The “Dirty Little Secret,” Millions of Tax Deductible Dollars Supporting Charter Schools …

Every month at the Board of Regents Meeting the Budget Committee meets, and, I really try and understand the complexities of the process. There are three sources of funding for public schools, local funding through property taxes, funding provided by state tax dollars and federal funding, if eligible.

Local funding is based on property taxes and property taxes are based on the dollar value of the property within the district; districts with multi-million dollar homes, districts with commercial property versus districts with no commercial property, no new home construction and low priced homes; the result is wide disparities in school funding.

The state part of the funding supplements the local funding; in other words, to the extent possible to make up for the huge disparity from district to district.

Some Examples of Per Student Funding

Statewide           $21,487

NYC                 $20,846

Buffalo             $18,648

Rochester          $19,955

Carthage            $17,807

Scarsdale           $28,977

East Hampton    $34,657

from presentation provided by the NYSED Budget Office

School districts determine how the dollars are divided up among schools in their districts; New York City uses a formula called “Fair Student Funding.”

The New York City funding by school is transparent, a few clicks allows you to access any public school in the city.

If you’re interested in a deeper dive this power point explains the bigger NYC school funding picture.

Charter schools receive funding from the school district under provisions of state law; see explanation of the formula here.

The “dirty little secret” is that many charter schools, and a few public schools, have another source of funding through the creation of 501 (c) 3 not-for-profits, philanthropy, tax deductible donations.

 What is a 501(c)(3)?

Section 501(c)(3) is the portion of the US Internal Revenue Code that allows for federal tax exemption of nonprofit organizations, specifically those that are considered public charities, private foundations or private operating foundations. It is regulated and administered by the US Department of Treasury through the Internal Revenue Service.

Other unique provisions tend to vary by state. Like federal law, most states allow for deductibility for state income tax purposes. Also, many states allow 501(c)(3) organizations to be exempt from sales tax on purchases, as well as exemption from property taxes.

501 (c) 3 organizations must file IRS form 990, the equivalent of a tax return, and, the forms are all available online.

You can access specific school info at the sites below:

http://990finder.foundationcenter.org/990results.aspx?990_type=&fn=charter+school&st=NY&zp=&ei=&fy=2016&action=Find

https://www.guidestar.org/search

I identified 120 charter schools with 501 (c) 3 accounts, there may be many more, and, the funds contain significant dollars

 

Success Academy Schools                             $59 million

Explore Charter Schools of Brooklyn          $15.9 million

Uncommon NYC Charter Schools                 $34.8 million

And list goes on and on, most of the schools have millions of dollars in their accounts. The form requires the listing of salaries paid, not other specific allocations. The 501 commonly pays for the salary of the principal and other school leaders; occasionally a director, a non-pedagogical title. The funds can be used for virtually anything, school trips, school supplies, building repairs or renovations, new furniture, computers, advertising, and on and on, the 990 form only requires the school to list expenditures in general terms.

The form does not require a listing of the contributors. The contributions are tax deductible.

The 990 form does require the listing of the expenditure for each year – dividing the annual expenditures by the school register and the sum added to the funds provided by the school district can be compared with neighborhood school funding; including the 501 dollars results in many charter schools having far greater dollars per student than the neighboring public schools. Not an even playing field.

Charter schools, as described below, are required to make “good faith efforts” to serve “comparable” enrollments of designated classes of students; however, the law does not define “good faith efforts.” Charters are issued for five years; the authorizer reviews school data in the charter renewal process; in spite of “good faith efforts.” charter schools frequently fail to reach comparable enrollments.

 the  charter   school   shall  demonstrate  good  faith  efforts  to attract and retain a comparable or  greater enrollment  of  students  with  disabilities,  English  language  learners,  and  students  who  are  eligible applicants for the free and  reduced price lunch program when compared to the enrollment figures  for  such  students  in  the  school  district in which the charter school is  located.

There is nothing in the law that limits charter school fund raising, or, makes any reference to external funding.

The intent of the law is to compare charter and public schools within the district, and, charter schools, sadly, frequently fail to enroll at-risk classes in comparable numbers, discharge students in large numbers and fail to backfill seats, and, commonly, have substantially greater per student funds due to 501 philanthropy. In other words, fail to comply with the letter and the spirit of the law.

The Board is considering changes Charter School Performance Frameworks; perhaps the Frameworks could clarify the intent of the statute.

A couple of years ago I was at an event at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. A panel of charter school leaders was discussing a range of issues; one of the leaders challenged the panel; he argued that unless charter schools forego philanthropy and backfill vacant seats they will never gain creditibility in the eyes of the general public. He was greeted with silence.

On the national scene we’ve moved beyond charter schools; the billionaires who have seized control of the conservative agenda (See excellent article in the NY Times here); are advocating for unregulated school choice; essentially a voucher system; public funds supporting a competition among schools; public, profit and not-for-profit charters, private, religious and home schoolers.

The days of the bake sale have morphed into well-paid directors of school 501 © 3’s  raising millions so that schools can “compete” with each other. I think Jefferson is rolling over in his grave.

“A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest.” –Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 1818.

Public schools in high poverty neighborhoods, already burdened with supporting homeless students, students with health issues, with food insecurity, now must compete with schools with far greater funding, either because of skewed funding formula or due to external dollars.

The next step will probably be the billionaire school choice crowd distributing copies of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal (A Modest Proposal for preventing the Children of Poor People from being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for making them Beneficial to the Publick)

Advertisements

Gates, Again: The Gates Foundation Commits $1.7 Billion to the Creation of “Networks of Schools,” Creating a “Bottom Up” Model, or, Swimming Against the Tide?

Our nation has a long history of philanthropy, the wealthy supporting “worthy causes;” the Bloomberg School of Public Health at John Hopkins, the Langone Medical Center at New York University, buildings at colleges named after a deep-pocketed contributor, and, recently, vast dollars to promote a specific cause. The Walton Family Foundation’s cause is charter schools, “The foundation has invested more than $407 million to grow high-quality charter schools since 1997.”

Daniel Loeb, a billionaire hedge fund manager chairs the Eva Moskowitz Success Academy board, and, according to Chalkbeat, “donated millions of dollars to the network.”

Bill Gates, at a speech at the Council of Great City Schools (10/19/17) announced a new major project, described below, revolves around the creation of school networks and the use of data.

“… we will expand investments in innovative research to accelerate progress for underserved students.

Overall, we expect to invest close to $1.7 billion in U.S. public education over the next five years.”

This is the third major investment in education by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. His first, the small high school initiative, Gates dollars, $600 million, helped in the creation of 1200 schools around the nation, with mixed results, as reported by Gates.

From our work creating small schools to increase high school graduation and college-readiness rates, we saw how small schools could be responsive to their students’ needs. While the results in places like New York City, Los Angeles, and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas were encouraging, we realized that districts were reluctant to scale small schools because of the financial and political costs of closing existing schools and starting new ones.

 In New York City the Gates dollars were funneled through New Visions for Public Schools to community-based organizations that supported the school theme. I worked at New Visions for a few years on a team that worked to support schools; meaning providing expertise in a range of areas. Highly dedicated people working in schools run by a number of different superintendents with differing goals and leadership styles.

The small schools movement predated the Gates initiative; the Chancellor’s High School District phased out large dysfunctional schools and created small theme-based schools. While the management model was structurally different, the small schools created by the Chancellor’s District were at least as effective as the Gates schools. One might ask whether the 600 million could have been put to better use.

Gates then moved on to the next big thing, the Measures of Effective Teaching project, a massive undertaking.

Our investments in the Measures of Effective Teaching provided important knowledge about how to observe teachers at their craft, rate their performance fairly, and give them actionable feedback. While these insights have been helpful to the field, we saw that differentiating teachers by performance, and in turn by pay scale, wasn’t enough to solve the problem alone.

 A three year-long study involving 3,000 teachers across the nation “provided important knowledge,” however, “wasn’t enough to solve the problem alone.”

The study placed 360 degree cameras in classrooms, video recording lessons, coding the teacher behavior, and attempting to isolate specific teaching behaviors. Unfortunately the study also used pupil performance on tests, value-added measurement (VAM), as the tool to assess teacher performance. Whether intended or not, the use of VAM by Gates added to the movement to assess teacher performance and pay teachers according to increases in test scores.

Two massive project intending to change the face of education that ultimately failed to achieve their goals.

The Foundation is embarking on a new massive project. “Networks of schools.”

In his speech Gates only spoke in general terms,

We anticipate that about 60 percent of this [the 1.7 billion] will eventually support the development of new curricula and networks of schools that work together to identify local problems and solutions . . . and use data to drive continuous improvement.

Many states, districts, and schools now have the data they need to track student progress and achievement, and some are using it to great effect.

If you’re scratching your head and wondering, what are these “networks of schools” and where are they? You’re not alone.

Gates continued,

We will focus our grantmaking on supporting schools in their work to improve student outcomes—particularly for low-income, Black, and Latino students—by partnering with middle and high schools and identifying new approaches that are effective and that could be replicated in other schools.

We will do this by investing in networks of schools to solve common problems schools face by using evidence-based interventions that best fit their needs, and data-driven continuous learning. We will also invest in ensuring that teachers and leaders have what they need to be successful—high-quality preparation, standards-aligned curriculum and tools, accompanied by professional learning opportunities. And we’ll keep our eyes on the horizon; advancing research and development in support of new innovations that will help our education system keep pace with our rapidly changing world.

The Foundation has published a “Request for Information,” a document requesting information from current or former self-designed networks,

We believe when teams of educators within schools and across schools work collaboratively with communities and have a strong partnership with families to solve common problems and continuously improve, change will be more enduring.

Take a look at the Request for Information document here.

The leader of K-12 Education and the new initiative at Gates is Bob Hughes, who led New Visions for Public Schools in New York City.

I first met Bob at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) trial. Bob was one of the attorneys leading the heroic effort for fair funding in New York City. I attended about 30 sessions of the 107 session trial reporting the activities of the day to the UFT legal team. A few years later Bob moved to New Visions, and with a $54 million grant managed the creation of small school communities, schools working closely with community partners.  In 2003 I began to work on a team that assisted in the design of new schools and the phase-out of Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn.

Bob and the New Visions staff are dedicated to improving schools, and, in spite of the obstacle of working within a school system that at times was obstructionist, created a network of schools.

In February, 2016 Bob moved from New Visions to the head of K-12 Education at Gates.

From the limited information on the Gates website it appears that the “next big thing” will be an attempt to marry the New Visions model with networks across the nation.

As an example of the model New Visions has created an Open Educational Resources (OER) project; curricula, designed by subject area specialists and classroom teachers. New Visions encourages,

A broad group of teachers participate in ongoing professional development which provides them with support for the use of these materials. [Explore the curricula on the site above – open and free to all]

New Visions has taken over the role of the school district.

New Visions has also created a host of data tools,

Empowering teacher and school administrators through flexible open source tools and resources, the New Visions CloudLab is a home for community driven tool development and support.

I am a supporter of the network approach, the current rigid, top-down, paramilitary structure (salute and comply) has never worked, kids did well not because of the management system, they did well because of the nature of the school population or the extraordinary ability of school or school district leadership.

Schools and school districts should be learning communities, not “absorbers” of the message of the moment.

The New Visions model, the Internationals Network, and a few others are currently embedded within New York City, and, there will be opportunities for other networks.

One interesting possibility, the creation of a PROSE network, a cluster of schools taking advantage of new section of the bargaining agreement that encourages schools to create innovative designs.

PROSE stands for Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence, and the opportunities for redesign at the heart of this program are predicated on the UFT’s core belief that the solutions for schools are to be found within school communities, in the expertise of those who practice our profession.

Hopefully the Bill and Bob team can create interesting options to our current test prep driven school districts.

Why Have New York City Homicides (1990: 2262) Declined So Precipitously (2016: 335)? Can Small Schools Connecting with Students Be at the Core?

At the height of the crack epidemic (1990) there were 2262 homicides in New York City; in 2016 there were 335 homicides – incredible. (Check out NYC crime data here).

While homicide rates continue at high level in city after city the rates in New York City continue to decline, probably below 300 for 2017.

What are we doing right?

See top 30 city homicide rates here.

Not only are homicide rates high the rates are breaking records in a number of cities.

In spite of the spotlight homicide rates in Chicago continue to spike: The Atlantic takes a deep dive into the persistently high homicide rates.

Criminologists, sociologists, psychologists, electeds have all parsed the reams of data to attempt to provide an answer: why has the homicide rate in New York City continued to decline, to decline precipitously while in other cities the rates have been persistently high or increasing?

Broken Windows” Policing and “Stop and “Frisk”

The eight years of Giuliani and the twelve years of Bloomberg were years of what critics called “harsh” policing. Arresting turnstile jumpers and public intoxicators, “stop and frisk” widely used in communities of color targeting young men of color, policies that both administrations claim reduced homicide rates.

A 2000 National Bureau of Economic Research study reports,

Many attribute New York’s crime reduction to specific “get-tough” policies carried out by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s administration. The most prominent of his policy changes was the aggressive policing of lower-level crimes, a policy which has been dubbed the “broken windows” approach to law enforcement. In this view, small disorders lead to larger ones and perhaps even to crime.

 In Carrots, Sticks and Broken Windows (NBER Working Paper No. 9061), co-authors Hope Corman and Naci Mocan find that the “broken windows” approach does not deter as much crime as some advocates argue, but it does have an effect

 Skeptics believe that it was the economic boom of the 1990s – a “carrot” that encourages people to remain on the straight-and-narrow – that brought about the drop in crime rates in New York City and the nation.

 The contribution of such deterrence measures (the “stick”) offers more explanation for the decline in New York City crime than the improvement in the economy, the authors conclude.

 So, “broken windows” had an impact; although not as much as claimed by the proponents.

However, Mayor de Blasio ended “stop and frisk” and arrests for low level misdemeanors have ended, homicides continue to spiral downward, and, at a faster rate.

 The Impact of Legalized Abortion

 A far more controversial theory comes from the “freakonomics” guys called the Donohue-Leavitt Hypothesis  that proffers that the Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision, the legal accessibility of abortions, resulted in sharp decreases in a generation of potential victims and perpetrators.  Males from poor dysfunctional households who were not born could not be victims or perps therefore resulting in sharp decreases in serious crime rates. The hypothesis has been vigorously debated.

Gentrification

 Gentrification is defined as “… the renovation of a deteriorating urban neighborhood by means of the influx of more affluent residents.” The process in New York City has been accelerating; Bedford-Stuyvesant, Harlem, Williamsburg, Washington Heights and other neighborhoods have seen the steady flow of middle class families into the neighborhoods pushing the poorer residents into existing “ghetto” neighborhoods.  New York State Juvenile Justice Task Force data shows that juvenile perpetrators are increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer neighborhoods. The concentration of potential victims and perpetrators into smaller geographic areas make it easier to police neighborhoods.

Some would argue that while gentrification pushes the poor out of neighborhoods and increases racial and economic segregation; a positive byproduct could be the reduction of crime.

Small High Schools

 Disconnected youth is defined as youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not working and not in school. Higher crime/arrest rates, higher controlled substance involvement, high pregnancy rates, a long list of negative metrics, and, cities and states around the nation are struggling to create programs to engage youth.

A detailed report, “One in Seven: Disconnected  Youth in the 25 Largest Metropolitan Areas” parses the data, Boston and Minneapolis have the lowest percentages, Phoenix the highest; however, there is no correlation that I could discern between serious crime and disconnected youth by city. New York City is 17th out of the 25 Metro areas; however, much lower homicide rates.

I could not find crime rates among disconnected youth by city. We do know that victims and perpetrators are more likely not to be in school and not working.

New York City has done a commendable job of keeping school-age kids engaged in the school system.

I proffer that keeping 16 to 21 year olds engaged in school plays a role in reducing homicide rates

Beginning in the late eighties, increasing in the nineties and sharply accelerating under Bloomberg the Board and successor Department of Education closed large high schools and replaced them with small high schools. There are currently about 400 small high schools and programs by and large located in the former large high school buildings. The school registers are about 400 students. An MDRP study finds,

… small schools tended to have common traits, including a rigorous curriculum, often built around themes like conservation and law, and highly personalized relationships between students and teachers.

The schools have also formed partnerships with community groups and businesses to offer hands-on learning experiences.

The predecessor large high schools commonly had registers of over 2000 kids, and, sadly, many had high absentee rates, large class sizes and the absence of services.

I served as the teacher union representative on numerous Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams; too many schools has passed the tipping point; they had become dropout mills with large percentages of disengaged students characterized by long term absentees, cutting classes, high failure rates in classes and on Regents exams

After the 1975 fiscal crisis the school system was an afterthought, the Koch administration had little interest in schools, the decentralized school system, with exceptions, was dominated by venal politicians and patronage. Schools were starved for resources and the most disadvantaged schools suffered.

The Bloomberg administration, for his first two terms, plowed dollars into schools, (2003-2011) sharp increases in teacher salaries and a concentration on creating small schools.

While you can argue that increasing graduations rates were due to credit recovery and other management tools, the more “personalized relationships between students and teachers” cannot be disputed.  The small high schools “connected” with students.

When school leaders and teachers know the name of every kid, engage with the kids on a daily basis, kids feel part of a community.

Kids who were not surviving in small high schools, students who were “overage age and under-credited” have another chance – transfer high schools. There are fifty transfer high schools scattered around the city. A hearing in Brooklyn held by the New York State Department of Education asking for public comment around the ESSA plan and the mandated 67% graduation rate, endangering transfer high schools,  student after student, parent after parent testified how the transfer high school had saved their lives.

Only about half of the students in transfer high school graduate, a cohort, who did not succeed in small high schools, who do not succeed in a transfer school have another chance, the Pathways to Graduation program, targeting students from 17 – 21 years of age, Pathways prepares students for the high school equivalency examination, formerly the GED, now the TASC exam – once again, a program built on personalized relationships between students and teachers.

I proffer that students in the New York City school system are less likely to be disconnected. Students who struggle with academics, students from single parent or dysfunctional households, students living in gang-infested neighborhoods are “connected” with their school staffs.

The culture of these programs connects students to staffs, builds communities, acts as an alternative to the streets, and, in my opinion, plays a role in reducing homicide rates.

Smaller schools, smaller class size, schools with flexible programming, student advisory classes addressing social and emotional needs, students not left to be won over by the streets, meaning fewer disconnected youth, means fewer kids likely to be victims or perpetrators.

Smarter policing not harsher policing, more job opportunities, higher wages, all play roles;  the impact of schools have been ignored in parsing the reasons for declining homicide rates.

I allowed kids to pick their own seats in my high school classroom. On day one a student picked the seat right in front of my desk. He was small for his age, too much acne, and the other kids used unkind language, today we’d call bullying.

One day he apologized before the class began.

“I’m sorry – I didn’t do my homework, I was practicing with my band.”

Offhandedly, I replied, “Is the band any good?”

The student, hesitantly, replied, “Yes.”

Me: “Do you have a cassette?”

The kid beamed, “Sure”

I gave the cassette to my son who has a friend who books acts, he said they weren’t bad, they should book performances at open mike venues and try and build up a following. I passed the info along to the kid.

Years later I was walking down a street and someone shouted, “Mr. G”

It was the same student.

Me: “Did you’re band make it …?”

Kid: Smiling, “We weren’t good enough, I was the sound guy, and I became a sound technician, make good money, thanks for the advice.”

We do our job and impact lives; usually we never know the impact we have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should New York State End Regents Exams? Can Authentic Assessments Replace the Regents? Or, Will We Diminish the Value of a Diploma?

If you meet anyone who went to high school in New York State I’m sure they’ll remember Regents tests; they’ve been around since the 1870’s.  The Regents were intended for college-bound students; most students left high school and moved onto jobs that allowed them to live a middle class life; jobs, good jobs, were plentiful, commonly union jobs with fair pay and benefits.

In the high achieving school in which I taught only a quarter of students bothered to earn a Regents diploma, three-quarters of the kids earned a local diploma, the requirement, the 9th grade level Regents Competency Test, the RCT, and the accompanying diploma referred to as the RCT diploma. Today we would call the system multiple pathways.

By the mid-nineties the world of work had changed, a college degree was essential for a job. After a few years of discussion the Board of Regents moved to a single Regents diploma system, the RCT diploma was phased out. The plan, originally scheduled to take five years took a decade.

John King was appointed state commissioner,  the state won a  $700 million Race to the Top grant, and, adopted the Common Core State Standards.

Failure rates on the Common Core Algebra 1 Regents increased and the state decided to “scale’ the scores; currently students can receive a passing grade with fewer than half correct answers The state plan was to increase the number of correct answers to achieve a passing grade over time; it hasn’t been happening.

Unless student grades on the Algebra 1 exam increase graduation rates may be impacted, See “Rough Calculations: Will the Common Algebra 1 Regents Exam Threaten NYC’s Graduation Rates? (2015).

If you haven’t seen Regents exams recently look at the Global Studies here and the English here.

Click and try the Regents  ….  How’d you do?

The June, 2016 New York State rate graduation rate was 80%, the glass half full, the graduation rates keep edging up, the glass half empty, one in five kids fails to graduate in four years; six percent have dropped out and twelve percent are still registered in school. Although more kids are graduating more kids are not prepared for college and must take remedial courses in college.

The Board of Regents have been creating additional pathways to graduation,  4 + 1, CDOS, the “safety net” for students with disabilities, the re-scoring option, all part of multiples pathways to graduation options .

The members of the board and the commissioner are beginning to ask whether the emphasis on passing examinations is the best measurement of college and career readiness.

At the October Regents Meeting the members began to explore a move away from Regents exams. The commissioner set forth “potential goals,”

  • Prepare students for 21st century post secondary options, for example, Baccalaureate :programs in STEM, Humanities and Arts, Technical degree programs, Career training certificate programs, Adult education programs leading to certifications, Military service, Employment
  • Offer more flexibility in completing credit requirements, relevant pathway choice and student interest
  • Expand external certification assessment options
  • Allow students to demonstrate proficiency in multiple ways.

And the commissioner when on to list questions: called “Key Considerations”

  • How do we ensure that all students including students with disabilities and English language learners are able to access rigorous coursework?
  • Should students have the opportunity to demonstrate proficiency in a specific area of graduation through a district designed Capstone project?

 The commissioner could appoint a “blue ribbon” commission, experts, who could review the literature, ask for public input and submit recommendations, or, appoint a regents work group who would work with state education staff to draft a plan.

New York State is one of only seven states that requires exit exams, on the other hand critics defend regents exams; every school should meet the same standards, the same exams. The NY Post, the Manhattan Institute and others on the conservative side might accuse the commissioner and the chancellor of eroding the quality of a diploma.

On the other hand the opt-out parents would applaud, one in five students in the state opts-out of state tests and on Long Island more than half of families opt-out. Opting out of regents exams is not an option.

Daniel Koretz, a leading expert on testing has soured on the emphasis on test-based accountability.

High-stakes tests. Lots of them. And that has become a major problem. Daniel Koretz, one of the nation’s foremost experts on educational testing, argues in The Testing Charade that the whole idea of test-based accountability has failed—it has increasingly become an end in itself, harming students and corrupting the very ideals of teaching. 

Are alternative methods of measuring accountability, such as a portfolio of student work, a viable alternative?

The state of Vermont tried to move to a portfolio system which it abandoned; rater reliability was poor.

 A report analyzing Vermont’s pioneering assessment system has found severe problems with it and raised serious questions about alternative forms of assessment.

The Vermont system, which is being closely watched by educators around the country, is the first statewide assessment program to measure student achievement in part on the basis of portfolios.

 But the report by the RAND Corporation … found that the “rater reliability” in scoring the portfolios–the extent to which scorers agreed about the quality of a student’s work–was very low …

 … the report’s author, said the low levels of reliability indicate that the scores are essentially meaningless, since a different set of raters could come up with a completely different set of scores.

“If you’re not rating reliably, you’re not rating,” he said. “You can’t measure anything unless you measure it reliably.”

 Can the state move backwards, to a dual testing, dual diploma system aimed at improving graduation rates for students with disabilities and English language learners?

The state ESSA plan does not include this option.

The commissioner did endorse district-based Capstone projects.

Capstone projects are an excellent example of authentic assessment; at the college level a project might require an entire term to prepare.

The following comes from a partial description of the requirements of a college Capstone project

Capstone Expectations:

The capstone marks the culmination of the student’s studies. Accordingly, the topic selected should require application of a broad range of the skills and knowledge … The final paper must reflect thorough research, analysis, critical thinking and clear writing.

Capstone Content:

  • The topic students choose must be one they develop and work on independently.
  • The paper must showcase a deep understanding of an area….
  • The finished capstone must be a minimum of xx pages and include: an abstract; a background statement; a literature review; objectives; an analysis of existing research; an original analysis of the … challenges; opportunities, threats and possible solutions, critical and thoughtful conclusions; along with a bibliography, charts and any necessary illustrations.
  • The paper may contain primary research, ….Alternatively and more commonly, students may write their paper based on an analysis of secondary research. This approach may include a secondary data analysis or other specified metrics plan.
  • All secondary research must be attributed throughout the paper and in the bibliography.

This is a significant project: the commissioner suggests a “district-designed Capstone project,” how can we assure rater reliability in 770 school districts?

The commissioner and the regents are beginning a long journey with no clear outcome. Students pass courses and fail regents exams: should the failure prevent a student from graduating?  Should one three-hour exam determine graduation? On the other hand bar exams determine who becomes a lawyer; civil service exams determine who becomes a police officer or fire fighter.

I look forward to a deep discussion with experts and public participation and, I would recommend that the state hold hearings around the state.

Are we too wedded to Regents tests?

Are we jumping on a reform wave which may diminish a diploma?

Can/should we change the nature of instruction from the current modality to an authentic, project-based educational modality?

What do you think?

Abolish the ATR System, It Was Bad Policy in 2005 and Poor Policy Now. Teachers Belong in Classrooms.

On October 16th the Department of Education began to assign ATRs to vacancies in schools without the approval of the principal. The New York Times ran a harsh article   along with sharply critical editorials in the Post  and the Daily News . Unfortunately the entire process is misunderstood.

Teachers have been excessed from schools for decades, schools lost enrollment and the junior teacher was bumped and placed in another school in the district; it was an orderly procedure without favoritism or politics. In the late eighties the former Board of Education began closing schools, the Board and the Union negotiated a process; half the teachers in the replacement schools would be excess teachers from the closing school; although they did had to exhibit qualifications through an interview conducted by a Board-Union committee; once again, an orderly process.

In the early nineties a school proposed a new teacher placement plan to the Union. A committee consisting of a majority of teachers would interview and select all staff and be exempt form the seniority transfer plan. By 2005 60% of schools had opted for the School-Based Option (SBO) Staffing and Transfer Plan.

The 2005 Board-Union contract negotiations, the first for Bloomberg offered substantial raises and the Union agreed to the end the seniority plan and replace with the Open Market assignment system. All positions posted online, any teacher can transfer to any school, no years of experience required, only the approval of the accepting principal required: teacher “free agency”.

Additionally, teachers excessed from school would no longer be placed permanently in a school, the Department created an Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR), the ATRs could apply for Open Market vacancies; ATRs were assigned on a temporary rotational basis to schools. As the Bloomberg administration accelerated school closures the ATR pool grew to over a thousand teachers.

Under the Fair Student Funding formula used to allocate funds to schools actual teacher salary is credited against the school budget, a principal has to weigh potential teacher performance and teacher salary, a system clearly biased against higher paid senior teachers.

Bloomberg/Klein vigorously lobbied to change the law, to mirror the process in Chicago and Washington, if an excess teacher fails to find in a job in a specific period of time, regardless of their years of service, they are laid off.  In spite of the efforts the legislature had no interest in changing the law.

The ATR pool also contains teachers who were accused of either misconduct or incompetence, some were never found guilty of anything, and others were found guilty and paid a fine or a suspension; instead of being returned to a school the Department dumped them into the pool.

Of the teachers brought up on charges the vast percentage are accused of misconduct, not incompetence. The hearing officer, jointly selected by the Union and the Department, listens to witnesses; the burden of proof is on the Department, who must show by “preponderance of evidence” that the accused committed the acts with which they were charged. The hearing officer can dismiss the charges or, if he finds the teacher guilty, can reprimand, fine, suspend without pay or dismiss the teacher. Misconduct, for example, using inappropriate language, inappropriate discipline, an insubordinate act, etc., if the teacher has received satisfactory ratings for performance the penalty is rarely dismissal.

I was waiting to represent a teacher at a disciplinary hearing, the superintendent called me aside,

“How can you represent this teacher, he’ a terrible teacher?”

I blurted,

“You hired him, you gave him tenure and no one observed him in class.”

The superintendent reviewed the observation policy and required regular classroom observations with pre and post observation meetings.

The current teacher evaluation system combines supervisory observations and student progress as assessed by Measures of Student Learning (MOSL), described in the ADVANCE Guide for Educators, 2016-17 here .

Teachers currently are rated highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective; ATRs are rated under the former satisfactory or unsatisfactory system by a team of roving supervisors.

Under the current agreement ATRs will be assigned to vacancies, if they are rated effective or highly effective at the end of the school year under the ADVANCE system they will be permanently assigned to the school.

The ADVANCE system requires a combination of 4 or 6 formal and/or informal observations for each teacher, far different from the prior days of few observations.  Principals are not happy; thirty teachers equal between 120 and 180 teacher observations by the supervisory staff, and, the other half, the MOSL can be at variance with principal judgment.

Sadly, among the 800 or so ATRs there some who areunsatisfactory, the Department, instead of regularly observing teachers, offering the assistance, chose the easy path; dump them into the ATR pool and forget about them.

Hopefully under new leadership the ATR process will both place teachers into classrooms as well as monitor performance, work with teachers to improve their performance, and, if necessary pursue charges of incompetence under the law.

The disparity in teacher observations is a serious issue, a former Gates program officer writes,

Classroom observation is a deceptively difficult undertaking. Most teachers and administrators think they know good teaching when they see it. And they are confident in their ability to assess it accurately. I saw this firsthand as a district administrator. Occasionally, I would join teams of central office and site-based administrators on classroom visits. Invariably, as we approached the classroom, someone would mention how quickly he or she would be able to tell whether the teacher inside was “good”. Others would agree, some boasting that they could make the determination even faster.

Yet afterward, the administrators often disagreed, coming up with differing assessments of the instruction and citing varying pieces of evidence to make their case. Given the disparate opinions, it was hard to see how classroom observation could ever serve to improve teaching at scale.

The current multiple measures system used in New York City merges multiple formal and informal teachers observations with student performance metrics.

Teachers should be in classrooms; the ATR process was poor practice in 2005 and is still poor practice.

“Instant Teachers,” The SUNY Charter Institute Skips the Teacher Preparation Route: Politics, Muscle Flexing or Zombie Ideas That Will Not Die?

New York State has two charter authorizers, the SUNY Charter Institute  and the Board of Regents; each operates separately and maintains different standards for charter approval and charter renewals. Most charter schools have been authorized by SUNY, whose reputation is “charter friendly,” as evidenced by their recent move to extend the Success Academy charters years before their expiration date. The Regents reputation is close scrutiny and close monitoring and working closely with schools; SUNY plays less of a role in on-going support of the schools. (See list of SUNY charter schools here)

Charter schools fall into two categories, the charter school networks, charter management organizations (CMOs) that operate multiple schools, the prime example is the Success Academy Network, the Eva Moskowitz schools, 38 schools located in New York City.  The other category, referred to as community schools, or “mom and pop” schools, are single operator schools. There are currently 227 charter schools in New York City, about 1800 public schools

(Check out an earlier blog post that reviewed the charter school law and the current debate over teacher recruitment and certification).

Briefly, in July the SUNY Charter Institute proposed changes to their own regulations that would allow SUNY charter networks to “certify” teachers, the “certification” process would be wholly within the network and the State Department of Education would have no role in approving the process.

The Charter Institute argued it was more and more difficult to find certified teachers, although under the law charter schools staffs may include up to 15% uncertified teachers; public schools may only employ certified teachers

In spite of hundreds, maybe thousands of negative comments, including oppositional comments from the commissioner, the chancellor and the unions the SUNY board approved the new regulation. (Read the regulation here )

Upon approval  Commissioner Elia and Chancellor Rosa posted scathing criticism of the action (Read Rosa-Elia response here)

The teacher unions immediately announced that they intended to challenge the actions in the courts.

The SUNY Board of Trustees is appointed by the governor, and, the head of the board, Carl McCall is a close political ally of the governor.

The governor, up until now, has been a vigorous supporter of high standards for teachers. In the fall of 2014 the governor and the Board of Regents engaged in an almost vitriolic exchange of letters over the path of education in New York State. In a 20-page letter dated, 12.31.14 Jim Malatras, the New York State Director of Operations, laid out a path for education in the state. In the section dealing with teacher education Malatras wrote,

The Board of Regents also used Race To The Top funds to pilot clinically rich teacher preparation programs that are deeply embedded in classroom practice with extended teaching residencies/internships in schools rather than brief student teaching commitments. These preparation programs partnered with high-need schools to provide clinically rich experiences in return for the candidate’s commitment to serve in a high-need school where there is a shortage of well-prepared teachers. 

 In addition, the Board of Regents established new, more rigorous teacher and school building leader certification exams. Beginning May 1, 2014, new teachers must take and pass the Academic Literacy Skills test, which assesses a teacher’s literacy skills; a content specialty test, to ensure that teachers have the content knowledge they need to teach a certain subject; the edTPA, a teacher performance assessment that measures a teacher’s pedagogical skills; and the Educating All Students exam, which tests a teaching candidate’s ability to understand diversity in order to address the needs of all students, including English Language Learners and students with disabilities, and knowledge of working with families and communities. These new certification examinations ensure that teaching candidates have the knowledge, skills and abilities to be effective teachers. 

In 2009 Merryl Tisch, at that time the head of the Board of Regents, and now a member of the SUNY Board of Trustees and the SUNY Charter Institute board, excoriated SUNY and called for legislation to move all charter schools to the Board of Regents. (Read NY Daily News article here)

Why has the governor moved from supporting rigorous standards for prospective teachers to virtually no standards?

One theory is politics.

Politics in education?   Remember the Captain Reynaud line in the movie Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked, to find out that gambling is going on here.”

(Watch video clip here)

Governor Cuomo, his election for a third term a year away, is trying to assure that the charter school political action dollars will not be used to support a Republican candidate. While his actions may alienate the teacher unions, where can teachers go? They certainly wouldn’t go to a Republican, especially in the era of Trump, and, since Cuomo appears to be a shoo-in, they can’t afford to alienate the governor. There are far more important items: the property tax cap, levels of school funding, and, the decision over the moratorium on using student data to evaluate teachers.

Another theory: part of a multi-pronged attack on the so-called “public education monopoly” and teacher unions.

  • Law suits challenging teacher tenure law, the failed Vergara case in California and current law suits in New York State and Minnesota.
  • Supporting the use of student assessment data to measure individual teachers usually referred to as Value-Added Measures (VAM).
  • The case currently before the Supreme Court that would impact union membership dues collection.
  • And now, the beginning of an attack on teacher preparation programs, arguing that the programs do not produce better teachers, only create jobs in colleges, and, in this case charter schools, can do the job just as well and remove colleges as the teaching profession gatekeeper.

These attacks are all built on the belief that the marketplace should drive school success or failure. What is generally referred to as Portfolio Management or choice: public, charter, religious and private schools competing for students within the marketplace, the decision of parents, determining which schools survive and which don’t. The marketplace theory is based on the work of University of Chicago Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman.

Last week the Nobel folk announced the winner of the 2017 for economics – Howard Thaler, whose work directly challenges the centuries old views of the marketplace theory.

  … people, in their economic lives, are everywhere and always rational decision makers; those who aren’t either learn quickly or are punished by markets and go broke. Among the implications of this view are that market prices are always right and that people choose the right stocks, the right career, the right level of savings — indeed, that they coolly adjust their rates of spending with each fluctuation in their portfolios, as though every consumer were a mathematician, too …. this orthodoxy has totally dominated the top universities, not to mention the Nobel Prize committee.

Thaler spearheaded a simple but devastating dissent. Rejecting the narrow, [view] that serves as a basis for neoclassical theory, Thaler proposed that most people actually behave like . . . people! They are prone to error, irrationality and emotion, and they act in ways not always consistent with maximizing their own financial well being.

In his 2008 book Nudge Thaler argues that all decisions are influenced by external forces, aka biases,

… many of the familiar arguments for why people should simply be left to make choices on their own, and especially for why government should stay strictly out of the way, have little practical force. In many important areas of choice that matter both to the individual and to the rest of us (for example, when overuse of medical care drives up our insurance premiums and our taxes), the operative question is not whether to bias people’s decisions, but in which direction.

Sadly, as Paul Krugman, another Nobel laureate economist bemoans, zombie ideas keep arising from their tombs.

Whether the decision to create “instant” teachers is strictly a Cuomo political gambit or yet another deeply embedded zombie idea we’ll never know, and, the final decision will either come out of the courts or the court of public opinion.

A simple solution would have been to create a SUNY charter school Teaching Fellows program. For more than twenty years New York City, utilizing existing state alternative teacher licensing regulations recruited candidates in “hard to staff” certification areas, partnered with local colleges: an intensive summer in school and college classrooms and assigned to a school in September with a retired teacher or supervisor as mentor. The Fellows took evening courses and earned a Masters and full certification in two years. Thousands upon thousands of New York City teachers are graduates of the Teaching Fellows program. The SUNY Board of Trustees instead chose to skip colleges altogether.

Whether the reason for the decision is politics or Milton Friedman acolytes the losers are the children.

And the Next New York City School Chancellor Will Be ………

I understand that in an office across the city a “chancellor retirement date poll” has been established. I hope someone selects a date after November, 2021; in spite of the speculation, Farina may not be seeking warmer winter climes

Of course the rumors have been rampant for years, the first rumor: she’s only staying until a “permanent” chancellor is selected, that was almost four years ago.

New York City is a mayoral control city, the 2002 law created a central board, called the Panel for Educational Priorities (PEP), with a majority appointed by the mayor; technically the school board appoints the chancellor, in the “real” world the choice is solely that of the mayor. There is no required consultation, no “advice and consent” by the City Council. Last time round the mayor and his top advisors held interviews for chancellor in off-the-grid locations; wholly within the law.

On Tuesday, November 7th Mayor de Blasio, Comptroller Stringer and Public Advocate James will be reelected with a historically low voter turnout. The only election of interest, for leader of the City Council, only has fifty-one voters – the members of the  council. The council leader – the speaker – is the second most powerful elected office in the city.

The only requirement to be chancellor is state certification as a superintendent – and the Board of Regents has the authority to waive the requirement. Under Mayor Bloomberg, all three chancellors, Joel Klein, Cathy Black and Dennis Walcott, required waivers. It is highly unlikely that the current Board of Regents would grant a waiver.

If the current chancellor retires one of names that the mayor might consider, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, is not qualified under the law and would require a waiver.

Let’s speculate:

An easy choice: Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson.

Gibson, a Board/Department of Education lifer has worked her way up through the system. It would be a seamless transition, not controversial, and would result in the continuation of the current policies.

A higher profile choice is Rudy Crew, a former chancellor and current leader of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. The Department of Education, the P-12 school system has never been linked to CUNY, the community and four-year colleges. Crew might make sense if the mayor envisions a seamless P-16 school system.

Three senior members of the Board of Regents have lengthy and laudatory experience in the New York City school system as well as a firm understanding of the links between the city and the state. Regents Chancellor Rosa has been a breathe of fresh air, outspoken, highly collaborative, and has created a revitalized Board. Regent Cashin, a highly successful superintendent in the poorest section of the city, beloved by parents, a tireless worker with the ability to craft collaborative solutions including diverse interests, Regent Young, also a former superintendent has led the New York State My Brothers Keeper initiative, the first in the nation, aimed at improving outcomes for young men of color.

An academic and more recent deputy chancellor, Shael Suransky is currently the President of Bank Street College,

And, we can’t forget that former commissioner and former US secretary of education John King is hanging out at a Washington think tank, although I doubt it would be a politically viable choice.

How will de Blasio make the decision? What are the considerations?

On the day after the election de Blasio becomes a lame duck mayor, term limited, and is looking past city hall. The next four years will not be easy; Washington is making drastic cuts in the budget and the only question is how drastic. The city and the state will take deep hits; Medicare, and a host of other health care related cuts, education cuts and cuts across the entire budget. And this is only the first of the Trump budgets. The last four years the city’s budget outlook has been rosy, high rise, market rate buildings mean high income tax payers, tourism at all time highs, crime rates at all time lows, and a flow of “first round draft choice” immigrants. The stock market continues to spiral upwards to incredible heights.

A stock market sell off, continued Trump budget cuts, a jittery economy could bring a downturn in city revenues with cuts to city services. The City Council is far to the left with a hunger for increased city services, restrictions on market rate construction and a host of projects the mayor, up until now, has turned aside.

What does the mayor want to see as his legacy and his future? Can the city continue to prosper under Trump policies?

As we move closer to the 2018 midterms the democrats will work to take back one or both houses of Congress, and, the cavalry charge for the democratic presidential candidates will emerge, with a dozen or more democrats and who knows what will happen on the republican side.

Does de Blasio see himself as the leader of the national democratic progressive movement? Beyond his successes in New York City?

de Blasio can urge Farina to remain, if unsuccessful select a “safe” chancellor, akin to Farina, or, a higher profile innovator, whatever that means?

In this turbulent world of a “tweet” presidency, the future is, to be kind, uncertain.

Maybe de Blasio has a “baton in his knapsack,” and sees himself being promoted to a much higher leadership position with a headquarters at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.