If the head of the new President-Elect’s Transition Team called you and asked for advice …

Last week I was at an Manhattan Institute conference: “America’s Accountability Movement: Progress or Retreat:” Marcus Winter, a senior fellow at the Institute presented two brief papers, “School Accountability in NYC Under de Blasio” (Winter’s conclusion: there is very little accountability), and “Choice and Accountability in Education,” followed by a keynote address by Jeb Bush (Bush’s conclusion: vouchers for all – a free marketplace). A panel (Michael McGee, CEO of Chiefs for Change (See Chief for Change evidence policy paper here), Morgan Polikoff, professor at University of Southern California and Marcus Winters moderated by Matt Barnum, a staff writer at The 74, discussing  “New Opportunities for School Accountability,”

Under the new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, states will have wide discretion in establishing accountability systems: what kind is testing, defining accountability, etc.  About fifteen states have been working with the Chiefs for Change since the spring and another dozen with Linda Darling-Hammond.

The panel agreed that the rigid NCLB system, based solely on proficiency did not work, and, was counterproductive; the unintended consequence was to create both a test prep culture and a concentration on getting kids to the proficiency point (in New York State – 3.0).and ignoring the others. The panelists all supported a growth model – perhaps combined with proficiency; in other words measuring individual student growth, regardless of their place on the proficiency scale.  A school that moved kids from 1.8 to 2.2 would still be far below proficient; however, shows significant growth.

A number of states are working to move away from traditional testing, New Hampshire is moving toward using performance tasks in lieu of the Smarter Balance test. (Check out the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity – SCALE – https://scale.stanford.edu/student). McGee thought that New Hampshire would move to a state-wide performance task system.  Other states are exploring portfolios and other approaches (“authentic assessment”) to define accountability working with Linda Darling-Hammond (See an April, 2016 paper entitled, “Pathways to New Accountability Through the Every Student Succeeds Act here)

Check out an excellent and coherent discussion of the pitfalls of proficiency (“When Proficient Isn’t Good: The Deceptive Nature Of Proficiency as a Measure Of Student Progress— and How to Fix the Funhouse Mirror” here).

:I asked the panelists: “If the head of the new President-Elect’s Transition Team called you and asked for advice – a few guiding principles …”

Jeb Bush (smiling), “Neither of the candidates is going to call me.”

McGee reiterated a dashboard approach to accountability, moving to growth and proficiency along with a greater role for stakeholders at the local level: teachers and school leaders.

Polikoff: Equity, the resource differences between the poorest districts and the wealthiest district is both dramatic and unconscionable.

As I left I mused: do any of these proposed changes actually impact teaching and learning?  As a classroom teacher how would these changes impact me?

The next day I sat in on a panel discussion at CCNY moderated by a CCNY professor, Terri Watson, “A Public Conversation About Testing and School Reform,” panelists included, David Bloomfield, Brooklyn College, Jamaal Bowman, a Bronx middle school principal, Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director for Alliance for Quality Education and R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, a sociology professor at the College. The panel was joined by Christopher Emden, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University (See recent op ed, “Why Black Men Quit Teaching” here)

The CCNY panel was at the opposite end of the philosophical spectrum. While the Manhattan Institute event focused on the big picture the CCNY panel focused on the impact of the “big picture” on students, parents and teachers. All the panelists supported the opt-out movement and opposed the current testing requirements. I asked: “The Leadership Coalition on Civil Rights,” representing over 200 organizations supports the testing requirements of the new law arguing that removing testing would result in removing the highly visual achievement gap.”  The panelists supported alternatives to the current testing, varieties of alternative assessments; perhaps portfolios. Emden, passionately, called for “culturally responsive pedagogy ”  and the recruitment of more teachers of color.

Both events left me unsatisfied – will changes in accountability or opt-out/testing alternatives/culturally responsive pedagogy actually impact teaching and learning, impact the classroom?

Policy-makers search for solutions, some magic bullet or combinations of bullets that will change the tide: perhaps reducing/ending inequality, recruiting more teachers/school leaders of color or a focus on school/teacher effectiveness; all or some may or may not be impactful but not dispositive.

How much can we actually change?

Psychologist Walter Mischel, conducted the Marshmallow Test research in the 1960’s and tracked the participants for decades: 4-year olds who were able to practice delayed gratification ended up with substantially higher SAT scores and numerous other lifetime positive impacts: should schools actually “teach” delayed gratification in the earliest grades?

David Epstein, in The Sports Gene” explores the roots of athletic success: why are Jamaicans the best sprinters in the world and Kenyans the best long distance runners? Nature or nurture? Is there a genetic component or does the culture of the environment reward success?

In other words are we selecting the most effective triggers for change?

Professor Emden, quoted in a TC publication, cogently suggests,

While recognizing the potential of black male teachers to “serve as powerful role models” and the need for more teachers of color in classrooms, Emdin writes that “they cannot fix the problems minority students face simply by being black and male … Instead of fixating on black male teachers, we need to examine how teachers are trained, their beliefs about young minority men, and how they engage their students. They should be prepared to teach to each student’s unique needs, and to recognize that no student learns best under conditions that make him feel uncared for.

“A better solution is to train all teachers, black and white, to acknowledge the biases they hold about their students based on their race, class, gender, sexual orientation and physical ability. Then they can learn strategies for being effective with these students despite their differences.”

There is no single path, no single bullet, hopefully we can explore the many pathways, build rich toolkits and continue to explore. The master teacher knows that blaming the kid, blaming society is futile. Teachers are writers, producers, directors and critics of a play that will run for one period or one day. What works today fails tomorrow; hopefully, we learn from our failures and our successes.

Coming attraction: Off to John Hopkins for a Coleman Report at 50 conference – what did we learn from the report?

Debate Lessons: Valid, Reliable Research Must Drive Policy Decisions, from Candidates, Ed Commissioners and Board Members

Last spring, without fanfare, Chancellor Rosa created a Research Work Group, co-chaired by Regents Johnson and Reyes, which might be the most important decision made during the last school year. The concept: decisions should be based upon valid research findings.  I know, I know, a radical concept.

Federal law, federal initiatives, state law and regulations are commonly based on a hope and a prayer. In 2002 the No Child Left Behind law, annual testing with punitive threats for schools that fail to meet pre-set goals was based on the belief that fear is an effective motivation to improve school outcomes. If you don’t improve your school will be closed or converted to charter. The Arne Duncan Race to the Top, billions in federal dollars to increase choice, i. e., charter schools, create student outcome-based teacher evaluation systems (VAM) and adopt the Common Core and Common Core-based annual tests. A few years down the road New York State adopted a moratorium on the use of test results and is amending/re-writing the Common Core. The feds dangled dollars to lure states into implementing policies without any research base; in fact, the research base was antithetical to the policy.

At the September 26th Presidential Debate candidate Trump claimed that “stop and frisk,” a policy initiated by former Mayor Giuliani (1994-2002) is responsible for the sharp decline in murder rates in New York City.

The murder rate in New York has dropped from over 2000 per year in the 90’s to 352 in 2015 and 252 murders through September 25, a 5.3 percent decline compared to this time in 2015. “Stop and Frisk” has been dramatically reduced and murder rates continue to drop: Why?  (Read articles here and here)

A study of murder rates in the 57 largest cities shows decreasing murder rates across the board with the exception of handful of cities:  Chicago, St Louis, Houston, Washington DC Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Nashville, Kansas City and Baltimore. Why have murder rates plunged in New York City and many other cities and increased in other cities?

Experts; whether criminologists, sociologists or economists, disagree.

In 2001 the highly controversial Donohue-Levitt hypothesis posited that legalized abortions that followed the 1973 Roe v Wade decision are responsible for decreased crime rates; potential criminals were never born.

States with the highest abortion rates in the 1970’s and 1980’s experienced greater crime reductions in the 1990’s. In high abortion states, arrests of those born after legalization fell relative to low abortion states. Legalized abortion appears to account for as much as 50% of the recent drop in crime.

Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined rebuts the hypothesis and argues that over centuries the world has become less violent.

After years of declines the murder rate increased in 2015; however, if we redact the handful of cities in which rates increased the rates continue to decline.

A June, 2016 study from the National Institute of Justice, entitled “Documenting and Explaining the 2015 Homicide Rise: Research Directions,” takes a deep dive into the data and concludes,

.. three plausible explanations of the homicide rise; an expansion of urban drug markets fueled by the heroin epidemic, reductions in incarceration resulting in a growing number of released prisoners, and, a “Ferguson Effect” resulting from widely publicized incidents of police use of deadly force against minority citizens.

The study casts doubt on “plausible” explanations and urges “evidence rather than speculation.”

The cities with increasing murder rates have somewhat higher poverty rates (24.6% to 20.8%), not dramatic; the cities have significantly higher Black populations (40.8% to 19.9%) and lower Hispanic populations (15.2% to 26.4%).  What does this mean?  We don’t know.

If we are to continue the reduction in murder rates and decreases in rates of violent crime we have to understand the reasons for the decline in most cities and the spikes in others.

Sadly one presidential candidate argues “law and order,” whatever that means, is an answer to increasing crime; however, increases are limited to a few cities, the vast percentage of cities continue to see the trend of decreasing crime rates.

In 2013 I was the labor coordinator for a candidate for the City Counsel (He won!) and we were meeting with a union representing police commanders. We decided to begin the interview by addressing what we thought was the elephant in the room: stop and frisk.

The candidate explained that he could not support the current policy of indiscriminate stop and frisks, to our surprise the union leader agreed; numbers of stop and frisks were part of management reports: rating documents. The union leader argued commanders should be given discretion based on data and not required to conduct specific numbers of stop and frisks, most of which were not warranted.

The application of valid research combined with the experience from the field, i., e., teachers and school leaders, supported by the policy makers, I believe, will bring about the outcomes we desire.

We all speculate on policies to reduce the racial/ethnic achievement gap: closing or redesigning schools, charter schools, eliminating funding inequality, highly qualified teachers and school leaders, revised age appropriate standards, adopting more rigorous curriculum, all or some may be part of the magic bullets, or not. We support programs with which we are familiar or comfortable: phonics or Lucy Calkins, the “old” math or the “new” math, etc.; decisions must reflect research findings, and, we must acknowledge that implementation of the policy is also vital.

The Regents Research Work Group has an awesome task.

Sol Stern: As American Education Collapses, Democracy’s Foundation Shakes (Warning: A Dystopian View of Our Future)

Sol Stern can best be described as a public intellectual who crosses the political spectrum. Stern opposed union transfer seniority rules, has been sharply critical of Bloomberg and Klein’s educational policies and has written glowingly of the works of E. D. Hirsch. Stein muses:  why do younger voters support a 74-year old self-described Socialist and white males support a robber baron proto-fascist. Warning: Not a rosy view of our future. (originally published in The Daily Beast)


As American Education Collapses, Democracy’s Foundation Shakes

“They know nothing about art. They know nothing about history. They know nothing about philosophy.”



And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Deeply depressed by the rise of Donald Trump and fearful for our nation’s future, I recently found myself reciting the last lines of Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach,’ first published in 1861. Arnold was somewhat premature in imagining the world’s descent into chaos and strife. But the poem’s chilling metaphors return to us now as an augury of America’s political crack-up.

What makes the poem even more illuminating for these dreadful times is that Arnold was convinced that the clash of “ignorant armies” would be brought about (at least in part) by bad education. In addition to his standing as one of Victorian Britain’s greatest poets and cultural critics, Arnold was also a serious education reformer. For 35 years he held a day job as an inspector of schools, eventually rising to the position of Chief Inspector of Schools for all of Britain. He went on extended visits to several European countries to study their education systems. In his influential education reports and in some of his critical essays he scorned the individualistic, child centered, and haphazard pedagogy prevalent in British schools at the time (championed by, among others, John Stuart Mill.) Instead, Arnold proposed that government schools be required to teach a core curriculum of liberal, humanistic studies similar to the French schools he had come to admire.

The primary aim of education in an industrial democracy, Arnold believed, was to introduce all children—rich and poor alike —to the achievements of western civilization and culture, which he famously defined as “the best which has been said and thought.” Yet there was nothing elitist about Arnold’s approach to learning. With the rising demands for equality and full civic participation of the working classes, Arnold was confident that the masses were capable of mastering Britain’s rich cultural heritage. He feared that without this shared national spirit the English people would be unable to overcome narrow sectional and economic interests and support the common good. Modern democracy might then degenerate into violence, confusion and the clash of “ignorant armies.”

The political problem that Arnold wrestled with all his life now haunts America. Truth is the first casualty of this year’s presidential election from hell; loss of respect for the nation’s republican heritage is the second. Here’s one example among many:

At a raucous campaign rally in South Carolina last February Donald Trump was riffing on one of his favorite themes—how he would defeat Islamic terrorism overnight if elected president. In that context he brought up General Jack Pershing’s success in suppressing the 1903 Moro rebellion in the Philippines. But Trump falsely claimed that Pershing ordered the execution of dozens of Muslim prisoners with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, thereby slandering a great American soldier as a war criminal. Trump’s story was subsequently proven to be a big fat lie by fact checkers and historians of the period.

Never mind, forget facts, this is morning in America circa 2016. At a campaign rally in California two months later Trump repeated—almost verbatim—his narrative about General Pershing’s execution of Muslim prisoners. Trump’s supporters erupted with wild cheers and bellowing.

“Ignorant armies,” indeed.

If he were with us now, Matthew Arnold would have minced no words about this spectacle. And he might have asked what had gone wrong with American education, which he admired in his own day. Here’s the answer to Arnold’s hypothetical question:

A half century ago there began a pedagogical upheaval in the nation’s schools, a revolution from the top carried out by self-described “progressives,” that eventually succeeded in stripping away any semblance of a coherent grade-by-grade curriculum. Professional educators (most of them at least) reclaimed romantic theories of child development dating all the way back to Rousseau and powerfully reinforced in the 1930s by the American philosopher John Dewey.

Henceforth the nation’s Ed schools instructed prospective K-12 teachers that children were capable of “constructing their own knowledge.” The classroom teacher should be a “guide on the side,” instead of a “sage on the stage.” In many American public schools it was now deemed more important for children to “learn how to learn” rather than to accumulate “mere facts” and useless knowledge.

The resurrection of the “child-centered” pedagogy that Mathew Arnold railed against in his own lifetime turned classroom instruction upside down, disrupting the transmission of civic values and traditions from one generation to the next. Noting the old adage about the inmates taking over the asylum, the writer David Solway recently mused that in the era of progressive education it is “the children [who] have taken over the crèche.”

Three decades worth of test surveys conducted by the National Assessment of Education Progress, considered the gold standard of student assessments, and other testing agencies have amply demonstrated one of the consequences of the progressive education revolution—the astonishing ignorance of history and civics by younger and older Americans alike. By the end of the 1990s, two thirds of high school seniors were unable to identify the 50-year period in which the Civil War was fought; half didn’t know in which half century World War I took place. More than half could not name the three branches of government. A majority had no idea what the Gettysburg address was all about. Fifty two percent chose Germany, Japan or Italy as “U.S. allies” in World War II.

Several years ago Newsweek asked a sample of 1000 voters to take the same test that new immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship must pass. One third of the respondents couldn’t name the vice president and half didn’t know that the first 10 amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. Only one third knew that the Constitution is considered the nation’s highest law.

We can’t say we weren’t warned about this looming debacle for the political process. Indeed, the first alarm bells sounded even before the ink was dry on the signatures attached to the first copy of the U.S. Constitution. The story has it that as Benjamin Franklin came out of Convention Hall in Philadelphia he was approached by a woman well known in local society circles. “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” the lady asked. “A republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin replied.

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

The founders feared that a struggle among the former colonies’ competing economic and regional interest groups might undermine the delicate constitutional framework they had just created. To counter the threat of “factionalism,” they established a system of checks and balances. But they also advocated for a national curriculum that would teach future generations the historical knowledge needed to “keep” the new republic. Such a system of schooling was necessary, said Thomas Jefferson, so that “children’s memories may here be stored with the most useful facts from Grecian, European, Roman, European and American history.” (For Jefferson there was no such thing as “mere facts.”) Constitutional delegate Benjamin Rush from Pennsylvania penned an essay proposing a curriculum for all elementary schools in order to create “republican machines” and maintain the common good.

A half century later, with the union under threat of being torn apart by sectional rivalries, Abraham Lincoln called for the nation’s schools to renew their commitment to a common republican curriculum. In his Lyceum speech, the future president assigned schools the task of teaching children the American credo of “solidarity, freedom, and civic peace above all other principles.” Let these values, Lincoln said, “be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges—let it be written in Primmers [sic], spelling books and almanacs.”

In 1987 the scholar E.D. Hirsch Jr. issued an eloquent prophesy about the consequences of allowing the curriculum to go off the rails. Like Matthew Arnold, Hirsch was a literary critic turned education reformer. His first education book, Cultural Literacy, warned that the abandonment of teaching essential knowledge in the schools would be disastrous for America’s well-being and cultural cohesion. Cultural Literacy became a surprise best-seller that year, appearing on the New York Times list for 26 weeks. One reason for the book’s instant popularity was that it arrived at a perfectly opportune moment. Four years earlier, the Reagan administration had released A Nation at Risk, a widely publicized report documenting the mediocre education that most American children were receiving. The report set off shock waves among parents. Many now saw Hirsch’s call for restoring a coherent grade-by-grade curriculum as a possible answer.

Hirsch put the blame for the meltdown of the schools squarely on the education progressives, including John Dewey. The great philosopher’s mistake, according to Hirsch, was to assume “that early education need not be tied to specific content” and “too hastily reject[ing] the ‘piling up of information.’” This error was particularly tragic for poor and minority children. “By encouraging an early education that is free of `unnatural’ bookish knowledge and of `inappropriate’ pressure to exert hard effort,” Hirsch wrote, progressive education “virtually ensures that children from well-educated homes who happen to be primed with academically relevant background knowledge which they bring with them to school, will learn faster than disadvantaged children who do not bring such knowledge with them and do not receive it at school.”

Amazingly, 1987 produced yet another prophetic and best-selling education book, The Closing of the American Mind by Alan Bloom, a previously unknown University of Chicago professor. Bloom’s book, subtitled “How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students,” exposed the unraveling of academic standards at American universities. Eventually it sold more than a million copies, an astonishing number for a text full of references to philosophers such as Plato and Rousseau.

A million customers didn’t buy The Closing of the American Mind for its insights into Plato. Bloom’s opus went viral on the literary lists because it constituted a passionate J’accuse from inside the academy about the betrayal of the ideals of the American university by cowardly professors and administrators. As Hirsch did for K-12 education, Bloom spotlighted the evisceration of the core curriculum and the subsequent crisis in the humanities. Survey courses in philosophy, literature and American history were disappearing from course catalogues, which meant that young people were now graduating from prestigious universities without any familiarity with, say, the works of Shakespeare, Rousseau or the Founding Fathers. Even the most select students, Bloom wrote, “know so much less, are so much more cut off from the tradition, are so much slacker intellectually that they make their predecessors look like prodigies of culture.”

The appearance of these two widely popular books at the same time led to some hope that the dumbing down of American education might finally be stanched. One promising sign was that Hirsch was able to create the Core Knowledge Foundation, located in Charlottesville Virginia, home of the University of Virginia, where Hirsch was an English professor. The foundation created a knowledge based curriculum that was soon adopted by over one thousand schools (public and charter) around the country. Parents also purchased a series of the foundation’s guides outlining what children should have learned by the end of each grade.

Nevertheless, Hirsch could not have anticipated the level of vitriol directed at him when he crossed the border separating the universities and their ed-school affiliates and dared to criticize the education professors for the wrongheaded training they were providing to K-12 teachers. The ed-school establishment turned on Hirsch as an interloper, branding him a reactionary, an elitist, and a defender of white privilege. (Actually Hirsch was—and still is—a liberal Democrat.)

The official journal of the American Educational Research Association, the professional organization representing the nation’s education professoriate, published an unprecedented 8,000 word diatribe attacking Hirsch’s work, which included this remarkable accusation: “Hirsch minimizes a history of racial and gender bias as factors in differential educational and economic achievement. He dismisses complex theories of social class reproduction, and he demotes the importance of pedagogies that encourage the construction and negotiation of meaning across communities of difference. He insists that teachers and the texts are the proper bearers and students the proper recipients of meaning and refuses to understand the importance of meaning as a negotiated product in a multicultural society.”

Assuming this passage could be translated into standard English, it would actually prove that everything Hirsch had written about the disgrace of the Ed schools was correct.

Bloom’s book on higher education also stimulated some informed debate for a while, including a pushback by alumni shocked by his revelations about the lowering of academic standards. A few brave faculty members fought a rear guard action to preserve universalism, western civilization and high academic standards, but they were soon marginalized and denounced as “racists” and “fascists” by their colleagues, many of whom were veterans of the destructive 1960s radicalism. Bloom too was viciously attacked by an army of offended liberal and leftist professors for his alleged “elitist” and “anti-democratic” ideas. In Harpers the political theorist Benjamin Barber called Bloom a “philosopher despot.”

Through these attacks, the mandarins of progressive education were able to maintain control of the academic content (that is, no academic content) in both the K-12 schools and the universities.

Those of us who thought that American education had finally reached its nadir by the end of the 1990s hadn’t seen anything yet. We had focused our critical attention almost exclusively on the unforced errors committed by teachers, school administrators, and ed-school professors. We weren’t prepared for the coming of the millennials, a generation like no other. We weren’t paying enough attention to the lifestyle changes young people were now experiencing because of the new world of social media and the internet. The baleful effects of this digital-age revolution on young minds was entirely independent of the quality of the formal schooling they were receiving.

The Dumbest Generation, by Emory University English professor Mark Bauerline, brought us up to date with reams of depressing data. Along with the works of Hirsch and Bloom, Bauerline’s 2008 book is essential for understanding the stupid election of 2016. The book’s title is no mere epithet. The Dumbest Generation is a thoroughly researched examination of the intellectual habits and tastes of the millennials, revealing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the country’s education collapse has reached a new and even more dangerous level. According to a host of objective national surveys, these young people have not only been shortchanged of essential cultural literacy in the schools, like previous generations, but they now disdain intellectual curiosity and the culture of books altogether. For this generation there’s no need to read any serious historical and cultural texts, since anything worth knowing can always be Googled. Bauerline makes us see that when the distractions of digital age social media were added to the breakdown of the curriculum in the schools the results— for our society and our democracy—become doubly toxic.

“No cohort in human history has opened such a fissure between its material conditions and its intellectual attainments. None has experienced so many technological enhancements and yielded so little progress,” Bauerline writes. “This is the paradox of the dumbest generation. For the young American, life has never been so yielding, goods so plentiful, schooling so accessible and liberties so copious. The material gains are clear… But it’s a shallow advent. As the survey research shows, knowledge and skills haven’t kept pace, and the intellectual habits that complement them are slipping… The mental equipment of the young falls short of their media, money, e-gadgets, and career plans.”

Even the objective surveys cited by Bauerline can’t quite capture the everyday reality of this fracture. Something more personal and up close with the millennials is needed. So consider this observation by David Gelernter, a prominent professor of computer sciences at Yale University:

“I’m lucky to be at one of the best colleges in the world. Our students are as smart as any in the world. They work very hard to get here… My students today are much less obnoxious, much more likable than I and my friends used to be, but they are so ignorant that it’s hard to accept how ignorant they are. You tell yourself stories; it’s very hard to grasp that the person you’re talking to, who is bright, articulate, advisable, interested, and doesn’t know who Beethoven is. Had no view looking back at the history of the 20th century—just sees a fog, a blank. Has the vaguest idea of who Winston Churchill was or why he mattered. And maybe has no image of Teddy Roosevelt… . They know nothing about art. They know nothing about history. They know nothing about philosophy.”

Is it any wonder that the millennials described by Professors Bauerline and Gelernter overwhelmingly supported a 74-year-old self-proclaimed socialistwho got them to believe that making a new American revolution with goodies for all would be as easy as pie?

The chickens have now come home to roost from the progressives’ half—century assault on teaching knowledge and academic content in the classroom. The obliteration of the past, the rejection of the hallowed American idea that there exist “self-evident truths,” has inevitably left us with a presidential election as a fact-free zone and a voting public less knowledgeable than ever. This is a tragedy for the country. It will soon turn out to be particularly concerning for America’s conservative movement—what’s left of it after this horrific campaign.

I have admired the “NeverTrump” conservatives and neoconservatives bravely calling out Donald Trump and his minions for their lies, cynicism and betrayal of American values. In a very dark time, I have found some consolation in being able to praise writers such as John Podhoretz, William Kristol, Kevin Williamson, George Will, Bret Stephens and many others—plus the conservative magazines Commentary, the Weekly Standard and National Review—for continuing to tell the brutal truth about the Trump campaign’s underlying barbarism and anti-Americanism.

Nevertheless, I would fault the NeverTrump conservatives in one area. It is that they haven’t yet fully explored how much this year’s political debacle has been influenced by the meltdown of American schooling. They must know that a true American conservatism can only be sustained with citizens and voters who understand our past and appreciate the historic traditions of the republic. And those habits of mind can only be taught in the schools through a planned curriculum.

It’s understandable that these conservatives would have qualms about suggesting that those voting for the wrong candidate are dumb—which can then be seen as intellectual snobbery. There has also been an unpleasant tradition in western thought, exemplified by Nietzche and his American epigone H.L. Mencken, which has used the alleged stupidity of the masses as an excuse for abandoning democracy altogether.

While being aware of that danger, there is still no escaping the connection between lowering a democratic society’s intellectual standards and lowering the expectations for those vying for its leadership. Our founding fathers understood this connection. Matthew Arnold understood it all too well. He knew that without immersing future generations in “the best that has been said and thought” many will be tempted to choose leaders who represent the worst that has been said and thought.

Schadenfreude: Cuomo, de Blasio, Machiavelli and the Turbulent World of New York State Politics

When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity. John F. Kennedy

The Germans have a wonderful word: schadenfreude – taking pleasure in other people’s misfortunes.

Preet Bahara, the US Attorney for the Southern District is the most powerful person in New York State, for some the archangel bringing truth and justice to political maelstrom, to others, collecting scalps on his belt to burnish his own reputation.

For psychologists Andrew Cuomo is a fascinating study: Is he spending his life trying to fulfill his father’s dream – the highest office in the land? The honey-tongued elder Cuomo hypnotized the 1984 Democratic National Convention with his “Tale of Two Cities” keynote address (watch U-Tube here). In December, 1991 everyone knew that Mario was about to launch his presidential campaign – the plane was warming up on the runway, Cuomo was about to fly off to New Hampshire for the first in the nation primary, unexpectedly, he withdrew, never giving a coherent reason.

Son Andrew followed his father’s career, serving his second term as governor, at times acerbic, a very effective political street fighter. He tiptoes between Democrats and Republicans in the legislature, avoids ethics reforms, supported the “Fight for Fifteen,” failed to support the Dream Act legislation, went to war with the teacher’s union, and, backed off and pushed out  Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch. Every move carefully calculated for the run to the White House his father abjured.

Cuomo’s hatchet man, alter ego and a boyhood friend is Joe Percoco. His father called Percoco his “other son.” Percoco was the gatekeeper, whatever the issue, whatever the piece of legislation, you went to Joe. His title changed, his role never changed.

The leader of the Democratic Party was Andrew Cuomo. The election of the left-leaning progressive Bill de Blasio changed nothing and Cuomo immediately made it clear – he was the noble in the castle and de Blasio had to pay homage, or, face the consequences.

Every opportunity he got Cuomo made it clear – he was the liberal, the progressive, not de Blasio. Whether or not another Democrat runs against de Blasio a year from now is yet to be decided, Cuomo was not backing de Blasio, at best staying on the sidelines, maybe throwing support to an opponent.

8 AM, Thursday morning everything changed,  Percoco was arrested, along eight others and charged with a litany of crimes – basically accepting dollars for favors connected with the Buffalo Billions, a Cuomo favored project to revive upstate. The Buffalo Billion was at the core of the Cuomo resume – if he could revive Buffalo, revive upstate New York, he could do the same for the rust belts across the nation

There was joy in de Blasioville as the Mighty Andrew struck out (Excuse  me- I couldn’t resist – it’s the culmination of the baseball season).

A few hours later the joy ebbed. Scott Stringer, the popular Comptroller of New York City was the keynote speaker at the ABNY (Association for a Better New York) breakfast. The ABNY breakfast is an annual affair attended by elites in the city: from the business side, the labor side, everyone attends the ABNY breakfast. Stringer gave a speech that was close as one can get to an announcement that he’s a mayoral candidate. Stringer laid out his economic vision for the city, a speech one would expect to come from the mayor. He followed up the speech with an appearance on popular WNYC Brian Lehrer program.

de Blasio’s approval ratings are abysmal a year before the Democratic mayoral primary,

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s approval rating remains close to a record low as half the city’s voters say he doesn’t deserve re-election in 2017, a Quinnipiac University poll found.

De Blasio’s approval rating is 42 percent, little changed from a May 24 survey that showed support of 41 percent, his lowest since he took office Jan. 1, 2014. In the poll released Monday, 51 percent disapprove of the Democratic mayor’s performance and 50 percent say he doesn’t deserve a second term.

If Stringer, or Public Advocate Letitia James or Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams chooses to challenge de Blasio they could not run for second terms in their current offices. High risk, high reward.

Republicans are sharpening their political knives – a weakened governor and a chance to keep up the attack and seize the governorship in 2018. A very popular Democratic Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, waiting in the wings in case Cuomo does not run, or, becomes so unpopular that he’s vulnerable to a Democratic challenger.  The Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie, might find that a damaged governor needs friends, really needs friends. The arrogant lord of the Albany manor might not be as arrogant as the vultures begin to circle. Yes, lots of “mights,” politics is far from an exact science.

While de Blasio’s polling numbers; clearly beaten down with the assistance of the governor, might not be accurately reflected in the polls, minorities: Afro-American, Asian and Latino are a majority in voters in New York City.  de Blasio hosted an education forum in Canarsie Thursday night, a full house. Canarsie is a neighborhood of private homes, a middle class neighborhood with an Afro-American population, primarily of Caribbean descent. The mayor was well-received, the Department of Education upper echelons answered questions, the mayor chimed in, lots of applause; the mayor was at home. While Staten Island and the Upper West Side might deride the de Blasio mayoralty the majority of voters, the numerous ethnic communities might be firmly in the de Blasio camp.

Rumor has it there is a dog-eared copy of The Prince on the governor’s nightstand with the followed phrases highlighted.

“Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved” 

“If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared...”

“I’m not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it.”

“…he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.” 

“A prudent man should always follow in the path trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent, so that if he does not attain to their greatness, at any rate he will get some tinge of it.”

Maybe Andrew’s been reading the wrong book, or underlining the wrong sections.

Advocacy Research: So-Called Research Must Not Be Misused to Defend Politically Popular Educational Policies

It has become commonplace for electeds, journalists and advocates to begin a speech or article with “Research says ….” The use of the word “research” adds credibility to whatever argument they’re pursuing.  I was taught that research begins with a hypothesis, moves to a research design, the collection of data or access to data sets, the application of the appropriate statistical tools, the analysis of the results commonly expressed in a standard deviations  (“…quantity calculated to indicate the extent of deviation for a group as a whole”) and the reporting of the significance of the findings.

Sadly, advocacy researchadvocacy research is commonplace. Organizations hunting for research findings that support their positions or conducting research to “prove” positions already established.

(See Howard Wainer, “Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies, 2011 – watch U-Tube here)

The New Teacher Project (TNTP) published “The Widget Effect,” research alleging that teachers were unsupervised and urging a more formalized teacher evaluation system. The New Teacher Project has been a critic of teacher tenure and supports using value-added measurements of teacher effectiveness to drive salary schedules, promotions and discharge decisions.  The report has been quoted hundreds of times, see examples here  and here.

States jumped on board and many states adopted teacher evaluation plans based on data – the application of a dense algorithm usually called value-added measurement. When the dust cleared tens of millions of dollars later, there is no evidence that “teaching” is more effective, in fact, the reliance on complex statistical tools did not meet generally accepted standards of validity, reliability and stability and has had the unintended consequence of discouraging prospective teachers. Not only has the reliance on data not separated teachers by ability the entire initiative alienated teachers, created an opt-out movement and the number of students entering teacher preparation programs sharply declined.

The TNTP Widget Effect report ignored teacher retention. Almost 40% of teachers in New York City leave within five years and in high-poverty, low -achieving middle schools up to 70% of teachers leave within three years. Isn’t the question of why are teachers leaving, and, who are the “leavers” more important than staining each teacher with a variable numeric score?

The Gates-funded three year Measures of Effective Teaching  (MET) study spent millions to parse day-to-day teaching, 360 degree cameras recording teaching in thousands of classrooms – breaking teaching down teaching into discrete increments,

The findings will be useful to school districts working to implement new development and evaluation systems for teachers. Such systems should not only identify great teaching, but also provide the feedback teachers need to improve their practice and serve as the basis for more targeted professional development

Three years after the release of the report New York State has placed a moratorium on the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, the MET Study is gathering dust on book shelves.

Teacher value-added measurement (VAM) scores vary widely from year to year, they are unstable. Highly effective teachers one year are ordinary the next, ineffective teachers are effective the following year. We know that teachers who teach the same students over multiple years achieve superb results; however, schools rarely move teachers from grade to grade with students.

Suspensions of students lead s to poor academic achievement, dropping out of high school, trouble with the law and incarceration: the school to prison pipeline. Study after study shows that Afro-American males are suspended at much higher rates than all other students and multiple suspensions correlate closely to dropouts and incarceration. The conclusion: decreasing suspensions will lead to higher graduation rates and break the pipeline. You rarely hear discussions of the behaviors that precede the suspension.

In New York City the District has tightened the suspension rules and suspensions have dipped 40%, some schools are implementing Restorative Justice and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) approaches. Principals complain they don’t have capacity to deal with serious behavioral problems, aka social and emotional issues: no psychologists, no social workers, guidance counselors limited to working with special education students, limited budgets and new, inexperienced teachers. Other schools place these programs at the top of their funding priorities.

Is PBIS effective? How do you define effective? What is the impact of student backgrounds?  (See Goldhaber, Brewer & Anderson, Education Economics, 7 (3), 1999)

The “school to prison pipeline” is a mantra, widely quoted and universally accepted, without exploring the possible root causes of unacceptable behaviors.

Other areas of research, less popular, might be more useful:

* Who are the students who move from suspension to incarceration?

* What do we know about them both inside of school and outside of school?  Family structure? Housing? Family background?  School Attendance?  School Achievement?

* Can we identify students, as early as possible, who are candidates for incarceration and are there early intervention strategies? Who are the students in the same schools who survive and prosper, and, a crucial question: Why?

Anna Devere Smith, the acclaimed playwright and actor has produced a new project,

Urgent and inspiring, Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education outlines the civil rights crisis currently erupting at the intersection between America’s education system and its mass incarceration epidemic.

Unfortunately we live in an age in which “politically popular solutions” precede research.  The school to prison pipeline indicts teachers, if only teachers had the skills the “mass incarceration epidemic” could be halted. If only teachers understood “white privilege” and “culturally relevant pedagogy” the pipeline could be broken. 
As teachers gain experience the pedagogical toolkit grows; however, the skills of the teacher may not be able to overcome factors external to school.
The culture, the mores, the rituals of impoverished communities surrounding schools may be antithetical to the behaviors associated with the participating in collaborative, learning environments.
Yes, research can be time-consuming, expensive and frustrating, widely held beliefs may not be valid.
Before we jump on the next new “thing” bandwagon it would be nice to have some assurance we’re moving in the right direction.


A Vote for Gary Johnson (or, Jill Stein) is a Vote for Trump

Face the Nation and the other Sunday Talking Heads news commentary shows talked about the softening of the Obama coalition, the daily NY Times “percentage” in August had Hillary ahead 90-10, now the “poll” gives Hillary a 75-25 lead; whatever that means.

The Nate Silver fivethirtyeight blog,”Chance of Winning,” has Hillary: 61.1% and Trump 38.8% and Gary Johnson at 8% with Hillary winning the electoral votes narrowly.

The next big moment will be the September 26th presidential debate; it will grab the attention of the American public. The Hillary erosion is among the millennials, the younger voters, young Afro-American males and the left leaning Bernie voters are all lukewarm on Hillary.

The third party candidates are Gary Johnson . and Jill Stein.

I was chatting with a nineteen year old – he had taken a leave from his college and worked for Bernie full time, and, told me he was voting for Gary Johnson.

“Oh, you’re voting for Trump.”

“No, I’m voting for Gary Johnson.”

“No, you’re voting for Trump.”

I was “parent-like” and a little harsh. “Your candidate lost, you’re angry and you’re letting your ego drive your vote – you want to ‘get even’ with Hillary so you’re voting for Trump.” He insisted he was voting for Johnson. “You’re pulling the Johnson lever (probably should have said bubbling in the Johnson box), you’re actually voting for Trump – be honest – vote for Trump.” He told me he could never vote for Trump, I insisted he was voting for Trump. Hopefully I planted a seed of doubt.

Diane Ravitch has written a number of blogs explaining why she is voting for Hillary and why it is so important. Her loyalist supporters immediately commented, they voting for Johnson or Stein.

“You can’t trust Hillary” (Can you trust Trump?)

Anthony Cody, a leader of the Network for Public Education wrote a superb essay on the importance of philosophical allies working together, “Don’t Attack your Allies When You’re Fighting Goliath.”

I appeal on a more pragmatic line – what will happen if Trump wins …

If, heavens forbid, the networks declare Trump a winner early on the morning of November 9th stock market numbers will tumble. The stock market operates 24/7 and even before the opening bell the Dow-Jones will dive and continue to dive – 1,000, 2,000, who knows, probably a dive never seen before. Stock markets fear uncertainty, fear instability, and in times of uncertainty and instability investors move their assets in the safest class of investments. A stock market spiraling downward drags down all boats.  Trump would blame Obama, who, as a lame-duck president would have limited options. The 2008 economic recession could easily be child’s play compared to what awaits us. Pensions, Medicare, all in jeopardy.

Are these scare tactics or is this scenario a possibility?

This is a once in a lifetime election – we’ve never had a candidate “endorsed” by the Klu Klux Klan and Nazi organizations who accepts their support. We’ve never had a candidate who threatens to incarcerate a religious group. Trump supporters, and, yes, I speak with Trump voters, brush aside Trump’s bizarre pronouncements.

Back in 1972, after a bitterly contested primary election McGovern won the Democratic nomination. Many mainstream Democrats did not vote for McGovern, many crossed over and voted for Nixon. Nixon won 48 states. They weren’t Republicans, they were Hubert Humphrey supporters; the heart of the Democratic Party opposed the war in Vietnam and flocked to the polls across the nation to express their displeasure in the war by voting for McGovern. The mainstream Democrats were overwhelmed by the passion of the anti-war voters, and, expressed their frustration and anger by refusing to vote for the McGovern, the Democratic candidate.

Traditional Democratic voters felt the party had been hijacked by the anti-war faction, and, couldn’t bring themselves to go to the polls and support the anti-war McGovern.

We are facing a similar situation – Bernie voters cannot bring themselves to vote for Hillary. There is no issue similar to 1972. The positions of both Hillary and Bernie are quite similar. Bernie voters argue the election was stolen due to the inappropriate support of Hillary by the Democratic National Committee (DNC), as well as the impossible to define issue of “trust.”

Back in the days of school board elections I supported slates of candidates. Elections are about winning, and winning in the proportional representation style election required putting together slates. We didn’t always agree on all issues, we agreed on enough issues to paste together coalitions that assured we would win enough seats for a majority on the Board.

There is an opportunity to not only win the White House but to take over the Senate and erode the Republican majority in the House; an opportunity to actually pass progressive legislation.

It might be unkind; too many anti-Hillary voters are simply selfish and blind. Yes, your candidate might not prevail in a primary; we move on and work for the winner of the primary within our party. To sulk, to stay on the sidelines simply boosts the other side – in this election the “other side” could drag our nation into a catastrophic depression or worse.

The New, Feisty Board of Regents Explores Principal Preparation: Why Don’t We Have Better Principals?

[Election Update: Yuh Line Niou won the six-way primary in Shelly Silver’s former district as well as all other Ed in the Apple endorsed candidates with the exception of Robert Jackson; however, the Bloomberg/Charter candidate, Micah Lasher lost to a candidate supported by the Independent Democratic Coalition – the breakaway gang of five that caucuses with the Republicans]

The new Board of Regents is a feisty group!!

The Board is a policy board; they hire the CEO, the commissioner, and set overall policy for the state. The line between what is policy and what are operations is a blurred line: a prime example.

In December the Regents voted to accept the 21 recommendations of the Cuomo Task Force on the Common Core.

Recommendation 15: Undertake a formal review to determine whether to transition to untimed tests for existing and new State standardized test aligned to the standards.

A month later the Department announced a shift to untimed tests;  the “formal review” apparently did not involve the Board.

Initially the Commissioner was ecstatic over the unparalleled one year jump in test scores, until the Chancellor, Betty Rosa tuned down the exuberance.  Without knowing which students took extended time the state has set a new baseline, there can be no valid comparisons – you cannot compare apples to oranges. The Regents members were clearly unhappy – why weren’t they involved in the “formal review?”

Under the leadership of Chancellor Tisch and John King, with a few exceptions, the Board was quiescent.

The current members are activists, in order to create policy they clearly intend to take a deep dive into the issue. A prime example: the four exams required for teacher certification. The co-chairs of the Higher Education Committee have held forums all over the state, hundreds of college staff, and degree seekers, have attended and testified. The Board is leading the steps to reconfigure the teacher preparation process that was imposed by Tisch/King.

No longer does the Chancellor and the Commissioner run the show. Chancellor Rosa epitomizes collaborating with her Regent partners.

The September 12th Regents Meeting began with a detailed exploration of a new grant from the Wallace Foundation:  the Principal Preparation Project. In prior years the project would have landed with the Regents Research Fellows with a nary a word of discussion with the Regents members. The world has changed.

After a Power Point presentation the new Board peppered the Deputy Commissioner with questions;

Regent Johnson mused over the purpose of the project.  We must acknowledge the impact of poverty, issues of race and changing demographics. Why weren’t Civil Rights organizations on the team? Regent Mead was concerned over the three years of teaching as a minimum requirement – New York City has a seven year requirement. Regent Norwood was wondering why social/emotional issues appeared absent from the project as well as working in diverse environments, and, the retention of leaders in low performing schools were absent. Regent Brown was concerned with the absence of diversity concerns in the project, should issues of race, i. e., “white privilege” and “cultural competency,” be included in project curriculum?

The discussion went on and on….

In order to become a principal in New York State the applicant must complete an “approved” program; however, the selection is by the elected lay school board, or, in New York City, by the Chancellor; all the state does is create an applicant pool.

A little history:

The first wave of reform swept the nation after the Civil War and culminated in the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883 – establishing a federal civil service system. The reform movement moved to the states, and, after the creation of New York City (“The Great Consolidation”), the merging of the five boroughs, the legislature moved to reform a political hiring system, by creating a Board of Examiners.

Read a history of principal selection here: https://mets2006.wordpress.com/2008/08/07/the-quest-for-the-leadership-gene-how-do-we-findselect-the-best-school-leaders/

From rigorous examinations to a handful of credits and selection by elected Community School Boards to the Leadership Academy, we haven’t found any magic bullets.

Half-jokingly, I mused that maybe there was a leadership gene. Maybe I’m right!

… a quarter of the observed variation in leadership behaviour between individuals can be explained by genes passed down from their parents. – See more at: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0113/15012013-leadership-genetics#sthash.Nmnip8lR.dpuf

If you ask teachers about supervisor competence you will find a wide variability, some praise school leaders, many more are critical.  An NYU Study a few years ago, using student scores on state exams as a measurement: insignificant differences between Leadership Academy and non-Leadership Academy principals.

I have a few questions:

* What percentages of applicants are accepted into leadership programs? Is the quality of the applicant’s teaching part of the applicant selection process, and, if so, how do you measure the quality? (I fear programs accept the vast percentage of applicants)

* Are online or blended learning courses acceptable? Are these courses of the same quality as face-to-face courses?

* How often does the supervising teacher visit the candidate? Four times a year? Weekly? What is the quality of the internship? How is it measured?

* What percentage of candidates find jobs within five years? How successful are the candidates as supervisors and how do we measure success?

The finest leadership I have seen is the leadership provided by coaches, whether athletic, music or dance.

The ultimate question: is this project worthwhile?  Since the state does not hire or supervise principals can changing the requirements actually change who gets hired?  Do we have to change the “hirers” before we can change the “hirees”?

Looking ahead: every state must comply with the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and design a state plan -more about the process in my next post.