How Will the Newly Elected Progressives Impact Policy-Making in the NYS Legislature (and the Congress)?

In midterm elections, the elections between presidential elections, the “outs” usually pick up seats; after the overwhelming election of Obama in 2008 the Republicans picked up large numbers of seats in the 2010 midterms and again in the 2014 midterms.

Is the “blue wave,” the democratic landslide, simply the usual victory of the “outs” over the “ins” or is the political landscape truly moving to the progressive side of the political spectrum?

If the landscape is more than a blip will the dems look for a more “progressive” candidate in the 2020 presidential?  And, what will be the impact of the newly elected Congress members and state representatives?

In the House the just-elected progressives forced Speaker Pelosi to agree to term limits for House leadership, albeit reluctantly.

My comment, published in the NY Times generated a lot of feedback,

NYCDec. 12

Times Pick

Transitioning to a younger leadership in essential.. if you want 20 and 30 years olds ringing doorbells you can’t stick with their grandparents age cohort as party leaders…

95 Recommend

In New York State only 33% of eligibles voted in the 2014 midterms, in 2018 almost 50% of eligibles voted, an all-time high: anti Trump anger?  the emergence of younger, progressive voters? social media?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 27 year old who defeated ten-term incumbent Joe Crowley has not even been sworn in, yet she has more mentions in the conservative media than any other elected and the City and State online political website lists her 6th on a list of the 100 most powerful women in the state.

The new progressives in the state Senate received a number of high profile chairmanships,

Among the newly electeds “Sen. Zellnor Myrie, … will lead debate on voting reforms as chairman of the Elections Committee …. as chair of the Ethics and Internal Governance Committee, state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi will lead debate on ethics reforms, including the controversial proposal to limit outside income as a condition of further pay raises for legislators. … state Sen. Julia Salazar,  will chair the newly created Women’s Health Subcommittee … John Liu will chair the New York City Education Committee, Jessica Ramos the Labor Committee … “

The meetings that determine directions of the bodies are the conferences, frequently held party caucuses. The meetings are members and top staff only, and give the members a chance to voice opinions and leadership an opportunity to take the temperature of the members.  Speaker Heastie has developed a reputation of listening to members, his predecessor, Sheldon Silver, ruled with a club; Shelly was in charge, period.

The Senate was another story. The republicans and the independent democratic conference (IDC) jointly ran the Senate, the democrats had no role. Democrats in the Assembly who wanted to pass a bill in the Senate had to go through Jeff Klein the IDC leader and Diane Savino, his co-leader. Klein, despite spending over $2 million, an incredible sum, lost his primary to Alexandra Biaggi.  Democrats in the Senate have been lusting to be back in charge for a decade.

The last two democratic leaders in the Senate, a decade ago, Malcolm Smith and John Sampson, went to jail.

With a new crop in the Senate, along with the senior members who were on the sidelines for a decade,  the question is whether the 39 democrats will work and play well with others, or will identity politics interfere?

(Identity politics: political activity or movements based on or catering to the cultural, ethnic, gender, racial, religious, or social interests that characterize a group identity).

Andrea Stewart-Cousins, served as minority leader since 2012 and a member since 2006, as majority leader she now will have to herd her group of 39 (out of 63 senators).

The issues that may emerge in the Senate:

  • Ethics reforms. The progressives challenged other democrats in the primary, and then ran in the November general election.  Elections cost money and “ethics reform” will cut down on fund-raising opportunities, a potential conflict between progressives and senior electeds.
  • John Liu, a supporter of the Specialized High School Admittance Test (SHSAT) chairs the NYC Education Committee, and is a strong supporter of the test while minority members within the democratic ranks oppose the test
  • Robert Jackson was one of the litigants in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit and will advocate for the full payment of the billions owed to New York City creating internal tensions between NYC and out of the city democrats
  • Will the progressives form a caucus?  In the past the unwritten rule was you wait your turn until you build seniority; I suspect the progressives will be far more proactive in advocating for their positions
  • Are the progressives anti-charter school? Robert Jackson has been a forceful critic, the others, we don’t know, in the past progressives were also choice advocates.

Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins will have to balance the wants and needs of her 39 members; unquestionably some of the progressives have eyes on higher office beyond the Senate while others, out of the majority for a decade have their own agendas.

The governor presents his state of the state the first Wednesday in January and the 2019-20 legislative session will be off and running.

The Assessment Wars: Is a Grassroots Revolution Bubbling Up Across the Nation Opposing Punitive Annual Testing?

The education community has been fighting the Reading Wars for decades, and, continues, unabated.

“Why Johnnie Can’t Read” became a national best seller in the 50’s and the battle simmered for decades. For some “whole language instruction” was a political attempt to capture the minds of our children, for others, namely, ED Hirsch, phonics was the path to effective reading instruction.  “Why Johnnie Can’t Read” even became a popular song.

 They’re back. Or maybe the “reading wars” never really went away. For decades, political skirmishes have raged between supporters of phonics instruction and proponents of language.

 Recently the skirmishes have boiled over into battles

The Assessment Wars are not far behind.

20% of parents in New York State have opted their children out of state tests, the  Long Island Opt Out Facebook page  has 25,000 members who are active in local politics, endorsing candidates and working in campaigns, they are a political force.

Is testing of children “new”?

We’re tested children for decades; in New York State children in the 4th and 8th grades were tested annually, additionally there were city and school district tests. The Regents Examinations, required for a diploma in New York State have been around for over 100 years

No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the bipartisan law widely heralded in 2002 required testing of all children in grades 3-8 in ELA and Math, and, states had to establish Adequate Yearly Progress. The goal of the law was that by setting AYP goals states would incrementally more forward with all children being at grade level of 2014. The law seemed like NPR Garrison’s Keller’s mythical town of Lake Woebegone where all children are above average. If schools failed to meet goals, higher test scores, the law required interventions, i. e., schools closings, re-staffing, conversion to charter, and the punitive section of the law.

The successor law, the Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA) continues annual testing; the law does change the school measurement metric from proficiency to a combination of growth plus proficiency. Major civil rights organizations strongly supported annual testing. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights , an umbrella advocacy organization, that was led by Wade Henderson  insisted on continuing annual testing.

“I don’t think you can dismiss the role that assessments play in holding educators and states overall responsible for the quality of education provided,” said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella group of civil rights advocates that includes the NAACP and the National Urban League. States and school districts that don’t want to deal with the daunting task of improving the achievement of poor students complain about testing as a way of shirking accountability, Henderson said. “This is a political debate, and opponents will use cracks in the facade as a basis for driving a truck through it,” he said.

 In spite of efforts by unions and other advocates to test every third year and other compromises the law continued annual testing.

Has annual testing improved student outcomes?

The answer is a resounding “no.”

With a roll of drums the Obama administration rolled out the Common Core standards followed by Common Core based testing, the result: student scores declined, and, failed to recover.

The National Assessment of Student Progress (NAEP), called the nation’s report card, compares educational progress by state and large urban districts. Over the last few years New York State is moving in the wrong direction,; scores flat or actually regressing.

How do we assess student learning:  the collision of teaching and learning, that point at which the light bulb goes on, that magical moment in which a student “learns?”  Mike Petrilli at the Fordham Institution sees more research needed to uncover the “secret sauce.” For others the “solution” was the stick, use test scores to assess teacher effectiveness, use Value-Added Measurements, and reward and punish teachers. VAM has been trashed by leading statisticians; reformers ignored the criticism.

The reformers who led the VAM crusade ignored the “Cuban-Tyack Principle.”, unless teachers and parents embrace the innovation, the reform, it is doomed.

David Steiner challenges a basic premise, Common Core is not an “answer,” the answer should be curriculum; we should test what we actually teach.

Are there alternatives to the current testing regimen?

New Hampshire and a number of school districts are using performance tasks, Louisiana has an approved federal waiver to use periodic tests instead of end year testing, forty schools in New York State use portfolios in lieu of Regents Exams,

Can testing be useful?

Testing to inform teachers, to inform instruction is used every day, that Friday spelling tests, the math problems; Mike Schmoker in Focus  suggests multiple tests for understanding in every lesson.

Statewide testing has nothing to do with individual students, the purpose is to assess school/school district or state “progress,” or lack thereof. It is also used to shame and stigmatize, and, has created a growing opposition among parents.

The opt outs are now a national political movement. In the recent election teachers and parents played a major role. The “blue wave” included massive numbers of teachers, both in service and retired teachers; not only at the polls but in the trenches, ringing door bells, manning phone banks oft times side by side with active parents.

All politics is local, and, the revolt against testing is bubbling up across the nation. In New York State progressives rolled to victory first in the September democratic primary and in the November general election. While education has been on a political back burner the new crop of progressive electeds might very well be at the heart of a growing anti-testing revolt.

As Jefferson wrote 1787, “I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

Do the Success Academy Charter Schools Routinely Ignore the Rights of Students with Disabilities? The NYS Commissioner Will Decide

Advocates for Children, the decades old advocacy organization has filed a formal complaint with the New York State Department of Education (NYSED) alleging scores of examples of Success Academy (SA) schools violating the rights of students in regard to special education services

Complaint Filed Against Success Academy Charter Schools and NYC DOE for Failure to Uphold Rights of Students with Disabilities

11.29.2018 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York along with co-counsel Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP filed a complaint with the New York State Education Department against Success Academy Charter Schools and the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”) for failing to comply with civil rights laws protecting students with disabilities who attend Success Academy schools.  The complaint alleges that Success Academy has changed the placements of students with disabilities without following procedures required to protect the rights of students with disabilities and their parents and has refused to comply with administrative hearing orders in special education cases.

Read the news release [PDF]

Read the complaint [PDF]

The complaint is the beginning of a major legal review of the rights of students with disabilities and the obligations of charter schools.

The charter school law clearly spells out the obligation of charter schools,

A charter school shall meet the same health and safety, civil rights, and student assessment requirements applicable to other public schools, 

Success argues that the same law exempts a charter schools from regulations that apply to public schools.  

A  charter  school  shall  be  exempt  from all other state and local laws,  rules, regulations or policies  governing  public  or  private  schools,  boards  of  education,  school  districts  and  political  subdivisions including those relating to school personnel  and  students,  

Does the failure to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and state regulations governing Student with Disabilities a violation of a student civil rights, or, does the law shield charter schools from the regulations? The complaint encapsulates the argument cogently,

By refusing to comply with these mandates, Success Academy and its schools have effectively declared that they are not subject to the due process provisions of the IDEA and New York Education Law, and that students with disabilities at Success Academy schools do not have the same legal protections as students with disabilities at other public schools.

Complaints to the commissioner are the first step, and, not uncommon, the NYSED attorneys review the complaint; the process can take months, and issues a ruling. The ruling can be challenged in the courts.

Education Law §310 provides that persons considering themselves aggrieved by an action taken at a school district meeting or by school authorities may appeal to the Commissioner of Education for a review of such action.  In addition, Education Law §306 allows the Commissioner of Education to remove a trustee, member of a board of education and certain other school officers for willful misconduct or neglect of duty.

Procedures for the presentation and defense of such appeals and for the conduct of proceedings for the removal of school officials are contained in regulations of the Commissioner of Education.

To further complicate the issue there are two chartering entities in New York State, the Charter School Institute, part of the SUNY Board of Trustees and the State Department of Education operating under the auspices of the Board of Regents The two organizations have different regulations governing the granting and renewal of charters. You may remember the Charter School Institute issued draft regulations claiming that the Institute had the power to certify charter school teachers. The Regents sued and the courts sustained the suit.

Does the chartering agency, the SUNY Charter Institute, agree with Success Academy’s interpretation of the law in regard to special education services?  If it does not agree, why did it continue to renew charters for the SA schools?

The Regents and the SUNY Charter Institute have different standards for the granting of charters, SUNY is far more lenient, and, a number of schools that have turned down by the Regents have been granted charters by the SUNY Charter Institute.

The former board chair of the SUNY Charter School Institute, Daniel Loeb, is a financier, not an educator.

In my view the original decision to grant charter authorizing authority to two organizations was a mistake. A number of years ago, Merryl Tisch, at that time the Chancellor of the Board of Regents, tried to merge the charter granting organizations, without success. Ironically, Tisch is now the deputy chair of the SUNY Board of Trustees.

The threshold issue is whether charter schools must comply with the regulations in regard to special education student placements and decisions of hearing officers

Success Academy and the SA Schools … take… the position that pendency orders do not apply to their schools. When the parents obtained pendency orders for the last agreed upon placements, the SA Schools—represented by a Success Academy attorney—took the position that they did not need to comply with the pendency orders because they disagreed with the order and the hearing officer’s authority to issue the order, forcing parents to litigate further to obtain the ordered relief, and resulting in further delays in the students receiving ordered instruction.

 If NYSED rules that failing to comply with orders of hearing officers, pendency orders, the next step is a remedy. The complaint outlines a series of remedial actions including a compliance plan. The commissioner can also assign a monitor to oversee the application of the remedies.

SA can ask that the implementation of the order is tolled until all legal remedies are exhausted; the commissioner could deny the request indicating that the children impacted would suffer irreparable damage.

If SA refuses to comply the commissioner does have the power to remove the “school officials” who are failing to implement the remedy.

There is no question that SA will appeal any adverse decisions into the courts.

Across the street, (Washington Avenue actually separates the State Education Department headquarters from the legislative and executive offices) the legislature can amend the charter school law to remove any ambiguity.

Appeals to the commissioner decisions typically take many months before a decision is rendered, a speedy decision, namely, while the legislation is in session, is important; especially if the law has to be amended.

The commissioner can ask the SUNY Charter Institute if they were aware of the actions of SA in refusing to implement the decisions of impartial hearing officers, if they were: why weren’t they taking actions to force SA to comply with the orders? If they were not aware; why not? As the renewer of charters wouldn’t they have the obligation of monitoring the performance of schools prior to renewing charters?

While appeals to the commissioner are based upon precedent it is unusual for an appeal is so loaded with political implications. In the corridors of the marble floored ornate legislature someone will whisper to someone else: what does Andrew think? He may be holding his finger in the air; he may have no interest.

The Advocates for Children complaint may result in a consent agreement, resolving the complaint, or, a major legal decision defining the obligations of charter schools and the supervisory authority of the commissioner.

Next week’s Albany Regent Meeting should be  interesting.

Democrats Rule!! Will the Democrats Pass a Moratorium on the Creation of New Charter Schools?

The democrats control both houses of the NYS legislature, and it’s a firm control, an overwhelming majority in the Assembly and 39 out of the 63 seats in the Senate. The last time the dems controlled both houses successive leaders of the Senate ended up in jail, Malcolm Smith and John Sampson; the incoming majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, has been an excellent minority leader and is well-regarded as a conciliator. The dem majority can be a contentious group with widely varying interests, downstate (aka, NYC), versus the suburbs versus the other struggling “big five” cities.

The New York Times sees hard times ahead for charter schools with dems in control. The charter school political action committees (PACs) have been strong financial supporters of the republican side of the aisle, as well as of the governor; however, elections have consequences.

The Independent Democratic Coalition (IDC) was thrashed in the September primaries and their replacements have been clear in their opposition to charter schools

On the national scene charter school creation has waned, the 2017-2018 school year showed the lowest rate of expansion ever, only one percent.

The history of charter schools in New York State is quite interesting. Governor Pataki was completing his first term, running for his second term and during the 1998 legislative session pushed hard for a charter school law. The legislature adjourned in June without passing the law. Discussions continued over the summer and into the fall, Pataki was elected in November to a second term and the legislature returned to Albany for a lame duck session.

The charter school debate pitted advocates and enemies of charter schools, the New York Times wrote,

As if the public schools did not have enough to worry about, like trying to meet higher standards required by the State Board of Regents, curriculum mandates and other reforms, along comes a growing movement to offer alternatives that some observers say nibble away at public education.

Whether it is vouchers to offset private school tuition, allowing the formation of charter schools or offering tuition tax credits, such proposals are viewed by many people as threats not only to financing sources but also to the fundamental mission of public schools.

One of my favorite quotes comes from a New York State Surrogate Court judge, “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

In spite of widespread opposition to charter schools the legislature took two actions during the December lame duck session  , they gave themselves a pay increase and facing a Pataki veto passed a charter school law. BTW, Sheldon Silver was the speaker of the Assembly and supported the “deal.”

After gaining potent leverage with a threat to veto a legislative pay raise, Gov. George E. Pataki won approval early this morning of a plan that would alter the state’s educational landscape by authorizing the creation of autonomous public schools.

The support for the plan in the Legislature capped weeks of negotiations that were dominated by the prickly question of how much lawmakers would yield to the Governor in return for a coveted salary increase, the first in a decade. In a final round of horse-trading, Mr. Pataki and legislative leaders agreed on a package of bills that included the school measure, a 38 percent pay raise and proposals to penalize lawmakers for late budgets and to help farmers receive higher prices for milk.

The State Senate approved the school legislation by a vote of 39 to 20 soon after 1:30 A.M. Leaders in the Assembly also agreed to back the bill early this morning, and were moving to pass it.

On December 10th a commission (the Comptrollers of NYC and NYS and the chair of the SUNY Board) will announce whether or not to grant a raise to the legislature, the first since 1998. No action is required by the legislature so no “deals” are necessary; however, this is Albany.

The newly elected legislature will convene the first week in January, the governor will give his state of the state address laying out his plans for the session and the all-democratic state leadership will begin passing its legislative package.

Early voting, the Dream Act, the Urstadt law (rent control) reform , and dozens of other pet bills; however, the dems will be careful to balance the needs of the suburban districts in which repubs were defeated with urban concerns. The 2020 legislature will redistrict the state and could entrench the dems for a decade, maintaining control in 2020 is essential.

My suggestions to the democratic leadership:

A moratorium on both the creation of new charter schools and the expansion of current charter schools

The original idea for charter schools was to create schools that were “engines of innovation;” outside the constraints of rules and regulations schools could experiment with new concepts in teaching and learning that could be rolled into traditional public schools. The original charter school concept morphed into charter schools as competition to traditional public schools, establishing a marketplace, the competition would raise all boats and those that did not improve/compete would fall by the wayside.

Charter schools are indistinguishable from public schools, except, longer school days and hours. Charter schools do not enroll “comparable” percentages of special education students or English language learners. Review the link that compares charter schools and traditional schools in school districts throughout New York City.

The NAACP called for a moratorium on the creation of charter schools, I agree, and would suggest a five year moratorium. The governor elected in 2022 could review the moratorium.

Fiscal transparency for all funding, public and private

 One of the untold stories is charter school philanthropy. The network charter schools (Success Academy, etc.) raise many, many millions of dollars , usually through 501© 3 organizations, tax-free dollars, and, many of the contributors are shielded from public scrutiny. The current charter school law and court decisions protect charter schools from the rays of sunshine. The charter school law should be amended so that all contributions will open to public inspections, including the barring of anonymous Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) contributions.

Tightening the charter school law to require enrollment of special education and English language learners at the percentages or greater in schools in the encompassing community school district

 The State Education Department has interpreted the current law so that charter schools can fail to enroll special education students and English language learners at the same level as neighboring schools: that loophole must be closed.  If anyone wants specific language I can forward.

 Legislation that would create Innovation Districts, clusters of schools, that can operate outside the constraints of current regulations, the original purpose of charter schools

 The current federal law, the successor of No Child Left Behind, the Every Student Succeeds Act, contains a section in which states can apply for innovation waivers, to create alternatives to the current required grades 3-8 testing. Only two states applied, although a number of states are conducting pilots in schools or school districts in the state. The NY State Education Department has shown no interest in either the original application or conducting local pilots. There are a number of innovative pilots operating below the radar, the forty or so consortium schools with waivers only requiring the English Regents exam, the highly successful International Schools Network, high schools that only enroll new immigrants and use their own instructional model and the PROSE schools in New York City that have waivers for school-created instructional or management models.

I would suggest a statute that would require the State Education Department create an application process by which schools/schools districts and unions could collaboratively apply for innovative waivers, in other words, create engines of innovation within public schools.

New York State, and many other states, are engaged in a “race to the bottom,” creating mechanisms that results in high test scores without increasing student proficiency.

Education Next,   the scholarly education journal published by the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance writes,

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed into law in 2015, explicitly prohibits the federal government from creating incentives to set national standards. The law represents a major departure from recent federal initiatives, such as Race to the Top, which … encouraged the adoption of uniform content standards and expectations for performance. At one point, 46 states had committed themselves to implementing Common Core standards designed to ensure consistent benchmarks for student learning across the country. But when public opinion turned against the Common Core brand, numerous states moved to revise the standards or withdraw from them.

 Although early indications are that most state revisions of Common Core have been minimal, the retreat from the standards carries with it the possibility of a “race to the bottom,” as one state after another lowers the bar that students must clear in order to qualify as academically proficient. The political advantages of a lower hurdle are obvious: when it is easier for students to meet a state’s performance standards, a higher percentage of them will be deemed “proficient” in math and reading. Schools will appear to be succeeding and state and local school administrators may experience less pressure to improve outcomes …

 So, has the starting gun been fired on a race to the bottom? Have the bars for reaching academic proficiency fallen as many states have loosened their commitment to Common Core? And, is there any evidence that the states that have raised their proficiency bars since 2009 have seen greater growth in student learning?

 In a nutshell, the answers to these three questions are no, no, and, so far, none.

 From Diane Ravitch to Linda Darling-Hammond, from the Fordham Institute to the Shanker Institute, the reliance on standardized testing to drive students to proficiency is waning. Sadly it’s easier for states to massage the rules to satisfy parents and at the same time “game the tests,” an example: unlimited testing time increases scores, of course, with an invalid baseline.

Let’s take a deep breath, charter schools and choice are not an answer, they are a trompe d’oeil; testing viewed as punitive is a failure: are performance-tasks, portfolios, looping teachers/grades viable alternatives?

Let’s put charter schools on the sidelines and encourage the folks in the trenches to create a wide range of strategies.

Is the education reform movement moving into the dustbin of history? Are we now entering the era of the End of Education Policy?

I suspect that a consistent, coherent school culture is a primary driver.  If you get that right and have broad staff buy-in, most anything can “work.” Robert Pondisico

Education Next , the online presence of the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance  at the Harvard Kennedy School sees parallels between Frances Fukyuma”s The End of History and the Last Man, and the current erosion of what seemed like the new wave of education reform.

We are now at the End of Education Policy, in the same way that we were at the End of History back in 1989. Our own Cold War pitted reformers against traditional education groups; we have fought each other to a draw, and reached something approaching homeostasis. Resistance to education reform has not collapsed like the Soviet Union did. Far from it. But there have been major changes that are now institutionalized and won’t be easily undone, at least for the next decade.

Thirty years ago the Soviet Union was crumbling, liberal, progressive nations were blooming; we appeared to be entering a new age of democracy and globalization  Today democracy is retreating, Polish and Hungarian elected leaders are restricting freedom of speech and the press, and, neo-Nazi groups are on the rise. China, with an autocratic leadership and a mix of communist and capitalist economic policies is thriving.

In the field of education punitive testing, No Child Left Behind, the rapid and unlimited expansion of charter schools, the Common Core, voucher legislation, portfolio models, school closings, linking teacher evaluation to student outcomes all seemed to be changing the face of schooling.

Reformers are now retreating from testing, a voucher plan defeated at the polls in Arizona, VAM-based teacher evaluations are dying and charter school popularity ebbing, some rapidly, others face a lingering death.

Robert Pondisico at the above mentioned Fordham Institute argues that all parents should have a choice of schools, he fails to address that many schools have their choice of students, including charter schools.

I was at an education event, two parents were in a heated discussion, one parent argued, “Don’t you understand, charter schools throw out discipline problems and lower achievers, don’t accept student with disabilities and English language learners and use harsh discipline in their schools.” The charter school parent responded, “That’s exactly why I send my child to a charter school.

Charter schools “educate,” to use the WEB DuBois term, the “talented tenth,”

The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races.

 The pushback against charter schools is accelerating, two members of the Board of Regents, Drs. Cashin and Collins are asking key questions: since charter school are funded out of dollars intended for public schools and mirror the same instructional practices why are we continuing to create charter schools? Why aren’t we monitoring their student attrition rates?  Other members of the Regents are joining Cashin and Collins. With the Democratic control of the New York State legislature one can expect changes in the charter school statutes including requiring greater transparency.

The term reformers are inaccurate, the term disrupters is more accurate, and, many of the s0-called reformers would agree with being called disrupters.

The reform movement has been closely studied, and, Tyack and /Cuban’s Tinkering Toward Utopia, capsulated the reform movements,

 …  the message Tyack and Cuban are trying to deliver is crucial: understand the political nature of school reform; involve teachers; understand how complex the process is and how much thought and patience it takes; learn from the past. When we try to use radical school reform to solve whatever public problem seems most urgent—that endless cycle of educational crisis, utopian demand and disillusionment—we fail both our schools and our society.”

The just-ratified teacher contract in New York City embeds reform into the agreement with the wholehearted support of union leadership: will the membership jump on board? Can the chancellor and the union president successfully mirror a collaborative culture that is replicated in schools?

School folk are facing reform fatigue.

Even benign reform scripts are limply received. David Steiner, the former education commissioner in New York argues for rich curriculum, a worthy goal, without much school district buy-in.

I was part of a group of active and retired principals meeting with prospective principals, one of whom asked, “When I’m assigned to a school, what should I do first?” The principal answers, assert yourself, be a leaders, etc.

My response, construct a sociogram of the faculty.

a sociometric diagram representing the pattern of relationships between individuals in a group, usually expressed in terms of which persons they prefer to associate with.

 Schools are organic, changing organizations, the complex relationships among and between staff members is a culture; some schools have collaborative cultures, others toxic cultures.

At the intermission of a show a woman said hello, I realized she was a teacher in a school in the district I used to represent. She was well-past retirement age.

“I love my job, can’t wait to get to school every day, why should I retire, I’ve taught pre-k for decades. … the brand new principal called me into his office to congratulate me on my achievements and told me he was moving me to the first grade, ‘for the good of the school.’ I told him I knew nothing about teaching the first grade, he insisted.”

A few days later he raised his voice, ‘You have to stop making phone calls, fifty angry parents have called me, elected officials, the deputy superintendent, you have to stop making calls. …’

I had to withhold a smile, ‘I only called one parent’”

The teacher was a shaman, the staff, generations of parents listened to and honored her, the new principal disrespected her; with one unthinking action he lost the school and the school community.

School leadership, and I mean distributive leadership, the school leader and teacher leaders, can make any program work.

Terrance Deal and Kent Peterson, “Shaping School Culture: The Heart of Leadership,” (1999, 2009) should be at the core of any school leadership program or professional development.

…far too much emphasis has been given to reforming schools from the outside through policies and mandates. Too little attention has been paid to how schools can be shaped from within … while policymakers and reformers are pressing for new structures and more rational assessments, it is important to remember that these changes cannot be successful without cultural support. School cultures, in short, are the key to school achievement and student learning.

The slim (152 pages) volume encompasses a wealth of research and takes issue with much of the school reform initiatives; for example, the authors remind us, “Although politics is disdained publicly as distasteful or pathological, people still use power and influence behind the scenes to get what they want;.” a reality of interactions that must be acknowledged.

I worked in a school with over 200 teachers; the principal would ask the assistant principal to “check out” a new idea or a new proposed policy. She would raise the question at the informal coffee and Danish sessions in her office with the union and the shamans, a discussion would ensue, new, or changed or amended ideas and policies would emerge.

Leadership must be collaborative and symbolic.

A principal teaches gym the first period with all the classes on a grade at the beginning of the school day, the teachers on the grade meet to discuss specific kids and plan for the day. A simple message: I’m the principle teacher and I support you as professionals.

My superintendent commonly asked me to recommend teachers for committees, for example, create fourth grade sample math lessons, second grade science projects, and on and on. I was happy to recommend teachers, they worked after school in his office, with a contractual stipend, and I asked him if the projects were useful. He shrugged, “I hope so, I acknowledge their expertise, and I hopefully create a climate of respect and professionalism.”

Two schools a few blocks apart with the kids coming from the same housing project, one school thrives, the other falters. The difference: the school cultures.

Bill Gates committed millions and millions to the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) research: let’s find that magic bullet, that special something that can create highly effective schools. After three years the final report struggled mightily to find any answers and concludes , using Value-Added Measures (VAM) to assess teacher effectiveness, watching videos of effective lessons, (See resources here), the report has faded onto dusty bookshelves.

Effective leadership means a collaborative culture, means leadership in the office of the superintendent, the principal, the union leader and teachers; cooking up that delicious stew together requires the best ingredients and talented chefs.

“I Hate Being Observed! It’s a Waste of Time and too frequently is Harassment.”  (A view commonly held by teachers) Can teacher observations lead to constructive conversations?

A decade ago The New Teacher Project (TNTP) issued a report, “The Widget Effect “  that concluded,

* All teachers are rated good or great

* Professional development is inadequate

* Novice teachers are neglected, and

* Poor performance goes unaddressed

The report has had enormous, and toxic, impacts. The feds and states moved to assessments of teachers using student outcomes on standardized tests, value added measurements (VAM), a dense algorithm only understood by psychometricians.

For decades teachers were observed once or twice a year, or, not at all, a mechanical process, a compliance chore.  Teachers resented, or, feared being observed, supervisors found it burdensome. If you were lucky you were in a school in which the observation process was part of a an ongoing discussion of the teaching/learning process.

New York State adopted an Annual Personnel Performance Review (APPR) scenario; each school district in the state negotiated a process within strict regulations with the union. In New York City the system was imposed by the state commissioner. The process included VAM scores and observations using a rubric (Danielson, Marshall, Marzano, etc.,).  The pushback from the unions, and parents grew, teachers in high poverty schools received lower VAM scores, the critics of the VAM methodologies grew and grew; finally the Board of Regents declared a four year moratorium on the use of student test scores, and, have just announced a one year extension to create a new teacher evaluation tool.

While VAM scores are scorned teacher observations by supervisors are equally flawed. Different supervisors rate the same lesson differently, these is no consensus. The use of a single rubric, in New York City, the Danielson Frameworks, simply became another compliance task, a checklist. All observations are entered into a computerized database, ADVANCE, and principals who fall behind in their observations are dunned.

A principal related to me: all the principals in a district were divided into teams and observed classes in a school. The group facilitators asked the principals how they would rate the lesson. One principal asked: Shouldn’t we be discussing how we would handle the post observation conference?  The facilitator demurred, no; we’re only here to assess the lesson according to Danielson.

Danielson is not the Holy Grail, and, following Danielson to the letter does not guarantee successful student outcomes.

Early in the Danielson era I was at her presentation, at the end I asked,

“Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote he couldn’t define pornography; however, he knew it when he saw it, isn’t it the same with effective instruction?”

Charlotte disagreed.

She’s incorrect, after watching many hundreds of lessons you can “feel” a good lesson. Different classes of student require different instructional strategies, effective teaching is varying teaching techniques to suit the kids in front of you.

Attempting to use student test scores to assess teacher performance was disastrous, and, emphasizing the summative assessment rather than the formative assessment is racing down another wrong path; the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming locomotive.

An irony: the other Danielson book, “Talk About Teaching! Leading Professional Conversations, (2009)” should be required reading for supervisors.

Danielson writes,

An important mechanism to promote teacher learning …. is that of conversation. Through focused and occasionally structured conversations, teachers are encouraged to think deeply about their work, to reflect on their approaches and student responses. And yet conducting such conversations requires skill. Many teachers assume that if their principal or supervisor wants to discuss the events in a classroom it means there is something wrong … by neglecting to engage in professional conversations with teachers, educational leaders decline to take advantage of one of the most powerful approaches at their disposal to promote teacher learning.

 Conducting a post observation conference is a skill; and should not be a burdensome, compliance chore for the observer and the observed.

Post observation conferences might be a Socratic Method, engaging the teachers in a dialogue, or, a few teachers might observe colleagues and jointly discuss the lesson among themselves with a facilitator. In my school the principal allowed us to substitute a peer observation system in lieu of traditional supervisory observations. Triads of teachers, Teacher A observed B, B observed C and C observed A, in the same week, teaching a lesson on a similar topic, the teachers met and engaged in a facilitated conversation around a template of questions; the “notes” were the observation report. The teachers who participated had never watched a colleague teach, and, reflected deeply on their own practice.

The just-approved New York City teacher contract contains two changes to the teacher evaluation section, the number of observation are reduced.

… the contract approved this week also significantly cuts back how often teachers need to be observed under the city’s evaluation system. Top-rated teachers will receive only two classroom visits — down from three or four. For new teachers or those with low marks, observations are cut from a high of six to a low of three.

 And, new professional learning teams will support “school-based professional development committees to align PD to the observations conducted throughout the school year.”

  Professional development on evaluation

  • A professional learning team consisting of UFT and DOE representatives will plan and conduct annual training sessions on the implementation of the evaluation system by the last Friday in October. 
  • The professional learning team will also ensure that teacher development tools and resources will be developed and distributed, including resources regarding evaluation of specific school settings such as co-teaching, special education settings, ENL and physical education.
  • The professional learning team will provide support to school-based professional development committees to align PD to the observations conducted throughout the year. 

Is this meaningful change?

The union took a risk, convincing teachers that formative assessment, conversations, will make them into better teachers.  Maybe they will jump on board, maybe they will continue to close their doors and do what they do. Maybe the union is alienating members or maybe changing compliance-driven cultures to collaborative school cultures.

Unions are demeaned, the “right-wing” establishment spent years to get the Janus case before the court and maneuvered the court to get the “right” justices. So far, Janus seems to have motivated unions, teacher strikes in non-collective bargaining states, the public supporting teachers, and a voucher plan in Arizona soundly defeated.

Teachers can continue to win over the public by continuing to improve, as professionals, and improve the end product, students outcomes.

A friend always reminds staffs that the solution is in the room, changing school cultures never begins with edicts from superintendents, it begins in teacher lunch rooms, in teacher rooms, it begins from the ground up, yes, superintendents must seed the fields, must change from para-military attitudes to supporting collaborative cultures.

The union president and the chancellor took a risk: risk-taking can be the path to positive embedded change

Needed: A Fair and Meaningful Method of Assessing School Progress

The New York Times ran a scathing article ripping Mayor de Blasio in regard to the Renewal Schools, the city’s plan to revive the lowest achieving schools. “New York Knew That Some Schools in Its $773 Million Plan Were Likely to Fail. It Kept Children in Them Anyway.” The schools were likely to fail because the student bodies were made up of significant number of students with disabilities, English language learners, homeless children, children who are “truly disadvantaged,” configurations that past mayors and chancellors have ignored, or, to be cynical, created.

Coincidentally (maybe) the “EightCities” Bellweather Education Partners blog wrote a highly laudatory article “New York City, New York,” recounting the Bloomberg approach to schools, ending with a shot at the de Blasio initiatives.

  • Mayoral control enabled bold change
  • Principals empowered by school-level autonomy in new small schools
  • Massive and formerly corrupt central office reoriented in service of kids
  • Failing high schools phased out and new small schools of choice phased in
  • New administration changed course and slowed progress

A  former New York City official had doubts,

“Once you slap a summative grade on [schools], everyone in the system is afraid they’ll get a bad grade. And [they’re] trying to figure out, ‘How do I game the system to avoid being embarrassed?’ It took their eyes off their students and put their focus on how to maximize their scores on state exams.”

  “There’s an ideology that we created around [accountability] that I think has been used widely, … and I’d say it’s not the solution. It is a tool, but it has to be balanced against other strategic tools … it’s important to be honest about the fact that test scores, while they are important, will never tell you the whole story.”

No one seems to be tracking whether progress is being made by the “truly disadvantaged students.” No Child Left Behind (NCLB) required states to set adequate annual progress goals with punitive sanctions if schools fail to reach performance goals. The lowest five percent of schools require state interventions with the threat of closing schools

I hate to tell you – there will ALWAYS be a lowest five percent.

Does closing schools simply reshuffle the lowest five percent to other schools?

Who are the lowest five percent students?

Who are the students scoring lowest on the state tests? Not a surprise: students with disabilities, English-language learners, chronically absent (>20%) students, frequently suspended students, homeless students, students in foster care, etc., the at-risk students scoring well “below proficiency.”

We know thar principals are, “… trying to figure out, ‘How do I game the system to avoid being embarrassed’”

I spent a couple years working for a not-for-profit on a school support team – assisting principals, showing them how to “game the system” within the rules: cohort management, recruiting students “smartly,” targeting funding to particular cohorts of students, all geared to attract and retain the most “academic” students and targeting funding for the  greatest impact on achievement.

Smart principals can “bump” scores, at least for a while.

Interestingly, during the phase out of closing schools school achievement data sometimes increases. Why?  Are the teachers trying to save the school and changing their pedagogical strategies? Is the phase-out principal more talented?  To the best of my knowledge the folks who ordered the phase-out had no interest in this phenomenon.

The feds, states, mayors, superintendents have been moving in the wrong direction, schools alone, no matter the dedication, cannot move all students to “proficiency;”  we will never have a nation in which all students are “above average.”

We should be measuring growth within each school component.

William Julius Wilson, a Harvard Sociologist coined the term “truly disadvantaged,” too many of the families in struggling schools are from “truly disadvantaged” families.

For example schools with ‘persistent chronic absenteeism” frequently are among the lowest achieving schools,

Kim Nauer, Nicole Mader and others at the Center for New York City Affairs, in “A Better Picture of Poverty” investigated the impact of persistent chronic absenteeism,

Persistent chronic absenteeism, … contributes to the dishearteningly slight success that students in such schools have had meeting the state’s new, academically rigorous Common Core learning standards. In the 2012–13 school year, only about 11 percent of students at schools with persistent chronic absenteeism passed Common Core–aligned math and reading tests, compared with a pass rate of more than 30 percent at other elementary and K to 8 schools citywide.

Persistently absent students frequently are part of the truly disadvantaged cohorts. Nauer, et. al., suggests using a different set of metrics to assess poverty,

Measuring Poverty Risk Load Factors

The fact that family and neighborhood poverty can have an adverse effect on school performance is well known. But typical measures, like free and reduced lunch or even community poverty data, fail to capture the volume and nature of the challenges that many schools in New York City face … We layered in data from the city and state education departments on students, teachers and school climate. We found that the following 18 variables were strong predictors of both Common Core test scores and chronic absenteeism.

SCHOOL FACTORS: 1. Students eligible for free lunch  2. Students known to be in temporary housing  3. Students eligible for welfare benefits from the Human Resources Administration  4. Special education students  5. Black or Hispanic students  6. Principal turnover  7. Teacher turnover  8. Student turnover  9. Student suspensions  10. Safety score on the Learning Environment Survey  11. Engagement score on the Learning Environment Survey

NEIGHBORHOOD FACTORS: 12. Involvement with the Administration for Children’s Services  13. Poverty rate  14. Adult education levels  15. Professional employment  16. Male unemployment  17. Presence of public housing in a school’s catchment  18. Presence of a homeless shelter in a school’s catchment

Developing a metric that encompasses the risk load factors could result in a growth measurement that is realistic.  We could identify schools with large percentages of truly disadvantaged children and identify the strategies that work, in schools and in neighborhoods. Schools should be making progress with all children; the question: how do you define progress and the rate of progress, aka, growth?

Clearly the turnaround programs that suck up federal, state and local dollars have not been effective ; they haven’t found the magic bullet.

Additionally, Raj Chetty and others have parsed many millions of data bits from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and used the data in a number of groundbreaking reports dealing with equality of opportunity.

The poverty risk load data metrics along with the Chetty datasets can allow us to both better define levels of poverty and to apply the Chetty data to assess economic/academic progress in addition to (instead of) changes in test scores.

The Opportunity Atlas  is another incredible tool, a wide range of datasets by geographical areas encompassing many of the risk loads identified by the Nauer, Mader, et., al., in the Better Picture of Poverty Report.

Nothing is coming out of Washington, and, states seemed tied to the spawn of NCLB, the new federal law, ESSA.

Only two states even applied for the federal innovative assessment program, New Hampshire and Louisiana.

New York City may become the innovator, a progressive mayor in his second term looking for national credentials, a new chancellor anxious to make his mark, a union leader who just negotiated a collaborative contract …. Who knows?  The innovative, and underreported, teacher contract contains  the “Bronx Plan,” and changes in teacher evaluation. The “Bronx Plan” selects high poverty, high teacher mobility, lower achieving schools with collaborative cultures and intensive professional development leading to school-based plans. We know that ownership of plans leads to sustainable changes.

The contract both reduces the number of teacher observations and begins a process to make the observation process more formative (the topic of the next blog).

In spite of over 100,000 students who are homeless for all or part of a school year, in spite of distressing numbers of truly disadvantaged students, New York City did better than the state on the recently released grades 3-8 test scores.

I am hopeful that researchers, perhaps the Research Alliance for NYS Schools , the Center for NYC Affairs, the Metro Center at NYU can develop a metric that will say: taking into account the obstacles, the poverty risk load factors, your school is making progress, or, conversely, is failing to make adequate progress. Under the current metrics you don’t have to look at test scores, you can just look at zip codes.

Now is the time for bold leadership: Anyone willing to seize the reins?