New York State Graduation Rates: Are We Sacrificing Student Achievement to Increase Graduation Rates?

A couple of years ago I was invited to a meeting of math teachers in a high school a few days after the Common Core Algebra 1 Regents exam. The teachers had graded the exam and constructed an error matrix, the most common incorrect answers. The teachers were examining their lesson plans and discussing how they could change their lesson plans to address the student errors. They were taking ownership of their practice. Too often parents, supervisors and teachers blame the exam or blame the students: the test was “bad,” the kids didn’t pay attention or study hard enough.

Rising graduation rates, like a rising stock market makes everybody happy, at least for a few moments.

Last week, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) released high school graduation rates for the 2012 cohort, students who entered 9th grade in 2012. The overall graduation rate increased to 79.4 percent, up 1.3 percentage points from 78.1 percent for the 2011 cohort. The 2012 cohort graduation rate is more than 12 percentage points higher than it was a decade earlier, when the 2002 cohort graduation rate was 67.2 percent.

State Ed has been nibbling away at graduation requirements for a decade. About ten years ago the State reduced the Comprehensive English Regents from two days to one – passing rates jumped 20%. The Global Studies Regents which covers work taught during the 9th and 10th will only cover the 10th grade in 2018. Students with disabilities can receive a local diploma with grades of 55, instead of 65 on regents exams, and in some circumstances a grade of 45 (See regulation here)

The State has also created Multiple Pathways in the 4 + 1 plan – students are required to pass four regents and an alternative assessment (See detailed explanation of Multiple Pathways here) instead of five regents exams.

In spite of the new Multiple Pathways parents of students with disabilities continue to strongly criticize the Regents and the State for removing the Regents Competency Test (RCT), a 10th grade level test that was available in lieu of the Regents. A majority of the students in the state graduated through the RCT and received a local diploma. At a forum on Long Island over 200 parents spoke passionately about the inadequacy of the current diploma options,

… on Feb. 7. Roughly 50 parents, teachers and advocates spoke, saying that the state does not offer the necessary testing options to ensure that young people with a variety of learning challenges can graduate from high school on time.

Emotions ran high throughout the evening and peaked when Ava Corbett, 14, of Plainview, took the microphone. She struggled to speak at first, but eventually got her words out.

Ava talked about how, as a special-needs student, her school performance plummeted after she entered high school. She started failing tests, hitting herself and fighting with her mother more often.

Her mother, Jessica, took over and continued the emotional appeal, her voice quivering with rage as she accused the members of the panel of perpetrating a “crime” against a generation of children.

There are no national standards for the type of test required for graduation from high school and the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives states even wider authority. Many states require the PARCC or Smarter Balance test, others the SAT or the ACT, others state-designed tests; however, very few states require exit exams. The feds require tests in English, Math and Science; however, tests are used for accountability purposes, not graduation requirements. (See state by state requirements here). New York State is one of the few states that has tests, the Regents exams, that are used both for accountability and high school graduation; the Regents exams are exit exams.

If you’re interested, check out recent New York State Regents exams:

January, 2017 Global Studies Regents:

June, 2016, Comprehensive English Regents::

January 2017, Algebra 1 (Common Core) Regents:

The Regents Examination have a long history in New York State,

The first high school examinations were held in June 1878. About one hundred institutions participated. The five studies examined on that first occasion were algebra, American history, elementary Latin, natural philosophy, and physical geography.

At one time a Regents was offered in “moral philosophy,” maybe we should reinstitute.  In the 1930’s students with the highest average Regents scores received scholarships. In the 1950’s the State offered a separate Regents Scholarship Test to all students in the state. In the 1990’s, after a few years of debate, the Regents began the phaseout of the multiple diplomas. The State offered Regents, Local, Commercial, Vocational and General diplomas. Passing grades on the Regents exams were reduced to 55 and the grade of 65 was slowly phased in. The “backup,” the Regents Competency Test was phased out, the State only offered a Regents diploma. As described above the State has created a safety net for students with disabilities and created alternative pathways.

Do the feds require an exit examination? Can New York State abandon or change the Regents Exam process?

No, the feds do not require an exit exam,  the State has almost total discretion over graduation requirements; however, on the NAEP test New York State falls into the lower percentiles. (41st on the 2015 4th grade math and 34th on 8th grade math), Massachusetts and Minnesota are at the top, nationally. While the graduation rate in New York State has been inching up in NAEP rankings among states New York has remained in the lower half.

While the State has tons of data, “visual data point” and a detailed Power Point of Graduation Rates, the State has failed to take ownership of the results, as the teachers in the school referenced above did.

Who are the students who fail to graduate? and, Why do they fail to graduate?

We know the student by race, ethnicity, gender, geography, by general ed, special education and English language learners, we don’t know why students fail to graduate.

* How many students fail to graduate, or drop out, are chronically absent (absent more than 20% of the time)?  The single unquestioning data point is attendance, students who are excessively absent fail to graduate in staggering numbers. Why are student’s absent?  and, what are schools/school districts doing to get the students in school on a regular basis?  Does the State provide a template for school districts to follow before removing a student from a cohort? (See New York City discharge regulations here)

* How many students pass three or four Regents, not five, and, what exams do they fail? How many of these students are SWDs and ELLs?  How many students fail to graduate because they fail subjects? Once again, who are they? How many dropouts are SIFE? (Students with Interrupted Formal Education)? ELLs entering school in the middle and high school years may not have time to acquire the skills required to pass regents exams.

* How many general education students attend school regularly, pass subjects, and can’t pass five Regents exams?

Based on the data, above, what policies can we institute?

In spite of the fact that New York State is at the top of the nation in per capita student spendin, the disparity among districts also leads the nation. We are a state of “have” and “have-not” districts. Graduation rates parallel funding, clearly we should continue to advocate for ending the funding disparity gap.

The parents at the Long Island forum were  angry, they’re children probably would not graduate. Should we lower Regents pass grades even more for SWDs? and ELLs?  Should we re-create another exam solely for SWDs and ELLs?  Will the result be increasing graduation rates, and, decreasing NAEP scores?

Or, should we follow the path of Massachusetts,

Massachusetts is widely seen as having the best school system in the country: Just 2 percent of its high-schoolers drop out, for example, and its students’ math and reading scores rank No. 1 nationally. It even performs toward the top on international education indices …     If the Bay State were a country, its students would rank ninth in the world in math. It ranks second only to Singapore in eighth-grade science.

[A former commissioner described changes] ‘…pay attention to early childhood education, give principals more freedom and ramp up teacher training … ‘”

The Education Reform Act of 1993 set the path and for twenty-five years Massachusetts has followed the same path. The road was rocky, early in the plan parents boycotted the tests, the curriculum was set at a high level and is taught consistently across the state and tested by a state designed test. The state has pumped considerable funding into the schools through an equitable funding formula that recognizes poverty..

kids should be held accountable to very high standards and we should test to make sure they meet those standards,” David Driscoll, the education commissioner from 1988 to 2007, said in an interview. “This became the basis of the Education Reform Act of 1993.”

That legislation established high academic standards with curriculum guidelines, developed tests to measure whether students were meeting the standards, tied high school graduation to a test and set a higher bar for teachers. Massachusetts also became one of the first states to look at whether the least privileged — minority students, low-income students and special education students — were meeting the grade.

Read a detailed discussion of the Massachusetts Miracle here.

You cannot roll back the clock twenty-five years, the Regents did establish the single Regents diploma however, New York State continued to stumble in the lower half of states. Tests are under attack in the state, from the Opt Out parents as well as some elected officials.

The Regents are faced with a daunting task: should they continue to find alternative pathways, basically satisfying parents and elected and also increasing graduation rates, or, attempt to emulate Massachusetts? Are higher graduation rates a reasonable tradeoff for lower NAEP scores?

Or, can New York State create it’s own path to higher graduation rates and higher academic achievement for all students?

Who Stays? Who Moves? Who Leaves? Teacher Preparation, Teacher Induction and Teacher Quality

Rick Hanuchek and Hank Levin, friends since the sixties, are education economists with hundreds of books and articles bearing their names, and, also, have starkly differing views on education and our economy. On Wednesday night it was a delight to listen to the debate, “Can we put a Price on Student Achievement?: Financial Returns for Academic Success,” at the Roosevelt House. (I’ll post the video of the evening as soon as it is posted). Hanushek painted a disturbing picture, compared to other nations the USA education system is not doing well. Using NAEP and PISA data we’re below the middle of the pack, and New York State is also below the midpoint line. For New York State it is especially disturbing since per capita spending is second highest in the nation. Hanuchek sees only one solution: increasing teacher quality, and, the only path is substantial salary increases for high VAM teachers and firing low VAM teachers. Hanachek’s model converts NAEP and PISA score increases into economic growth over extended periods of time and translates academic gains into economic growth and trillions of dollars. Well beyond my statistical skills!

Levin doesn’t dispute Hanuchek’s data; however, he looks at per capita GDP by nation, and, asks, since the USA is at the top of the OECD nations, what are we doing right?  His answer is that non-cognitive factors may, excuse the expression, trump test scores. See an excellent discussion of the impact of non-cognitive skills on the labor market here  Levin also questions the use of VAM scores, they are only meaningful over extended periods of time, although, he agrees, teacher quality is always important.

In the question period I asked whether other indicators, such as reducing teenage pregnancy may be closely related to increasing educational outcomes and would be a more fruitful place to impact.

David Steiner moderated the discussion, as usual, my candidate to replace Charlie Rose.

Teacher quality has been a the top of the agenda for decades.

In 1981 Phil Schlecty, a highly regarded education researcher wrote,

* There is considerable evidence that those who choose to major in teacher education are, as a group, less academically able than most other college majors.

* There is some strong evidence that graduates of teacher education institutions are not as academically proficient as other categories of college graduates.

* There is now some evidence to suggest that some teacher education graduates do not perform as well on tests of academic achievement as do many of the students they intend to teach.

Thirty-six years later and we’ re engaging in the same discussion.

The teacher quality question: how do we attract, train and retain the “best and the brightest” prospective teacher candidates?

The new Council on the Accreditation of Education Preparation (replaced NCATE) has set grade point average (GPA) requirements for entry into teacher preparation programs.

The CAEP minimum criteria are a grade point average of 3.0 and a group average performance on nationally normed assessments or substantially equivalent state-normed assessments of mathematical, reading and writing achievement in the top 50 percent of those assessed ….

The CAEP standards for teacher education programs are now codified with concrete admissions standards.

Former New York State Education Commissioner King imposed four exams as a requirement to receive certification in New York State (See my previous blog here), clearly attempting to set a high bar for admission into the ranks of teaching.

We are raising the standards for admission to teaching profession at the same time that student interest in a teaching as a career is decreasing rapidly, teacher education institutions across the state are reporting decreases from 20% to 40% in teacher preparation student enrollment.

Why?  Teacher bashing across the nation?  The cost of the exams? The negative comments from current candidates and colleges?  The King attempt to “raise the bar” very well might have had the unintended consequence of chasing away potential teaching candidates.

Let’s take a deeper dive:

Candidates will have to meet a higher bar, a 3.0 undergraduate GPA for entry into education preparation institutions and pass a battery of exams to gain certification. Do the exit exams assure or predict competence at a high level? We don’t know.

We can divide new entrants into teaching into three categories: stayers, movers and leavers

Researchers have studied these issues at length.

A Harvard study, “Who Stays in Teaching and Why: A Review of the Literature on Teacher Retention,” (February, 2005) reviews hundreds of studies, and concludes the studies raise more questions than they answer. For example: new teachers with mentors have a lower probability of attrition; however, “they cannot conclude the low probability is due to the mentor.” The study asks: “what type of skills do new teachers need most to succeed in classrooms and do mentors support those skills?” And, concludes, more research is required.

Eric Hanuchek and others, “Why Public Schools Lose Teachers” (Spring, 2004) finds,

Schools in urban areas serving economically disadvantaged and minority students appear particularly vulnerable. This paper investigates those factors that affect the probabilities that teachers switch schools or exit the public schools entirely. The results indicate that teacher mobility is much more strongly related to characteristics of the students, particularly race and achievement, than to salary, although salary exerts a modest impact once compensating differentials are taken into account.

Hamilton Langford and others, “Explaining the Short Career of High-Achieving Teachers in Schools with Low-Performing Students,” (January, 2004),

Low achieving students often are taught by the least qualified teachers, these disparities begin when teachers take their first jobs and in urban areas they are worsened by teacher subsequent decisions to transfer and quit. Such quits and transfers increase disparities …  more qualified teachers are substantially more likely to leave schools having the lowest achieving students …. non-pecuniary job characteristics such as class size preparation time, facilities, student characteristics and school leadership also effect teacher decisions.

Susan Moore Johnson, “Pursuing a Sense of Success,” (January, 2003)

Teachers who felt successful with students and whose schools were organized to support them in their teaching—providing collegial interaction, opportunities for growth, appropriate assignments, adequate resources, and school wide structures supporting student learning—were more likely to stay in their schools, and in teaching, than teachers whose schools were not so organized. 

Geoffrey Borman, “Teacher Attrition and Retention: A Meta-Analytic and Narrative Review of the Research” (January, 2017)

Personal characteristics of teachers are important predictors of turnover. Attributes of teachers’ schools, including organizational characteristics, student body composition, and resources (instructional spending and teacher salaries), are also key moderators. The evidence suggests that attrition from teaching is (a) not necessarily “healthy” turnover, (b) influenced by various personal and professional factors that change across teachers’ career paths, (c) more strongly moderated by characteristics of teachers’ work conditions than previously noted in the literature, and (d) a problem that can be addressed through policies and initiatives. 

A Longitudinal Study of Persisting and Nonpersisting Teachers’ Academic and Personal Characteristics,” Marso and Pigge (July, 2010)

The candidates’ …. level of academic aptitude, basic academic skills, and expected effectiveness as future teachers were found not to be associated with their degree of persistence. … The authors conclude that the making of teachers appears to be a high-risk and costly business when just 29% of a class of candidates makes the transition to full-time teaching.

There is a great deal that we don’t know, what do we know?

* We know that shrinking pool of prospective teachers will lead to teacher shortages.

* We know that more effective teachers are more likely to move to higher achieving schools and/or leave teaching

* We know that conditions within schools, school cultures, play an important role in teacher retention

* We suspect that teaching non-cognitive skills may be as important as test scores

I respect, admire and read the work of Eric Hanuchek; however, “rewarding” highly effective VAM teachers with merit pay and firing low VAM teachers is not a realistic path. As Hank Levin argues, we’re not even certain that higher scores on national tests lead to higher economic growth for nations.

I was visiting a middle school next to a housing project famous for hand gun violence. The school was on the third floor, the first two floors, teaching yelling, kids wandering the hall. As I walked out onto the third floor a student walked up to me,  introduced himself, shook hands, and asked if he could assist me. In the office I praised the student, the secretary told me that all student knew to introduce themselves to strangers.

How important is that non-cognitive skill?

Fixing Teacher Preparation in New York State: Why Collaborative Processes Improve Outcomes.

How should we prepare prospective teachers for the classroom?

Law schools require a three-year sequence of classes and culminates in an examination – the bar exam.  The exam is not an accurate predictor of success or competence, it is the badge that the legal profession requires for entry.

The Office of the Professions within the New York State Department of Education (NYSED) licenses about fifty different professions. From medicine to veterinarian  to massage therapist to speech language pathologist, each has specific requirements and the state issues licenses/certifications that are required for practice.

The licensing process sets a minimum bar for entry into a profession.

State Ed approves colleges and university courses of study and requires terminal exams. The NYSED website lays out the step by step process and before John King required two examinations, the LAST and the ACT-W, the pass rates were in the high 90 percents.

When David Steiner, who had an excellent relationship with the education community, especially the unions, precipitously left his deputy John King became the commissioner.

The Common Core and the Common Core testing “pushed off the end of the diving board” approach has been well documented. Proficiency rates (aka pass rates) moved from 2/3 passing to 2/3 failing. Opposition grew into the Opt -Out Movement, one in five students opted out, and the opt-outs are heavily concentrated in suburban communities: the better to pressure the local electeds. The Long Island Opt-Out Facebook page has over 20,000 “friends.”

What had not received adequate coverage is the King imposed changes to teacher preparation certification requirements. King dumped the two exams and replaced them with four exams without any consultation with college instructors or deans.

The new exams are the edTPA, Educating All Students (EAS), Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST) and the Content Specialty Test (CST) in the area of specialization.  At colleges the new requirements created chaos, suddenly colleges were turned into test prep mills, new exam passing rates fell sharply, many students were not completing the cycle of exams and the state instituted safety nets in an attempt to salvage and defend the flawed system. (See John King letter here)

If I was teaching a course for superintendents on policy creation and implementation I would use the  teacher prep policy changes as an example of how well-intended changes can crash without a carefully crafted collaborative plan; and, I would emphasize the word collaborative.

There is an immense literature on organizational change: the number one rule, “participation reduces resistance.”

A year or so ago the new chancellor and the new state commissioner began to rebuild the relationships: teachers, legislators, parents, the governor, trying to craft policies that addressed the myriad issues confronting schools.

Betty Rosa, the new chancellor is the leader of the policy board, the Board of Regents. Rosa chose Regents Cashin and Collins to co-chair the Higher Education Committee. Regent. Cashin, a career educator in New York City and Regent Collins, with a nursing,  background from Buffalo.

Over the last year the chairs of the Higher Ed Committee have held about ten forums across the state (I attended two of them). Hundreds of college teachers and students participated, wide ranging discussions, a few panels were live streamed. Deans of colleges of education met with the Higher Ed Committee, the union, the  UUP (United University Professions) played a crucial role. An edTPA Task Force was formed, co-chaired by a high level SUNY administrator and a vice president of the UUP.

At the Monday. February 13th Regents Meeting [Meeting canceled due to blizzard conditions] a proposal will be put forth.

(Click on the links for detailed explanations)


Proposed Amendments to Part 80 of the Commissioner’s Regulations Related to the Elimination of the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST) for Teacher Certification and to Remove Unnecessary References to the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test |  HE (A) 1 *
Proposed Amendment to Section 80-1.5 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education Relating to the Establishment of a Multiple Measures Review Process for the edTPA |  HE (D) 1 *


The Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST) will no longer be required and a revised safety net will be in place for the edTPA .

This is not the end of the process, the ed TPA Task Force will continue to review the teacher preparation requirements,  especially the student teaching requirements that vary widely from college to college.

The King approach: to push changes through the Board of Regents without any consensus from the field, from the folks who are expected to carry out the edict frequently dooms the plan.

Enrollment rates in college preparation programs have plummeted from 20% to 40% across the state.  Troubling numbers of students are not completing the exams and not seeking state certification – perhaps seeking employment in other states or in charter schools.

Consensus does not mean unanimity:  at some point in a consensus-building process the leadership has to move to implementation. I fully expect the Board to approve the actions, a comment period, final action later in the Spring, and, a continuing process to explore and revise the teacher preparation pathway.

Yes, we want to assure that teachers are adequately prepared for the classroom. We don’t know whether the exams assure competence, we cannot predict classroom outcomes based on college or exam grades. Teaching is part art and part skill. The revised process appears to be a major step in the right direction, but, only a step.  Are students from some colleges more successful than students from other colleges, and, if so, why? Does teacher diversity or gender impact student learning?  How many weeks of student teaching is the “right” amount? Exploring and fine tuning the teacher prep process is ongoing. The required course of study and the exams provide minimum requirements, akin to the legal profession bar exam.

As teachers we know we will always have to strive to get better, first year or tenth year or twentieth year there are always new skills, if we stop learning we atrophy.

Back to that course for superintendents: I would ask Regents Cashin and Collins to lay out the process that they followed,  Building consensus can be slow, frustrating, at times filled with conflict, personality can get in the way of process, there will be wrong turns, and, eventually the leadership must bring the process to a conclusion. Everyone will not satisfied and some may throw stones.  Remember what Churchill said about democracy: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

Regents Cashin and Collins deserve accolades for correcting a broken process by including all the folks involved in the day to day preparation of new teachers in the process and having the patience and understanding to continue to seek to improve teacher preparation as we move forward in New York State.

Rethinking and Revising Access to Career and Technical Education (CTE): Turning Gates into Pathways

The Bureau of Labor Statistics issues a monthly report that includes the “unemployment rate,” defined as the percentage of workers who are unemployed and currently seeking employment. The current rate, 4.7% is the lowest since the Great Recession of 2008 and Democrats have lauded the decreasing rate, Republicans have claimed that the ninety million Americans are actually unemployed and the unemployment rate is not an accurate view of the employment scene. The “ninety million” number includes retirees, college students, stay-at-home moms, high school students over sixteen and  recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The actual number of unemployed Americans is twenty million, about the same percentage of the total work force as before the Great Recession. (More details here)

A Brookings Reports takes a deep dive into the question of labor participation rates,

Prime-age male participation has fallen most dramatically for black men, those with a high school degree or less, nonparents, and veterans … Explanations for the decline tend to focus on supply-side factors (workers are ill-fit for the jobs available) or demand-side factors (employers aren’t hiring). The Council of Economic Advisors leans more on the demand side, suggesting that trade and technology have reduced demand for less-skilled labor, principally in the manufacturing sector … There are likely many more factors dragging down America’s prime-age labor force participation rate—increasing numbers of individuals lack the skills necessary to perform today’s jobs.

Read the full Report here with many valuable links.

A core question: are high school graduates “college and career ready?”  and, what do we mean by “college and career ready?” Do they “lack the skills necessary to perform today’s jobs,” and , if so, how do they obtain the skills?

There is no standard definition of the term college and career ready; David Conley; the recognized national expert has written extensively about the topic. See an explanation here and watch a panel discussion with Conley and others at the New School University here.  New York State uses grades on the English Regents (80) and the Algebra 1 Regents (75) to define the term. About 80% of New York State students graduate in four years and less than half meet the college and career readiness metric..

I spoke with a middle school principal, “My kids are poor, really poor, I asked my counselor to have them apply to vocational (CTE) high schools, after high school they need a job.” And, in New York City there are a wide array of CTE schools. A year old Manhattan Institute report is encouraging,

  • The number of New York City high schools dedicated exclusively to CTE has tripled since 2004 to almost 50; some 75 other schools maintain CTE programs; 40 percent of high school students take at least one CTE course, and nearly 10 percent attend a dedicated CTE school.
  • Data on outcomes are still limited, but evidence suggests that young people who attend CTE schools have better attendance rates and are more likely to graduate; students in comprehensive high schools with CTE programs also appear to score better on standardized tests than those at schools with no CTE offerings.

We don’t know what happens to the kids after high school: do they go on to community colleges? find a job? or wander off?

Outside New York City the situation is hobbled by distance. There are few CTE schools;  and students attend CTE programs at BOCES sites. The students take academic subjects in their home school and travel to the BOCES site for the CTE courses.

At the January Regents meeting staff from the State Ed Department (SED) made a brief presentation (See here). The SED CTE unit is a compliance and authorization operation. Unfortunately the process is a gate rather than a pathway. While I understand SED wants to create high quality CTE programs the hoops are many and high.

I spoke with a few principals. One wanted to start a dental hygienist program, a medical clinic near the school had a fully staffed dental clinic and was anxious to assist. After months of phone calls back forth the principal gave up. Another principal had an Emergency Medical Technician certification program in his school run in conjunction with a Fire Department. Could the state simply certify his program as a CTE program? Not really.

A principal asked: “Can I go online and find functioning CTE programs by school around the state? I would like to contact the school and speak with the principal?” Answer: Does not exist.

After the presentation a Regent members asked, “How many students graduated with CTE endorsed diplomas?” The answer: “We’ll have to get back to you.”

The state announced a company was building a :”high tech” facility in an upstate community. The announcement was made at a press conference with electeds and the local superintendent. I wondered: what are the job requirements for a “high tech” facility? Eventually I tracked down the Human Resources folk at the company and asked: What are the math requirements for a “high tech” job at the new facility? After a  lengthy discussion: good ability with math skills at the Algebra 2 level. How many graduates of the local high school had grades of 75 or over on the Algebra 2 Regents?  Three ….

We have a long way to go.

A few suggestions:

* An easily accessible on-line directory of CTE schools/programs across the state with course offerings and a contact person.

Instead of months of futile phone calls/emails an online directory would encourage school leaders and perhaps set up networks of schools with the same CTE programs/course offerings.

* Review current process of CTE approval by the state.

The current process is onerous, and, while I understand we want to assure that a CTE diploma endorsement meets standards at the same time we don’t want to discourage schools. A Work Group to review the process would be a useful first step.

* A seamless path from high school to community college.

P-Tech schools were created to integrate a school, an industry and a community college, and, the state provides startup funds for about a dozen or so schools across the state. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of the program. All high schools should have relationships with community colleges in their geographic areas, and, by relationships I mean offering courses in the same areas as a major in the community college to prepare the student for the college curriculum. Maybe mini-MOOCs for local high schools created by the community college.

* Community College should offer “badges” and industry certifications as well as Associate Degrees.

Walt Gardner, in Education Week writes, “Community College is the Best Deal for the Majority of Students; it is the best option for the many who have marginally completed high school. Community colleges should offer a wide range of options.

Badges” are a relatively new concept, “Students can earn a ‘badge’ designation during traditional college coursework or on the job that’s designed to meet a specific demand or need in an industry.” Originally CTE programs, in their vocation education phase were meant for the students “who were not college material.” The world has changed; some CTE programs allow a jump to work, others begin a pathway that requires post secondary education. Maybe not a 60-credit Associates Degree, maybe 16 or 24 or whatever the number of credits are required to receive an industry certification and/or a “badge” and a direct pathway into the world of work/career.

I was sitting at a bar and chatting with the bartender, as I am want to do; a bright young man. I asked, “How many mixology classes did you take in college?” He smiled, “My business degree was a waste and hasn’t helped me get a steady job, I bartend and I’m working on a few app concepts with friends”  He did mix a mean Negroni.

Supreme Court Nominee Gorsuch: Is “Constitutional Originalism” a Cover for Conservative Judicial Activism?

I hear President Trump was going to make the announcement of his Supreme Court nomination during the Super Bowel half time show – afraid of massive demonstrations  by 300 pound guys in shoulder pads – settled for prime time bumping favorite TV shows.

The Democrats have to decide: political strategy, a game plan, and, the question of the candidate himself.  The New York Times editorial opines the choices.

In spite of the accolades heaped on the nominee I have doubts, serious doubts.

The nominee defined himself as an “originalist” in the footsteps of Justice Scalia.

What is “originalism?”

One definition,

Originalism, in which the meaning of the Constitution is interpreted as fixed as of the time it was enacted, and non-originalism, in which the meaning of the Constitution is viewed as evolving with changes in society and culture.


“…  there is an identifiable original intent or original meaning, contemporaneous with a constitution’s or statute’s ratification, which should govern its subsequent interpretation. The divisions between these theories relate to what exactly that identifiable original intent or original meaning is: the intentions of the authors or the ratifiers, the original meaning of the text, a combination of the two, or the original meaning of the text but not its expected application.”

How do we know the intent of the framers of the Constitution? From April until September of 1787 the fifty-four  delegates, all white men, mostly wealthy, including slaveholders from the Southern states. drifted in and out of the sessions. They argued, threatened, proposed deals, traded this for that, and, eventually produced a heavily compromised document.

The large states and the small states, the slave states and the free states, farmers and plantation owners, lawyers and fools cobbled a constitution..  In order to gain passage compromises were crafted: in the 3/5 compromise slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person in the computation of population to determine the number of representatives for each state. Although many of the delegates found slavery reprehensible the question of slavery is absent form the final constitution.

(Read Paul Finkelman, Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson, 2001 and a summary and review of the book here).  It took another seventy-five years and a war that cost 600,000 lives to end slavery.

Are there transcripts of the debates at the convention?

No, the Constitutional Convention was a secret meeting, press was excluded, no transcripts were recorded. In fact, the only record, aside from the minutes, are the 600 pages of the journal kept by James Madison. The journal was not released until 1836, and, as we now know, was edited extensively by Madison well after the convention. The edits were made to make Madison look better (Read a discussion here).

Max Ferrand, in 1911, published the Records of the Constitutional Convention 0f 1787, a compilation of both the minutes and the Madison Journals in chronological  order of the events.

Mary Bilder, “How Bad were the Official Records of the Federal Constitution” writes,

… the members at the Convention created the Constitution without solving or even having to think extensively about the problem of constitutional interpretation.

The 1787 Constitution is not a poem, statute or even a modern constitution. It is a series of words, structures, votes, compromises and alternatives done in convention. Constitutional interpretation postdated the Constitution.

The contemporaneous interpretation of the constitution, or at least as close as we can come, are the Federalist Papers, what we would today call op ed pieces written in the fall and winter of 1787-88 by Madison, Hamilton and Jay to urge voters to ratify the constitution. The eighty-five articles are as close as we can come to “interpretations.”

In Federalist 10 Madison wrote,

Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. 

 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.

No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity. With equal, nay with greater reason, a body of men are unfit to be both judges and parties at the same time; yet what are many of the most important acts of legislation, but so many judicial determinations, not indeed concerning the rights of single persons, but concerning the rights of large bodies of citizens?

Madison’s “interpretation” describes current day politics with eerie accuracy.

Even if the nominee has inherited Justice Scalia’s Ouija Board the term “originalist” is simply  meaningless. What does applying the thoughts of the founders in 1787 mean in 2017? Would we apply the thoughts of the founders to science? to mathematics? Why only to the law?   Are there liberal or progressive “originalist” judges?  The term “originalist” is simply a cover for conservative justices.

We need justices who honor stare decicis, or precedent. We require justices who honor prior decisions. Would the nominee overturn Roe v Wade? Brown v Board of Education? Voting Rights?  Of course: he may have graduated from Harvard Law School (I graduated from the Harvard on the Hudson: The City College of NY), he may write elegant decisions, his views are clearly out of step with the mainstream of our nation in 2017.

I agree, judges should not make law; however, judges have the obligation to remedy injustices.

Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution reads,

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Marriage equality, voting rights, labor rights, according to my reading, fall under the protections of the 14th amendment.

The nominee may be the “golden boy” for those on the right, I believe he represents the fears that Madison expressed, I believe he intends to impose his narrow, archaic recidivist beliefs on the nation and for that reason he is not qualified to serve on our highest court.

Is President Trump Psychologically Unstable? Does the Constitution Provide for Removal from Office?

Tyrants are seldom free; the cares and the instruments of their tyranny enslave them.  George Santayana

Hard to believe, only week two of the Trump suzerainty; he did what Bernie and Hillary were unable to do, unify the young and the old, the progressives and the liberals, he has created a tsunami of democratic opposition.

Today Sean Spicer, the Press Secretary, met, or shall we say confronted the media. Each day his role is to meet with credentialed press and answer questions in a televised setting. He was curt, on the verge of rude, confrontational. He moved from questioner to questioner lecturing them, answering briefly and moving on. It was disrespectful. In my role as a union leader/representative (Watch press conference here) I faced many hostile audiences. I never argued, I was polite, listened, thanked the questioners,

Of course, Spicer has an extremely difficult job, to defend the indefensible, a president who has serious psychological issues: Is he a sociopath, a psychopath?

An op-ed in the NY Daily News, “President Trump exhibits classic signs of mental illness, including ‘malignant narcissism,” shrinks say,” questions the competency of our chief executive.

The article avers,

“Dr. Julie Futrell, a clinical psychologist said, ‘Narcissism impairs his ability to see reality …. So you can’t use logic to persuade someone like that. Three million women marching? Doesn’t move him. Advisers point out that a policy choice didn’t work? He won’t care. The maintenance of self-identity is the organizing principle of life for those who fall toward the pathological end of the narcissistic spectrum'”.

“A top psychotherapist affiliated with the esteemed Johns Hopkins University Medical School said Trump “is dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president.”

“The American Psychiatric Association says that anyone exhibiting five of the following nine egotistical traits has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Count up how many Trump exhibits:”

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  3. Believe that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with other special or high-status people.
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement.
  6. Is interpersonally exploitative.
  7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.


If the president is unstable, suffering from a psychological disorder, what can be done?  Does the Constitution provide for the removal of the president?

The Constitution does provide for the impeachment of the president,  “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”  The actions of our current president do not appear to fall within the definitions contained in the Constitution; or do they?

Almost fifty years ago to the date the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, dealing with succession in case of presidential disability, contains a procedure, albeit, awkward, to replace the president.

Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he [the President] shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

According to my reading only the Vice President and the cabinet can determine if the President is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of hid office,” and, if the process plays out the Vice President becomes the Acting President.

It appears extremely unlikely that the provisions of the 25th Amendment will result in the removal of President Trump; then again, who in their wildest dreams thought that a TV Reality Show star could end up as the leader of the Western World?

Are the actions of the President “high crimes and misdemeanors”?

Could Vice President Pence, Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan plot to wrest the presidency from President Trump?  Seems absurd, we live in absurd times.

Trump and the Stages of Grief: Turning Anger into Action

Inscribed above the entrance to Trump Tower:  “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate”,  (“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”)

Are you still having nightmares?  In the middle of the day do you suddenly feel insecure? Are you overly “snappy” with people? All part of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Few of us are past anger, and we may not be for a very long time;  many us of are mired in denial. What did we do wrong?  Maybe if we had volunteered for a few more days, dug deeper in our pockets,  knocked on more doors. Why are we still flagellating ourselves?

We can direct our anger (instead of eating more fattening, unhealthy foods) by getting more engaged. Over the last few days I’ve marched, clicked on emails and joined online protests, called my elected officials and tried to hook up with every attempt to express our anger, a growing, seething anger. Every time Trump opens his mouth he fuels my anger: I don’t think I’ll ever get past my anger, nor should I.

How do we stop or turn around Trump?

Trump was not an Tea Party ideologue before his candidacy; however, he nominated ideologues to a number of cabinet posts. Health and Human Services (Price)  Education (DeVos), , Attorney General (Sessions), Labor (Puzder), Environmental Protection (Pruitt), Management and Budget (Mulvaney) and Energy (Perry) and others; and, in his first week his “optics” are from the Tea Party playbook

Executive orders to: “build the fence,” build the oil pipelines, “enhanced” interrogation (aka, torture), and with an upcoming Supreme Court nominee who probably favors stoning for unpopular speech.

Trump sees himself as the rescuer, creating a booming economy by creating jobs and destroying our current enemy, Radical Islam, around the world; however, his deal with the devil, by appointing a host of ideologues he thinks he has “bought off” the Tea Party types in Congress. Gail Collins in the New York Times sees VP Mike Pence as “pulling the strings,” similar to Cheney in the Bush presidency.

We are on the edge of plunging into the abyss, I am reminded of Dante’s Inferno, are we entering the Ninth Circle?

“Virgil described the Ninth Circle of the Inferno as the lowest, blackest, and farthest from Heaven. Treachery is the ninth Circle of Hell … the last circle is dedicated to those people who betrayed their loved ones, friends, best friends, countries, cities, guests, and even their masters”

Before Lucifer begins gnawing on our frozen body it might be time to respond.

We can turn our anger into action.

  1. Fight Back

* Keep signing those petitions, send those emails, however, phone calls matter most!!!

* Call your Congressman, Assembly and State Senate members, every week. “My name is ***** and I am a constituent.”  Be polite and insistent, and keep calling even if they agree with you.

  1. Get Involved – Take That Extra Step

* Is there a political organization in your neighborhood? Join the club, go to the meetings

* Run for County Committee, the lowest rung on electoral ladder.

  1. Build an E-List: a list of people with whom you have some influence. Family members, neighbors, faith-based organization members and send them “educational” info – educate them and urge them to get involved.
  1. Facebook is easy; however, you’re posting to “friends,” and most Facebook posts don’t ask for a specific action.
  1. This is a Marathon, not a Sprint

We’re going to be fighting the fight for FOUR years, every day, the battles will seem endless, and extremely frustrating, meet with like-minded friends, celebrate victories and plan together.

Yes, the stock market has hit an all-time high and investors are encouraged; however, the market is fickle, as the Trump bandwagon stumbles, as it will, investors abhor buffoonery, and are perfectly willing to watch the run-up before snatching their profits. Who will Trump blame when the stock market dives?  Maybe like Henry Ford he’ll re-issue the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Nobel Prize economist Paul Krugman has a bleak picture of the Trump economic policies and the politicization of news- aka alternative facts.

Trumpism … will actually shrink manufacturing despite the big noise made about saving a few hundred jobs here and there.

On the other hand, by then the Bureau of Labor Statistics may be thoroughly politicized, commanded to report good news whatever happens.

Between the coasts, in the red counties and states citizens feel they are strangers in their own land, (Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, By Arlie Russell Hochschild)

Hochschild , a distinguished Berkeley sociologist is a woman of the left, but her mission is empathy, not polemics. She takes seriously the Tea Partiers’ complaints that they have become the “strangers” of the title — triply marginalized by flat or falling wages, rapid demographic change, and liberal culture that mocks their faith and patriotism. The people who feel this are white. The usurpers they picture are blacks and immigrants. Hochschild takes care not to call anyone racist but concludes that “race is an essential part of this story.” 

A friend was born and educated in the South, moved to New York City and spend a career as a teacher in the public school system, retired, and moved back to the South. A ritual in her town, new to me, is the movie marathon. At a local cineplex in a mall viewers see a movie at eleven, discounted lunch at a restaurant, an afternoon movie, dinner, and an evening movie. The movies, Moonlight and Hidden Figures, morphed into a discussion about race and Trump.  Most of her “movie mates” voted for Trump, as one said, “the least of two evils.” They support the Fence, they support keeping out “people from dangerous countries,” they fear Trump will reduce Social Security and Medicare, hope “fixing” Obamacare will not bump off the sick and their children, happy about the rising stock market, and, mostly, confused and angered about the demonstrations. “Give the man a chance,” was expressed again and again. I asked my friend, “Are you educating them?” She smiled, “It’s a slow process.”

Politeness is deeply embedded in the South as well as a deep commitment to the church. My daughter-in-law’s brother couldn’t call me by my first name for a couple of years and still uses “Sir” when we chat. The church is a vital part of people’s lives. Patriotism is a core value, as is military service, criticizing your country, in public, is almost treasonous.

Southerners, “red staters,” are not stupid or uneducated, they come from a different culture, and must be educated. Education can be a slow and tedious process, many of us have spent our lives educating the masses, one step at a time. The light bulb may flicker, if we do our job properly it eventually glows.

Tight your belt, hitch up your jeans, we’re in for the long run. A few extra days in the gym, maybe a little increase in the wine consumption, you now have a second job: saving our nation from political autocracy and economic ruin.