Another School Opening: Will the Opt-Out Parent Voters Force Policymakers to Abandon Ideological Advocacy and Base Decisions on Peer-Reviewed Research?

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”
– Plato, 424-348 BC

Schools in New York City opened yesterday with barely a whisper. The Chancellor made her five borough tour with only a handful of reporters, the absence of controversy was deafening. While the mayor may be under assault over a wide range of policies he is a very pro-public school mayor with a close relationship with the teacher union. The Chancellor, who praises teachers at every opportunity, is a familiar face having spent over four decades in the school system. The confrontations of the Bloomberg-Klein years are simply a bad memory. A through F school grades are gone, year after year of waves of school closing are gone; a teacher evaluation system is in place that appears much fairer than the former system. In the last year of the Bloomberg era 2.8% of teachers received an “unsatisfactory” rating, in the first year of the new system 1.6% of teachers received an “ineffective” rating, and, all teachers in New York City who received “developing” and “ineffective” rating received individual support plus an appeal procedure for “outlier” ratings, wide discrepancies between the observation and growth scores.

Yes, the 90 or so Renewal and Out-of-Time schools face a ticking clock, improve or face restructuring or closing, and in two schools, Boys and Girls and Automotive High Schools, teachers, with the approval of the union, had to reapply for their jobs.

Sadly the second year of Universal Pre-Kindergarten was not a glowing positive headline; every four year-old in the city can now begin school at age 4 – a policy that will reap enormous rewards as the child moves through their school years.

Amy Zimmer at DNAInfo lists “7 Changes Coming to the Schools This Year,” nothing dramatic,

1. Muslim holidays and Lunar New Year are now days off.
2. Superintendents are back in control.
3. A new discipline code aims to change the way schools respond to disruptive behavior.
4. An increasing number of schools will show off what works and test new methods.
5. The opt out movement will likely continue growing.
6. Community and Renewal Schools will face scrutiny.
7. Mayoral control will still be an issue.

Across the state; however, schools opened with apprehension.

The 2% property tax cap continues to stress districts, especially the hundreds and hundreds of districts with limited tax bases. Teacher layoffs and cuts in programs have become an annual exercise.

After a spring of teacher-bashing from Cuomo and Cuomo-bashing from NYSUT, the state teacher union Cuomo’s favorably ratings have tumbled and rather than spank teachers he seems to have inflamed the opt out parents – over 200,000 kids opted out with the numbers growing around the state. The new, new teacher evaluation plan is on the agenda for final approval at next week’s regents meeting. The plan, based on student growth scores and teacher observations (see description of the law – 3012-c here) is being replaced by what is called the “matrix,” based on a Massachusetts plan, that is rather obtuse (see matrix law – 3012-d here).

If a district fails to negotiate a plan by November 15th they will not receive scheduled increases in state aid, however, the regents have made it clear they will look favorably on district applications for a four-month extension “hardship” waiver, effectively postponing the implementation for a year, and, more importantly, allow the next legislative session to review the Common Core-based testing and the teacher evaluation law.

The grades 3-8 English and math state tests are based on the Common Core, and, the Commissioner King’s decision, rejecting calls for a moratorium on the use of Common Core tests, and selecting a harsh scoring scheme resulted in two-thirds of the kids moving from “proficient” to “below proficient,” meaning, they failed the test.

The new commissioner and regents have agreed to review the Common Core utilizing a wide range of experts, including classroom teachers.

It was surprising when the governor announced he was taking over the review process.

The New York Daily New responded on September 6th with an almost hysterical editorial,

Gov. Cuomo’s sudden call for a “comprehensive review” of New York’s use of the Common Core educational standards stands as a loud warning that the drive for teacher accountability is in dire jeopardy.

Only five months ago, Cuomo pushed through the Legislature major changes to the state’s teacher-evaluation system, heightening reliance on kids’ Common Core standardized test results to gauge instructor performance, while shielding kids from consequences. Since then, ginned up by the state teachers union, a parental movement to opt out of testing has undermined the use of exam results in teacher evaluations.

At the same time, aided and abetted by Assembly Democrats, the unions have gained an increasing hold on the Board of Regents, with the goal of destroying the evaluation system entirely.

The unions and anti-Common Core parents are also winning the battle for public opinion. In June, by a 59% to 30% margin, voters polled by Quinnipiac disapproved of Cuomo’s handling of education — after he won reelection in a campaign that trumpeted raising standards.

But, having signaled a serious rethink, the governor is likely to face two bad choices come January: abandon policies in which he rightfully invested tremendous political capital, or offer changes designed to placate foes without giving up the ghost.

The teachers union, petrified about finally being subjected to serious evaluations, has played a skillful and cynical game in amplifying anti-Common Core anxieties among parents and legislators.

Kids in struggling schools have for years been plagued by low expectations and too many lower-performing teachers.

For their sake, supporters of higher standards for kids and more accountability for teachers must gird for war.

The editorial points to a serious flaw in the development if education policy, the Daily News jumped to conclusions without creditable evidence. Ideology trumped peer-reviewed research.

Will the Common Core State Standards increase college and career readiness? Will the standards assure that students will be ready for the 21st century world of work? Or, a core question: should the goal of education be to prepare students for the world of work or create caring, thinking adults?

There is not a scintilla of evidence to support the purported impact of the Common Core State Standards, the standards were developed under the auspices of the National Governor’s Association, primarily by David Coleman, without any review by teachers or universities or recognized experts. The standards were adapted by 46 states and two national organizations would prepare tests to assess student progress and the results of the tests used to assess teacher quality.

The Common Core/Testing/Teacher Accountability regimen was imposed; not the result of a lengthy transparent, evidence-based process.

Unfortunately the world of so-called education research has become dominated by what UC Berkeley professor Janelle Scott calls “intermediary organizations.” Scott and others in “The Rise of Intermediary Organizations in Knowledge Production Advocacy and Education Policy,” argue,

Americans like to think that the policies used to address many of our social issue are based on reliable evidence of effectiveness, especially when substantial taxpayer resources are involved. Yet knowledge production can be a highly politicized often process in which scientific knowledge, research, and professional expertise are vulnerable to ideological interpretations…

Issues around the effectiveness of educational interventions in particular highlight the institutionalization of extra-governmental political forces in the policymaking process…

Specifically, new intermediary organizations are increasingly determining the body of research made available for the policymaking process by “brokering” evidence…

These intermediary organizations are established to fill a key function in brokering evidence in support of specific agendas. While these organizations usually do not themselves conduct research, they have become very effective at assembling and promoting evidence for use by policymakers – tasks in which university-based researchers have been negligent. In the void left by traditional education researchers, we are seeing new forms of research organizations step into this environment: not simply traditional think tanks, but philanthropies, policy coalitions, and single or multi-issue advocacy organizations with notable media savvy effectively geared toward shaping education policy.

(The article is worth a full read – click above – only three pages)

Diane Ravitch has been beating the drum for years – Obama-Duncan and the range of self-styled reformers base their “new initiatives” on advocacy, not peer-reviewed research. The research linking teacher performance to student test scores – called a growth model – is not ready for prime time, the evidence is overwhelming; however, the editorial writers at the Daily News and the policy wonks in the governor’s office simply push ahead. They are either dupes of the “intermediary” advocacy organizations or somehow think these policies will garner voter support.

The same ideological driven arguments are driving criticism of UPK; the research on the value of pre-kindergarten is vast.

The National Institute for Early Education Research reviewed the research,

When all the evidence is considered it is found that large-scale public programs have produced meaningful long-term gains for children and not just disadvantaged children. Large gains depend on high-quality pre-K. Such programs can produce high rates of return to public investment.

The Cato institute and other conservative organizations sharply criticized Universal Prekindergarten, not based on a detailed review of the evidence, based on pre-conceived ideological preconceptions.

Would medicine or chemistry or physics or any science allow ideological advocacy, absent peer reviewed research, drive policy? Of course not.

Electeds, State Commissioners and Boards of Education should treat education as any other science; we must not allow ideological “theories” to drive the education of our children, and, maybe the opt-out parent-voters can drive a revival of research-based education programs.

A Window: The Regents and the Commissioner Have an Opportunity to Craft Student Tests and Teacher Evaluation Plans That Are Meaningful to Families and Staffs

In New York State parents opted one in five students out of the grades 3-8 English and Math exams that are required by federal law – 225,000 students. Other parents considered opting out and fearing some negative impact on their children decided not to opt out this year. As it turns out these exams are not “high stakes” for children, in fact, they are “no stakes” for children. The exams exist to rank the state, school districts, schools and teachers. By federal statute and regulation the state must determine “priority,” “focus” and “out-of-time” schools, require intervention plans with the ultimate threat of school closings. Part of a teacher’s “score” is based on student progress on state tests as determined by a complex algorithm usually referred to as Value-Added Modeling (VAM). The teacher “score” can be used as the basis of dismissal procedures.

The opt out parents are part of a rejection of a stumbling political system; the political parties spar, attack each other, and fail to pass what appear to be “no-brainer” ideas. The popularity of Trump is a rejection of everyday politics; voters seem to be rejecting incumbency, seeking a new crop of candidates who promise to listen to the concerns of voters.

We are fourteen months away from a presidential election as well as the election of the 150 members of the Assembly and the 63 members of the Senate.

The opt out parents are among the worst fears of electeds, they cross party lines, they are passionate, they are single issue voters and the issue can’t be reduced to a meaningful single vote on a piece of legislation.

The new state commissioner, MaryEllen Elia arrived in early July and immediately began dripping gasoline on the embers of opt out: Parents have a right to opt out; however I support state tests; superintendents must do everything possible to convince parents not to opt out, districts may lose funding, whoops, no they won’t lose funding … as she stumbled from comment to comment the opt out parents saw her as yet another bureaucrat looking to test and punish their child. Perhaps incorrectly, she sent the wrong message as her first message.

Let’s take a deep breath; there is a window for the Board of Regents to explore a major course correction. At the September meeting the regents will give final approval, with opposing votes, to the new, controversial, Cuomo-imposed principal-teacher evaluation plan – the state will move from the current plan (3012-c: read the 166-page SED Guidance document here) to the new plan, referred to as the “matrix” (3012-d: read links to guidance here).

The new law, acknowledging the complexity of designing new plans within brief timelines allow for districts to ask for waivers (Read Guidance here) – delaying the date of completing a plan from November 15th to March 15th, effectively delaying the implementation of 3012-d for a year.

Districts/BOCES that are facing hardships and are therefore unable to have an APPR plan consistent with §3012-d approved by the Department by the November 15, 2015 deadline must submit a Hardship Waiver application in order to maintain their eligibility for a State aid increase.

Chancellor Tisch, to her credit, has made it clear that the regents will look favorably on applications for waivers.

Five hours down I-95 the Congress will be considering the much-delayed reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. While the bills that passed the House and the Senate contain substantial differences there is a good chance that the conference will craft a final bill, a bill that the president will have to sign or veto. While it is difficult to know with certainty a bill might be on the president’s desk later this year or early in 2016.

I provided a civics lesson on How a Bill Becomes a Law earlier in the year:

Education Week has written extensively about the differences in the House and Senate bills; however, both bills give far more authority to the states on issues of school accountability.

Pending ESEA Reauthorization
Under both House and Senate bills, states would have to stick with the NCLB law’s testing schedule. But they could decide how much weight to give those tests in gauging school performance and could set their own goals for student achievement. There would be no requirement that states identify a certain percentage of schools as low-performing, or use any specific turnaround techniques. Both bills would also open the door to some sort of local assessment, although the House bill goes further than the Senate measure.

The regents and the commissioner, in a transparent climate, should begin to discuss changes in the state testing and principal-teacher assessment laws and regulations, which may be possible under a new NCLB.

While the new NCLB will require annual testing will it require the testing of every child or will the law allow using sampling techniques that are used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress – NAEP – referred to as the nation’s report card?

Since NAEP assessments are administered uniformly using the same sets of test booklets across the nation, NAEP results serve as a common metric for all states and selected urban districts. The assessment stays essentially the same from year to year, with only carefully documented changes. This permits NAEP to provide a clear ppicture of student academic progress over time.

NAEP does not test every subject every year; NAEP uses sampling methods,

In state assessments (mathematics, reading, science, and writing), a sample of schools and students is selected to represent each participating state. In an average state, 2,500 students in approximately 100 public schools are assessed per grade, for each subject assessed. The selection process for schools uses stratified random sampling within categories of schools with similar characteristics.

Could New York State use the same stratified random sampling processes to assess student performance across the state?

I admit this is a complex process, it may not be permitted under the yet to be negotiated new NCLB; however, a NAEP-type sampling, if possible, would remove the stigma of testing and provide the state, the localities and the public with the data required to assess our progress.

If we move away from testing every student every year how can we assess teacher performance?

The two assessment plans in New York State, 3012-c and the new “matrix,” 3012-d reply on highly questionable algorithms with substantial errors of measurement and supervisory observations using state-approved rubrics such as the Danielson Frameworks.

Supervisory observation of lessons has an inherent flaw – will all supervisors view lessons through the same lens? While the lens may be the Danielson Frameworks a supervisor in an inner city high poverty school may “score” a teacher quite differently than a supervisor in a high achieving suburban school. In the last round of teacher assessments (APPR) there were districts in which virtually every teacher received a maximum or near maximum score – every teacher was “highly effective.” Charlotte Danielson demurs, at a meeting I attended she responded to a principal who proudly proclaimed in her school every teacher would be highly effective. Danielson interrupted, “We’re lucky if a teacher occasionally visits highly effective.”

Inter-rater reliability is a complex and core issue that has been the subject of considerable research: read a few of the studies,

“Inter-rater reliability Measuring and Promoting Inter-Rater Agreement of Teacher and Principal Performance Ratings”

“Evaluating Inter-rater Reliability of a National Assessment Model for Teacher Performance”

The new law, 3012-d addressed the issue by requiring “outside evaluators,” well-intentioned; however, why would the outside observer be any more reliable than the in-school observer? The New York City system, called ADVANCE does try to address the reliability issue; how successfully only time will tell.

Unfortunately the teacher observation reliability problem is separate and apart from the teacher improvement conundrum. Does the teacher observation/feedback process actually impact teacher performance? Charlotte Danielson’s other book, “Talk About Teaching: Leading Professional Conversations” (2010) explains that the conversations that have nothing to do with assessment are the key to improving practice,

Another process to investigate is the Inspectorate System that is commonplace in Europe. Trained and well-respected “inspectors,” make in-depth visits to schools, not unlike the Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams that visited low-performing schools and wrote detailed “findings-recommendations” reports based on a public set of standards.

I wrote about the Inspectorate Systems:

With a new reauthorized NCLB in the wings and with waivers postponing the requirement to produce 3012-d plans the regents and the commissioner have a window, an opportunity to craft a new approach that would relieve families and students of the burden for sitting for meaningless tests and time to create a plan that both assesses principal and teacher performance and assists all educators in improving their practice.

The failure to find “fixes” could lead to many hundreds of thousands of opt out families and the angry voter-parents seeking elected scalps in September 2016 primaries and the November 2016 general election.

We don’t have a lot of time – the regents and the commissioner should begin a review process, a public transparent process as soon as possible with a goal of producing proposed legislation for the new legislative session.

Trump, Ignorance and the Electorate: Why is the Public Unable to Intelligently Debate Election Issues?

Donald Trump is a buffoon, an egomaniac, a racist and appeals to the basest instincts of the electorate, and, might end up as our president.

Bernie Sanders is nipping at Hillary’s heels, Joe Biden, with the blessing of Elizabeth Warren is mulling a run, and in every poll Trump is leading the Republican cabal and is in the mix with Democratic contenders.

In 2008 talking heads proudly proclaimed we had entered a post-racial world, a world in which a black man can be elected president; surely the election of Barrack Obama symbolized the coming of a new age in which race no longer was perceived as a stigma.

Sadly Charleston and the seemingly endless examples of white police officers slaying unarmed blacks or mistreating people of color assail claims of a post-racial America. The “Black Lives Matter” movement on one hand has mobilized a dormant civil rights movement and on the other hand awakened racial antipathy hidden behind smiling faces.

In state after state Trump has tapped into the sentiments that sizzle beneath the surface, Trump says what voters fear to say outside of the confines of the four walls of their home.

In the fall of 1787 Madison, Hamilton and Jay began to write the Federalist Papers, eighty-four what we would call op eds arguing for votes to ratify the constitution. The Federalist Papers were printed in the major newspapers across the thirteen colonies. . In Federalist # 10 Madison warns against the dangers of faction, an issue we see day in and day out in our Congress,

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.

Would the average voter understand Madison? What has happened? Why have we moved from an electorate able to debate Federalist # 10 to an electorate that cheers for the rantings of Donald Trump, not only cheers but supports him in numbers to drive him to the top of the Republican pool of candidates.

A NY Times article discusses the study of ignorance, a field called agnotology,

People tend to think of not knowing as something to be wiped out or overcome, as if ignorance were simply the absence of knowledge. But answers don’t merely resolve questions; they provoke new ones.

Candidates spew simple answers to complex problems, if we drive out the eleven million undocumented immigrants unemployment will disappear and prosperity will reign. The Chinese are ruining our economy, controlling our debt and we should boycott Chinese products.

Answers are easy to find, just Goggle the Internet, read a blog, and listen to Fox or Bill O’Reilly, simple answers to complex ambiguous questions.

Even more troubling is the poorly educated, the ideologues are not the only citizens who refuse to analyze the complex problems. Paul Krugman worries about the nerds seeing themselves as above politics, and asks,

… why people who pride themselves on their ability to think things through slide into lazy clichés when it comes to politics. And that’s important: just lecturing Silicon Valley types on the need to get serious about politics won’t work if there are deeper reasons smart people get stupid when politics enters the picture.

Fourteen months before the presidential election, ignorance and apathy rule: when will candidates, if ever, debate issues on their merits?

Last week a widely read website sponsored an event entitled “On Education” at the New School University. Chancellor Farina outlined her plans for the upcoming school year. Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch was on a panel with teachers and new State Commissioner Elia was interviewed one-on-one. After the event two “talking heads” discussed the event. The interviewers were unprepared, the talking heads prattled, and there was no serious discussion.

Complex issues are reduced to 140 characters on Twitter, the 24 hour news cycle has been reduced to the 24 second news cycle; “if it bleeds it leads” is the mantra of the NY Post and the NY Daily News.

Aside from Diane Ravitch and a handful of other commenters the educational issues of the day are misunderstand, or reduced to slogans.

Perhaps the CFE lawsuit definition of a “sound basic education” should be a precursor to voting,

In Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State (CFE I), the court provided what it called a template definition of a sound basic education for the parties and the trial court to explore on remand. The court, like courts in many other states, tied the standard to preparing students to exercise citizenship duties; it said, “Such an education should consist of the basic literacy, calculating, and verbal skills necessary to enable children to eventually function productively as civic participants capable of voting and serving on a jury.” 86 N.Y.2d 307, 316 (1995).

Schools Are NOT a Pipeline to Prison: We Cannot Blame Schools, School Leaders and Teachers for the Failures of National Policies.

A few weeks after the de Blasio election I drifted down to the transition tent on Canal Street. The Transition Team was sponsoring a series of panels of community members and experts recommending directions for the newly elected administration. The education panel was chaired by an NAACP leader and the panel members included a well-known religious leader and other activists from the Harlem community. As the discussion moved from topic to topic one of the panelists bemoaned the “school to prison pipeline” and quoted a statistic: the staggering number of Afro-American males suspended from school in kindergarten. I was sitting next to a high ranking Department of Education official, I turned to him with a querulous look, he tapped into his hand-held device and shook his head, absolutely not; the assertion had no basis in reality. . It was accepted by the panelists and the audience. The suspension polices in schools are a pipeline to prison.

The same students who are suspended are the students who drop out of school and end up in prison; if we halted or sharply limited suspensions would we halt dropouts and incarcerations? Neighborhoods with high poverty risk load factors, neighborhoods with high crime rates include schools that are burdened with the pathologies of the neighborhood that surrounds the schools. We cannot single out schools as the “cause” of incarceration rates. As teachers we have the obligation to protect students from the mean streets and too keep the culture of the streets outside of school buildings.

We need rules and regulations to set a standard for behavior in schools.

New York City has a detailed discipline code, a list of infractions and punishments that are reviewed and revised every few years, The current code, called the City-Wide Behavioral Expectations to Support Student Learning (April 2015) is is a 32-page guide to student discipline. The behavioral infractions are grouped into five levels from Uncooperative/Non-Compliant Behavior up to the most serious level, Seriously Dangerous or Violent Behavior.

The Code emphasizes guidance interventions; “restorative approaches” and recommends a series of activities: collaborative negotiation, peer mediation and formal restorative conferences.

One of the most common, and controversial reasons for disciplinary actions are,

Defying or disobeying the lawful authority of school personnel in a way that substantially disrupts the educational process and/or poses a danger to a school community …

The intervention, depending on the severity and frequency of the infraction can be: admonishment, conferences, reprimand, parent conference, in-school disciplinary action, removal from classroom, principal suspension (1-5 days), superintendent’s suspension (30-90 days), superintendent’s suspension (one year) and expulsion (over 17 and extremely rare).

All actions can be appealed and students are entitled to legal representation at the superintendent level suspensions.

Every incident in a school must be entered into the Online Occurrence Reporting System (OORS) in detail, the reports are tracked and schools with persistent discipline issues develop Incident Reduction Plans that are closely monitored by the Department.

In spite of the detailed lists of infractions, in spite of the attempts to view responses to infractions as guidance before punishment the school to prison canard is alive and well.

The NYCLU website writes,

The School to Prison Pipeline is a nationwide system of local, state and federal education and public safety policies that pushes students out of school and into the criminal justice system …. Schools directly send students into the pipeline through zero tolerance policies that involve the police in minor incidents and often lead to arrests, juvenile detention referrals, and even criminal charges and incarceration. Schools indirectly push students towards the criminal justice system by excluding them from school through suspension, expulsion, discouragement and high stakes testing requirements.

Yes, schools in New York City are all staffed with School Safety Officers who monitor school entrances and work with school staffs to maintain order and discipline. And, yes, many high school schools require students to pass through metal detectors, referred to as scanning. Scanning is required at virtually every public building; every court, City Hall, State Offices buildings, in fact, photo IDs are required at most office buildings around the city.

Sadly schools can be dangerous places. Mayor David Dinkins was on his way to Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn for a community event when he received stunning news – a student had been shot to death by another student in the building. A few years earlier the Board of Education had designated twenty high schools for the placement of metal detectors. Carol Beck, the principal of Jefferson vigorously opposed the placement in her school. The students were being treated as criminals and stigmatizing communities of color; she was supported by a range of civil rights organizations around the city, the Board relented, and a child died. (Read NY Times article here).

Chalkbeat reports that the number of suspensions is down by 10% (as of 3-31-15), of course the department controls the number of suspensions, all suspensions at the superintendent level must be approved by the hierarchy. Whether restorative practices resulted in a decrease in suspendable offenses or whether the department simply is not approving requests to suspend we do not know, whether schools will become less safe under the de Blasio/Farina administration or whether schools were too quick to suspend is also an unknown.

I suspect the department has changed the administration of the rules to make it extremely difficult to suspend a student.

Some schools in similar neighborhoods have much higher suspension numbers than other schools and some schools with no or very low suspension rates are chaotic.

School tone is set by the school leader, and, unfortunately too many school leaders are leaders in name only. On a visit to a middle school the principal proudly told me, “We are committed to restorative justice, no one will ever be suspended in my school.” She may very well have been totally committed, the kids weren’t, they were floating around the building, the building was a mess. Conversely, in another middle school in a very tough neighborhood the first kid who saw me walked up, introduced himself, shook hands, and asked how he could help me.

One principal monitors Facebook pages and social media: did something happen in the projects that might spill over into the school?

I was sitting in on a principal council in a multi-school campus; the item on the agenda was school tone. The principals were finger pointing, why did “your kids” wander into my part of the building? Why were “your kids” picking fights with “my kids?” After a while I asked, “Why don’t you meet with the gang leaders?” A principal, aghast, asked “Why would I wanna do that?” Perhaps unkindly I responded, “Because they run the building.”

Leadership is way beyond applying Danielson Frameworks to classroom lessons. Leadership are kids respecting the school leader, leadership is establishing the tone that allows for teaching and learning in classrooms.

Years ago I worked with a superintendent, his favorite line, “Order precedes learning.”

How does a school leader convince kids to leave the culture of the streets at the school door? Do school leaders have the tools to discipline students for egregious acts?

To blame schools, to blame suspension policies for incarceration is foolish and harmful to all students. Just as in the larger world schools must have rules with a set of sanctions for violating the rules. Just as in the larger world the rules must make sense and be equitably applied.

Suspending kids as a surrogate for effective leadership is unacceptable as is failing to sanction kids for bad behavior.

What Did the Release of the New York State Grades 3-8 Common Core Scores Tell Us About Teaching and Learning? (Aside from Geography, Sadly, is Destiny)) The Answer: Nothing.

Four months after the administration of the federally required grades 3-8 tests the state released the scores.

See lengthy state press release here.

Test scores by school here.

Diane Ravitch trashes claims about the tests,

But also bear in mind that the “cut scores” or “passing marks” are not based on science. They are judgments that may be affected by politics. If too many children pass, the cut score may be raised; if too many children fail, the cut score may be lowered. Ultimately, there is no objective way to measure how many students are “college-and-career-ready.”

Take a look at the third grade Literature/Reading Standards here – the issue is the test constructors, the psychometricians, have to create questions to assess the “learning” of the standards, and, as the NY Times shows the third grade questions that were released by the state were “tricky” and ambiguous.

In the third year of Common Core tests we have seen minimal progress, not because teachers are inept, or kids aren’t learning, the flat scores simply reflect tests that are meaningless.

Chancellor Tisch touts the “value and importance of these tests for our children’s education.” What value? The tests are required by the 2002 No Child Left Behind law and in order to qualify for the $700 million in Race to the Top funding; the state adopted the Common Core and created the new tests. Scores flipped from two-thirds of kids “passing” to two-thirds of kids “failing.”

“This year, there was a significant increase in the number of students refusing the annual assessments,” Chancellor Tisch said. “We must do more to ensure that our parents and teachers understand the value and importance of these tests for our children’s education. Our tests have been nationally recognized for providing the most honest look at how prepared our students are for future success, and we believe annual assessments are essential to ensure all students make educational progress and graduate college and career ready. Without an annual testing program, the progress of our neediest students may be ignored or forgotten, leaving these students to fall further behind. This cannot happen.”

The current tests do not impact children: why are we giving tests that have no impact on students? In New York State the only purpose of the tests are to judge teachers, principals and schools.

The Chancellor’s accusation that “Without an annual testing program, the progress of our neediest students may be ignored or forgotten, leaving these students to fall further behind” is absurd.

We have been testing students for over a century, the Regents exams, and before NCLB the state required testing in the fourth and eighth grade and city gave tests on all grades each year.

As teachers we “test” students all the time, the Friday spelling test, unit tests, projects, we ask kids to write essays, to answer in class; teaching and learning is a process. I sat in on a meeting of secondary school math teachers a few days after the new Common Core Algebra Regents. The teachers had created an error matrix, the most frequent incorrect answers, and examined their lesson plans for the specific lesson. The teachers asked, “How can we change our lessons to address the incorrect student answers?” The Regents exams are marked within days and can inform instruction.

Unfortunately the state tests are not based on a curriculum; schools have adopted the Engage NY curriculum modules, and, hope that the modules will be reflected on the state exams. Scores released in August, four months after the administration of the test and only releasing some of the questions does not aid teachers in planning.

Parents of 200,000 kids chose to opt-out of the exams, and the movement may very well grow next year. The new Commissioner poured gasoline on the opt-out fire by threatening to withhold funding from high opt-out schools .

Individual schools could lose funding if large numbers of students opt out of state standardized tests in April, state education commissioner MaryEllen Elia said on Wednesday.

The state Education Department is in conversations with the U.S. Department of Education working on a plan regarding possible sanctions for districts with high opt-out rates, Elia said.

In the conference call with reporters, Elia said the sanctions weren’t clearly defined and could simply consist of a phone call to superintendents asking what happened and what they plan to do differently next year. But it’s also possible that federal Title I funds will be withheld, she said.

If Commissioner Elia thinks she can coerce parents into not opting out she is mistaken. If the reauthorization of NCLB becomes law, states will have wider discretion in their testing program, and, with the firing of Pearson, the state should reconfigure the tests.

Cut scores are set by the Commissioner, there is no formula, the state decided to create a test that failed two-thirds of all students. Secretary of Education Duncan and former Commissioner King believed that principals and teachers could be threatened into “teaching better” and kids into “learning better.” (“The beatings will continue until the scores increase”)

We have always incorporated standards into our teaching, the Common Core State Standards are simply a new set of standards, and the standards are a list of skills we expect a student to acquire at each grade.

Unfortunately the modules, the de facto curriculum, vary widely, from clear and coherent to incoherent, and, the modules are not aligned to the state tests.

Next year is an election year, every member of the state legislature is up for election, and the parents of 200,000 students are angry. The members of the legislature will have to decide whether to stick with a commissioner who threatens school district funding, or intervene to support parents by changing the direction of the state testing program.

As a former Speaker of the House of Representatives opined, “All politics is local.”

Beyond Credit Recovery: Who Are the Students Who Don’t Graduate, and, Why Are They Failing to Graduate?

Mayors are judged by falling crime rates and increasing student test scores and graduation rates.

The reasons for falling crime rates are complex and controversial, Giuliani boasted of a “broken windows” strategy, Bloomberg pointed to “stop and frisk.” Criminologists and sociologists muse: ComStat, better policing, more cops on the street or maybe Roe v Wade (See the Roe v. Wade arguments here and here)

Donohue-Levitt hypothesis that legalized abortion in the 1970s explains a substantial part of the crime decline in the 1990s …individuals born into poverty in high crime neighborhoods who were likely to commit crimes were never born.

Bloomberg touted higher test scores and graduation rate increases, although the test score claims were widely challenged. Graduation rates did rise and the closing of large dysfunctional high schools and the creation of small schools were responsible. Too many high schools had been floundering for decades, the board of education leadership simply followed a triage model, allowing schools to fail by tracking kids to failing or succeeding schools; Taft in the Bronx and Jefferson in Brooklyn were the dumping grounds. Klein closed the schools beyond the tipping point as well as many schools that were addressing the issues. The creation of hundreds of small schools led to greater personalization, teacher collaboration, and, unfortunately “progressive” policies that verged on inappropriate – “generous” scoring of regents exams and granting of credits for subpar work. The Farina administration continued the same highly questionable practices; until the recent New York Post assault.

Article after article exposed egregious acts, changing grades (‘rescoring”) and the dubious practice called credit recovery – kids who failed subjects received credit for minimal work School principals set passing quotas, complaints were brushed aside by the investigative arm of the department and Sol Stern takes the chancellor to task for a career of “progressive” ideas that, in Stern’s opinion have resulted in ill-prepared students and teachers.

The department has responded by claiming that only .15% of high school students (6,000 out of over 300,000 earned credit through credit recovery) and intends to closely monitor and reduce the number sharply in the future.

The goal of education policy must not be to elect mayors or burnish legacies; the goal is to graduate kids prepared for post-secondary education. High student failure rates are distressing and the blame should be placed at the feet of the electeds and school district and state leaders who established the flawed policies.

There are core questions that must be explored: Are current New York State graduation requirements fair and equitable for all students? Are we asking too much of students, or, are we appropriately preparing them for the cold, cruel future in a rapidly changing economy?

Over the last twenty years the state has made dramatic changes to graduation requirements

In the mid-nineties the regents began the phase-out the local diploma and move to a single regents diploma. The majority of students in the state were settling for a local diploma that did not require any regents exams – the “regents competency test,” the RCT, was at the eighth or ninth grade level. The move to the single regents diploma was highly controversial. The plan was to drop the “passing” grade on all regents to 55 and phase up to 65 over four years – it took ten years to totally phase out the RCT. Along the way the regents changed: the English exam from a two-day six hour exam to a one-day three hour exam, the global regents will move from an exam covering the ninth and tenth grade curriculum to a tenth grade only exam.

The state is beginning to phase in the common core regents exams; the plan is to phase in the exams over eight years with the scores being scaled each year until fully phased in.

As we continue to ratchet up the rigor of the work, basically raising the bar for students, teachers and school leaders, how are we addressing the students who are unable to meet the new, higher standards?

New York State does have the highest standards of any state in the nation.

Most states across the country demonstrated large discrepancies between student proficiency rates as reported by state tests and rates measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “the Nation’s Report Card.” However, New York was one of only two states to achieve proficiency benchmarks that are more rigorous than NAEP

Should we applaud and pat ourselves on the back or should we be concerned with the 25% of students who do not graduate?

Latest state data reports that the six year graduation rate for students with disabilities is 53% – the state graduation for all students is 76%.

Students with disabilities have an Individual Education Plan, an IEP that determines levels of services, perhaps a self-contained class with lower class size, or a class with a paraprofessional, or, guidance services, the student is expected to pass the same regents exams as all other students. In other words the IEP directed services are expected to “cure” the student of the disability.

The Committee on Special Education and the school-based teams that determine levels of services should also determine graduation requirements appropriate to the handicap of the student. The IEP should become the Individual Education and Graduation Plan. Should we assume that students with dyslexia can master the common core Algebra regents? These decisions should be left to the educators who determine the student’s education plan.

Currently there are two choices: a regents diploma or the C-DOS credential. The C-DOS credential is not a diploma – the Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) Commencement Credential is intended for moderately to severely handicapped students, a small percent of students with disabilities. The modifications to the regents diploma could be attached to the diploma. Currently we condemn a cohort of kids who have passed all of their subjects, and pass some of their regents. The failure to pass regents due to a handicapping condition should not bar a student from a regents diploma.

Additionally English language learners (ESL) only have a graduation rate of 31%; Afro-American male students have distressingly low graduation rates. As we look around the state some schools have graduation rates for ESL students that approach the rates for all students, and, the same holds for Afro-American male students: why are some schools highly successful and others stumbling? The skills of the school leader and teachers? Greater access to funding? Larger numbers of teachers with language skills or minority teachers and school leaders?

Before the state embarks on major changes to graduation requirements, aside from the obvious changes regarding students with disabilities, the state should explore: who are the 25% who fail to graduate, and why do they fail to graduate?

I suspect the large percentage of kids who fail to graduate have dropped out of school; I also suspect we can identify kids most likely to drop out early in their school career.

We could probably provide a school with a list of fourth graders likely to drop out of high school and require the school to intervene and track the success, or lack thereof, of the intervention.

The Cuomo approach: flail teachers and school leaders is asinine. Chase out the “bad” teachers has resulted in discouraging kids from entering teaching.

Let’s allow educators to guide not only the student with disability education plan but also the requirements for graduation and let’s take a deep dive into who is not graduating and why?

Removing the Credit Recovery Stain: Will the Chancellor Restore Credibility to the High School Diploma?

Kids stumble in middle school, self-destruct in high schools and begin to fail subjects; reading and math skills two or three years below grade with Regents exams on the horizon, school is hard, really hard. The frustrations may lead to cutting classes or cutting school, a diploma moves further and further away. The light bulb suddenly pops! Without a diploma I can’t get a good job, I can’t even join the military; however, it’ll take me five or six years to collect the credits I missed. Some kids find a transfer high school, schools designed for kids with limited credits. For others perhaps the GED, whoops, the GED is gone; New York State has replaced the GED with another exam, TASC, a test aligned to the common core. I’m eighteen year old, how can I earn a high school diploma?

About a dozen years ago I worked with a not-for-profit that both created and worked with small high schools; we were working on a “tool kit,” a variety of skills/programs that can assist principals/schools. As I was sifting through papers I found my “credit recovery tool kit” file. Under state regulations each high school course requires 54 hours of seat time. If a student fails a course should the student have to repeat the entire course? What if the student “mastered” come topics and “failed to master” other topics? Is it possible to determine the topics passed and failed and develop a program to address the failed topics?

A few years later I was working with a small high school, a former college student of mine developed a credit recovery program that addressed the issue. His team would train teachers and produce templates for a variety of courses. The student would work with the teacher, using the template, to produce a 12-15 page term paper. The school would set aside blocks of time – four days during the Christmas, winter and spring breaks – 24 hours (6 hours x 4 days) – the student could earn three credits over a school year.

Unfortunately what began as a program to assist students to earn credits morphed into a “quicky” path to graduation. Writing a 12-15 page term paper became a few hours at a computer. As flawed credit recovery became endemic newly elected Regent Cashin asked an experienced high school principal to investigate. The principal compiled a report: schools routinely purchased software packages; I believe one was called Plato, a student sat at a computer, read passages and answered questions, sometimes using a textbook to seek answers, sometimes with the assistance of a teacher, and, after a few hours the student achieved mastery. Fifty-four hours of seat time was reduced to a few hours of punching keys on a computer.

As the Chancellor Merryl Tisch began to investigate the Department rushed to issue new regulations to address this problem to begin July 1, 2011.

Making Up Incomplete or Failed Course Credit.
Commencing July 1, 2011 and thereafter, a school district, Title may provide a student, who had the opportunity to complete a unit of study in a given high school subject but who failed to demonstrate mastery of the learning outcomes for such subject, with an opportunity to make up a unit of credit for such subject toward either a Regents or local diploma, pursuant to the following:

i. To receive credit, the student shall successfully complete a make-up credit program and demonstrate mastery of the learning outcomes for the subject, including passing the Regents examination in the subject or other assessment required for graduation, if applicable.
ii. The make-up credit program shall:
a. be aligned with the applicable New York State learning standards for such subject;
b. satisfactorily address the student’s course completion deficiencies and individual needs; and
c. ensure that the student receives equivalent, intensive instruction in the subject matter area provided, as applicable, under the direction and/or supervision of:

… a school district teacher who is certified in the subject matter area;

In the case of a school district or registered nonpublic school, the student’s participation in the make-up credit program shall be approved by a school-based panel consisting of, at a minimum, the principal, a teacher in the subject area for which the student must make up credit, and a guidance director or other administrator.

Are the software packages that schools purchase “aligned with the applicable New York State learning standards?” Does the make-up credit program “satisfactorily address the student course completion deficiencies and individual needs”? Do the students receive “equivalent, intensive instruction” under the direction of a “teacher certified in the subject matter area?”

There are no safeguards in place to assure compliance with the regulations, they were routinely ignored.

Six months later the Office of the Auditor-General issued a report. HIGH SCHOOL ACADEMIC DATA AUDIT REPORT. February, 2012 with recommendations:

Credit recovery: In addition to following the NY State regulation on make-up credit, guidance staff will identify students who may be eligible for credit recovery based on their course grades as an initial step. A subject-certified teacher will assign students to an approved credit recovery course that covers content materials they had not mastered. The subject committee will meet regularly to assess students’ progress and will be responsible for signing-off on the final test taken in the subject area. The school administrator will review the committee’s decision and have final authority to assign credit.

There was no follow-up, the audit was filed away and gathered dust.

Thanks to the relentless work of the reporting staff at the NY Post we know that the Department routinely ignored state regulations and the Report of the Auditor General. What is so sad is there is no conspiracy, schools openly flouted the regulations, superintendents ignored the regulations, in fact, may have encouraged “whatever is necessary” to pump up graduation rates. Networks facilitated the creation of credit recovery efforts; the goal was higher graduation rates “by any means possible.”

The Bloomberg administration was closing the doors at the end of 2013 and higher graduation rates were part of the legacy.

The Farina administration made no effort to remedy the egregious failures of the Bloomberg administration. As the pressure on the principal at John Dewey High School increased the Chancellor defended the principal at Dewey, until she was fired in July.

Farina and her deputy, Phil Weinberg, an experienced high school principal should have immediately intervened. Weinberg has been a high school principal for more than a decade he is not a naïf.

To address the growing scandal the Chancellor has created a mechanism to “monitor concerning trends,”

“By creating a Regulatory Task Force on Academic Policy and forming dedicated teams to monitor any concerning trends, we are once again sending a clear message that violating academic policies will not be tolerated,” Fariña said in a statement.

The editorial and op ed side of the NY Post flail away calling for the firing of the Chancellor and the creation of more charter schools, soiling the excellent work of the reportorial staff. The editorial writers praise Bloomberg, sadly ignoring the reality, the credit recovery scandal, and it is a scandal, was created and sanctioned by the Bloomberg administration.

A high school diploma is a crucial achievement, without the diploma the job market is sharply reduced, the difference between a career of bagging groceries versus a job with benefits and a pension. Creating a variety of pathways to high school graduation should not include “short cuts” that are fraudulent. The credit recovery chimera is not in place to assist students, it is in place to pump up graduation rates, and its purpose is to burnish the reputation of the adults, not to assist students.

The Regents must explore whether the single Regents diploma should be the sole pathway to graduation. Should the Regents create additional pathways? Are the new Common Core Regents exams aligned with state curricula? Why are students struggling with grades 3-8 Common Core exams? Are the exams flawed? Are the Common Core standards flawed?

I fear the “Regulatory Task Force” is simply a face saver, simply a presser to relieve the pressure. I fear the new administrative superintendent-driven system will not be able to create learning communities at the school and district level.

We know the students, the schools, the communities that are over-burdened with poverty risk load factors – how are the de Blasio and Farina administrations addressing generational poverty and the impact on schools?

Bloomberg closed over 150 schools and created 500 plus smaller schools, graduation rates have risen, we are suspicious about the data, the many small schools are far more personalized and can address the needs of individual students. A teacher in a Renewal Schools told me, “My students enter pre-k at least a year behind, attendance is poor, no matter how much we try too many of our children fall further and further behind.”

How are we addressing the concerns of that pre-k teacher?