon Johnson was thrust into the presidency,

“In his first address to Congress, on November 27, 1963, a few days after Kennedy was shot, LBJ told the legislators, ‘No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.’

Using his consummate arm-twisting skills and bolstered by ongoing civil protests in the South, LBJ got the Civil Rights Act – outlawing segregation in restaurants, buses, and other public facilities – through Congress and signed it on July 2, 1964. It was the first significant civil rights bill since Reconstruction and changed the country forever.”

Johnson followed with the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The presumptive new speaker is noted for his political skills, and, while we can’t expect him to emulate LBJ he will be in a unique position, the opportunity to become the voice of a current sharply divided party that has meekly followed their sullen leader who was more concerned with enriching himself than enriching the citizens of the state.

Something tells me that until the vote on February 11th the governor’s operatives will be doing everything possible to sink Heastie’s candidacy. Did I see this episode on Scandal?

“We Need a Larger Room,” How Will the New Assembly Leadership Function in the Toxic Halls of Albany?

Sheldon Silver, the taciturn leader of the NYS Assembly was arrested, a full perp walk, and charged with using the power and prestige of his office to share in millions in legal fees from law firms with which he was affiliated: unseemly, for many despicable; whether his actions violate the law will be decided by a jury many, many months, maybe a year, down the road.

Legislative bodies are controlled by speakers and majority leaders selected by the political party in control of the body. Boehner in the House and McConnell in the Senate are in the news daily, frequent guests on the Sunday morning news programs and on C-SPAN every day, they are the face of their party.

Sheldon Silver was elected as Speaker of the NYS Assembly in 1994, his leadership was challenged in 2000, and he has ruled with a firm hand. Silver is not on talk shows, he does not give interviews, he appears brusque and aloof, a phrase here, a few words there, in many ways the anti-hero.

I am told he is an avid Ranger fan and a mediocre golfer, a trait shared with many New Yorkers.

Silver has succeeded in running an extremely diverse caucus with widely varying interests: urban/suburban/rural, White/Black/Hispanic, New York City versus the rest of the state, the competing five boroughs within New York City, the rural poor versus the wealthier suburban areas, and on and on. Silver has been masterful at juggling the interests around the state and negotiating budget deals that satisfied his conference.

He uses the power of his office to reward and punish members for real or perceived indiscretions. The conference is the Democratic caucus that convenes before or after each session: members only. The conference is an opportunity to speak freely in a “safe environment,” the unwritten rule: what is said in the conference stays in the conference. If a legislator whispers to a journalist, who writes an article with an “unnamed source,” the source might face the wrath of the Speaker.

The Speaker controls the Assembly, from assigning offices, to assigning coveted positions on committees or task forces, to naming committee chairs, and, to the all-important: which bills make it to the floor for votes.

Over the next two years, the election cycle, over 10,000 bills will be introduced into the Assembly and fewer than five hundred will eventually become law – less than five percent. The Speaker is the gatekeeper.

State legislatures vary enormously, in some members are part time; the New Hampshire legislature has four hundred members and when in session meets two days a week, and the total pay is $200 The Texas legislature meets every other year for 140 days, a salary of $28,000 every other year. The New York State legislature meets from January until mid-June, usually Monday through Wednesday, and Monday through Friday during budget time and in the closing weeks. Members are salaried, $79.500, with no raise since 1999, and a modest stipend to cover costs for the days the legislature is in session. Some legislators maintain law practices, or other employment, many have no other employment. All members have staffed offices in their districts.

Is Silver the ogre, the control freak, lashing or hugging each and every member, scrutinizing every member comment, or, is he the skilled leader, listening to the diverse needs of his conference, and producing results for his members?

It was clear that a seriously wounded Silver could not lead the conference, especially with an aggressive governor with long, long agenda.

This was undoubtedly a busy weekend, the leaders; the leaders within the Assembly and within the Democratic Party came up with a compromise – a shared leadership that, at least in the short term, satisfies the needs of the conference.

Five senior members will share the Assembly leadership; from “three men in a room,” to six men and a woman, a larger room.

Denny Farrell chairs the Ways and Means Committee, is highly regarded by his peers, represents Harlem, and is 83 years old, Joe Lentol chairs the Codes Committee, again, highly regarded, an Assembly member for over 40 years, represents North Brooklyn, Cathy Nolan chairs the Education Committee, a thirty -year member of the Assembly, she represents the Ridgewood area of Queens, Carl Heastie chairs the Labor Committee, has served in the Assembly since 2000 and is the Bronx Democratic County leader and Joseph Morelle, the Majority Leader, is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Assembly, is a 25-year member representing a Rochester area district.

The “new five” provide geographic, racial and gender diversity with decades of experience navigating the labyrinthine hallways of Albany.

Will “new five” compete with each other; are we witnessing a tryout for the speakership, a competition?

Will the conference firmly support the “new five” or will members try and play one against the other for their own benefit?

Will Cuomo be able to split apart the “new five” by offering “this and that” to individual members?

The overarching agreement is that the conference truly dislikes the Governor, and, for a simple reason, he sunk the discussions over a long, long delayed salary increase. Sixteen years without a raise stings. and makes it harder and harder to pay the bills.

Although the new Assembly junta is unwieldy, the leadership has a rare opportunity to exhibit their leadership, to stand up to the Governor and create a budget that represents the needs of the Assembly, not necessarily the needs of the Governor.

If the April 1 budget deadline passes without an agreement the Governor’s luster will fade, he may be able to force through his budget in incremental steps, however, his leadership will be tarnished. Denny Farrell and Joe Lentol have been around forever, they have no aspirations beyond their current safe seats, and attempting to bully them could backfire badly for Andrew. Carl Hestie is a budget guru, with real political creds and maybe ambitions well beyond the Assembly and Cathy Nolan has well deserved close ties with teachers and parents.

Fred Dicker in the NY Post reports that Silver may not be the only elected in US District Attorney Bharara’s sights,

“Andrew’s been working the phones day and night, staying up into the early morning hours, making hundreds of calls in one day trying to find out what the hell is going on,’’ a source close to the governor said.

Cuomo, who has retained a private lawyer, has enlisted several former federal and state-level prosecutors with ties to Bharara’s office including Steve Cohen, his former chief-of-staff, in an effort to find out Bharara’s next move, the sources said.

“He’s freaked-out, furious, and obsessed with fear, it’s like a nightmare for him. The whole narrative he laid out for his second term has been derailed by Bharara,’’ said a source in regular contact with the governor.

“The narrative has been taken over by Bharara and it’s all about Albany’s corruption, not Cuomo and his program for the state,’’ the source said.

Anyone know about Kathy Hochul’s views on education? (She is the Lt Governor and would replace Andrew if Preet dropped the ax again)

Whoever thought the actual world of politics would mirror House of Cards (new season on Netflix February 27) or Scandal?

UPDATE: At 5:15 PM on Monday Democrats are in closed door conference as the “leadership by committee” plan appears to be falling apart before it begins …

UPDATE: At 7:45 PM members are still closeted debating the future of Silver and the conference, as a member once told me you need a leader with a whip … ” … if a members tries to undercut a deal s/he must be punished, and everyome must know it.” Can they find such a leader?